In Which Will Begins Writing a Religious Studies Textbook

When you’re a religious studies scholar-in-training, and I am a religious studies scholar-in-training, you stay awake at night burdened with what you will do when you have to teach your first intro class.

There’s a very standard model wherein which you cover Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Choose 1: Taoism, Confucianism, Sikhism, “tribal religions,” or atheism.  Each religion gets a large chapter.  There’re 2 Billion Christians, 1.6 Billion Muslims, 1 Billion Hindus, and 350 million Buddhists.[1] It makes sense that in this world where you will encounter plenty or Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and Choose 1: Taoists, Confucianists, Sikhs, tribal people, or atheists, that you give people some basics on what they might possibly believe maybe.  This model is taught based on a formula of something like 2 parts “official doctrine,” 1 part history, and 1 part snapshots of practice.

Of course there’s plenty of ways to depart from this.  I recently TA’d for a course where the instructor used a more philosophical approach, using religion to talk about epistemologies, and ontologies, and all manner of ologies.  I have a peer who insists that you should only teach religion to teach about discourse analysis.  That is, how are people talking about religion? These are all fine ways.  Everything is Dianetics anyways.

In that Dianetical spirit, and given that I was dropped on my head as a child, I present the table of contents to my own religious studies text book:

The Religious World View

The Religious Worldview

An Introductory Textbook

  1. Theology
    1. One or Many?
      1. Allah Part One: There is no God but God
      2. Allah Part Two: There is Nothing but God, a Sufi Remix.
      3. Gods, Goddesses, and Kachinas of the Hopi
    2. Cosmogony and Cosmology
      1. Elohim, Metatron, and the Jewish Cosmos
      2. Lord Xenu and Scientologist Creation Myth
    3. Good and Evil
      1. Ahura Mazda v. Angra Mainyu: Opposing Cosmic Poles
      2. The Cthullhu Mythos: Living in a Hostile Universe
      3. The Nuanced Gods of Yoruba
  2. Magic
    1. Domestic Concerns
      1. Mary Baker Eddy’s Science and Health with Key to the Scripture
      2. Ganesha: Remover of Obstacles
    2. Cosmic Concerns
      1. Transubstantiation as Alchemy: Reclaiming a Protestant Polemic
      2. Sex Magick and Crowley’s Gnostic Mass
  3. Worship
    1. Public worship
      1. On the Role of Sound and Music in Ancient Greek Sacrifices
      2. North Korea and the Cult of Kim Jung-X
      3. The Mysterious Case of Worship in Atheistic Buddhism
    2. Private Worship
      1. The Shinto Family Shrine
      2. “That’s my religion” Hiking, Listening to Music, and Other Such Worshipful Acts of the Spiritual-but-not-Religious Crowd
  4. Morality
    1. Hindu Dharma part 1: Rules for All, Rules for Your Caste
    2. Hindu Dharma Part 2: Tantra’s 5 Ms, or the Power of Transgression
    3. Good Without God: Atheistic Moralities from Confucius to Nietzsche to Neil DeGrasse Tyson
  5. Media
    1. Books
      1. The Bible: Keeper of Stories and Law Codes
      2. The Quran: Keeper of Beauty
      3. The Guru Granth Sahib: A Book and a Living Guru
      4. The Pali Canon: Does Anyone Actually Read This?
    2. Visuals
      1. Mandalas: Material and Non-material Meditation Aids
      2. The Christa: Creating a female Christ Through Sculpture
    3. Technology
      1. The E-Meter: Measuring Spiritual Well-being with an Ohm meter
      2. The Importance of a Prayer Wheel on the Lightening Path.
  6. Institutions
    1. Institutions of Religion
      1. From Prophets to Bishops: The Importance of Hierarchy in the LDS church
      2. LaVey’s Church of Satan Against Self-styled Satanists: Controlling a Brand
    2. Religious Institutions
      1. What if I Told You the NFL was Basically the Vatican?
      2. “It’s Sort of Like a Cult” or My Friend’s Description of her Continued Involvement in the Landmark Forum

Why those five chapters?  As I would probably explain in the intro, no one can (or should) agree on a definition of religion.  I run under a model of something like religion as a system of meaning making that mixes and matches at least these six things.  In this model of teaching, all the big five are still touched in, and most of my other options are there as well. It gives space for both “lived religion” and intellectual history approaches to religion.  Of course if you notice from the title, this is getting away from talking about “religion” or “religions” and towards talking about things that are “religious.”  Therefore, this model gives me room to sneak in things like nationalism, the NFL, self help, literature, and so on.

Do you belong to a field with a stuffy, boring or outdated 101 model?  How would you revamp your curriculum?

Lucifer rising UFO

[1] Judaism gets included because, despite its small numbers, we keep telling ourselves it’s the mother of Christianity and Islam.  This is misleading.  Temple Era Judaism (better described as the cult of Jahweh) gave birth to Christianity and Islam.  The Rabbinic Judaisms of today are sisters to Christianity and Islam, not a mother. If demographics is our main criterion, we should be teaching Sikhism.

2 thoughts on “In Which Will Begins Writing a Religious Studies Textbook

  1. Personally, completely abandoning an outdated model works great.

    That way, as you reconstruct your new model, the new ingredients will emerge from a generational recontextualizing and any reappearances of old ingredients will be those A) still culturally relevant or B) inherently necessary to the topic.



  2. Two Quick Changes: 1. I added Hinduism to my initial list. Somewhere in edits, it got deleted.
    2. I moved morality out of the “worship section.” WordPress is surprisingly terrible at excepting pasted lists from MS Word.


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