Introduction to World Religions
Essay Questions

Go to www.beliefnet.com/Entertainment/Quizzes/BeliefOMatic.aspx, enter your name and e-mail address, and complete the “Belief-O-Matic” survey; after you complete the survey, check your e-mail for a copy of your results. Was the religious tradition with which you are most closely associated at or near the top of the list of traditions that were selected for you? Were there any other traditions at or near the top of the list that surprised you? If you are unfamiliar with a particular tradition, click on its name for a summary of its beliefs; you should also take note of the “percentage” of consistency, which tells you how similar your beliefs are to the various traditions that are listed (which are the same for everyone). What did you learn from doing this exercise? Please include a copy of the survey results with your paper.
 
1. According to biblical scholars, there are two creation stories in Genesis, from 1:1 to 2:4 and from 2:4 to the end of the chapter. How do these two versions of creation differ and what is the significance of their differences with regard to the academic study of the Hebrew Bible?
 
2. Discuss the concept of “exile” in Judaism beginning with the exile from the Garden of Eden and ending with contemporary issues surrounding the modern state of Israel (including at least one other example of exile in between).
 
3. Describe the essential beliefs and/or practices of Judaism from the perspective of one of the four major branches — Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, or Reconstructionist. What distinguishes the branch in question from the other three?
 
1. What do you regard as the essential core of Jesus’ ethical teachings (i.e. those that are specifically concerned with the moral conduct of human beings)? Do you think that embodying these teachings is essential for salvation in the Christian tradition? Why or why not?
 
2. What conflicts led to the split between the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches? What are the main elements of belief and/or practice that distinguish these two traditions? On what points do they essentially agree? What is the significance of this first major schism in Christianity?
 
3. What are the basic characteristics that distinguish Protestant Christianity from Roman Catholicism? Do their differences outweigh their similarities, or do the essential principles that they share unite these traditions as legitimate expressions of Christianity?
 
1. How is the concept of jihad related to the “Five Pillars of Islam.” Do you think that Muhammad would support the use of terrorism to “protect the Way of God against the forces of evil” (Living Religions, 423)? Why or why not?
 
2. Examine the role and status of women in Islam. Do you think that the essential principles of Islam preclude the development of feminism within the tradition, or is feminism consistent with the Qur’an and the sunnah of Muhammad?
 
3. What are the most important religious themes common to Judaism, Christianity and Islam? Based on your understanding of these three religions, do you think that Islam is more similar to Judaism or to Christianity … or is it somewhere in between the two? Justify your answer with specific examples.
 
1. According to Laozi, “In the pursuit of learning, [one’s knowledge] increases each day. In the pursuit of the Dao, [one’s willful activity] decreases each day. [Such activity] decreases and decreases until one arrives at non-action (wuwei). When one does not [willfully] act, there is nothing that is not done” (Daodejing 48). Discuss the concept of wuwei, providing at least one example of wuwei in practice. What makes wuwei a form of religious experience rather than a nonreligious psychological state?
 
2. Are the teachings of Confucianism merely “ethical” or do they represent a genuinely “religious” path of spiritual cultivation? Your response should include a definition of religion as well as references to some or all of the following concepts: ren (humaneness), li (ritual/rites/propriety), Heaven, filial piety, ancestor worship, and the Confucian emphasis on the connection between social, political and cosmic harmony.
 
3. Confucianism and Daoism have harmoniously coexisted for over two-thousand years because “in Chinese tradition there are no major divisions between mind and matter, utopian ideals and everyday life” (Living Religions, 208). Compare and contrast these two traditions, explaining how they may be said to complement each other despite significant differences in their respective worldviews.
 
4. Explain the importance of purification — both personal and collective — in the Shinto tradition. Your answer should include references to terms such as tsumi, misogi and oharai, as well as discussions of phenomena such as nature, mountains, and shrines.
 
5. Compare and contrast the Shinto tradition with the Confucian and Daoist traditions from China. Identify at least one aspect that Shinto shares with each tradition as well as at least one way in which Shinto is uniquely Japanese.
 

1. Choose one of the four major paths of Hindu “discipline” (i.e. Raja Yoga, Jnana Yoga, Karma Yoga or Bhakti Yoga) and explain its approach to religious self-transformation in terms of the foundational principles of Hinduism — Brahman, Atman, Karma and Moksha.
 
2. Describe the relationship between the caste system (varna), the four “stages of life” (asrama), and the Hindu concept of dharma — known collectively as Varnasrama Dharma. How does this system relate to the principles of Brahman, Atman and Karma ... and how does it help one progress towards spiritual liberation (Moksha)?
1. What beliefs do Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism have in common? How do they differ? Do you think that the similarities are more important than the differences, or vice-versa?
 
2. Describe the basic beliefs and practices of Chan/Zen Buddhism, highlighting specific elements that show the influence of Daoism and/or other East Asian traditions. What is the significance of this East Asian influence on the Chan/Zen tradition?
 
3. Describe the basic beliefs and practices of the Pure Land tradition. Is this approach to Buddhism consistent with the original teachings of the Buddha? Why or why not?
 

The Department of Religious Studies hosts a number of “contemplative” events throughout the term, each of which features a brief talk by an experienced practitioner of a particular tradition (religious or secular), followed by a meditative exercise and open discussion. During the term, you will attend at least one of these events and then write a 2-3 page (500 word minimum) reflection on the experience. In addition to describing the event, your reflection should contemplate the religious significance of the exercise in question; for example, you might explain how the exercise is significant to the tradition with which it is associated, how it can be related to the beliefs and/or practices of other religious traditions, or how it is relevant to your personal experience of religion. For more information about the Contemplative Series, click the “Contemplative Event” link on the Blackboard menu.

Attend a religious service in a tradition other than one with which you are closely associated (see attached list of Local Places of Worship) and write a 2-3 page (500 word minimum) reflection on the experience. Your paper should explain how the experience helped you develop a deeper understanding of the tradition in question. Towards this end, you will also be expected to include references to a conversation with at least one member of the congregation (you may want to contact the institution in advance to arrange for a member of the congregation to meet you at the service). Although the absolute deadline for this assignment is the day of the final exam, you should ideally attend a service immediately after we finish the relevant section of the course and turn in the paper within one week of your visit.
 
Essays I, VIII, and IX must be completed by all students.

ESSAY RUBRICS
 
 

 

Unsatisfactory
0 - .65

Satisfactory
.75

Good
.85

Excellent
.95

MARK

LENGTH

<400 words

400-500 words

500-600 words

>600 words

1%

STYLE

Excessive stylistic errors (spelling, grammar, sentence construction, etc.).

Ideas are adequately expressed, but there are more than 3 stylistic errors.

Ideas are clearly expressed with no more than 3 stylistic errors.

Ideas are eloquently  expressed with no more than 2 stylistic errors.

1%

RELIGIONS

None of the religions on the list are discussed in sufficient depth.

At least 2 of the religions on the list are discussed in sufficient depth.

At least 3 of the religions on the list are discussed in sufficient depth.

There is a substantial discussion of at least 3 of the religions on the list.

1%

ANALYSIS

There is a fundamental misunderstanding of the survey results.

The discussion of the survey results lacks clarity and/or depth.

The survey results are thoughtfully explored and appropriately interpreted.

The survey results are explored in depth and insightfully interpreted.

1%

REFLECTION

The results of the survey are not explored in  sufficient depth.

The paper provides minimal reflection on the survey results.

The paper presents a thoughtful reflection on the survey results.

The paper demonstrates deep reflection on the survey results.

1%

TOTAL

 

 

 

 

5%

 

 

Unsatisfactory
0 - .65

Satisfactory
.75

Good
.85

Excellent
.95

MARK

LENGTH

<400 words

400-500 words

500-600 words

>600 words

1%

STYLE

Excessive stylistic errors (spelling, grammar, sentence construction, etc.).

Ideas are adequately expressed, but there are more than 3 stylistic errors.

Ideas are clearly expressed with no more than 3 stylistic errors.

Ideas are eloquently  expressed with no more than 2 stylistic errors.

1%

SOURCES

There are no citations or the sources are not “peer-reviewed”.

LR is cited 1-3 times and any other sources are not “peer-reviewed”.

LR is cited at least 4 times.

LR and at least one other “peer-reviewed” source are cited at least 5 times.

1%

ARGUMENT

There are significant deficiencies in the argument and/or supporting evidence.

The argument and/or supporting evidence provides weak support for the thesis.

The thesis is supported by a reasonable argument backed by appropriate evidence.

The thesis is amply supported by a strong argument backed by convincing evidence.

1%

THESIS

The paper misses the point of the question or the response is otherwise deficient.

The paper does not fully grasp the significance of the question.

The paper develops a reasonable response to the question.

The paper develops a genuinely insightful perspective on the issue in question.

1%

TOTAL

 

 

 

 

5%

 

 

Unsatisfactory
0 - .65

Satisfactory
.75

Good
.85

Excellent
.95

MARK

LENGTH

<400 words

400-500 words

500-600 words

>600 words

1%

STYLE

Excessive stylistic errors (spelling, grammar, sentence construction, etc.).

Ideas are adequately expressed, but there are more than 3 stylistic errors.

Ideas are clearly expressed with no more than 3 stylistic errors.

Ideas are eloquently  expressed with no more than 2 stylistic errors.

1%

DESCRIPTION

The event is not described in sufficient detail.

 The event is described in minimal detail.

The event is described in appropriate detail.

The description of the event significantly enhances the paper.

1%

ANALYSIS

The religious significance of the exercise is not sufficiently explored.

The religious significance of the exercise is briefly explored.

The religious significance of the exercise is explored in appropriate depth.

There is genuine insight into the religious significance of the exercise.

1%

REFLECTION

The paper does not provide a reflection on the value of attending the event.

There is a brief statement on the value of attending the event.

The paper discusses the value of attending the event.

The paper shows how the event enhanced your understanding of religion.

1%

TOTAL

 

 

 

 

5%

 

 

Unsatisfactory
0 - .65

Satisfactory
.75

Good
.85

Excellent
.95

MARK

LENGTH

<400 words

400-500 words

500-600 words

>600 words

1%

STYLE

Excessive stylistic errors (spelling, grammar, sentence construction, etc.).

Ideas are adequately expressed, but there are more than 3 stylistic errors.

Ideas are clearly expressed with no more than 3 stylistic errors.

Ideas are eloquently  expressed with no more than 2 stylistic errors.

1%

DESCRIPTION

The religious service is not described in sufficient detail.

 The religious service is described in minimal detail.

The religious service is described in appropriate detail.

The description of the religious service significantly enhances the paper.

1%

CONTACT

There is no evidence of contact with a member of the congregation.

There is minimal evidence of contact with a member of the congregation.

There is evidence of a significant discussion with a member of the congregation.

There is evidence of a substantial discussion with a member of the congregation.

1%

REFLECTION

The paper does not provide a reflection on the value of attending the service.

There is a brief statement on the value of attending the service.

The paper discusses the value of attending the service.

The paper shows how the service enhanced your understanding of religion.

1%

TOTAL

 

 

 

 

5%