Religious Studies 205

RELN 205
Religion and Culture

1. Catalog Entry

RELN 205
Religion and Culture

Credit hours (3)

This introduction to the social-scientific study of religion examines religion in its cultural context. Topics such as church and state, religion and race, secularization, and religion and economics are covered through historical cases from around the world. Major sociological theories of religion are considered. This course has been approved for Core Curriculum credit in the Humanities, Social and Behavioral Sciences, and Global Perspectives.

2. Detailed Description of Course

This course introduces students to collective religious expressions and social-scientific theories useful in understanding their forms and functions. Students enter the academic study of religion by considering the interplay between traditions and their cultural settings, along with pertinent classical theories and scholarly debates.

For the purposes of the course, culture is conceived of as an inherently pluralistic, socially constructed arena in which diverse, and often conflicting, universal human interests are simultaneously pursued. In this setting, religious agendas---defined by commitment to intangible, mysterious, supernatural forces-­ must compete with and/or accommodate typically more pressing social and material demands.

While other introductory courses in Religious Studies focus on classical texts and teachings-the ideals of founders and spiritual elites-Religion and Culture exposes students to the forms in which religions have been collectively lived and practiced at particular places and times. Research and theories from sociology, anthropology, and other social sciences frame recurring processes by which traditions accommodate and sometimes attempt to transform social realities.

The course is structured in a sequence of topics, each defined by the intersection between cultural realities (e.g., economic activity, government) and religious meanings, values, and institutions. General theories and cross-cultural findings relevant to the topic are reviewed, followed by in-depth historical case studies that illustrate, elaborate, and/or correct abstract models.

Particular topics and historical cases may vary. Generally, examples from American culture and religion, the case most pertinent and familiar to students, figure prominently. In past years the following topics and cases have been covered:

    1) Religion and Government: The theocracy of the Islamic Republic of Iran; the separation of church and state in the United States
    2) Religion and Economics: Weber’s thesis on the role of Protestantism in generating modern capitalism in the West; the effects of
        Buddhism on the Burmese economy; Religion and socio-economic status in the U.S.
    3) Religion and Race: Racial oppression and religion among African-Americans
    4) Secularization and Religious Revival in Modern Cultures: Japan; the United States

These topics provide occasions for consideration of broad issues and theories in the academic study of religion that continue to generate research and reflection, e.g., Marx's and Durkheim's theories of religion; the secularization debate.

3. Detailed Description of Conduct of Course

This is an introductory course in the subject of religion and the methods of Religious Studies.  Accordingly, class time is predominantly devoted to lectures that present factual descriptions of religious life across cultures, and explications of related theoretical positions. Reading assignments will supplement materials covered in lectures.

Students are free at any time to ask questions for clarification and class discussion. To engage students more actively in the material, from time to time, the instructor may use in class writing assignments and class debates in which students are asked to take a position on a theoretical issue raised by lecture and reading materials, e.g., Does freedom of religion in America threaten or undermine the existence of a common set of values necessary for society to function?

Short writing assignments provide another opportunity for students to approach course materials creatively. These may include research (using traditional and electronic media) on news items featuring interactions of religion and culture (e.g., incidents of Islamic terrorism). Students may also be asked to take a position in a controversy concerning the place of religion in culture that affects them as citizens (e.g., Supreme Court rulings on prayer in public schools).

4. Goals and Objectives of the Course

Upon successful completion of this course, students should be able to: (1) Demonstrate basic knowledge of Religious Studies as an academic discipline and selected aspects of the religious life of humankind; (2) Demonstrate, in particular, understanding of the relationships between religions and extra-religious social forces and conditions; (3) Engage in central theoret;ca1 debates in Religious Studies; (4) Demonstrate an understanding of religion in their own culture, in comparison with that of other cultures; (S) Demonstrate awareness of the role of religion in current events; (6) Attend class regularly and submit assignments punctually.

CORE Curriculum Learning Goals
RELN 205: Religion and Culture meets the learning outcomes for goal 7: Humanities and goal 11: Global Perspectives.
Goal 7
Radford University students will understand that human experience has given rise to significant questions and be aware of the nature and methods of inquiry in the humanities.

Radford University students will:
    1) Identify principles, concepts, or developments crucial to inquiry in a humanities discipline;
    2) Recognize how a method of inquiry in the humanities can be applied to a disciplinary question.

Goal 11
Radford University students will understand how social and cultural (for example, political, historical, economic, environmental, religious, or geographic) forces shape experiences in the global setting.

Radford University students will be able to:
    1) Identify how different perspectives shape human life around the world.
    2) Recognize social and cultural forces that affect relationships between cultures in the world.

5. Assessment Measures

Course grades will be based on class attendance and scores on exams and short writing assignments. Exams will require students to demonstrate mastery of materials presented in lectures and reading assignments. This entails knowledge of considerable factual information about various religions and cultures; understanding of social-scientific theories and theoretical frameworks; and the ability to apply the latter to new data not covered in class. In short, scores on exams will reflect the student's achievement of several broad Core Curriculum goals, including the abilities to:
    1) Think critically and creatively about ideas, issues, and problems through lecture presentations and in research and position papers.
    2) Demonstrate, in exams and writing assignments that cover theories and data of religious life, a basic knowledge of the nature and
        methods of inquiry in humanities.
    3) Analyze, through lecture materials, exams, and writing assignments, different views of the meaning, value, and purpose of life
        manifested in different religions and cultures.

Writing assignments will vary, but generally will include:

    1) a brief research paper on the interaction between the religious commitment of a group and some element of their larger social
        setting, e.g., the clash between Branch Davidians and federal authorities; and
    2) a brief position paper in which students will take sides in a debate on the place of religion in American life, e.g., whether or not the
        "free exercise" clause of the First Amendment can and should be interpreted to protect Mormon polygamy. For the first type of
        assignment, students will select a subject of personal interest not covered in class, and will be graded on the thoroughness of
        their research, the organization of materials for the purpose of social-scientific analysis, the depth and subtlety of analysis
        (a critical application of theoretical models presented in class to the situation in question}, and quality of writing. Scores on
        the second type of assignment will reflect the comprehensiveness, logicalness, coherence, and subtlety or discrimination of the
        argument; the incorporation of relevant historical considerations; and quality of writing.

Together, the assessments of these types of writing assignments will gauge the ability of students to meet the following broad Core Curriculum goals:
    1) Think critically and creatively about ideas, issues, problems, such as the relationship between governments and religions.
    2) Construct logical and persuasive arguments for scholarly theses and ideological positions related to the place of religions in cultures.
    3) Employ a variety of research methods and styles of inquiry, for example, the analysis of historical and statistical data.
    4) Identify values that shape collective and personal decisions as manifest in historical interactions between religions and cultures
        around the world.
    5) Demonstrate a basic knowledge of methods in the humanities through individual research and acquaintance with a range of theories
        about the place of religions in cultures.
    6) Analyze different views of the meaning, value, and purpose of human life through exposure to historical expressions of major
        religions in their cultural settings.
    7) Understand the importance of the human quest for meaning and value through exposure to historical situations shaped by religious
        interpretations of life.
    8) Discuss the relevance of the search for meaning in their own lives through position papers on issues pertinent to the role of religion
        in public life that concern all Americans.

6. Other Course Information


Review and Approval
June 1991
May 1994
May 1995
April 1998
April 1999
September 18, 2001
June 20, 2015