RELG 110

Introduction to World Religions


Professor: Daniel Meckel

Office: AA 110C. Tel: 4464


Office hours: Fridays 11-Noon


Course Summary

Arguably, it has never been more important for us to develop a basic and comparative knowledge of world religious traditions.  In this course, you are invited to acquaint yourself with the histories, beliefs and practices of four major world religions:  Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity.  You are also invited to explore the place of these traditions in the contemporary world and in your own life (religious or otherwise).  We will approach each of the four religions by first examining its foundations -- its early history and central symbols, tenets, and practices.  Second, we will consider the spectrum of religious perspectives within the tradition.  As the class progresses, students will learn to compare traditions along the lines of their notions of (a) ultimate reality, (b) ultimate aims, (c) the means to attaining those aims, and (d) notions of the human condition.  The class entails two mandatory field trips to religious sites in the DC area and/or in Southern Maryland.


Course Materials:

          Fisher. Living Religions

          Eastman, Roger  The Ways of Religion





Lectures, Discussions, Videos,
Quizzes and Exams

Readings, Writing, Discussion

Readings are due for the day on which they are listed





Week I

Aug. 30:  Introduction to the Class



Response Paper #1:

Eastman, The Hindu View of Life, by Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan
Due at the beginning of class on Tuesday, Sept. 06.


Sept. 01:  The One and the Many


Film: 330 Million Gods


Video Worksheet 1


Week II

Sept. 06: Early Veda: Gods, Priests

                   & the Fire Sacrifice


·        Fisher, pp. 72-79

·        Eastman, Hymns From the Rig Veda, pp. 22-27

·        Response Paper #1 due at the beginning of class.

Sept. 08: Early Veda (continued)




Week III

Sept. 13:  No Class (Meckel at Society for Cultural Psychology Bi-annual Conference, Erlangen, Germany)


Response Paper #2: 

I am but a Seeker after Truth, by Mahatma Gandhi (Eastman, pp. 65-74)

Due at the beginning of class on Tuesday, Sept. 20.


Sept. 15: Vedanta: The Upanisads and the Way of Mystical Knowledge


·        Fisher, pp. 79-85

·        Eastman, Selections from The Upanishads, pp. 27-39; Yoga: The Discipline of Freedom, pp. 53-58



Week IV

Sept. 20: Bhagavad Gita and

          the Way of Action (karma yoga)


·        Eastman, Selection from the Bhagavad Gita, pp. 40-52

·        Response Paper #2 due at the beginning of class.


Sept. 22: Devotionalism and the Gods




·        Fisher, pp. 85-108



Week V

Monday, Sept. 26 at 8:15 PM in St. Mary’s Hall

"Mutants and Mystics: Science Fiction, Superhero Comics, and the Paranormal."

Professor Jeffrey Kripal
Rice University





Sept. 29: Introduction to Buddhism

Film: Footprints of the Buddha


·        Fisher, pp. 134-140

·        Eastman, pp. 77-90, The Roar of Awakening; Buddhahood

Video Worksheet 2

Response Paper #3:  
The Roar of Awakening; Buddhahood (Eastman, pp. 77-90 )
Due at the beginning of class on Tuesday, Oct. 06.


Week VI

Oct. 4: Three Marks of Reality



·        Eastman, pp. 91-98,
Selections, Buddhist Scripture

Oct. 6: Four Noble Truths

·        Fisher, pp. 140-147

·         Response Paper #3 due at the beginning of class.


Week VII

Oct. 11: No Class – Reading Day

Response Paper #4: 
Be Like a Frog, by Shunru Suzuki (Eastman, pp. 154-160)
Due at the beginning of class on Tuesday, Oct.18.


Oct. 13: Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism



·        Fisher, pp. 147-154

·        Eastman, pp. 110-115, The Mahayana and the Ideal of Bodhisattva


Oct. 18: Zen

Film: Land of the Disappearing Buddha


·        Fisher, pp. 163-172

·        Eastman, pp. 133-144,The Essence of Zen; Zen Dust: The Koan

·        Response Paper #4 due at the beginning of class

Video Worksheet 3


Oct. 20: Mold Remediation Day







Week IX

Oct. 25: MIDTERM



Oct. 27: Intro to Islam

Film: Inside Islam

·        First field essay (on either a Buddhist or Hindu place of worship) due in the tray outside of my office by 5:00 PM.



Response Paper #5:
, The Koran (Eastman, pp. 406-415). Due at the beginning of class on Thursday, Nov. 8.



Week X

Nov. 1: No Class – All Day Advising



Nov. 3:  Muhammad in Historical Context


·        Fisher, pp. 376-384

·        Eastman, pp. 400-405,
Muhammad, Prophet of God.

Week XI

Nov. 8: The Qur’an and the Hadiths /





·        Fisher, pp. 384-398

·        Eastman, pp. 416-421, The Qur'anic Teaching

·        Response Paper #5 due at the beginning of class

Response Paper #6: 

Male and Female in Islamic Perspective

(Eastman, pp. 435-444)

Due at the beginning of class on Tuesday, Nov. 29.

Nov. 10: No Class, in Compensation for Field Trip II.  Meckel at Rice university delivering a paper.


·        Fisher, pp. 399-401



Week XII

Nov. 15: The Five Pillars of Islam


·        Fisher, pp. 401-406


Nov. 17: No Class, in compensation for Field             Trip II.






Thanksgiving Break



Week XIV

Nov. 29:  The Sufi Way


Film: I am a Muslim, I am a Sufi



·         Eastman, pp. 422-428, selections from Al-Ghazali's Deliverance from Error

Video Worksheet 4






Dec. 1: Introduction to Christianity/Life and Teachings of Jesus




·        Fisher, ch. 9, up to The Early Church


Response Paper #7:

Selections, The New Testament

(Eastman, pp. 343-352 )

Due at the beginning of class on Tuesday, Dec.6.



Week XV

Dec. 6: Paul and the Jesus Movement / Early Church



·        Fisher, “The Early Church” up to “Roman Catholic Reformation”

·         Response Paper #7 due at the beginning of class.


Response Paper #8:

"The Anguish of Being a Christian" by Soren Kierkegaard (Eastman, pp. 373-379)


Dec. 8:  Protestant Reformation



·         Fisher, “The Protestant Reformation”

·         Response Paper #8 due at the beginning of class.


Dec. 13: Second field essay (on the mosque trip) due by noon.

Please put your paper in the tray outside of my office.



Week XVI

Final Exam:

The Final Exam will be a take home exam.

I will post the exam on the Assignments page of the course website on Tuesday, December 13th at 12:00 PM.  The exam is due to me by 8:00 AM on December the 16th.

Send your exam to me by email:

Put the following in the subject line:
 “RELG 110 Final Exam. Section __”


Graded Assignments

                                           Graded Assignments                                   Points Possible

Quizzes...................................................... 160 (high four at 40 pts each)
Video Worksheets..................................... 30 (6 pts each)

Writing Exercises...................................... 30 (3 pts each)

Response papers....................................... 180 (six at 30 pts each)

Field Essays.............................................. 100 (50 pts each)

Midterm exam.......................................... 200
Final exam................................................ 200
Participation............................................. 100


Please note that your overall quiz score will be worth a significant portion of your final grade.

Thus your final grade will in part be a function of how faithful you are to the reading assignments and to the review of your readings and notes from class.



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


Go to Blackboard to track your progress in the class


A note on grading:  If ever you disagree with a grade, you can always come to me and argue your position.  I may or may not be convinced, but I will always take you seriously.

My 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.

Descriptions of Assignments:

Quizzes: There will be six 15-to-20 minute quizzes.  At the end of the semester I will count only the top 4 quiz grades at 40 points each.  Questions on a quiz can cover anything from the reading assignments, video, discussion, and 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.  Some 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.  Also, see the link “How to do well on a quiz” in the Assignments section of the course website.  Missed quizzes receive no points.  A quiz will not be counted if the student leaves the class early. Please note that a quiz cannot be made up at any other time, regardless of the reasons for missing it.


Video Worksheets are done in class during some of the videos.  The purpose of this assignment is to help focus your attention on crucial points, and to keep you thinking and writing during the video.  You learn more this way.

Writing Exercises: These are in-class writing assignments 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 points so long as they show that you are taking advantage of the opportunity and using them to learn.  I use these exercises and quizzes because research shows convincingly that writing and 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 these in-class exercises (30 points, 3 per exercise) and I deduct points if the assignment is either not done or dramatically incomplete.

Response Papers: These writing assignments give you the opportunity to explore your thoughts about a brief reading relevant to the tradition that we are currently studying.  Eight assignments are posted.  You may choose six of them.  If you write on more than six, I will take your four top scores.  Assignments will receive full points (20 each) if (1) the paper is turned in on time (2) it reflects and accurate reading of the assignment, (3) it reflects a thoughtful reaction to the reading, and (4) it meets the minimum page limit.  In other words, you need not stress about these assignments and can develop your thoughts freely.  Papers must be turned in by the due date indicated on the syllabus, no late papers will be accepted.


Field Essays: The field essays are a crucial part of your experience in this class.  Each student will choose to do an essay on one Western tradition (Christianity or Islam) and one Eastern tradition (Buddhism or Hinduism).  For each assignment, students must visit a place of worship and stay for at least one hour.  Afterward, students will write a field essay based on the assignment posted on the Assignments page of the website.  Deadlines for completion of these essays are listed on this syllabus.

 Recommended field sites:

(1) Hinduism: Shri Siva-Visnu Temple.  6905 Cipriano Road, Lanham MD-20706. Phone: (301) 552 3335

(2) Buddhism: Wat Thai Temple. 13440 Layhill Road, Silver Spring MD 20906.  301-871-8660/8661

(3) Christianity: Morning Star Pentecostal Church. 200 Lincoln Avenue, Lexington Park, MD 20653 (301) 863-7507

(4) Islam: Southern Maryland Islamic Center. Route 4.  Prince Frederick, MD 20678. ‎(410) 535-0000.

          In all cases it is important to call ahead to the site to learn their schedule of events and let them know that you will be coming


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.


Class Policies: 

Participation” means (1) wakeful presence, (2) preparation of reading assignments, (3) active involvement in class interactions, (4) punctual arrival at the beginning of class, and (5) completion and collection of all in-class writing assignments.  Lack of any of these will affect your grade, excessive lack is reason for dismissal from the class.
Attendance is required, though I will allow three free days-off during the semester.  Without regular attendance, students do not tend to do well in the class.  A note from a doctor, dentist, coach, or funeral director will render any absence excused. Without such a note, the absence will not be excused.  Please note that a phone call or email message from you, saying that you are ill, is not sufficient; nor is a note from the health center confirming an appointment. The note must indicate that you are unable to attend class and it must include contact information for the individual who provided the note.  Documentation of the absence must be provided to me in the first class that follows the absence. Late documentation will not be accepted.  Leaving class early will result in a marked absence.  Each unexcused absence results in a 20 point reduction. 


Coming late to class creates an interruption.  Three times late to class counts as an undocumented absence.  Continued lateness is grounds for removal from the class.


Collecting completed assignments, quizzes and exams: These are essential study materials.  All students should be sure to get their graded work back from the professor.  I always take note of when a student does not do so.  This can have an effect on the participation grade.

Website, Online Syllabus, Email Communications, and Computer Failure. 
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.  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.    Computer failure is not a valid excuse for a late assignment.  Broken or unreliable computer?  Use the computers at the college.  The syllabus is my best projection of how our time will be organized.  I might well alter the assignment schedule as seems appropriate or necessary, but I will not change the grading policies.

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. Really.


Use of Computers in Class not allowed without documentation of special need.

Food in Class:
Drinks and snacks of the very quiet variety are allowed in class, nothing else.

No activated cell phones are allowed in the classroom (so please turn them off).