RELG 231:

Religions and Cultures of India


Professor: Daniel Meckel

Office: Margaret Brent 104. Ext. 4464


Office hours: Fridays 9:00 AM - 12:00 PM



Course Summary

This course will provide an historical introduction to Indian Civilization in its major religious forms. We will study Hindu religions, Jainism, Buddhism, Islam and Sikhism, as these have developed, interacted, and given form to distinctive ways of life in India. We will trace the general outlines of India’s history, from pre-historical times up to the present, and learn about India’s religions and culture through historical studies, religious and philosophical texts, forms of devotion and ritual, stories of major religious figures (human and divine), and the arts.


Online Resource:

The Story of India:


Required Texts:

Wood, Michael.  The Story of India.

Eck, Diana. Darsan: Seeing the Divine Image in India.

Coward, Harold.  Mantra: Hearing the Divine in India and America.

Schwartz, Susan.  Rasa: Performing the Divine in India.


Other required readings available on Blackboard (BB)



Course Schedule



Videos in Green
Readings and Assignments
Due on the day they are listed



Tu Sept. 01: Introduction to the Course






Th Sept. 03:

HISTORY I: 60,000 BCE to 500 BCE

The Story of India: Beginnings

Reading: Wood, SOI Ch. 1




Early Vedic Religion:
Traditions of Maintaining the World

Week 2

Sept. 10: The Aryans: Ecstatic Visions and the Fire Sacrifice




Sept. 12: Mantra (1): Apprehending the Divine Through Sound


·      Coward, ch. 1


Reaction Paper Option 1

(on Mantra, ch. 1)
Due in class today



Week 3


Sept. 16:  Dharma, Karma, and Samsara

·      Kinsley, D. Central Hindu Beliefs, pp. 84-96 (BB)

Sept. 18:  Caste in India



The Wages of Action


·      Kinsley, Hindu Social Structure (BB)


Late Vedic Religion:
Traditions of Renouncing the World

Week 4

Sept. 23: Moksha and Brahman


·      Embree,  “The Ultimate Reality in the Upanishads (BB)

·      Klostermaier, “Karma, Vidya, Moksha” (BB)


Sept. 25:  Sanyasa and Yoga

·       Flood, “Yoga and Renunciation” (BB)




Week 5

Sept. 30: Moksha and Brahman


·      Embree, “The Ultimate Reality in the Upanishads (BB)

·      Klostermaier, “Karma, Vidya, Moksha” (BB)


Oct. 02:  Sanyasa and Yoga

·       Flood, “Yoga and Renunciation” (BB)




Week 6

Oct. 07:

HISTORY II: 500 BCE to 200 BCE

The Story of India: The Power of Ideas


Reading: Wood, SOI Ch. 2









Oct. 02: Jainism



The Frontiers of Peace


·      Padmanabh, The Mendicant Path and the Attainment of the Goal (BB)





Week 6

Oct. 07:  Buddha and the Conditions of Suffering



·      Rahula, The First Noble Truth; The Second Noble Truth (BB)



Oct. 09:




Week 7

Oct. 14: NO CLASS (Fall Reading Day)




                                                      MIDTERM EXAM

Oct. 16


Bring Blue Books
Available in the bookstore (and they’re actually






Oct. 16:  The Cessation of Suffering

·      Rahula, The Third Noble Truth, The Fourth Noble Truth (BB)




Week 8


Oct. 24:

HISTORY III: 300 BCE to 1000 CE

The Story of India: Ages of Gold


Reading: Wood, SOI Ch. 4





Seeing the Divine

Week 09

Oct. 29: Darsan: Seeing the Divine Image in India


Puja: Expressions of Hindu Devotion


·      Eck, chs. 1 & 2

Reaction Paper Option 2

(on Eck chs. 1 & 2)
Due in class today



Oct. 31: Gods and Goddesses; Bhakti, Temple and Pilgrimage


·      Fuller, “Gods and Goddesses” (Blackboard)

·      Eck, ch. 3


Week 10

Nov. 05: NO CLASS (All Day Advising)




Week 11

Performing the Divine


Nov. 12: Rasa (1): Aesthetic Experience


·      Schwartz, chs. 1 & 2


Reaction Paper Option 3

(on Schwartz chs. 1 & 2)
Due in class today






Nov. 14:

HISTORY IV: 1100 CE to 1700 CE

The Story of India: The Meeting of Two Oceans


Reading: Wood, SOI Ch. 5



Week 12

Nov. 19: The Coming of Islam to India

Nov. 21: Sufism


Video: I am a Sufi, I am a Muslim


·      Aslan, Stain Your Prayer Rug with Wine (BB)



Week 13

Nov. 26 & 28:  NO CLASS




Week 14

Dec. 03: Sikhism: Sants and Sikhs



·      Koller, Sikhism (BB)

Dec. 05: Sikh History, Doctrine and Practice




Week 15

Dec. 10: Rasa (2): Dance




·      Schwartz, ch. 3, pp. 21-72



Dec. 12: Mantra (2): Finding Your Mantra


Review for Exam

·      Coward, ch. 3


Reaction Paper Option 4

(on Mantra, ch. 3)
Due in class today





                                                          FINAL EXAM

The exam will take place in our usual classroom


Section One:  Wednesday, December 18.  9:00-11:15 AM

Section Two: Monday, December 16th, 7:00 PM to 9:15 PM



Bring Blue Books
Available in the bookstore (and they’re actually





Midterm Exam


Final Exam


Reaction Papers (3)

150 (3 at 50 pts. each)

In-Class Writing



150 (2 at 75 pts each)

Basic Participation

Active Participation


50 (defined below)



Final Grade Values
1000 Points Possible

  920 to 1000 = A

  900 to 919 = A-

  880 to 899 = B+

  820 to 879 = B

  800 to 819 = B-

  780 to 799 = C+


720 to 779 = C

700 to 719 = C-

680 to 699 = D+

620 to 679 = D

600 to 619 = D-

599 and below = F


Track your progress in the class on Blackboard


Descriptions of Assignments:
In Class Writing:
these are in-class writing exercises for the purpose of anchoring your knowledge through active use of the information that you get from lectures, films and readings.  They will always receive full credit so long as they show that you are taking advantage of the opportunity and using them to learn.  I use these exercises and the graded quizzes (see below) because of research that shows convincingly that frequent writing and quizzes are very effective in helping with recall, and they give me a chance to see how each student is grasping the material.  Each student begins the semester with full points for the in-class exercises and I deduct two points if the assignment is either not done or dramatically incomplete. 

Graded Quizzes: There will be two 25-minute graded quizzes.  Questions on a quiz can cover anything from the reading assignments, video, discussion, maps, lectures that followed the previous quiz, and from the readings for the day of the quiz.  Graded quizzes will usually consist of short answers and definitions.  Several quizzes will include image identification. My own lecture notes and lists of terms will be posted on the “study aids” page of the web site to help you stay prepared for class discussions, quizzes and exams.  Missed quizzes without receive no points.


Video Worksheets: You fill these out in class, after a video.  Again, I am looking here for you to use the opportunity to watch/listen actively and anchor your knowledge through writing.  Worksheets gain full points so long as the student gives a much as s/he can in responding to the question(s).

Midterm and Final Exams: The content of these exams and my criteria in grading them are described on pages linked to the “Assignments” page of the course website.


A Few Things to Note:

About Grading: If ever I find that a particular question on a test or quiz is missed by almost everyone, I will assume that it was unfair or too difficult and throw it out.  If ever you disagree with a grade, you can always come to me and protest, complain, persuade, etc.  I may or may not be convinced, but I will always listen.

About Participation: “Participation” means (1) present, (2) alert, (3) prepared with assignments, (4) punctual arrival.  Lack of any of these will affect the grade, excessive lack (e.g., more than 3 undocumented absences) is reason for dismissal from the class.

“Active Participation”: This refers to participation above and beyond the four criteria given above; for example when a student asks questions, makes         comments, seeks clarification, brings outside material (like news articles, books, experiences, etc.) to share in class.


Very Important Info:

My Attendance Policy: Attendance is required.  Without regular attendance, students do not tend to do well in the class.  I allow two free days.  As a courtesy, please let me know when you will be taking a free day; there is no need to say why.  After the two free days, each undocumented absence results in a 20 point reduction.  If a student acquires more than three undocumented absences, s/he must withdraw from the class.  After the deadline for withdrawal, the student will receive an F for the course.  A note from a doctor, dentist, coach, or funeral director -- with contact information -- is acceptable documentation.  The student must present the note on the day that he or she returns to class, otherwise the absence will be counted as undocumented.  Without such a note, or in the case of a late note, the absence will not be counted as documented.  Please note that a phone call or email message saying that you are ill is not sufficient, nor is a note from the health center confirming an appointment.


Lateness: Late arrival in class is noted.  Three late arrivals result in a 20 point reduction.  More than three is grounds for removal from the class.


Office Hours:  My office number and hours are listed above.  Please make an appointment if you can, but feel free to drop by with your concerns, ideas, questions, etc.  I will always make time if I can.  If need be, we can certainly communicate by email, but in-person is always best.

Online Syllabus: This online syllabus can be accessed through the Blackboard course page but I recommend that you bookmark it so as to bypass BB when it goes down.  I might well alter the assignment schedule as seems appropriate or necessary; but I will not change the grading policies.



Email Communications: Students are responsible for checking the online syllabus and their email every day. I will announce any and all changes via email -- e.g., a changed deadline or altered reading assignment.

Emailed Assignments: I cannot accept them unless you clear it with me in advance and only under unusual circumstances.  While I appreciate that print costs are considerable, I consider them a legitimate part of college expenses.  Running out of pay for print is not a valid reason for submitting an assignment by email.


Computer Failure: It is not a valid excuse for a late assignment.  Be sure to back up.  Broken or unreliable computer?  Use the computers at the college computer labs.

Academic dishonesty
in any form -- including plagiarism of self or others, falsified documentation of a doctor’s note, etc. -- will not be tolerated.  Cheating of any kind results, without exception, in an “F” for the course without the option of withdrawal.

Food in class:
Drinks and snacks of the very quiet variety are allowed in class (e.g., poi, rasgula, duck pate), nothing else.

No use of cell phones in the classroom (so please turn them off).