RELG 231:

Religions and Cultures of India


Professor: Daniel Meckel

Office: Margaret Brent 104. Ext. 4464


Office hours: Wednesdays 12:00-1:00 PM




Online Resource:

The Story of India:


Required Texts:

Eck, Diana. Darsan: Seeing the Divine Image in India
Trautmann, T.  India: Brief History of a Civilization

Prime, RanchorRamayana: A Tale of Gods and Demons

Ananda Maitreya (trans.), The Dhammapada

Stoller Miller, Barbara (trans.) The Bhagavad-Gita: Krishna's Counsel in Times of War


All other readings are posted in Blackboard [BB]


Course Schedule



Topics, Primary Texts,  and Videos
Videos in green, Primary texts in purple
Readings, Quizzes, and Assignments



Tu Sept 1: Introduction to the Course


Readings and Assignments are due for
the day on which they are listed unless otherwise indicated


Th Sept 3: Geographical and linguistic
                    features of India


·      Trautmann,  Ch 1. Introduction [BB]




The Story of India: Beginnings




2500-1900 BCE

Week 2

Tu Sept. 08: Indus Valley Civilization

·      Trautmann,  Ch 2.  The Beginnings of Indian Civilization [BB]


1400-500 BCE


Early Vedic Tradition

Th Sept. 10:  Early Vedic Tradition --

Aryan Worldview and Society


Primary Text: Purusha Sukta [BB]


·      Trautmann,  Ch 3. The Vedic Age [BB]


Week 3

Tu Sept. 15:  Early Vedic Traditions --
            Ecstatic Visions and the Fire Sacrifice


·      Coward,  Hearing the Sacred [BB]

·      Summary and Reflections Paper 1 is on sacred sound.  The assignment draws on Coward’s Hearing the Sacred (above) as well as what you learn more broadly about Vedic religion.  It is due by October 6th.  Please see the Assignments page for details.


Th Sept 17:  Video:  Four Hindu Ascetics   


The quiz can cover anything from the start of class through the Mantra reading by Coward.  See my post entitled “How to Write a Good Quiz” in the Assignments section of the website.



Late Vedic Tradition

Week 4

 Tu Sept 22:  No Class


·      Trautmann,  Ch 4.  New Religions,  New Empires

Th Sept 24: Late Vedic Tradition:

1.    The crisis of Vedic civilization and the religions of renunciation

2.    Emerging ideas about human existence:  Samsara and Karma

Primary Text:  
Chandogya Upanishad – Sacrifices:
Unsteady boats on the ocean of life

·      Klostermaier, Karma, Vidya, Moksha: Liberation from Rebirth [BB]

·      Kinsley, Central Hindu Beliefs [BB]



Week 5

Tu Sept 29:  Late Vedic Tradition:


1.    Emerging ideas about the divine and the Self: 
Moksha,  Brahman, and Atman


Primary Text:  Mundaka Upanishad – The essential reality underlying the world [BB]


·      Flood, “Yoga and Renunciation” [BB]


Th Oct 01:  Yoga and Mantra





This quiz can cover anything from the Mantra reading through the Flood reading (above).





Week 6

 Tu Oct 06:  Ramayana

·      Prime, Ramayana.  Introduction, Books 1-4.

·      Summary and Reflections Paper 1 due in class today


Th Oct 08: Ramayana


·      Prime, Ramayana.  Books 5-7.




Week 7

Tu Oct 13:  No Class (reading day)



Th Oct 15:  MIDTERM EXAM  (Bring Blue Books)




500-320 BCE


Week 8

Tu Oct 20: Mahavira and Jainism


Video: The Frontiers of Peace


·      Koller, The Jaina Vision, pp. 105-118 [BB]

Th Oct 22: Jain Doctrine and Practice

·       Koller, The Jaina Vision, pp. 118-127 [BB]



Week 9

 Tu Oct 27: Buddha and the cause of suffering



·      Kohler, The Way of the Buddha, pp. 128-149[BB]

Th Oct 29: The cessation of suffering



·      Kohler, The Way of the Buddha, pp. 149-162 [BB]


Week 10

Tu Nov 3: No classes (All Day Advising)


Th Nov 5: Story of India: Ages of Gold






320 BCE – 1000 CE



Week 11

Tu Nov 10: Dharma



·      Olivelle,  Social Engagement or Ascetic Withdrawal

Th Nov 12: Bhagavadgita


·      Stoller-Miller (trans),  Bhagavadgita

Special attention to the Introduction and teachings 1-6, 9, & 11



Week 12

Tu Nov 17:

Seeing the Divine in India


Devotional Hinduism:
Darshan, Murti, Puja, and Prashad


·      Eck, Ch 1

·      Koller, Ch. 10: Devotional Hinduism: God as Joy, Love, and Beauty [BB]


Summary and Reflections Paper 2 is on seeing the divine (Eck Ch. 1).  It is due in class today.  Please see the Assignments page for details.



Th Nov 19:  Hindu Devotionalism:

Vishnu, Krishna, and Shiva


·      Koller, Ch. Devotional Hinduism: Kali and Shiva [BB]

·      Eck, Ch 3


Week 13

Tu Nov 24:

Performing the Divine in India


·      Schwartz,  Rasa in Theory: Text and Context [BB]


Summary and Reflections Paper 3 is on divine performance. It is due in class on December 3.  Please see the Assignments page for details.


Happy Thanksgiving!




The Story of India: The Meeting of Two Oceans



Turks and Mughals
1000–1760 CE

Week 14

Tu Dec 1:  The Mughals



·      Trautmann,  Turks and Mughals



Th Dec 3:  Sufism


Summary and Reflections Paper 3
due today in class


Sants and Sikhs

Week 15

Tu Dec 8: Sikhs and Sants

·      Kohler,  The Faith of the Sikhs [BB]

Dec 10: Sikh Doctrine and Practice






                                                          FINAL EXAM


Section 1: WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 16, 9:00-11:15 AM

Section 2: THURSDAY, DECEMBER 17, 2:00-4:15 PM






Midterm Exam


Final Exam


Map Exercise


Summary and Reflections Papers

90 (3 at 30 pts. ea.)

Video Worksheets

50 (10 pts ea.)


200 (top 4 at 50 pts ea.)





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 quizzes are very effective in helping with recall. Also, they give me a chance to see how and whether 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 five 20-minute graded quizzes.  At the end of the semester I will count only the top 4 quiz grades at 50 points each.  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 receive no points. A quiz cannot be made up at any other time, regardless of the reasons for missing it.


Map Exercises: These two assignments require you to get familiar with the geography of the Indian sub-continent, including its especially sacred locations and features.  They will be graded for accuracy.  Elements of the exercise will show up on exams.


Summary and Reflections Papers: These assignments invite you to summarize the main points of specific readings and reflect upon them in your own way.  They are described in the Assignments section of the website.


Video Worksheets: You fill these out in class, during 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 Quizzes: The combined scores for quizzes will be worth 200 points.  Thus your final grade will be influenced by how faithful you are to the reading assignments and to the review of your readings and notes from class

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.  If it is 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 and within one week of the absence, otherwise the absence will be counted as undocumented. 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 completely 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 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 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.

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