Spring Semester, 2008
Coordinator: Dr. Jim Dalton

Office: Clare Center 203
Office Hours: Wednesday 8:30-11:30, TT 8:30-9:30 and by appointment
Phone: 783-4235

E-mail: dalton (


    This course will examine religious experiences and their expressions within a comparative, cross-cultural and interdisciplinary context. It will look at various human understandings of the Sacred and how these understandings are worked out within the settings of human history and culture. A selection of materials will be drawn from various religious traditions such as Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Native religions, and so forth. Although no single religious tradition will be treated comprehensively, materials from various traditions will be selected to illustrate important thematic issues in religious experiences of Sacred Reality. Especially important will be the theme of death and the afterlife in religious traditions. The major goal of this course is to give the student an appreciation of the nature and variety of religious experience and its roots in understandings of the Sacred. Further, the course will situate religious experience in the context of human cultural, economic and historical reality.

Goals of the Course

    Relg181 is intended to fulfill the disciplinary course requirement in Religious Studies for the Core Curriculum. The goals of such a disciplinary course are as follows:

  1. An appreciation of the breadth and range of religious experience.

  2. An awareness of the assumptions that individuals and groups bring to the study of religious experience.

  3. An appreciation of the diversity within and among religious communities.

  4. An appreciation of the themes of continuity and change within religious institutions, traditions, and communities.

  5. An understanding of some of the questions posed by Religious Studies such as a) How do religious communities understand the divine, the human situation, and the world? b) What is the interplay between religious texts and religious communities? c) How do religious communities understand ritual action and moral development and decision-making?    d) What is the interrelationship of religion with other dimensions of human experience, such as geography, politics, economics, technology, and the arts?


-- Albom, Mitch. Tuesdays With Morrie. NY: Doubleday, 1997.

-- Cunningham, Lawrence S. et Al. The Sacred Quest: An Invitation to the Study of Religion. Third Edition. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1995.


A. All students will be required to have computer accounts and will be expected to be able to utilize electronic mail and word processing. We will also be utilizing the World Wide Web (WWW) during the course of the semester for learning and research. The Web will be discussed and used both inside and outside of classes.

B. Each student will be expected to choose a religious tradition (not his or her own) for the semester. The tradition should be selected by the student and reported to the professor by Tuesday, February 5. Information on the student's tradition can be found on the Web, together with his or her own research in the library. The first quiz which will be held on Thursday, February 14 will, in part, focus on the student's tradition.

C. The mid-term examination will be held on Tuesday, March 11.

D. Quiz and test make-up Policy: I will offer make-up quizzes or tests under the following conditions:

    1. A documented family emergency situation that I agree is compelling such as a death in the immediate family.
    2. An absence where you are representing Siena College in an official capacity. Documentation is required and I must be notified in advance.
    3. Significant illness or injury. Documentation is required.
    4. Severe weather conditions. I must agree.
    5. Circumstances (described to me in advance) that I agree are compelling.

E. During the course of the semester each student will work on a project relating his or her tradition to one or more of the issues raised in the course. A preliminary progress report will be sent to the Professor via Blackboard Assignments function by Thursday, April 3. The final typewritten project (and an electronic version through Blackboard) will be due by class time on Thursday, April 24. For further information on the project see the attached guidelines and criteria.

F. Students will be required to attend classes on a regular basis. If the student is unable to attend, he or she will still be responsible for what occurs during that class period. As a general guideline, any more than four absences will be considered excessive. Further absences could effect the student's final grade.

G. The professor presupposed that every student will do his or her own work according to accepted academic standards. Any student who copies someone else's work or is any other way guilty of cheating or plagiarism will be subject to the penalties outlined in the Siena College Catalog's statement on Academic Integrity. At a minimum, the student will receive a grade of "F" for the course.

H. In the event of an influenza pandemic or other national emergency that requires Siena College to close for an extended period, this course will continue on the basis of the Pandemic Plan.


I. My touchstone grade is a "C". This grade is awarded for performance which is expected of all students in a particular course. It means that the student's work is "ok" (no significant problems or special promise). It is not a negative grade but reflects what can be expected of a typical student doing adequate work.

II. A "B" reflects my judgment that the student's work is better than what I would expect from my "typical" student. The student's work is "good" and shows promise.

III. An "A" exhibits outstanding work or, better put, work that "stands out" from typical students in a course such as this. It displays characteristics such as original thinking, a firm grasp of materials and an ability to critique these materials. It is attainable, not only by students who are "brilliant" but by any student who works hard and is engaged with the materials of the course. It also reflects an ability to communicate clearly and thoughtfully.

IV. A "D" is given to communicate to a student that there are "problems" with the student's work. Such problems might be in communication or understanding of course materials and could arise due to inadequate study habits, poor preparation, or social difficulties. It is important for the student to locate the source of these problems. Students are strongly encouraged to discuss this grade with the coordinator.

V. An "F" is my "do it over again" grade. It means that there are so many problems that we (the student and I) need to go back to the beginning of the process and walk our way through it again.

Course Outline

Please Note: This syllabus admits of additions and deletions as determined by demands of the course.

1.  The Sacred, Death and the Afterlife.
      Reading: Albom, Tuesdays with Morrie; Cunningham, pp. 1-57.
       Videos: "Baraka"
                   "On Our Own Terms: Moyers on Dying"
                   Morrie Schwartz "Lessons on Living"

  • Forms of the Sacred: religion and religions.
  • Encounters with the sacred: religious experience.
  • Expressions of religious experience in thought, action and community.
  • Death and dying: the case of Morrie Schwartz.

2.  Experiences of the Sacred: thought, language and story.
Reading: Cunningham, pp. 58-74.
     Videos: "The Face: Jesus in Art";
                  "The Tibetan Book of the Dead"

3.  Experiences of the Sacred: religious action in symbolic forms (ritual).
Reading: Cunningham, pp. 75-89; Student traditions.

  • Ritual as religious symbolic action.
  • Art and performance in religious traditions.
  • Rituals of life: passages and transitions.
  • Rituals of death and dying: from whence to whence?

4.  Experiences of the Sacred: community and globalization.
Reading: Cunningham, pp. 90-106.

  • Religious communities in a globalized world.
  • Globalization: its historical dimensions.

This page is maintained by Jim Dalton.    Last updated on January 22, 2008.

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