Kalamazoo Valley Community College

Philosophy Department

PHI - 209: Comparative Religion(s)

Course Syllabus



PHI 209: 30197 Course: Comparative Religion(s) Work phone: 488 – 4369
Texas Township TTC 3250 Voice mail: 488-4701 Ext. #1622
Days: Tuesdays, Thursdays

Time: 9.00 a.m. – 11:45 a.m.

Instructor: Rajka Rush
Office: 7411 Email: rrush8807@kvcc.edu
Mailbox: 7320 Use E-mail sparingly! Do not submit your homework via E-mail!

Sapere Aude!


Required textbooks: Mary Pat Fisher, Living Religions, 5th.ed. New York: Prentice-Hall Inc., 2002 (or older edition);

Recommended book: Mary Pat Fisher, Lee W. Bailey, An Anthology of Living Religions, Prentice Hall, New York, 2000; Robert E. Van Voorst, Anathology of World Scriptures, Wadsworth Publishing Company, An International Thomson Publishing Company, International Ed., 2000.


Course Description – Comparative Religions

The main goal of this course is to introduce students to the diversity of academic approaches in the study of religion and to offer students the overview of Eastern, Western, and exemplary native (basic) religious traditions specific in their belief systems as well as in their religious practices. Through the study of the different religious traditions students will learn how to differentiate, structurally compare, categorically explain diverse religious systems and their specific types of beliefs (animism, divination, eschatological concept of God, impersonal concept of God, etc.).

In the introduction sessions (2) we will discuss the possibilities of defining religion, the universality of religious experience, and students will be introduced in the main theories of the origin of religion as well as in diverse types of religions.

The main discourse of our class will concentrate on studying different religious traditions: Indigenous religions, religions originating in India (Hinduism, Buddhism), religions originating in China (Confucianism, Taoism), religions originating in the Middle East (Christianity, Islam) and new religious movements.

Besides the main class orientation in presenting the different religious traditions, this class will discuss diverse texts offered in the Anthology of Living Religions (New York: 2000). Diversity of suggested texts from Anthology will give students opportunity to better understand one tradition through its religious sacred texts or myths, personal believers’ experiences, and diverse theological concepts.

The main task of this course is to teach students how to make cross-cultural analysis of different belief systems whether they are compared in a synchronic (chronologically, evolutionary, or historically) or a diachronic (comparison of the main structures of the religious forms) manner. The final intention of this course is to present the cultural value of each different belief system and religion insisting on historical facts, anthropological analysis of religious practice, insight of the believers consciousness, functioning of religious institutions, and understanding of the basics of different sacred texts in correspondence with the system or religious symbols.

Finally, this course will help students to have better understanding of different cultures, religions, social systems, and to respect differences that make our world not only comprehensive in the geo-political sense, but more colorful in its substantial reality.



Learning Objectives:

In this class, students will learn how to:

1. Take notes (in-class and on the required readings), write papers, discuss and read competently in an organized and critical manner. Students are expected to use the knowledge of the different religious traditions that they become familiar with and to apply them to the theoretical discourses;

2. Identify significant theoretical values, arguments, approaches, and systems in the comparative study of religion(s);

3. Support and develop his/her own ideas through a consequent, critical and methodologically assured way of thinking.

Classroom Expectations:

Students are expected to attend all classes and to fulfill all their class assignments, quizzes, and examinations on time. Contact via E-mail your instructor if you cannot make it to class. Students should bring the required texts and their homework (notes and analyses of the original texts) to each class period.

In every class session students will have read the reading assignment and should then be ready to discuss the assigned text in class! Please, be aware that your active participation in the class discussions will be a part of your final grade.


Office Hours:

If you have any problems concerning class work, homework or any class assignments, please feel free to visit me during office hours.

If you have some specific problems concerning missed classes, assignments, and examinations you are expected to come to my office during office hours.

If you are interested in improving your work, or you want to clarify some class assignments, you are very welcome to come and speak with me during my office hours.


Grading Criteria and Assignment Agenda:

Your final grade is the result of the following, successfully fulfilled class assignments:

1. Class work (presentations, discussions, homework) 50 points

2. Tests (5) 500 points

3. Group Work 50 points

4. Responding to video materials (in class work) 50 points

5. Responds: critique of the required texts 300 points

6. Quality of overall work (instructors’ evaluation) 50 points



Grade Points:

A = 100 - 90 = 4.0 C = 76 - 70 = 2.0

BA = 89 - 87 = 3.5 DC = 69 - 67 = 1.5

B = 86 - 80 = 3.0 D = 66 - 60 = 1.0

CB = 79 - 77 = 2.5 E = 59 or less = 0.0




Explanation of the Main Class Assignments:

1. Follow the syllabus; do your homework and reading assignments! Read, Read, and Read assigned texts!

2. Attend the class sessions; be in the classroom on time!

3. Take notes during the class sessions! Important!.

4. All homework should be word-processed!

5. In class work: video and content analysis (work-shops).

6. Group presentations: Assigned groups, develop group structure, structural development of topic (guidelines for the topic development will be provided), each presentation should be 30 minutes long, including class discussion.

7. Critique Responds on Readings/Papers with the Essay Structure: You are expected to write 2 pages long responds to the additional texts required for this class and given by the instructor. Each text will have a few directions with the adequate work sheet. Each Critique Responds should have a basic essay structure (introduction, exposition and the body of the text, and valuable conclusions, which include your own observations). You are expected to apply the style of documentation, your choice (APA, MLA). Essays without the proper formatting (application of the style of documentation that supports your research) will not be accepted.

8. Apologetic essays will not be accepted. Do not argue that your religion is better than others! This is an academic approach in study of variety of religions.



Please do not arrive late for a class. It is disruptive to have people filtering in throughout the beginning of the class. If you arrive after a test has been distributed, you forfeit the test. Do not sign the attendance sheet and leave before the class session is complete. You are expected to attend all class sessions – class work is of an enormous value for this class and attendance is a great part of a grade. Part of your grade will be based on attendance. An absence will be excused when it is due to an illness that is documented by a doctor’s excuse, or because of a death (documented) in the immediate family. After two unexcused absences, the following deduction of points will occur:

2 missed class sections: - 50 points

3 missed class sections: 150 points

4 missed class sections: - 400 points

any further classes missed: - 600 points (and you’ve failed the class!)

Important notes:

If you miss the class in which a quiz, exam, or any specific class work is planned, your points will be reduced. If you miss in-class work, you may not make it up, and there is no extra credit. If an assignment is handed in late, I reserve the right not to accept it and/or to deduct as many points as I deem appropriate to your situation.

Being on time and courteous counts! Classroom attendance and behavior is important to me.


1. Students found cheating on exams or plagiarizing on assignments will be given a failure for that exam/assignment. Any further dishonesty will result in a failure for the entire course.

2. I will check attendance at the beginning of the class. Any cheating on the attendance sheet will be penalized.

3. If you have any disabilities that might affect your performance in the class, please, let me know immediately how I can proceed accordingly.





Course Outline & Schedule

This course outline and schedule is subject to change due to the cancellations, class progress, and other unforeseen problems. All changes will be announced during the beginning of class, a day before they are implemented.








The Main Class Outline

Readings & Assignment/All readings and assignments are due the day they are scheduled

(All homework should be word processed)



Introducing a course: Syllabus

Covering the following traditions: Theory of Religion (basics) 2; New Religious Movements 1; Natives: African religions (the Yoruba); Native Americans 3; Hinduism 2; Buddhism2; Chinese Religions 2.

Read syllabus carefully!

Introducing ourselves

Forming a snack list!

Class contract



Introduction to study of religion


·1 Definition

·2 Comprehensive Structure of the Religious Tradition

·3 Different Approaches to the Study of Religion

Readings 1/Critique sheet



Living Religions (LR); Chapter 1: The Religious Response

Handouts – work in class




Theory of Religion

·1 Sociology of Religion

·2 Psychology of Religion (Freud and Jung)

·3 Evolutionists

·4 Phenomenology of Religion (Eliade, Campbell)

·5 Anthropology of Religion

Readings 2: Critique sheet

An Anthology of Living Religions (Copies from ALR): Chapter 1: Eliade, Freud, Marx, Nietzsche, Jung, Campbell, Paul Tillich.



New Religions Movements


Readings 3: Jenkins on Cults/Critique sheet

Read chapter from your textbook on New Religious Movements!

Extra credit available: Choose one movement or a case study that represents new religious movements and give a short report in the class!




Test 1 (Introduction, theory, New Religious Movements)

Indigenous Sacred Ways/Basic Cultures (1)

African religions (Yoruba)

Readings 4/Critique sheet (Evans Pritchard or Mary Douglas)

LR: Chapter 2: Cultural diversity, Belief in spirits, Kinship, Powers (pp. 44 - 60)



Extra credit available – give a short report on the text: Mary Douglas: Pollution



Indigenous Sacred Ways (2)

Native American

Video presentation: The Apache;

Chief Seattle Reply to US Government

Readings 5/Sterba: Critique sheet


LR Chapter 2 (Spiritual specialists, Shamans, Group – Individuals observances pp. 60 –78)



Native Societies and Globalization Processes

Video presentation: African Case Study







Test 2 (Natives)

Hinduism (1): Belief system/ History/ Epics

Video presentation: 3600 Gods



LR: Chapter 3: Hinduism


Homework: Hindu Understanding of Karma: the Cycle of Life and Death




Hinduism (2) Modern Hinduism/Hinduism in America


Readings 6/Critique sheet

In class – Group Work LR: Chapter 3

Additional materials



Test 3 (Hinduism)

Buddhism (1) – Siddartha Gauthama; Belief system;


LR: Chapter 5 (141-155)





Buddhism (2): Theravada, Mahayana, Tibet, and Zen

Homework: Meditation (Students’ research)

Video presentation

LR: Chapter 5 (155-185)



Buddhism (3) Tibet

Video presentation

Readings 7/Critique sheet


Texts provided in the class




Test 4 (Buddhism)

Chinese mythology & Beliefs


Readings 8/Critique sheet (M. Weber: Chinese Religions)



LR: Chapter 6 (187-188; 202-215)






Lao Tze: Tao Te Ching

Readings 9/Critique sheet

LR: Chapter 6: 190-200





Test 5 (Chinese Religions)

West and East/ P. Berger Video presentation: discussion

LR: Chapter 9






Ronald Eyre: The Long Search/ Class work Class discussion



No class – office hours; check grade if you want