Academic Programs 
      

Introduction to World Religions (HI-530)
Fall 2007

This course introduces students to some alternative ways of being religious, historically and in the contemporary world, in the context of historical and theological development of several of the major world religions. Readings will be in religious biography and autobiography, with background materials provided in class sessions.

 

Meeting Day, Time and Dates: 
Thursdays from 4:30 to 6:50 p.m., beginning September 13



Jane Smith
Professor of Islamic Studies and Christian-Muslim Relations

Contact Information:
phone:

email:

 


Course Syllabus




Course Description:

What does it mean to be a Hindu, a Muslim, a Buddhist or a Jew in the contemporary world? In this course we will read the (auto)biographies of 20th and 21st century people of faith who talk about their personal religious experiences in the context of the historical traditions of which they are a part. Readings will include the spiritual journeys of both men and women as they reflect on such issues as the nature and relationship of human and divine, the meaning of sacred and secular, and how to live in this world while preparing for the next.

Readings: (available in Seminary bookstore)

Everyone is strongly advised to purchase and read the relevant sections from Huston Smith; we will discuss the text in class. Each student must then read at least three of the other four books listed.

1. Huston Smith, The Illustrated World’s Religions. HarperSanFrancisco: 1994 (adapted from his 1958 The Religions of Man). A very readable general introduction to religious concepts and practices.
2. Lizelle Reymond, My Life with a Brahim Family. Penguin: 1957 [NOTE: distributed gratis to class]. A French woman experiences ritual life with a Brahmin family, and becomes a Hindu practitioner of Upanishadic faith.
3. Vicki MacKenzie, Cave in the Snow. Temzim Palmo’s Quest for Enlightenment. Bloomsbury: 1998. A girl born in England recognizes at an early age that she is Buddhist; she spends many years in a cave in Northern India practicing Vajrayana Buddhist meditation.
4. Paul Cowan, An Orphan in History. One’s Man’s Triumphant Search for His Jewish Roots. Jewish Lights Publishing, 2002. The son of a Hollywood great discovers through years of searching and practicing what it really means to be a Jew.
5. Farid Esack, On Being a Muslim. Finding a Religious Path in the World Today. A South African Muslim (who happens to be teaching at Harvard now) shares his intellectual and pietistic journey through an understanding of Islam.

Class Sessions:

The themes to be covered in the class relate to the personal religious experiences of Hindus, Buddhists, Jews and Muslims. Each theme will be preceded by a general class session in which some of the history and theology of the respective traditions is presented by the instructor or by invited guests. Every other week will be devoted to a class discussion of the relevant biography or autobiography being read by the class.

SEPTEMBER 13:
SEPTEMBER 20:
SEPTEMBER 27:
OCTOBER 4:
OCTOBER 11:
OCTOBER 18:
OCTOBER 25:
NOVEMBER 1:
NOVEMBER 8:
NOVEMBER 15:
NOVEMBER 22:
NOVEMBER 29:
DECEMBER 9:
DECEMBER 16:
DECEMBER ??:
Introduction to the course
No Class [instructor out of town]
Introduction to the study of religion
Hinduism
Discussion of My Life with a Brahmin Family
Buddhism
Visit to Buddhist Pagoda
Discussion of Cave in the Snow
Judaism: Visit to Synagogue
Discussion of An Orphan in History
No Class: Thanksgiving
Islam
Discussion of On Being a Muslim
Conclusion
Make-up session

Requirements:

1. Reading required texts in time to participate in class discussions.
2. Writing a short essay (3-4 pages) for each book read. Students will be guided by specific questions related to the books to be distributed by the instructor.

NOTE: There is no final essay or examination.

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