North Island College Winter 2017

Meeting Time: T, TH: 11:30 - 12:50 pm

Meeting PlaceDIS 205, CWG 211, CEN 210

Instructor: Dan Hinman-Smith

Office: Village G6

Office Hours:  Mon. 11:30 - 12:50 pm; Wed. 1:00 - 2:00 pm

Office Phone:  334-5000, Extension 4024

Home Phone250-336-0238 

Web- Site for Course:


Course Description

This course combines an introduction to the religions of Asia with comparative analysis of some key organizing themes for the study of all world religions. It examines and origins and historical development, the sacred texts, the central tenets, the institutions and rituals of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, Confucianism, Taoism and Shinto.  It also explores selected core concepts such as sacred space, sacred time, sacred rituals and sacred symbols in a comparative context that uses not only these seven eastern religions but also the Abrahamic tradition and other world religions as reference points.  Instruction will combine intensive reading, seminar discussion and lecture presentations.


William Dalrymple, Nine Lives: In Search Of The Sacred In Modern India (London: Bloomsbury, 2009).

Gavin Flood and Charles Martin, trans., Bhagavad-Gita: A New Translation  (New York: W.W. Norton, 2012).

Glenn Wallis, trans., Dhammapada: Verses On The Way (New York: Modern Library, 2007).

Huston Smith, World's Religions: Our Great Wisdom Traditions (New York: Harper Collins, 1991).

Lao Tzu, Tao Teh Ching , trans. Jonathan Star (New York: Jeremy R. Tarcher, 2008).

Tentative Class Schedule

Week 1

Tuesday, January 3

a)  Introduction

Thursday, January 5

a)  Lecture: Sacred Varanasi

Listening Assignment:

  Listen to "Varanasi: A Living History," Encounter, ABC, November 2, 2013.  Give the program a couple of minutes to download.  The Varanasi documentary is also available on Soundcloud here.

Week 2

Tuesday, January 10

a)  Discussion:  Swastika As Sacred Symbol

b)  Video:  "Faith Connections" (2013) [117 mins.]

Reading Assignment:

Browse extensively in  Swastika As Sacred Symbol  Discussion Topic.

Thursday, January 12

a)  Discussion: Kumbh Mela

b)  Finish Video: "Faith Connections"

Reading Assignment:

Browse extensively in  Kumbh Mela  Discussion Topic.

Week 3

Tuesday, January 17:  On-Line Text Hinduism

a)  Lecture: The Essence Of Hinduism  -- "Truth Is One; Sages Call It By Different Names" (I)

Hinduism Outline

Thursday, January 19

a)  Discussion:  Nine Lives

Reading Assignment:

William Dalrymple, Nine Lives: In Search Of The Sacred In Modern India

Week 4

Tuesday, January 24

a)  Discussion:  Wendy Doniger And The Hindus

b)  Lecture: The Essence Of Hinduism  -- "Truth Is One; Sages Call It By Different Names" (II)

Reading Assignment:

Browse extensively in  Wendy Doniger And The Hindus  Discussion Topic.

Optional Listening Assignment:

  "The Upanishads," In Our Time, BBC Radio 4, November 8, 2012.

Thursday, January 26

a)  Discussion:  Of Elephant Gods, Monkey Kings And Sacred Cows

b)  Discussion:  Hinduism In The News

Reading Assignment:

Browse extensively in  Of Elephant Gods, Monkey Kings And Sacred Cows  Discussion Topic.

Browse extensively in Hinduism In The News.

Listening Assignment:

Listen to at least one audio file and/or view at least one video file at Hinduism: Audio Links and Hinduism: Video Links

Week 5

Tuesday, January 31

a)  Discussion: Bhagavad-Gita

b)  Video: "The Bhagavad Gita," Invitation To World Literature (30 mins.)

c)  [If Time] Possible Mini-Lecture:  The Bhagavad-Gita -- A Biography

Reading Assignment:

Graham M. Scweig, trans., Bhagavad-Gita: The Beloved Lord's Secret Love Song

Listening Assignment:

  "The Bhagavad Gita," Heart And Soul, BBC World Service, July 18, 2011.

Thursday, February 2

a)  ***Hinduism Mini-Quiz (All questions for the quiz will be taken from the following web-site:  ).  See the Hinduism Study Guide for a basic list of questions designed to help you prepare for this small quiz.

b)  Video:  "The Buddha -- The Story Of Siddhartha"  (2010) [120 minutes]

Week 6

Tuesday, February 7

a)  Finish Video:  "The Buddha -- The Story Of Siddhartha"

Thursday, February 9

Class Cancelled:  Snow Day

***Family Day And Reading Break, February 13-17

Week 7

Tuesday, February 21:  On-Line Text Buddhism

a)  Course Check-In

b)  Introduce Other Asian Religions Mini-Project

c)  Discussion:  Dhammapada -- Verses On The Way

Reading Assignment:

Glenn Wallis, trans., Dhammapada -- Verses On The Way

Thursday, February 23

a)  Lecture:  The Essence Of Buddhism -- The Nature Of Suffering Must Be Understood (I)

***First Half Journal Due***

Week 8

Tuesday, February 28

a)  Video:  "Seven Wonders Of The Buddhist World" (2012)  [74 minutes]

Thursday, March 2

a)  Introduce Comparative Religions Grid Assignment

b)  Discussion:  Burma And Buddhism

c)  Discussion: Buddhism In The News

Reading Assignment:

Browse in  Buddhism In The News; Buddha In The News; Buddhism Audio Links; Buddhism Video Links

Browse in  Burma And Buddhism  Discussion Topic.

Week 9

Tuesday, March 7

a)  ***Buddhism Mini-Quiz (All questions for the quiz will be taken from the following web-site:  ).  See the Buddhism Study Guide for a basic list of questions designed to help you prepare for this small quiz.

b)  Lecture:  The Essence Of Buddhism -- The Nature Of Suffering Must Be Understood (II)

Optional Listening Assignment:

  "Zen," In Our Time, BBC Radio 4, December 4, 2014.

Thursday, March 9

a)  Discussion:  World's Religions

b)  Other Asian Religions Workshop

Reading Assignment:

Huston Smith, World's Religions

Week 10

Tuesday, March 14:  On-Line Text: Sikhism, Jainism, Taoism, Shinto

a)  Lecture: The Diamond Vehicle -- Tibetan Buddhism

        Outline:  Tibetan Buddhism

Thursday, March 16

a)  Discussion:  Tibetan Buddhism In The News

b)  Lecture:  Essence Of Sikhism -- The Way Of The Disciples (I)

c)  Other Asian Religions Workshop

        Outline:  Essence Of Sikhism

Reading Assignment:

Browse extensively in  Tibetan Buddhism In The News, Dalai Lama In The News, Tibetan Buddhism Video Links, Tibetan Buddhism Audio Links, Tibetan Buddhism On-Line Articles, and Tibetan Buddhism Useful Links.


Week 11

Tuesday, March 21

a)  Introduce Sacred Signs Optional Assignment

b)  Lecture:  Essence Of Sikhism -- The Way Of The Disciples (II)

Thursday, March 23

a)  Student Mini-Presentation #1:  Jainism -- The Way Of The Conqueror

b)  Student Mini-Presentation #2:  Confucianism -- The Philosophy Of Master Kung

Week 12: 

Tuesday, March 28

a)  Student Mini-Presentation #3:  Taoism -- The Way And Its Power

b)  Discussion: Tao Teh Ching

Reading Assignment:

Lao Tzu, Tao Teh Ching

Thursday, March 30

a)  Student Mini-Presentation #4:  Shinto -- The Way Of The Kami

b)  Discussion: Sikhism In The News

c)  Comparative Religions Grid Workshop

Reading Assignments:

Browse in Sikhism In The News; Sikhism Audio Links; Sikhism Video Links; and/or Sikhism Articles.  I also recommend using Sikhism as a search term in the Canadian Newsstand Section of the NIC Library Database. 

Optional Listening Assignment:

  "Shinto," In Our Time, BBC Radio 4, September 22, 2011.

Week 13

Tuesday, April 4

a)  ***Other Asian Religions Mini-Quiz (All questions for the quiz will be taken from the following web-site: ; ; ;  ).  See the Other Asian Religions Study Guide for a basic list of questions designed to help you prepare for this small quiz.

b)  Discussion: Other Religions In The News

c)  Discussion:  Sacred Symbols

Reading Assignments:

Browse in Jainism In The News; Confucianism In The News; Taoism In The News; Shinto In The News; Bahai In The News; Rastafari In The News; and Zoroastrianism In The News.

Thursday, April 6

a)  Discussion:  Comparative Religions Grid

Thursday, April 13:  Comparative Religions Grid and Second Half Journal Due


First Half  Journal 35%
Second Half Journal 25%
Comparative Religions Grid 15%
Mini-Quizzes  6%
Class Participation 19%

a)  Reflections On Entering The Course

Who are you? Where are you from? What are your interests? Why are you taking this course? How would you begin to make sense of your own thoughts about religion and religious studies? Do you have any questions, concerns, or suggestions as we start the course? Write two or three informal paragraphs for the second class of the semester to introduce yourself to me.

b)  The Journal (60%)

The student journal is the main assignment in this class.  The purpose of the journal is to provide you the opportunity for frequent thoughtful, analytical and personal commentary upon course—related material.  The advantages of the journal, to my mind, are that it breaks work down into regular and manageable chunks, and that it enables you to seize hold of the curriculum in a way which reflects your own interests and style.

The journal will be graded in two installments -- at the mid-point and at the end-point of the semester.

In order to give you a basic structure and to clearly communicate my expectations, I will specify certain mandated entries and suggest a format for reading responses.  However, while it is required that all work in the journal be your own original writing, you are encouraged to be imaginative in your own investigation and analysis of World Religion.  I myself will be learning much about religion as the course proceeds and part of the logic of the Journal is that it provides you with some space to pursue topics of particular interest.

The excellent journal will:

be approximately 30+ pages long.

include the Thoughts On Entering The Course and Reflections Upon Leaving The Course entries.

include reading responses to at least  4 books (2+ pages apiece).

include the Other Religions mini-project.

possibly include the Sacred Symbols mini-project.

include at least 2 Discussion Topic commentaries.

include at least 3 reading, audio, or video responses to such items as the required or supplementary articles and audio features, or Religion in the News readings.

include other entries that draw upon class material and/or your independent research.

demonstrate that you are approaching the readings and the course with care and effort.

The above list of entries is meant as a firm guide rather than as an absolutely-everything-here must be completed.  The embedded tension within the assignment between structure and flexibility is deliberate.  It possibly to excel in the course either by closely following my guidelines or by diverging from these significantly.  The entries will, no doubt, vary in format, length and quality.   Do not hesitate to take risks and to express your own opinions.  It's fine if some entries read more like summary than analysis; it can be useful to put what you have learned from an article or a video into your own words.  Try, however, not to succumb to the temptation to write in an easy, stream—of—consciousness style.   There is no inherent tension between analytical rigour and personal insight.  This is an assignment designed to encourage and to reward extensive student effort and learning.  The work-load is heavy but my expectation is that a good-faith approach to the course will lead to strong success.  You can include print-outs from the internet in the journal or quote passages but are expected to identify that which is not your own original work.  Formal footnoting is not required but plagiarized/cut-and-pasted material will likely lead to a failing grade for the course.  Likewise, you should not recycle any writings from other classes.

c)  Comparative Religions Grid (15%)

This exercise will ask you to engage in an in-depth comparative analysis of a select few world religions.

d)  Mini-Quizzes (6%)

There will be three short in-class quizzes interspersed throughout the semester.

e)  Class Participation (19%)

The class participation grade will be based upon attendance; pre-class preparation; and the willingness to contribute thoughtfully to full-class and small-group discussion.  Although attendance is not required, I will take roll, and those who are not in class regularly will receive a poor grade for this component of the course.  I would like to encourage a classroom environment in which all are eager to share their ideas and in which lectures are accompanied by thoughtful dialogue.

Assigning class participation grades can be quite arbitrary.  When I assign participation grades at the end of the semester, I place each student in one of three following categories:

1)  Regular class attendance and excellent class participation.

2)  Regular class attendance and  fully satisfactory class participation.

3)  Irregular class attendance and preparation.

Those in Category 1 receive top participation grades.  Those in Category 3 receive poor participation grades.  Those in Category 2 are most likely to receive no specific participation grade but rather have the 85% total for their written work pro-rated to a 100% scale (in some cases the participation component may help a Category 2 student's final grade but in no instance will it lower the final grade).  Thus, shy students are not penalized for class participation so long that they attend faithfully and I need only to distinguish between strong, satisfactory and weak participation rather than attempt to make fine distinctions.




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