Frequently Asked Questions



1. Reading has a different place in a Humanities & Religious Studies course than in most other types of courses (math, science, business, art, etc.). In this and most other classes in our department, readings are a bit like problem sets or labs; they are often the heart of what we are concerned with in class, rather than simply serving as supplementary or optional guides that can help you figure out how to handle the main work of the course. If you understand this and take reading seriously, this course will quite likely be very manageable; without this understanding, however, you may have a hard time even obtaining a passing score.

2. In general you should plan two hours of study for every hour of class time. Students who plan blocks of time in their schedule to work with the readings, rather than simply attempting to get through them from start to finish as quickly as possible, generally do best. Whether an hour daily or a larger block of time several times week, the successful reader finds a time & place when & where she will be relaxed yet alert, and won’t be distracted by other things (e.g., early morning, and/or on a cozy couch, and/or sitting with coffee/tea).

3. Also, most people do best when taking frequent breaks while reading--especially when catching oneself not having absorbed anything in the past paragraph or page. The experienced reader avoids forcing herself to proceed from beginning to end of a reading if she gets stuck--instead skipping ahead when reading becomes impossibly challenging, and then coming back to the difficult section later to see if any further progress can be made. The key is to focus on fully grasping what you read rather than finishing every single page. It is advisable however to skim headings & first sentences of each paragraph for sections one hasn’t had time to read; and then make general notes on the content of what one hasn’t read in depth so that at least one knows which pages to go back to later if they turn out to contain necessary material. In general, too, making brief notes in the margins or on slips of paper inserted into the book will greatly increase focus and abililty to remember what is read. If you need help with reading, the Writing Center (in Calaveras Hall) can assign a tutor to work with you; but you must make an appointment in advance.

4. College level reading inevitably pushes a reader to expand her or his vocabulary. However, this does not happen automatically--it requires a dictionary! The gap between knowing how to use a dictionary and actually doing it is a huge one for many people. Keep in mind that you need to have a dictionary physically present next to you as you read in order to use it! On-line dictionaries do no good unless one reads at the computer; and a dictionary sitting on a distant shelf does almost as little good.

5. Many readers benefit from making their own glossary of terms, especially since these are the basis of over half the questions on every RAT. You may find it helpful to do this on index cards, with each entry including not only the word and its definition, but also where it appears in the reading (and where the definition was found, if not the dictionary) so that examples can be found again.

6. As you read the modern writings in WOR, be especially on the lookout for passages that relate to the key concepts covered in my overview lecture of the tradition in question, or in the relevant NHLR chapter; and/or that help you clarify for yourself what you mean by the terms "religion" and "religious." If you think you might write a paper dealing with the tradition featured in the reading, choose a passage and make notes about it as soon as possible after reading.



7. As you view the film, take selective notes on the audio-visual and verbal details that most interest you. For the films, try to observe and include both the obvious--actions, words spoken, striking sounds and images--and less-obvious--facial expressions, subtle gestures, minor but significant movements and sounds--aspects of the scenes you watched. During the viewing I recommend that you write down only words and brief phrases to remind yourself of such specific details, rather than writing out more substantial thoughts and responses in complete sentences which will cause you to miss other possibly important details. Once the film is over you'll have a few minutes to write, and you will usually be able to remember such ideas quite easily.

8. Be especially on the lookout for scenes that relate to the key concepts covered in my overview lecture or the NHLR chapter dealing with the tradition in question; and/or that help you clarify for yourself what you yourself mean by the terms "religion" and "religious." If you think you might write a paper dealing with the tradition featured in the film, choose a scene and make notes about it as soon as possible after viewing. If you wish to view the entire film or to review particular scenes for your papers, most of the films are also available at local video stores. ("The Chosen" and "Four Holy Men" are not available locally, but you may borrow them directly from me for viewing on-campus.)


9. Although the detail provided in guidelines for the comparative papers may seem a bit overwhelming at first, students generally find that when they actually sit down and follow the instructions, completing the papers happens quite naturally. This is because the guidelines are designed to provide you with a clear focus and format for writing; you can then focus directly on choosing and representing the examples you discuss, without having to worry about your topic or the order of your points.

10. For all written work throughout the term, I strongly advise you to complete drafts of your work sufficiently early for friends (or member of the CSUS Writing Center staff) to proofread them and suggest improvements. (DO NOT BEGIN WRITING A PAPER THE NIGHT OR MORNING BEFORE IT IS DUE!)  Multiple drafting is perhaps the single most effective way to improve one's writing.  Even the best of writers (perhaps especially the best of writers!) can benefit from consultation with others. (Note: you may also wish to take advantage of the English department's On-Line Writing Lab (OWL), an excellent resource addressing basic writing concerns.)

11. As noted on the "Course Overview," no rewrites will be accepted, except in extraordinary circumstances. For all three comparative papers, however, you are encouraged to submit pre-writes --usually an introductory paragraph and some example of what you will do in the body of the paper works best(which could be as simple as a list of possible topic sentences for the remainder of the paper)--or even merely to discuss your ideas with me verbally after class or during office hours. Preliminary drafts must be submitted at least three days before your work is due to allow sufficient time for both response on my part and reflection on yours.

12. Finally once you've written the assignment, make sure all of it gets to me! Pages that are not fastened together in some way are likely to get separated; you are required to staple or paper-clip all submitted work. Also make sure to keep copies of work you submit.  Even professors occasionally lose things (gasp!).

13. Please know that in the determination of your final grade I will take improvement and effort into consideration.



14. In making sense of the readings when first encountering each new tradition, and certainly in your team work, I strongly encourage you to ask for and learn from others’ views and ideas about the sources we read.  Also, as each RAT approaches you may choose to study with others, which can be very productive; you should be forthright, however, in asking others who have not first prepared independently to study on their own. Since each student is ultimately responsible for her or his own exam responses (which obviously must be completed independently, without the use of books or notes), you must be discriminating in listening to others' study contributions. And finally, once in the classroom, make sure to keep your gaze fixed either on your own paper or at some distant object at the front of the room or ceiling; gazing at one or more other students' papers will be treated as attempted plagiarism.

15. When the time comes to work on your papers (& also, should you choose to undertake it instead of writing a final paper, the take-home exam at the end of the term) you will surely benefit from consulting relevant course readings and even speaking with others who are engaged in writing their own finals. However, the overall content, structure, style of what you write must be your own, and must explicitly credit any outside sources on which you have drawn. IMPORTANT: you may not base any of your summaries on internet sources; doing so may result in your failing the paper.

16. You should familiarize yourself (if you have not already done so) with the CSUS Policies & Procedures regarding "Academic Honesty" which take a strong stand on the issues of plagiarism and cheating. The university administration has recently created this policy to make sure that all students are aware of the serious consequences stemming from academic dishonesty. All students are expected to take the time to review this policy as part of undertaking the writing assignments for this class.

17. Personally, I feel that academic dishonesty hurts us all. It adds suspicion and resentment to academic competition, and it distorts the meaning of grades.  I am sympathetic to the many pressures that face today's university students, but am willing neither to condone nor to tolerate plagiarism or cheating as a solution to this pressure.  I will give you all the help that I can with this course, and would be happy to help you gain access to programs designed to help you, especially if you are unsure whom to contact. On the other hand, I will generally elect the most severe penalty for any act of plagiarism: a zero score for the paper or RAT whose content is plagiarized, and failing the course for a second offense.



18. All portions of your papers should be written using a word processor, either prior to or following composition.  Learning how to operate a computer and gaining facility with one or more word-processing programs, if you have not already done so, will be a small but exceedingly important part of your education.  As spell-checking software is readily available on the college systems, please be aware that my tolerance for spelling errors is rather limited; on the other hand, BEWARE OF THE AUTO-CORRECT FEATURE that is a standard feature of Microsoft Word, which may substitute the wrong word in an attempting to correct your spelling! (I strongly recommend that you disable this function by un-checking "replace as you type" under "Autocorrect" in the "Tools" menu.)  Of course, spell-checkers do not detect grammatical problems or indeed all spelling errors; accordingly, please proofread carefully.  (See the “To what extent will you penalize me..." #32-36 below, for details on how failure to proofread may affect your grade.)

19. As strange as this will seem at first, please do NOT put your name on any of your typed pages; it should appear only on the self-assessment page at the end (see the description of self-assessment, #28 below, for details). However do make sure to complete a checklist cover sheet for each paper (see #27 below--no title pages please), which requires that you indicate at the top both

     (a) date and
     (b) total number of words (EXCLUDING the outline)
          (using the"Word Count" feature that is standard with most word processors)

Make sure to check off each blank on the checklist indicating that you have done all the necessary preparations and included all required elements of the paper. In particular make sure that you provide

     (c) numbers of your pages at the bottom of each, and
     (d) parenthetical page citations for all material referenced from sources
          (even if not quoted directly--see #20 directly below).

These last two items help me keep track of my comments and also verify your sources.  Finally, note that you must distinguish clearly (by numbering or headings) different sections of your papers, corresponding to the distinct points enumerated in the guidelines for comparative papers.

20. As noted in the guidelines and on the checklist sheet, you must provide parenthetical page references not only for the various sourcess that are quoted directly, but also for any paraphrased descriptions you present. Use MLA in-text citation format: ([author’s last name]  [page no.])--e.g., (Eck 28); be careful not to mistake the editors of our anthology or handbook with the authors of individual selections or chapters! If you mention the name or author of the work in your sentence, though, your parenthetical citation should be a page number only.

21. A parenthetical citation should be just before the period or semicolon which concludes the relevant quote or paraphrase (unless you are citing a single-spaced, indented block quote--see the next comment--in which case it should follow after the period); in no case should the parentheses and their content be within citation marks, since they are not part of what you are quoting.

22. Whenever you quote three or more lines of text, please offset the quote by an extra blank line before and after; and then indent and single-space the text. This includes quoting your own description of a particular "scene" from whatever films you chose to write about; see the guidelines & writing sample for the comparative papers.

23. Regarding quotations: (a) use ellipses only to edit out unnecessary words and sentences that do not change the meaning of your source (but quote sentences from different paragraphs as a separate quotation); (b) both in editing quotations and in blending them with your own words, make sure to preserve the overall grammatical consistency of quoted sentences; and (c) be certain to identify any unclear referents contained in a quotation, with commentary placed either before the quotation or enclosed in brackets within it.

24. Although writing bibliographies is a valuable and necessary skill for academic work, this class does not make use of that skill.  Since the papers (including the final paper if you chose to write one instead of the take-home final) draw entirely on class readings, you do not need to include a list of sources in standard bibliographic form.

25. Please consult one of the many grammar textbooks for additional guidance on these and other points to avoid reduction of your scores (see the “To what extent will you penalize me..." immediately below)--especially if you think you will continue writing in English after college. (I think this will apply to most of you!)  I have personally used both Fowler, Aaron, and Brittenham’s The Little, Brown Handbook and Robert Perrin’sThe Beacon Handbook & Desk Reference and found them useful.



26. In order both to improve your writing of the papers and to assist me in responding effectively and efficiently to all written work, I DO want you to include a checklist cover sheet (see #27) and a self-assessment (see #26) for each paper. On the other hand, the first of these should be an integral part of your writing process, and the self-assessment should not take more than a short time to complete; you can complete both, in handwriting if you like, after you have finished the final draft of a given paper. Papers without both an checklist cover sheet and a self-assessment will be returned to you with a request for completion before I read them, and this will delay the grading and return of your work. Please do not forget! (One small exception: the take-home final, if you should choose to complete it instead of a final paper, does not require a cover sheet.)

27. Most items on the checklist, which will be distributed in class and also available on-line, are self-explanatory. However do make sure that you actually read each item and check to see that you have completed it before checking the blank in front of it! Also review the relevant writing sample for specific examples of each item.

28. For the self-assessment, using the back of the last page, write a self-assessment both of (a) your research & writing process (how did the paper go for you, where did you struggle or get stuck, what went well and what didn’t); and(b) the product (what do you think are the paper's strengths and weaknesses? what further revisions would you have made if you had had time?). I will read this after I read and evaluate the paper but before I write my final comments to you; it will assist me in offering you the most useful feedback possible. Make sure to include your name on this page, as it will not be indicated anywhere else on the paper!


29. Since progress from one paper to another depends on your receiving feedback as soon as possible, no papers will be accepted late without prior approval.  Please seek permission to submit late work as early as possible in advance of the due date.; doing so will increase the probability that your request is favorably received.  If your request for an extension is granted, make sure to write me a note along with your self-assessment to remind me when and on what terms I granted the extension. Please understand that I reserve the right to reduce scores for all papers received late without explanation or reminders (see #31 directly below).

30. As noted in the Course Overview, all papers should be turned in within the first five minutes of class on the day they are due (which is Tuesday for all assignments). If for any reason you cannot make it to campus by that time, you may email the final version of your paper to me (in MS Word format) by the deadline and then provide me with a hard copy (which must be identical to the hard copy) no later than the next class period; you must mark "HARD COPY " at the top of your checklist cover sheet. If for any reason you are not able to email an MS Word attachment, or you do not use MS Word, you may also have a hard copy of your paper postmarked by the deadline at a US post office.

31. Turning in a late paper without prior approval will reduce your overall score by half a grade for each day late.  In addition, submitting a paper late will usually result in some delay in my returning that particular paper to you.  Finally, bear in mind that papers turned in late could end up in the wrong pile of papers; so make sure to confirm with me that I have received and placed yours correctly.



32. When I read your written work, I circle without comment any and all mechanical errors that I pick up: punctuation, spelling, usage, notation, etc.   Two or more circles linked by one or more arrows (and sometimes question mark(s)) indicate an error in coordinating different sentence elements (e.g., verb agreement, paired commas around a restrictive clause, etc.).  Depending on however many errors I pick up, you fall into one of three categories listed below (#33-36).

33. If you turn in a paper with less than one error per page on average (and in some cases I may allow a few more, if the errors are benign or the font is small) I will place your final score on the last page of the paper and circle it to confirm that it is your final score. In this case there's nothing you need to do; I advise you, though, to look at the errors you made and figure out how to avoid them next time--especially if you had an average of close to one error per page.

34. If you turn in a paper that contains more than one error per page on average, I will place your final score (found on the last page of the assignment) in brackets; I then indicate a certain number of points substracted, and circle the reduced score that is recorded in my grade book.  If you wish to obtain the original score indicated in brackets, you must correct, in ink on your original copy, the errors which I have circled; and turn these corrections in within one week of the day the paper was turned back to you. Please do not submit more extensive revisions as these will not raise your score, and for the love of trees be sure to avoid reprinting a fresh copy.  Don't hesitate to ask me if you have any question(s) about what I have circled; you may also wish to consult items #10 & 25 above for additional resources. If you submit the corrections within one week and I assess that they are properly done, I will add the substracted points back onto your lowered score--i.e., you will receive the score initially placed in brackets.

35. If you turn in a paper with a painfully large number of errors--generally more than three per page average--I cross out your original score, subtract the appropriate number of points, and then circle the final score. In this case there is no opportunity to make corrections; as in #31 there's nothing for you to do. I do of course advise you to take action to remove errors on your next attempt.

36. IMPORTANT: This policy expires after the second unit of the course.  For the paper submitted at the end of the third unit, your score will simply decrease if your paper contains more than one error per page.  Therefore please get in the habit of proofreading before that point, in order to allow for maximum credit.



37. In reading your work I will often underline, sideline, or place checkmarks next to words, sentences, or points that strike me as significant or important.  Sometimes these are for my own reference in rereading, and are devoid of any written comment.  Usually, though, I will write a short phrase that describes what I see you doing—e.g., “important point,” “effective transition,” “astute observation”—sometimes linking my comments with arrows to the particular words, phrases, or sentences that inspired them.  These are not simply filler, but attempts to credit you for the notable successes of your writing efforts; if there's a word you don't understand, please look it up or ask me what it means.

38. In providing more critical feedback, I most often make comments using one or more of the following abbreviations:

                 WBHT = "would be helpful to.."                 V & VD  = "visual & verbal details "
                 NTCY = "next time can you...?"                  CITM  = "comment(s) in the margin(s)"
                  ITN   = "important to note"                     ROCI  = "resubmit original with corrections in ink "
               UWTRT = "unclear what this refers to"

These comments do not indicate that you need to revise the paper (see #11 above); but rather that you should apply the advice given on the current paper to subsequent ones.  Note that you will have three opportunities to write an comparative paper, so as to allow you to apply lessons learned from one paper to the next.  Make sure, then, to keep all papers, and to review the comments I have made on previous one(s) before turning in your next attempt.

39. I often use additional abbreviations whose meanings may not be immediate clear to you, so here is a key:

                 esp.     = "especially"                 -t'n    = "-tion" (suffix)
                 re:      = "regarding"                  p. #    = "page number"
                 w/      = "with"                          ref     = "reference"
                 ex(-s) = "example(s)"                diff-s/sim-s = "difference/similarities"

39. Concluding comments, generally written below your own self-assessment, summarize the key points of praise and critique; use these as an overall guide to the comments written on individual pages, and consult them in working on the next paper.


[Occasional statements throughout this document are derived, with permission, from a similar document written by my colleague Peter Fosl, Associate Professor and Chair of the Philosophy Department at Transylvania University. Much of the wording of my statements regarding academic honesty is drawn—definitely with permission!--from Patricia Keith-Spiegel, “Syllabi Statements Regarding Academic Dishonesty: Rationale and Suggestions,” distributed by Ball State University’s Center for the Teaching of Integrity.]

Dimensions of Religious Life

Reading Assessment Tests & Final Exam

Frequently Asked Questions (TOP)

Comparative Papers & Sample