Topics in Comparative Religions (Focus: Sacred Sites and Religious Geography) [CRN 77164]

Discipline: Philosophy and Religious Studies
Instructor: Hua
Credits: 3
Day: A
Start: 1530
End: 1650
Field Work: Day 5 | November 8, 2018 | Myanmar (Burma)
Prerequisites: One (1) lower-division philosophy or religion course Download Syllabus

Can someone contract “Jerusalem Syndrome” while standing on the ship deck and watching a sunset? What makes a place holy? What is the difference between a manmade and a natural holy place? Why are there markets attached to holy places? Do visitors feel that a place is holy from a distance or up close? How should we behave when we visit sacred sites, and in what ways can we appreciate them? This course introduces the history and function of major sacred sites (past and present) in the countries we will visit on our voyage, such as Sagrada Família in Barcelona and Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon. We will compare their religious, political, social, and cultural significance, through critical reading of historical primary sources and modern-day materials. Students will collect books, religious pamphlets, temple souvenirs, and even tour guidebooks to use for analytical research during their final projects. This project will compare the role of the secular in two sacred sites, or the role of the sacred in two secular sites, from different countries we visited. Our goal is to better understand how people across different traditions make places sacred — and perhaps we can transform our ship into a holy space?

Field Work

Country: Myanmar (Burma)
Day: 5
Date: November 8, 2018

Have a day trip in Yangon and its neighboring region, visit major religious including the Buddhist Kalaywa Monastery and Shwedagon Pagoda, the Hindu Shri Kali Temple, and the Catholic St. Mary’s Cathedral. Students will have close interactions with worshippers, priests, and other practitioners at these religious sites. They will experience Buddhist meditation and other rituals of Theravada Buddhism. They will analyze the relationship between the environment and religious sites, in particular the urban landscape of Yangon and holy places, and the rice farms of the countryside and embedded temples and shrines. We will watch the documentary “Burma VJ” before the trip, and during the trip, explore the organizational function which Buddhist temples served during the 2007 “Saffron revolution,” as well as the socio-political role in which these temples played in Burmese society today.

Learning Objectives:
1. To become familiar with religious sites in Asia;
2. To witness Buddhist monastic life and their communities;
3. To investigate festivals and events held at religious sites;
4. To understand the role of religious sites in a rural society, and how a temple maintains its social network through villages in the agricultural hinterland. Thus to have a better understanding of the relationship between geography, ecology, and sacred sites