21010 Summer 2011 syllabus

Comparative Religious Thought I; Jeffrey Wattles

Philosophy 21020-010/ Summer I 2011: June 6 – July 7
Bowman  204; CRN 14621


            Some say that with genuine spirituality diverse religionists can experience harmony.  How might this idea be interpreted, and what is to be said for and against this idea?  To inquire into this and related questions, this course introduces beliefs, ideals, and practices of Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.  In addition, there is an experiential dimension to the course.

   Diversity element: The course focuses on Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.  The course employs intellectually diverse methods—scientific, philosophic, and religious.  Our approach emphasizes affirming our common humanity, understanding differences, and appreciating the wonderful uniqueness of each personality.  This course satisfies Kent State University's diversity requirement.



1.  Pocket Bhagavad Gita (Paperback) translated by Winthrop Sargeant (State University of New York Press; Pocket Edition) ISBN-10: 0791420302 ISBN-13: 978-0791420300.  

2.  Glenn Wallis: The Dhammapada (Modern Library.  ISBN-10: 0812977270).

3.  The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha (4th edition augmented), ISBN 978-0195289558.

4.  The Meaning of the Holy Qur’an A. Yusuf Ali Amana Corporation; 10th edition (2001) (ISBN: 0915957760 ).



            We are a community of inquiry, and our interaction has a life of its own; so you are expected to attend regularly (unless you are sick), be on time (for the beginning of class and after the break), have the reading plus any writing exercises done, and be ready to participate.  If you must miss more than a two classes, let me know.  If you miss a class, it is your responsibility to get notes from someone, to ask the instructor if you still have questions, and to ask the instructor for whatever may have been handed back during your absence.  In case of an epidemic or other emergency, arrangements will be made for computer-based interaction.

            In this class we are practicing an art which is good for your brain and good for social development—person-to-person interaction, uninterrupted by internet surfing or text-messaging.  The use of laptop computers and cell phones in class is prohibited.

            Active participation, 15 points (unless your attendance is poor, in which case it counts more.  If you miss more than four classes, in which case you may fail; three quizzes, 15 points each;  and one paper 40 points each.

Papers must be well written to receive a C or above.  For a quick introduction to some of the standards, see the links on the home page http://sites.google.com/a/kent.edu/jeffreywattles/.  Writing—a skill that schools sometimes fail to teach—is important for your career, especially when so much communication is mediated by machines.  English is a first or second language in many nations, and to use the language well is a service to our world.  If I don’t fuss about writing, you should see what some folks hand in!  So I fuss, and I generally get quite decent writing.  It’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the Writing Center (http://dept.kent.edu/english/WritingCent/writngcenter.htm). Speaking of communication, the University obliges you to check your kent.edu e-mail (or whatever address may be used on Flashline).  If I have messages to send to the whole class, e.g., to change an assignment, or keep in touch in an emergency, I will use those addresses.

The website where resources are gathered for the religions studied is this: http://sites.google.com/a/kent.edu/jeffreywattles/.  This is where to find the web documents to which the syllabus refers.  I do not post materials on Vista.

My office hours are MTWR 2-3:00 p.m. (Bowman 320H) and by appointment (330-672-0276; e-mail: jwattles@kent.edu).

This course may be used to satisfy a Kent Core requirement.  The Kent Core as a whole is intended to broaden intellectual perspectives, foster ethical and humanitarian values, and prepare students for responsible citizenship and productive careers.

This course may be used to satisfy the University Diversity requirement.  Diversity courses provide opportunities for students to learn about such matters as the history, culture, values and notable achievements of people other than those of their own national origin, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, age, gender, physical and mental ability, and social class.  Diversity courses also provide opportunities to examine problems and issues that may arise from differences, and opportunities to learn how to deal constructively with them.

University policy 3342-3-01.8 deals with the problem of academic dishonesty, cheating, and plagiarism.  None of these will be tolerated in this class.  The sanctions provided in this policy will be used to deal with any violations.  If you have any questions, please read the policy at http://www.kent.edu/policyreg/policydetails.cfm?customel_datapageid_1976529=2037779.

University policy 3342-3-01.3 requires that students with disabilities be provided reasonable accommodations to ensure their equal access to course content.  If you have a documented disability and require accommodations, please contact the instructor at the beginning of the semester to make arrangements for necessary classroom adjustments.  Please note, you must first verify your eligibility for these through Student Accessibility Services (contact 330-672-3391 or visit www.kent.edu/sas for more information on registration procedures).

            University policy requires all students to be officially registered in each class they are attending.  Students who are not officially registered for a course by published deadlines should not be attending classes and will not receive credit or a grade for the course.  Each student must confirm enrollment by checking his/her class schedule (using Student Tools in Flashline) prior to the deadline indicated.  Registration errors must be corrected prior to the deadline.

            The Philosophy Department Grievance Procedure for handling student grievances is in conformity with the Student Academic Complaint Policy and Procedures set down as University Policy 3342-4-16 in the University Policy Register.  For information concerning the details of the grievance procedure, please see the Departmental Chairperson.




Schedule of Activities


I. Hinduism: One goal—spiritual liberation—and many paths


Week 1.  Monday, June 6.  Introductions.  Today we draw on three web documents from the google site, http://sites.google.com/a/kent.edu/jeffreywattles/: (1) Thoughts on religion by Mohandas Gandhi, (2) Problems in comparing religions, and (3) the description of project 1: Spiritual centering and performing in balance the duties of your station in life.  You will be quizzed on these documents.  Note: After today, when the syllabus refers to such documents, you are expected to study them before class.  You will be held accountable in class for your learning.  Note: find the documents for this unit distributed between two parts of the website: Methods in the study of religion and Hinduism.

            Tuesday.  Project assignment.  Read the Bhagavad Gita, chapters 2 (all); ch. 3, verses 9-15, 19-25, and 30; ch. 4.6-14 and 18-24; ch. 5.18-24 and 29; ch. 6 (all); 7.1-11 and 21- 25; and ch. 8.5-21.  Study the following web documents (plus review the ones used in the previous class): (1) Introduction to Hinduism, and—in the section “Methods in the study of religion,” (2) Religious experience and the phenomenological study of religion and God, (2) God and the gods in the Bhagavad-Gita, and (3) The evolution of the God concept.

            Wednesday.  Read the Bhagavad Gita, ch. 9,3-5, 11, 16-18, 20, 22-23, and 27-32; ch. 10.9, 12, 15, 20, 25, 36, 41-2; ch. 11 (all); and ch. 12 (all).  Study also the Methods web document “The evolution of the God concept,” and the Hinduism web document, “God and the gods in the Bhagavad Gita.”

            Thursday.  Read the Bhagavad Gita, ch. 13.13, 23, and 30-32; ch. 14.26-27; ch. 15.7, 9, and 11; ch. 26.1-4, and 7-24; ch. 17 (all); and ch. 18.42, 44, 54, and 61.  See web documents on Karma and an Anthropological approach to the study of religion.



II.  Buddhism: From the quest for enlightenment

to compassion for all beings


Week 2.  Monday, June 13.  Study the Buddhism web document, “Introduction to Buddhism.”  Read from The Dhammapada, Chapters 1-3 (all); 4.54-56; 5.65; 6.76, 7 9-84, and 89; 7.94-99, 8 (all); and 14.188-92—and also the notes on pp. 154-56, the note from the bottom of p. 105 – top 107.

Tuesday.  Read ch. 9.116, 118, and 122; 10.129; 11.146; 12.157-59; 13-14 (all); and 15.200.  See also the note on p. 186 on dwelling in loving kindness and the Buddhism web documents, “Emotions” and Mindfulness meditation on friendliness compassion, joy, and equanimity.”

Wednesday.  Read ch. 16 (all); and 20-21 (all); plus the Buddhism web documents, “The religious philosophy of Tanabe Hajime” and “The Heart Sutra” (to be discussed in terms of the distinction between higher and lower truth).

            Thursday.  Quiz 1 will cover the text, related materials from the course website, and class discussions.  30 questions, mostly multiple-choice, which may include: What proportion of the reading did you complete?



III.  Judaism: Righteousness and joy

through faith in, and obedience to, the one God,

the Creator of the heavens and the earth and the Lord of history


Week 3.  Monday, June 20.  Study the web documents on Jewish history and Moses’ concept of God, and read Genesis chapters 1-4, Exodus 1-5 (pp. 8ff and 82ff in the Hebrew Bible [HB]), Leviticus 19, and Deuteronomy 5 and 6.  Consult the relevant maps at the back of our text, and read the Introductions to the Pentateuch, Genesis, and Exodus.

Tuesday.  Read Introduction to Psalms (pp. 775HB ff) and Psalms 1, 8, 19, 22, 23, 31, 42, 104, 118, 119, 133; Proverbs chapters 1-8; and the Judaism web document, “The philosophy of Martin Buber.”

            Wednesday.  Study the methods web document on the feminist philosophy of religious language, the Judaism web document on selected teachings of the prophets, and read Isaiah 40-55.

Thursday.  Study the Book of Job, introductions and 1-7; 31; 38-42 (pp. 721ff.), plus the web methods document, “The problem of evil.”


V.  Christianity: A gospel of love in the life and teachings of

Jesus of Nazareth


Week 4.  Monday, June 27.  Read the introductions to the Gospels and also to Luke and Acts, and read also Luke 1-7, 10.25-37, and 15, and Acts 1-2.  Study the web document, “Profiles of the life of Jesus of Nazareth.”

Tuesday.  Read Matthew (introduction and) chapters 5-7, 13.1-48, and 16.13-20.  Read the web document, “What is Jesus’ gospel?”  In addition, read http://www.personal.kent.edu/~jwattles/MarkGosp.htm.

Wednesday.  The Gospel According to John 2.23-4.42, 7.14-10.18, and chapters 13-17, plus Christianity web documents about the meaning of Jesus’ death on the cross and life after death.    

Thursday.  Read Romans 1-8, and the Christianity web documents on Paul.  Quiz 2.


V.  Islam: Dynamism through living the will of God and

delight in the poetry of mystical love


Week 5.  Tuesday, July 5.  Project report due.  Qur’an, Surahs (chapters) 1 and 92-114.  Study the web document, an introduction to Islam.  Learn the

Tuesday.  Review of the projects.  Sura 2.  Sufi poetry (document to be e-mailed) and the web document, “Muslim writings on love.”

Wednesday.  Read the Islam web documents on Ali Shari’ati and “An open letter to His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI.”

Thursday.  Review.  Final quiz