ASIAN/RELIGION 306: What is Religion?

Course Level: Undergraduate 

Course Description: What are people looking for when they turn to religion, and what kind of fulfillment do they find in the experience? Why did religion seem to have disappeared by the mid-20th century before returning with a vengeance only a few decades later? Is ‘religion’ sui generis or was it invented in the 19th century, the product of the Western scholarly imagination? The aim of this course is to get students to think critically about religion in its many facets by introducing students to important contemporary themes and to the writings of key thinkers who have influenced the contemporary understanding and academic study of religion. We will discuss the construction of the modern concept of religion and its career as a theoretical concept, as an academic discipline and as a public discourse. Students should expect to become acquainted with philosophical approaches to the study of religion and to the work of theorists who have contributed to some of the main debates in modern religious studies. By way of reference to studies of Asian and Western religious traditions, students will also be expected to examine a variety of critical issues that intersect with the contemporary study of religion, such as gender, colonialism, metaphysics, nihilism, belief, love, politics, capitalism, mysticism and spirituality, secularization, postmodernism, pluralism etc.. The course will taught primarily as a student colloquium.  The course is divided into 3 parts. Part 1 introduces students to the modern liberal understanding of religion that underpins the discourses of the two main sub-disciplines in the study of religion, namely, Philosophy of Religion and World Religions. Our text will be John Hick’s An Interpretation of Religion. Part 2 of the course will look at readings and authors that question the prevalent understanding of religion and religious discourse. We shall consider alternative ways of understanding common ‘religious’ terms such as Belief, Faith,  Nihilism, Mysticism and Experience. Part 3 will focus on the relationship between Religion and Capitalism and look more closely at the question of pluralism.


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Arvind-Pal S. Mandair
Professor, Asian Languages and Cultures 

Tara Singh & Balwant Kaur Chattha, Gurbax Singh & Kirpal Kaur Brar Professor of Sikh Studies

Philosophy/Religion/Postcolonial Theory/Sikh Studies/South Asian Studies

Office: 202 South Thayer Street
Office 6016
Ann Arbor, MI 48104-1608

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