RELG 231:

Religions and Cultures of India


Professor: Daniel Meckel

Office: Margaret Brent 104. Ext. 4464


Office hours: Fridays 9:00 - 10:00 AM



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




See the Assignments or Study Aids Page for the Historical Timeline



Sept. 02:  Introduction to the Course


The reaction paper assignment for all four options is linked to the “Assignments” page of the course website.




Sept. 04:

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. 09: Indus Valley Civilization

                  and The Aryans

·      Koller, Ch. 2  Roots of the Indian Way: Indus and Vedic Beginnings (BB)


Map exercise 1 is due in class on Sept. 25
(Download the exercise from BB)


Sept. 11: Early Veda, Ecstatic Visions, and the

                Fire Sacrifice


·      Koller, Ch. 3  Creation and Celebration in the Vedas (BB)



Late Vedic Religion:
Traditions of Renouncing the World

Week 3

Sept. 16:  The Forest Sages and The Upanishads:


Karma and Samsara


·      Koller, Ch. 4  Liberating Knowledge: The Upanishads

Sept. 18:  Ultimate Reality and Liberation:


Brahman and Moksha


Due in Class: Reaction Paper Option 1
on Coward’s Mantra, ch. 1




Week 4

Sept. 23:  Four Holy Men


·      Koller, Ch. 5  Self and Society: Norms of Life (BB)





Sept. 25:  Dharma



Due in Class: Map Exercise 1
Map exercise 2 is due in class on Oct. 07
(Download the exercise from BB)



Week 5

Sept. 30:

HISTORY II: 500 BCE to 200 BCE

The Story of India: The Power of Ideas


Reading: Wood, SOI Ch. 2










Oct. 02: Jina Mahavira



·      Koller, Ch. 6  The Jaina Vision





Week 6

Oct. 07:  The Frontiers of Peace


TAs will hand back Map
Exercise 1 for revisions



Oct. 09:  No Class (Instructor in Reykjavik
                   delivering a conference paper)

Due in Dan’s Tray: Map Exercise 1 Revisions




Week 7

Oct. 14: No Class (Readings Day)



Wednesday, Oct. 15:

Due: Map Exercise 2


Please leave in the tray outside
Dan’s Office (MB 114)


Oct. 16th:  Review Session (attendance required)







Week 8

Oct. 21:  The Buddha and his Teachings on the

                  Cause and Nature of Suffering



·      Koller, The Way of the Buddha (BB)


Oct. 23:  The Buddha and his Teachings on the

                  Cessation of Suffering





Week 9

                                                      MIDTERM EXAM

Oct. 28


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



Oct. 30:

HISTORY III: 300 BCE to 1000 CE

The Story of India: Ages of Gold


Reading: Wood, SOI Ch. 4




Week 10


Nov. 04: No Class (All day advising)






Nov. 06: Devotional Images and Practices


Puja, Darsan, Murti, Prashad


Puja: Expressions of Hindu Devotion


Due in Class: Reaction Paper Option 2

(on Eck ch. 1)

·      Eck, chs. 1 & 2



Week 11

Nov. 11: Krishna


·      Koller, Devotional Hinduism: God as Joy, Love, and Beauty


Nov. 13: Shiva


·      Koller, Devotional Hinduism: Kali and Shiva


Week 12

Nov. 18: The Goddess Traditions and Kali


Guest Lecturer: Sarah Peterson









Nov. 20:

HISTORY IV: 1100 CE to 1700 CE

The Story of India: The Meeting of Two Oceans


Reading: Wood, SOI Ch. 5




Week 13

Nov. 25 & 27: No Class (Thanksgiving)


Reaction Paper Option 3 on Schwartz ch. 2 or ch. 3 due in my tray outside MB 104 by Nov. 25



Week 14

Dec. 02: Introduction to Islam / Islamic Empire in India



Dec. 04: Sufi Practice


Guest Lecturer: Lily Kern



Video: I am a Sufi, I am a Muslim


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





Week 15

Dec. 09: Sikhism: Sants and Sikhs

·      Koller, The Faith of the Sikhs (BB)


Dec. 11: Sikh History, Doctrine and Practice




Due in Class: Reaction Paper Option 4 on Coward, Ch 3, Finding One’s Mantra.





                                                          FINAL EXAM

The exam will take place in our usual classroom


Section One:  Wednesday, December 17th.  9:00-11:15 AM

Section Two: Tuesday, December 16th, 2:00 PM to 4:15 PM



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





Midterm Exam


Final Exam


Map Exercises (2)

Reaction Papers (3)

100 (50 pts each)

150 (50 pts each)

Quizzes (top 3)

150 (50 pts each)

Video Worksheets

Basic Participation

Active Participation

  40 (10 pts each)


  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:

Quizzes: There will be four 20-minute quizzes.  Missed quizzes cannot be made up.  I will count the top three of your quizzes toward the final grade point tally. 

Questions on a quiz can cover anything from the reading assignments (including Wood), videos, discussion, maps, images, lectures that followed the previous quiz, and from the readings for the day of the quiz.  Quizzes will usually consist of short answers and definitions, image identification, and mapping.  My own lecture outlines as well as “terms and questions” will be posted on the “Study Aids” page of the web site to help you prepare for class discussions, quizzes and exams. 

Please be sure to take a look at the link “How to Write a Good Quiz” on the Assignments page of the course website.


Video Worksheets: You fill these out in class during a video.  Here I am looking 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 as 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.


Basic Participation: By this I mean that a student is (1) present with a good attitude, (2) alert and focused, (3) prepared with assignments, (4) punctual to class and outside meetings.  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 actively asks questions, makes comments, seeks clarification, brings outside material (like news articles, books, experiences, etc.) to share in class.  Sometimes students are actively engaged in learning but find speaking up in class very painful.  I understand this experience and ask that you let me know about it.  We’ll go from there.


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 from the final grade tally.  More than three undocumented absences is grounds for withdrawal from the class.  In this case, if the deadline for withdrawal has passed, the student will receive an F for the course. 

Documenting an absence: 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 do not 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: This is not a valid excuse for a late assignment.  Be sure to back up.  If you have a 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.

Use of smart phones for any purpose is not allowed in the classroom (so please turn them off).  If a student is seen using one, s/he will be asked to leave the class and will receive an undoc absence for that day.  If it then happens again, s/he will need to withdraw from the class.