The Religions of India
REL255
Introduction
This course will explore the major indigenous religions of South Asia with particular emphasis on shared concepts such as karma, the cycle of rebirth (samsara), and the transcendence of rebirth (nirvana/moksha). We will trace the evolution of Indian religion from its roots in the Vedas and the Upanishads through the development of Buddhism, Jainism, Hinduism, and Sikhism, and we will conclude with an examination of “inclusivistic” and “exclusivistic” approaches to religious pluralism in contemporary Indian thought.
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The readings for each class are listed in the syllabus; please be sure to complete the readings before class, as this will enhance your understanding of the lectures and help facilitate meaningful class discussions.  Attendance is mandatory and will contribute to your mark for class participation.  The distribution of grades for the course is as follows:
15%  Class (10%) & Blackboard (5%) Participation
10%  Temple Visit Assignment (date TBA)
25%  Midterm Exam (Thursday, October 5)
25%  Term Paper (10 pages; due Thursday, November 16)
25%  Final Exam (Tuesday, November 21 ․ 10:00 AM-12:00 PM)
You final grade will ultimately depend on my assessment of your performance in each of the above areas, though the following descriptions should provide you with a rough idea of the defining characteristics of students within particular grade ranges:

A-/A  Possesses a deep understanding of the major concepts and themes of the course.  The “A” student is able to consistently identify and explain key ideas in the primary sources, develop genuine insights into the broader significance of these texts, and demonstrate a high level of intellectual engagement in class discussions.

B-/B/B+  Demonstrates a serious commitment to the course (i.e. attendance and participation) and a strong grasp of the major concepts and themes but with less depth and/or consistency than the “A” student.

C-/C/C+  Demonstrates a reasonable effort to attend class and participate in discussions as well as a basic grasp of the course material.

D  Demonstrates a minimal commitment to the course and a weak grasp of basic concepts and themes.

F  Fails to demonstrate an acceptable degree of effort in the course through low attendance, inability to discuss basic concepts and themes, missed assignments and/or plagiarized work.

Class/Blackboard Participation
Given the complexity of many of the ideas that we’ll be studying, I believe that discussion, both in class and on the web, will be extremely helpful for your understanding of the material.  Your Class Participation mark (worth 10% of the final grade) will be based on your ability to demonstrate that you have made a sincere attempt to read and understand the assigned material; although the quality of your comments will obviously be taken into consideration, please note that all attempts to seriously engage the readings—from sharing your perspective on the material to simply asking a relevant question—will enhance your grade.  Your Blackboard Participation mark (worth 5% of the final grade) will similarly be based on the quantity and quality of your comments on the readings, though in this case you will be expected to post a minimum of five reflections on the readings over the course of the term.  To count towards the minimum of five Blackboard reflections you must post your comments before the class for which the readings in question have been assigned; however, all of your Blackboard postings—including responses to other students’ comments (whether before or after the class in question)—will ultimately count towards your Blackboard Participation grade.  To post a comment on Blackboard, simply click the Blackboard link on the course home page and then log in with your North Central username and password (which is set to your student ID# by default); then go to “The Religions of India” and click “Communication” followed by “Discussion Board”; you can then choose the reading that you want to comment on by clicking the appropriate topic, which will correspond to a topic from the course syllabus.

Temple Visit
To help you gain a more concrete understanding of Indian religion in practice, we will be visiting a Hindu Temple at some point during the term (date and time to be arranged).  After the temple visit, you will be required to write a 3-4 page (double-spaced) report on your experience at the temple.  Your report should focus on a single theme, though you may draw on various sources of information, such as the readings, class discussions, and personal experience.  For example, you might discuss one of the rituals that you observed at the temple and compare it to a ritual within your own religious tradition.  The report will be due within one week of the temple visit.

Midterm Test/Final Exam
The Midterm will be based on the course readings, though topics that are discussed in class may provide significant information as well; it will focus on four major areas:  the early Vedic tradition, the Upanisads, and the development of Jainism and Buddhism.  The test will include multiple-choice questions, a section in which you are asked to identify and state the significance of certain key terms, as well as short essay-style questions.  The Final Exam will similarly focus on themes that were explored both in the readings and in class during the second half of the term, though it will also test your overall comprehension of the Indian religious tradition.

Term Paper
You may choose one of the following three topics for your final 10-page term paper, though you are encouraged to explore a topic of your own choosing. In either case, a brief statement that identifies your topic, explains how you intend to pursue it, and lists at least five “print” sources that you intend to use will be due at the beginning of week 7 (Tuesday, October 23); you may also use web-sources if you so choose, though you are discouraged from relying on them too heavily, as many web-sites provide superficial, biased and/or incorrect information.  Please note that you are required to provide appropriate citations for both direct and indirect quotations using “Chicago” style footnotes and bibliography (for a summary of Chicago style, go to the “Bibliography” link on the course home page).  Plagiarism is a very serious offense, so if you have any doubts regarding what does or does not constitute plagiarism, please refer to the plagiarism link on my home page.  I strongly recommend that you become familiar with the boundaries of academic honesty…and don’t attempt to transgress them.  Essays that contain significant instances of plagiarism will receive a 0 and be reported to the Office of Academic Affairs in accordance with college policy.

1. The varnasrama-dharma system has had a tremendous impact on the development of Indian civilization.  Describe the essential features of the system and then explain its significance as the conceptual foundation of “traditional” Indian society.  Do you think that varnasrama-dharma has played a positive, negative, or mixed role in defining the social and religious framework of pre-modern India?  Can this system maintain a meaningful role in present-day India, or is it in fundamental conflict with the values of “modernity”?

2. Do a comparative analysis of one Indian and one Judeo-Christian religious tradition.  Your examination should include some discussion of the similarities and differences both within and between the “Eastern” and “Western” traditions and should work towards developing a statement that explains how the “comparative” approach has contributed to your overall understanding of religion.

3. Although the term “Hinduism” is commonly used to refer to the primary religious tradition of the Indian people, it should be noted that this use of the term arose during the modern era in response to a perceived need to distinguish this “dominant” tradition from others, such as Islam, Sikhism, Jainism, Buddhism, and Christianity.  Given the broad range of “Hindu” responses to fundamental issues—such as whether the Vedas are “revealed” texts, whether ritual is necessary for salvation, and whether ultimate reality should be understood in theistic or non-dualistic terms—one could argue that the term “Hinduism” is in fact meaningless.  On the other hand, one might also argue that despite the diversity of the Hindu traditions, there is some underlying “essence” that ties them all together.  Do you agree with either position, or would you propose a third?

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Since this is intended to be a research paper, you must provide at least five “print” sources in addition to the texts that are required for the course; you may also use web-sources if you so choose, though you are discouraged from relying on them too heavily, as many web-sites provide superficial, biased and/or incorrect information.  Please note that you are required to provide appropriate citations for both direct and indirect quotations using “Chicago” style footnotes and bibliography (for a summary of Chicago style, go to the “Bibliography” link on the course home page).  Plagiarism is a very serious offense, so if you have any doubts regarding what does or does not constitute plagiarism, please refer to the Plagiarism” link on my home page.  I strongly recommend that you become familiar with the boundaries of academic honesty…and don’t attempt to transgress them.  Essays that contain significant instances of plagiarism will receive a 0 and be reported to the Office of Academic Affairs in accordance with college policy.

Required Texts (available in the bookstore)

  • Thomas J. Hopkins, The Hindu Religious Tradition (HRT)
  • Nancy Auer Falk, Living Hinduism (LH)
  • Peter Heehs, Indian Religions (IR)
  • Online Readings (go to Blackboard: Assignments)
Office, Etc.
225 North Loomis Road, Room 23
Monday ~ 1:00-2:30
Wednesday ~ 1:00-2:30
Thursday ~ 4:00-5:00
Friday ~ 4:00-5:00 (Tea/Talk)
Phone: 637-5619
E-Mail: bhoffert@noctrl.edu
Home Page: http://brian.hoffert.faculty.noctrl.edu