"Elements of Religion"

Team Activities

Writing Assignments

Extra Credit


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"...no thought, no idea, can possibly be conveyed as an idea from one person to another. When it is told, it is, to the one to whom it is told, another given fact, not an idea. The communication may stimulate the other person to realize the question for himself and to think out a like idea, or it may smother his intellectural interest and suppress his dawning effort at thought. But what he directly gets cannot be an idea. Only by wrestling with the conditions of the problem at first hand, seeking and finding his own way out, does he think."

--John Dewey, Democracy and Education, 1916

To stay engaged in and to succeed in the work of this course , you should be prepared to wrestle directly with the conditions of the problems that I present to you: why do religious people do what they do, what do they think about while they do it, and what how do Buddhists differ from other religious people?

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In John Dewey's words, having heard my ideas, you must be ready "to realize the question for [your]self and to think out a like idea," and to engage in "seeking and finding [your] own way out" of the problems to which I draw your attention. Practically speaking, this engaged critical thinking about religion will require dedicating ***5-8 hours a week*** outside of class time, to prepare for class sessions by reading assigned sources and completing related assignments. Team-based learning will be the primary mode of engaging with primary sources (see www.teambasedlearning.org), facilitated by testing and inter-class communication through SacCT, the university's on-line instructional system.

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As you weigh whether you are able to make this time commitment, consider that most students will not initially find work in their majors (see State Hornet, "Its the Hard-Knock Life for Us"). Consider, too, that we as humans will undoubtedly face momentous societal changes in the coming decades (see Paul Gilding, "The End of the Industrial Revolution" & "The Great Disruption: How Humankind Can Thrive in the 21st Century"). Adapting successfully to such changes will require moving from economic structures that prioritize material production to those that prioritize lasting happiness and meaningful social engagement (see "Gross National Happiness" vs. GDP). Thus the jobs you will be called upon to do in the future may be unknown to you, and may not even yet exist.

It is increasingly certain that developing a critical thinking mindset will play an essential role in preparing today's students for this kind of future. Passively absorbing prescribed curricular materials or vocational training procedures will in all likelihood be inadequate. Throughout the semester, I and your engaged classmates will model such critical thinking about the what it is that makes human life fulfilling. We will examine a range of sources that document the experiences of Buddhists throughout history who have wrestled with the momentous societal pressures and changes of their own distant times and places. And we will consider ways that such religious experience can help us face the pressures and changes of our contemporary period with courage and resilience, whether or not we identify ourselves as religious.

Course Description

Learning Objectives

Assigned Sources

Assignment Overview

Course Policies (PDF download)

Schedule of Readings

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