Topics in Comparative Religions [CRN 77164]

Discipline: Philosophy and Religious Studies
Instructor: Bratt
Credits: 3
Day: B
Start: 1530
End: 1650
Field Work: Day 5 | November 18, 2017 | Vietnam
Prerequisites: One (1) religions of the West course OR one (1) religions of the East course, OR one (1) issues in the study of religion course Download Syllabus

This course uses auto/biographies rooted in five different world religions to analyze how personal experience intersects with momentous historical episodes, each shaping and being re-shaped by the other. The choice of figures is calibrated to the sites visited on the Fall 2017 Semester at Sea. It begins with Martin Luther, reflecting both the German point of embarkation and the 500th anniversary of the start of the Protestant Reformation. It moves on to Ibn Battuta whose travels offer a rough parallel to the course’s own itinerary, prompting students to compare and contrast movement across Battuta’s coherent landscape of medieval Islam with the rhyming jangle encountered under post-modernity. The next sites bring together person, place, and epochal political change in the religiously saturated stories of Desmond Tutu in South Africa, Mohandas Gandhi in India, Aung San Suu Kyi in Myanmar, and Claude Ashin Thomas, an ordinary American soldier in Vietnam. The course concludes with two novels, by Shusaku Endo and Chaim Potok, that explore the psychological dynamics that can attend radical religious encounter, inviting students to reflect on their own encounters on this journey.

Field Work

Country: Vietnam
Day: 5
Date: November 18, 2017

The Field Class for this course will be a guided tour of important sites in and around Ho Chi Minh City that relate to the American war in Vietnam. Having just read the account of Claude Anshin Thomas, a US Marine, of his participation in and recovery from that war, we will tour the Cu Chi tunnels, the War Remnants Museum, and the Xá Lợi Pagoda, a site of important anti-government protests in 1963. At the pagoda we will also observe and hear about the religious practices discussed in Thomas’s book as his mode of overcoming the war’s trauma.

Learning Objectives:
1. To witness the sites and consequences of American war-making at one of its seminal 20th-century points.
2. To encounter and reflect on the role that religion—especially Buddhism and Christianity—played in the onset and understanding of that war.
3. To learn concretely how religious resources can work in overcoming the traumas of war and promoting work for peace.