Fred Glennon, Ph.D. (Courses)
Professor (RH 216)
Department of Religious Studies
Le Moyne College
Syracuse, New York 13214

REL 200




Section 200-01, 02    Reilly Hall 338    TTH 11:30-12:45; 1:00-2:15



Course Topics and Assignemnts






Questions:  Why am I in this class?  What do I hope to learn from taking this class?  Who else is in this class and why?  Who is this professor?  What qualifies him to teach this class?  Can he help me meet my learning objectives?  Will taking this class turn me into an atheist?


·        Susan Henking, “This Just In:  College Will Make You an Atheist,” Religion Dispatches




The Learning Covenant

Questions:  What is a "learning covenant"?  What contribution, if any, can it make to my learning in this class and beyond?



Module 2

Human Experience and Religion



Religious Identity:

Spiritual but not Religious


Questions:  Why is it that, according to the PEW Forum on Religion and Public Life, the numbers of “nones”—those who indicate in surveys that they have no religion or do not belong to any particular religion—are on the rise?  Why are people, especially those under the age of 30, rejecting religious identity and affiliation (like Eboo Patel did early on)?  What do they mean when they say they are spiritual but not religious?  What is your view on this?


  • Eboo Patel, Acts of Faith, 1-58. (Complete Homework assignment on Canvas)
  • Fuller, “Spiritual but not Religious” (on Canvas)


Complete Religious Knowledge Survey before class (on Canvas)



Religion, Order, and Meaning


Questions:  What does it mean to say religion brings order and meaning to the lives of individuals and communities?  What is the nature of the order and meaning that religion provides?  Does religion play any role in providing order and meaning in my life?


·         Introduction to the Study of Religion, 1-25




Culture and Religion


Questions:  What is culture?  How does culture influence people?  What is the relationship between culture and religion?  

·         Introduction to the Study of Religion, 67-75

·         Geertz, “Religion as a Cultural System,” (Excerpts on Canvas); Review the PowerPoint presentation on Religion as a Cultural System and take the quiz before class (this is an example of a flipped classroom)




Studying and Defining Religion



Questions:  How do scholars study and define religion?  What are the differences between essentialist and functional definitions of religion?  How do these definitions shape one's approach to religious phenomena?


  • Russell McCutcheon, Studying Religion (online version: read Introduction, Essentials of Religion, and Functions of Religion (or read same in pdf version on Canvas).  
  • Introduction to the Study of Religion, 75-91
  • Definitions of Religion


Learning Covenants Due




Definitions and Dimensions of Religion


Questions:  Are there similarities between religious traditions?  If so, what are they?  How extensive are they?  How do I define religion?  What are the dimensions of religion that scholars have identified?


  • Russell McCutcheon, Studying Religion (online version: read Resemblances Among Religions, Religion and Classification, and Conclusion (or read same in pdf version on Canvas).  



Module 3 

Religious Action



Ritual Action: Types of Religious Ritual


Questions:  What is ritual?  Why do people practice rituals?  Do I have rituals that I regularly practice?  How do religious rituals differ from secular rituals?  What is the difference between a calendar, life cycle, and life crises ritual? 


  • Introduction to the Study of Religion, 93-122




Sacred Space
(meet in Panasci Family Chapel)


Questions:  What makes some space sacred and other space ordinary?  Is there any space I would consider sacred?  What moods, feelings, aesthetic sensibilities does sacred space seek to instill in people?  What is the difference between a shrine and a traditional ritual space?  Why do those roadside memorials I see develop?

  • Santino, “Performative Commemoratives, the Personal, and the Public: Spontaneous Shrines, Emergent Ritual, and the Field of Folklore,” The Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 117, No. 466 (Autumn, 2004),363-372 (on Canvas)
  • Sylvia Grider, “Spontaneous Shrines:  A Modern Response to Tragedy and Disaster,” New Directions in Folklore 5 (October 2001) (on Canvas)
  • Case Study:  Spontaneous Memorials and Shrines




Ethical Action: Moral Conduct


Questions:  What is ethical action?  How does it differ from morality?  Are religious ethics different from secular ethics?  If so, in what ways?  Can a person engage in ethical or moral action without being religious?  Do religions require certain moral conduct on the part of their practitioners?  What ethical actions have I done that have been influenced by my religious tradition?  What are norms for moral conduct?  What norms for moral conduct do different traditions require?  How are laws and ends different?  Are there any norms that all religious traditions agree upon?  Are there any that I would agree upon?





Ethical Action: Moral Character and Moral Exemplars


Questions:  How do norms for moral conduct differ from norms for moral character?  What is moral character?  Would I consider myself a moral character?  How does religion shape moral character?  What is the difference between a moral conscience and moral consciousness? What is a moral exemplar?  Who do know that I would call a moral exemplar?  Who are the moral exemplars in the religious traditions we are studying them?  What characteristics make them examples that others should follow?  Are there commonalities among them?





Relationship between Ritual and Ethics

Questions:  What do the terms moral pedagogy, moral redemption, and moral transformation mean?  Have I engaged in any rituals that have sought to help me to become a better person?  Do all religious rituals encourage a certain moral way of life?  Or do broader ethical issues sometimes call certain rituals into question?


·         Introduction to the Study of Religion, 156-168

·         Ritual and Moral Objections:  Case study, Circumcision

o   Christine Gudorf, “A Question of Compromise” (on Canvas)




Fall Break


No Class

Module 4

Religious Language



About the Sacred

Questions:  How do people talk about the sacred?  What metaphors, symbols, or names do they use?  Why is metaphorical language so important in this regard?  What metaphors do I sue for the sacred?  Are there some names that I have difficulty with?  Why is this the case?


·         Introduction to the Study of Religion, 169-184, 200-203


(Mid-semester course evaluation found on Canvas under Assessment Activities due)




Myths of Origin

Questions:  What is the peculiar way that religious traditions use the term myth?  What are the myths or stories of religious traditions attempting to say about the origins of the universe and the place of humanity in it?  Are there any myths that I find meaningful for understanding the universe?


·         Introduction to the Study of Religion, 184-197

·         Genesis 1-3 (from the Bible)




Stories of Challenge and Suffering:  Job

Questions:  What is a theodicy?  Why do religious traditions provide stories to help people deal with suffering in the world?  How do I understand the nature of innocent suffering in the world?


·         Introduction to the Study of Religion, 232-233

·         Supplementary Readings

o   Howard Kushner, “The Story of a Man Named Job,” in When Bad Things Happen to Good People, ch. 2 (summary on Canvas)

o   Fred Glennon’s reflections on suffering and theodicy, “The Absence of God” (on Canvas)




Scriptures and Canons

Questions:  Why do religious traditions identify some writings and texts as sacred?  Do all people in those traditions interpret the texts in the same way?  If not, why not?  Are there any texts that I would consider sacred?  What are they and why?


·         Introduction to the Study of Religion, 209-224

·         Case Study:  Gospel of Mark

o   Gospel of Mark (from the Bible)

o   Questions for Gospel of Mark (on Canvas)

o   Gospel of John 1.17-21 (from the Bible)




Doctrines and Creeds

Questions:  What is a doctrine or creed?  Are there any doctrines or creeds that I have?  How do the traditions view death, redemption, and the afterlife?  What are the similarities?  What are the differences?  How do I view them?


·         Introduction to the Study of Religion, 235-239

·         Begin reading Augustine’s Confessions (see questions below for specific books

·         Introduction to Augustine’s Life

·         Questions for Augustine’s Confessions (on Canvas)


Module 5

Religious Change



Personal Religious Change as Development and Conversion

Questions:  Has your religious experience changed over time?  In what ways?  Has the change been slow and gradual or sudden?  What does conversion mean?  What does it mean to be “born again”?  (see questions for Augustine’s Confessions)  What do you think of Augustine’s experience?  How does it relate to your own?


·         Finish reading Augustine’s Confessions and be prepared with answers to questions

·         Introduction to the Study of Religion, 245-263




Social Change as Catalyst for Religious Change

Questions:  In what ways do changes in society generate changes in religious ideas, practices, and traditions?  What effect has the development of modern western society, with its emphasis on personal, political, and economic freedom had on religion?  How has this freedom affected your own religious practice?


·         Introduction to the Study of Religion, 275-296

·         Case Study:  Religious Fundamentalism

o   Daniel Schultz, “Destruction, Or, Why Do Fundamentalists Seem To Enjoy Blowing Things Up?” Religion Dispatches

o   Notes on Fundamentalism




Religious Change as Catalyst for Social Change


Questions:  see questions for King’s letter below


·         Introduction to the Study of Religion, 296-307

·         Martin Luther King, Jr., “Letter from Birmingham Jail” (on Canvas)

·         Questions for King’s Letter (on Canvas)

Module 6

Religion as Alienating and Reconciling



Religion as Alienating

Questions:  What does it mean to say that religion can be alienating?  In what ways can and has religion been alienating to people?  Have you experienced religion in alienating ways?


·         Konstantin Petrenko, “The Two Faces of Atheism,” Religion Dispatches

·         Introduction to the Study of Religion,  311-343




Religion and Violence

Questions:  Why do religious people resort to violence?  Is it endemic to religion as some claim?  How does such violence raise questions about the role of religion in today’s world?


·         Kimball, When Religion Becomes Evil, 26-40 (on Canvas)

·         Hitchens, god is not Great:  How Religion Poisons Everything, 16-36 (on Canvas)




Alienation:  Philosophical Responses

Questions:  In what ways does Feuerbach say religion alienates humanity?  How does Marx push his ideas further?  What do these philosophers suggest will ultimately happen to religion?  Do you agree?


·         Feuerbach, Essence of Christianity;  Karl Marx on Religion (read first 6 paragraphs)

·         Sigmund Freud, The Future of an Illusion


This will be a flipped classroom.  There will be a video presentation on Canvas to review for the information related to this class.


First Draft of Ritual Activity due (see Canvas, Graded Activities to post  your draft)



Group preparation on final exam process.  This will be conducted by student teaching process person.  See Canvas for details.


Thanksgiving (no class)



Alienation:  Personal Responses

Questions:  see questions for Wiesel, Night below and on Canvas


·         Case Study:  The Holocaust

·         Elie Wiesel, Night

·         Questions for Night  (also on Canvas)




Reconciling Religion

Questions:  How does religion act as a reconciling force for the individual and for society? In what ways has it been reconciling for you or for people you know?


·         Introduction to the Study of Religion, 349-379




Religious Activism


Questions:  see questions for Patel, Acts of Faith on Canvas


·         Eboo Patel, Acts of Faith, chapters 4-6


Ritual Papers due (see Canvas, Graded Activities to post your final paper)



Religious Pluralism

Questions:  What is religious pluralism?  What is the impact on the perception of the U.S. as a “Christian” nation?  In what ways have you experienced religious pluralism?


·         Eboo Patel, Acts of Faith, chapters 7-8, conclusion


Last Day of Class



Final Exam

Group Final Exam (Completed finals are due by 5pm)