This course will introduce students to the world’s enduring religious traditions through a comparative investigation of their foundational texts, complicated histories and artistic expressions. Although all contemporary world religions are global in practice, this course places an emphasis on those traditions that are historically associated with the countries we are planning to visit during our Atlantic exploration: Judaism, Christianity, Islam, African religions, and indigenous traditions of South America. Several major traditions with historical origins in Asia will also be discussed (such as Hinduism and Buddhism), as well as general methodological issues within the academic study of religion.
Field WorkCountry: Russia
Day: 2 - Sunday, 31 August
This field lab will involve an informal visit with members of local religious communities, a tour of the State Museum of History of Religion, and stops at a variety of sacred sites associated with four major traditions: Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Having such a wide range of experiences during our very first port will provide us with valuable points of reference for our study throughout the semester. This Field Lab will give us a sense of the true breadth of world’s great religious traditions. But we will also gain an appreciation of the diversity that can be found within a major world religion. Our visits to the Russian and Armenian orthodox churches, for instance, will literally enable us “to see” how the variety of artistic expressions within a single tradition often reflect important theological differences between sects (something that we will have an occasion to examine further when we study the split between the eastern and western churches). Our stop at Grand Choral Synagogue will serve to anchor our study of Judaism (which happens to coincide with our stay in St. Petersburg). If all goes according to plan, students will have a chance to discuss contemporary Jewish life in St. Petersburg with a member of the synagogue while dining at the local kosher restaurant. Academic Objectives: 1. Compare art and architecture of multiple religious traditions. 2. Observe multiple religious traditions “in the field,” and to develop an appreciation for the variety of religious practices. 3. Observe the similarities and differences between the three Abrahamic traditions, and learn to recognize differences between sects of a single tradition, such as Christianity. 4. To deepen our understanding of the history and contemporary life of a Jewish community (as our visit will coincide with our study of Judaism).