Meaning and Truth in Religion (Focus: Media and Material Culture) [CRN 77168]

Discipline: Philosophy and Religious Studies
Instructor: Hua
Credits: 3
Day: B
Start: 1230
End: 1350
Field Work: Day 2 | December 3, 2018 | Japan
Prerequisites: One (1) lower division religion or philosophy course Download Syllabus

There is no standard meaning or absolute truth in religions. Rather, individuals and communities apprehend, appreciate, adjust, and advance religious ideas, symbols, doctrines, and practices in a variety of ways. This course closely examines religious methods of communication, including language, text, and behavior, which made religions transformable and understandable. We will read religious literature that matches up with the cruise itinerary, including scriptures, annotations, hermeneutics, pilgrimage diaries, miracle witness accounts, and other genres. From traditional monotheism to modern day New Age movements, we will develop a better understanding of religious meanings, as demonstrated in speeches, words, writings, rituals, and behaviors. Students will learn the history of foundation, revision, denunciation, and challenging of religious meanings. Therefore, they will form a changing picture of religion’s many truths, which underwent constant construction and alternation, as reflected in religious places students will visit and observe.

Field Work

Country: Japan
Day: 2
Date: December 3, 2018

Post-war Japan experienced great change in its religious landscape and population of believers. As a majority atheist country, religions in Japan, especially Buddhism, face new challenges and opportunities. In this one day class trip, we will visit boththousand year old temples and innovated Buddhist business in Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan, about 1.5 hour away from Kobe. In the morning, we will visit two Buddhist temples – Gio-ji and Ryōan-ji, famous of the moss and rock gardens respectively. Students will gain knowledge of the history and religion of Kyoto. We will witness how tourism impacts religious practice and monastic life. We will compare the real landscape in these temples with the literary depiction we read about this temple in western books and media. We will also discuss peace, meditation, and sustainability during this temple visit. For lunch, we will taste Kyoto-style Buddhist meal in Hanazono Kaikan. In the afternoon, we will first visit the world famous golden pavilion – Kinkaku-ji, and discuss its meaning as both Buddhist sacred space and Japanese national symbol. Later, we will visit Kiyomizu Temple and overlook the entire city of Kyoto, and notice how religious sites shaped cityscape. Near the temple, we will walk through numerous shops of the hillside neighborhood Sannen-zaka district, and take photos of religious objects for a post-field class report. We will together experience new forms of Buddhist economy, and secular lives of people who still respect and make good use of Japan’s ancient religious traditions. Learning Objectives:

  1. To understand the modernization of religion and issues within the process;
  2. To look closer at Mahayana Buddhism in Japan and its influence on Japanese culture, past and present;
  3. To think critically about the relationship between business and religious meaning;
  4. To analyze new forms of religious practices and extended activities for the survival struggle of old traditions in a secular peaceful society of developed country.