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Week 6: Religion and Myth

HUMN 100 6981 Introduction to Humanities (2215) OO

Religion and Myth

Whether religion is man-made is a question

for philosophers or theologians. But the

forms are man-made. They are a human

response to something. As a historian of

religions, I am interested in those

expressions. —Mircea Eliade

Qur’an of Ibrahim Sultan

This image is in the public domain.


Religion is a large part of many people’s lives. When you stand within a specific religious

tradition, you participate in expressions of belief rooted in that religion. For instance,

Christians often testify about how they have found salvation from sin through Jesus

Christ. Buddhists might chant the Vandana Ti-sarana, where they claim to take refuge in

the Buddha, the dharma, and the sangha. And Muslims recite the shahada, which

professes that there is no god but God and that Muhammad is his prophet. All of these

are examples of the language of faith, which provide an insider’s perspective on a religious


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However, when you study religion from an academic point of view, you do not use the

language of faith, because academics do not look at a tradition from the inside. Instead,

they look at it from the outside. Thus, we must adopt an approach suitable to the

accepted norms of the field of religious studies, norms which more closely align with

issues of history and anthropology, rather than those of faith.

In general, one way of talking about religion is not more “right” than another. However,

one way of talking about religion can be more “right” within a specific religious context;

likewise, another way of talking about religion can be more “right” within an academic

classroom setting, such as the discussions we will undertake this week. So, before

studying religious traditions from an academic perspective, you must learn how to talk

about them academically.

In academic religious studies, scholars have developed four general approaches used in

thinking and talking about religion:

Exclusivism: There is only one true religion, and other religions are false.

Inclusivism or relativism: Only one religion is true, but other religions could also

have some truths.

Pluralism: All religions have equal validity or truth value.

Empathetic interest in other people: All religions are interesting and important;

questions of truth are not considered.

A number of religious perspectives take the exclusivist or inclusivist position. These are

considered to be insider positions, and these are not the perspectives that scholars take.

Instead, they most often take an outsider point of view, which most closely resembles the

fourth option above—an empathetic interest in other people that seeks to discover what

is interesting and important about a religious tradition without making a judgment about

the truth claims of that religion.

When studying religious traditions, you will certainly come across things you have never

heard of. An academic point of view is important to cultivate when confronted with the

unfamiliar because it helps you learn more about it without the distortions of personal

bias. If you are not concerned with figuring out whether a religion is true or not, then you

are able to maintain a perspective that readily allows you to discover things that are

compelling and significant in that religion.

Every religious tradition offers a rich tapestry of cultural elements to study. In his classic

1998 book Dimensions of the Sacred: An Anatomy of the World’s Beliefs, religious studies

scholar Ninian Smart has divided these elements into seven dimensions:

1. Doctrinal and philosophical: the explanations for practices, beliefs, and concepts

2. Ethical and legal: the rules—the 10 commandments, the eightfold path

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3. Social and institutional: the organization—church, sangha, synagogue

4. Material: the stuff believers produce—music, art, dance, literature, architecture, etc.

5. Narrative and mythic: the stories from the religion that explain and inspire

6. Experiential and emotional: the personal reactions to the profound or divine

7. Practical and ritual: the things believers do that are often related to the material

dimension—puja, the Eucharist, prayer, etc.

In this module, we will look at a brief overview of the five major world religions:

Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Then, for each of these religions,

we will look at examples related to three of the dimensions above: (1) the narrative and

mythic; (2) the practical and ritual; and (3) the material. The examples in the learning

resources will allow you to see how these dimensions are closely related, and they will

also demonstrate how religion is a multidimensional phenomenon that can include all of

the fields already covered in this course: philosophy, visual arts, music, dance, literature,

theater, and architecture.

Learning Outcomes

Following is a list of the Week 6 outcomes, mapped to the corresponding course

outcome. The course outcomes give “the big picture,” and the weekly outcomes provide

more detailed information that will help you achieve the course outcomes.

Week 6 Outcomes

Identify and describe an academic approach to the study of religion (1, 2).

Identify basic information about the five major world religious traditions of

Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (2, 3).

Analyze the connections that myth and ritual have with visual art, dance, music,

and literature in world religious traditions (3, 4).

Course Outcomes Met in Week 6

1. Describe and analyze the way human culture is expressed through works of

literature, performing and visual arts, philosophy, and religion in order to appreciate

the depth and breadth of the humanities disciplines.

2. Use basic vocabulary, concepts, methods, and theories of the humanities disciplines

in order to describe and analyze cultural and artistic expressions.

3. Identify and apply criteria in order to evaluate individual and collective cultural


4. Examine individual and cultural perspectives in the field of humanities in order to

recognize and assess cultural diversity and the individual’s place in the world.

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Week 6 Checklist

Week 6 Study Guide
Web Page

Week 6 Learning Resources
External Learning Tool

Week 6: QUIZ

WEEK 6 DISCUSSION: Illustrating Religion and Myth
Discussion Topic

0 % 0 of 6 topics complete

Read the Weekly Overview & Learning Goals

Read, View, Review all of the Learning Resources & Links

Participate in our Discussions

Take the Quiz

Compose your Final Project Part 2

Take the quiz before you post to the discussions.

Please use the Learning Resources from this module to answer the quiz questions. You

may take this quiz up to five times. Questions you have answered incorrectly will be

shown to you after each attempt. Your best grade will be recorded in the grade book.

GENERAL INSTRUCTIONS FOR DISCUSSIONS: Your contributions should be thoughtful

and developed. Answer all parts of the question and use concepts from the course

materials. Use a professional style of communication, with attention to grammar, spelling,

and typos; cite your sources.

Unless your instructor specifies otherwise, choose ONE of the following questions, and

give a substantive response to at least two other students.


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If you look at the Learning Resources for this week, you will see myths from religions

paired with elements of the arts which express or are related to those myths. For

example, the Jewish Passover myth is covered, and then there is a link to a Passover

dance and some material decorative items used in the Jewish Passover ritual, which re-

enacts the myth. Also, the Eucharistic myth is covered under Christianity, and then there

are some examples of how the story of the Eucharist is expressed in the arts, including in

music and poetry.

For this discussion, pick one of the five major world religions. Find a myth from that

religion that you can directly connect to something in the religion’s material dimension

(the arts).

Provide a link to a version of the myth and give us a very short (3-5 sentences) description

of the myth.

Provide a link to the element from the arts that links to the myth and give us a paragraph

that analyzes how the two are connected. For example: Is this an object that is part of a

ritual? Is it used by believers to accomplish something? Does it teach believers

something? Does it help a community express their beliefs? Is it something (like a work of

visual art) that critiques the values/beliefs/practices etc. expressed by the myth, or offers

a new perspective on the religion?

Keep in mind that according to the Encyclopedia Britannica online a myth is: a symbolic

narrative, usually of unknown origin and at least partly traditional, that ostensibly relates

actual events and that is especially associated with religious belief. It is distinguished from

symbolic behaviour (cult, ritual) and symbolic places or objects (temples, icons). Myths are

specific accounts of gods or superhuman beings involved in extraordinary events or

circumstances in a time that is unspecified but which is understood as existing apart from

ordinary human experience. The term mythology denotes both the study of myth and the

body of myths belonging to a particular religious



To address the following questions, consider the four approaches to religion described in

the introduction to this module: exclusivism, inclusivism, pluralism and empathetic

interest in other people.

Which of these four approaches do you take in your everyday life, and why?

Describe a friend, acquaintance, or relative whose approach to religion is different than

yours. What approach do they take? Given your different approaches, how would you

communicate with them about religion?

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Final Project, Part 2. Development of the Topic

Due July 27 at 11:59 PM

If you were to take a college class on religious traditions, do you think the academic study

of religion might require you to adjust your approach? Explain your answer.

You will not see any other postings until you post your own.

Initial posts are due by Saturday at 11:30PM ET and at least two responses to fellow

classmates are expected by the end of the academic week on Tuesday by 11:30PM ET.

Click here to view the full Final Project description.

Final Project, Part 2. Development of the Topic.

This part of the final project is a summary of your ongoing work on the final paper; it

should include three paragraphs, one covering each selected work. You should also make

sure to re-state what your subject is.

Identify how the subject you chose in Part 1 appears in three different examples, each

from a different Humanities discipline (visual art, music, dance, poetry, prose, theater, film,

religion). For instance, you could choose a poem, a painting and a scene from a film, all of

which express and represent the theme of anger. Or, to be even more specific, if you

choose the emotion of “love,” the final paper could analyze and discuss love as it is

expressed in Shakespeare’s Sonnet 147 (literature), Boticelli’s Birth of Venus (visual art),

and in the ballet Swan Lake (dance).

Write one short paragraph (3-5 sentences) about each of your selections in which you:

Identify a reliable and appropriate example (a good-quality image, recording, video,


Identify and cite the source, including the artist, creator etc. as well as where you

found the example.

Explain why you find the example relevant for this assignment.

Identify one tool, concept or method from the Learning Resources you might be

able to use to talk about it.

STOP: Before you hand in your assignment, make sure to ask yourself the following


1. Have I chosen three examples from three different fields of the Humanities?

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2. Are each of the examples I chose specific, reliable, appropriate, relevant to my


3. Have I offered an explanation for each example that offers a reason for including


4. Have I provided a specific and appropriate interpretative tool, concept or method

that I will likely use to interpret each example?

5. Have I provided a list of resources and do all of my citations conform to MLA 8th

edition guidelines?

6. Have I proofread this assignment for grammatical, structural, and
spelling errors that might impede someone from understanding what I
am trying to say?

Due Date for Part 2: This submission is due during Week 6, with the final day of

submission being the Tuesday of the sixth week (11:30pm ET). Please see the Course

Schedule for the exact final due date for this submission. The submission should be

carefully edited and proofed for standard use of English.

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