This course will examine the major religious traditions of Japan, including Shinto, Buddhism (Tendai, Shingon, Pure Land, Nichiren, and Zen), and the various “New Religions” that have come to prominence in the post-war period (such as Tenrikyo and Soka Gakkai). The theory and practices of specific religious traditions will be examined in their historical context, beginning with the early roots of Shinto and concluding with the dramatic changes that have transformed the Japanese religious landscape from the nineteenth century to the present.

The breakdown of grades for the course is as follows:

10% Class/Blackboard Participation
20% Midterm Exam
15% Temple Visit Paper
5% Topic Paper/Annotated Bibliography 
25% Final Paper (8-10 pages)
25%Final Exam

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:

APossesses 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 readings, develop genuine insights into the broader significance of these concepts, and demonstrate a high level of intellectual engagement in class discussions.
BDemonstrates a serious commitment to the course and a strong grasp of the major concepts and themes but with less depth and/or consistency than the “A” student.
CDemonstrates a reasonable effort to attend class and participate in discussions as well as a basic grasp of the course material.
DDemonstrates a minimal commitment to the course and a weak grasp of basic concepts and themes.
FFails 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/BodhiBlog Participation
The 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, all attempts to seriously engage the readings — from sharing your perspective on the material to simply asking a relevant question — will enhance your grade. You can also enhance your grade by posting reflections on the readings and/or class discussions to the BodhiBlog, which can be accessed through Blackboard. Although your mark will ultimately depend on my subjective evaluation of the quantity and quality of your comments, you may reasonably expect to receive at least a “B” if you attend class regularly, actively participate in class discussions, and contribute a minimum of 5 substantial postings to the BodhiBlog.

Midterm and Final Exams
The midterm and final exams will include an assortment of quiz-style questions (such as multiple choice, true/false, and fill-in-the-blank), a list of key terms for you to “identify and state the significance of,” and essay-style questions that focus on major themes covered in the course. Further details will be provided prior to each exam.

Temple Visit Paper
In order to help you gain a deeper perspective on the practice of Japanese religion, we will attend a service at the Nichiren Temple in Bartlett (approximately 20 minutes from campus), tentatively scheduled for Sunday, May 7. (If you cannot attend this service or would like to attend a service at a different Japanese temple, let me know so that we can make alternate arrangements.) After the temple visit, you will write a 4 page (1000-word minimum) reflection on your experience and how it relates to the material that we’ve studied in the course. Your paper should include a general summary of the service as well as a detailed description of a specific ritual (or other element of the service) that you found particularly interesting. You should then explore the significance of your chosen ritual/element through references to at least two academic sources. Your conclusion should explain how the temple visit and additional research helped you develop a deeper understanding of Japanese religious practice. Please submit your paper online at Blackboard/Assignments/Temple Visit Paper by Friday, May 12, after which your grade will go down one degree (e.g. from B+ to B) for each day the paper is late.

Topic Paper/Annotated Bibliography/Final Paper
The final assignment for the course is an 8-10 page research paper on virtually any aspect of Japanese Religion that interests you. You can explore one of the traditions that we’ve studied in more detail, or choose a topic that covers several different traditions; however, you should try to narrow down the focus of your topic as much as possible, since this will help you to define and defend a coherent “thesis.” In order to help you develop an appropriate thesis for your paper, you will be required to submit a 1-page topic paper (due on Monday, May 22) that identifies the issue you wish to explore and explains how you intend to pursue your research, together with an annotated bibliography that includes at least seven “academic” (i.e. peer-reviewed) sources with “annotations” that summarize your sources, assess their reliability, and reflect on their relevance to the project. To give you some ideas to get you started, I’ve provided a list of “Potential Paper Topics”; please feel free to revise any of these topics as you see fit, or else develop a topic of your own choosing. The final paper should include appropriate citations for both direct and indirect quotations using “Chicago Style” footnotes as well as a final bibliography (without annotations). If you have any questions regarding what does or does not constitute plagiarism, please refer to the college’s plagiarism policy. 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. Papers should be submitted online at Blackboard/Assignments/Final Paper by Friday, June 2, after which your grade will go down one degree (e.g. from B+ to B) for each day that the paper is late.

Required Texts

  • Ellwood, Robert. Introducing Japanese Religion. New York: Routledge, 2008.
  • Kasulis, Thomas P. Shinto: The Way Home. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2004.
  • de Bary, Wm. Theodore, et al. Sources of Japanese Tradition. Second Edition, Volume 1. New York: Columbia University Press, 2001.

Office, Etc.
225 North Loomis Road, Room 23
Monday: 4-5  ~  Tuesday: 3-5  ~  Wednesday: 4-5  ~  Tea/Talk: Friday 4-5
Phone: 630-637-5619
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