Department of Sociology at Ohio State Lima







Dr. Ted Houghton


Dr. Godwin  Ekechuku


Introduction to the academic study of religion through comparison among major traditions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, etc.) and smaller communities. GEC H

Spring Quarter 


Dr. Ted Houghton

Office: 470G Galvin

Phone: 419-995-8285


Religion is made up of gestures that make no sense at all if ordinary practical reality is all there is; if the universe is only matter and space; if humans are only organisms that feed, mate and die. If such were the case, religion might still be explained as a widespread psychological quirk, but it would not have grounding in any reality, inner or outer. Religion always presupposes a reality other than the visible. This other reality can hardly be weighed or measured and is usually seen and heard only with the eyes and ears of the soul. Yet, religion affirms, it is the true undergirding of the visible and tangible universe and is somehow also submerged in the depth of consciousness. Religion declares that, compared to that reality, what we think about most of the time is like sound and foam on the surface of a deep lake or the hopping about of grasshoppers beneath the infinite sky.

Robert S.Ellwood

The expressions of religion, of the sacred in this world, are diverse. Any religion is a collection or network of many different things. Religions have theoretical expression in ideas and words, practical expression in worship and acts, sociological expression in groups and social relations. The connection of these outward and visible activities to the inward, invisible matter of how humans think and experience our lives is an ongoing theme of this course. Religion can be both felt subjectively and looked at objectively. It is hoped that this course will help students, each in his or her own way, come to a deeper appreciation of both aspects.


1. To explore different ways of looking at religion.

2. To become familiar with major religious traditions, their basic history, symbols, conceptual, ethical and social expression.

3. To develop a sympathetic understanding of the wide range of religious experience and belief that enables human beings to build bridges to an Ultimate Reality.

Required reading:

Susan Tyler Hitcock et al., Geography of Religion. National Geographic 2006.

Other readings made available in class.

Class and attendance: Class time will be used in a variety of ways. There will be lecture, discussion, and films. Discussions will presume and build upon the readings, so it is essential that you should read and be prepared to discuss assigned readings before the class for which they are assigned. Both lecture and discussion will often focus on material not in the readings. Regular attendance will be necessary. Contribution to class discussion on a regular basis influences grading (e.g. you may receive additional points if you are on the border of receiving a higher grade).

Exams and grading: There will be three exams. The format of the exams may vary and will be discussed in class. Your grade will be weighted as follows:

Grading: Three exams 80%

Course project 20%

Total 100%


Topic Reading

1. Introduction, Origens, Chapter 1

2. Symbol, Myth and Ritual (handout)

3. The Conceptual Expression of Religion (handout)


4  Judaism, Chapter 4

5. Christianity, Chapter 5

6. Islam,  Chapter 6


8. Hinduism Chapter 2

9. Buddhism Chapter 3




Options for the Course Project:

These projects are designed to help you study and understand, particularly through experience, some of the material of this course.

Papers: 5-10 pages, double space, 1 inch margins, font: New Times Roman 12 pt.—no larger.

Working in small teams of two to four is possible and encouraged (co-operative endeavor is a valuable experience, as well as more enjoyable.) The final product should reflect the combined effort in both quality and length. Options 2 & 3 can be presented in the form of debates (written or presented in class).

Option 1: Visiting and Analyzing a Religious Service

Visit a religious service in a tradition that is unfamiliar to you -- the more unfamiliar, the better. Write it up as a report. Here is an outline you can follow:

1. Background Information. Give the full name, exact address, and religious affiliation of the group; give the date and time of your visit: give the name and type of service attended.

2. General Information. Describe the outside and inside appearance of the building, giving special attention to particularly important symbols and distinctive architectural features. Then describe the way visitors are greeted, and the sort of people in this group – their apparent social class, lifestyle type, ethnic background, average age, gender, and approximate number present. Describe in the same way the leadership conducting the service.

3. Account of Service. Describe what happened in the service from beginning to end. Try to give some sense of the emotional tone and subjective spiritual meaning of the activity. For example, was the opening dramatic or casual? Was the congregational participation emotional or reserved? Was much of the service spontaneous? Did it seem to be ancient ritual or contemporary?

4. Analysis. Analyze the worship experience in terms of three forms of religious expression: theoretical (teaching), practical (worship) and sociological. At least one-third of the paper should be this part.

  • Theoretical. What, essentially, does this religion teach? As far as you could tell from this one experience, from the sermon, practices, symbols, and so on, what seems to be the main message of this religion? You may need to distinguish between what was "officially" said in creeds or the like, and what really seemed to be most important to the people in the congregation as they took part.

  • Practical. What was the basic nature of the worship? Formal or informal, old or new, structured or spontaneous, intellectual or emotional, or something of all of these. What message about how this group conceives of the role of religion, and the best way for human to experience Ultimate Reality, did this worship communicate?

  • Sociological. What kind of group was it? As well as you could tell from this one experience, was it close-knit or diffuse? Was this group comprised of mostly people drawn to the religion by family or ethnic ties, or mostly committed converts of different backgrounds? What role did the priest or leader play? What message about religious experience was communicated by the nature of the group?

5. Conclusion. Would you say this worship was in any sense a means for discovering and developing one’s true self in relation to Ultimate Reality? For whom and in what sense?


THEORETICAL : Conceptualization of religious concerns, metaphysics, theology

Basic World view. How the universe is set up, especially its spiritual aspect.

God or Ultimate Reality. What the ultimate source and ground of all things is.

Origin of the World.Where it all came from. (cosmogony)

Destiny of the World. Where it is going. (eschatology)

Destiny of Humans. Where we are going.

Revelation or Mediation between the Divine and the Human. How we know this and how we are helped to get from here to our ultimate destiny

Ideas of Divine Sovereignty and Grace. By which we realize we live a dependent and finite existence before the Infinite, and that there is cause for gratitude before the Ultimate.

PRACTICAL: Symbolic acts, ritual (individual and communal) which celebrate the divine or manifest in visible form deep spiritual concerns.

SOCIOLOGICAL :Groups and social relationships

Authority Leadership in spiritual matters.

Tradition How spiritual insights, religious wisdom, revelation are preserved, protected and passed on generation after generation.

Social Institutions Religious organization and how it interacts with the larger society.

Option 2: Analyzing a Religious Argument

Write a paper in which you take an important religious concept and show how it might be treated by the different approaches to determining truth in religion: reason, experience, empiricism, authority, sociological factors, and existential choice (These approaches will be in reading and discussed in class). Concepts so tested could be, for example, the existence of God, Nirvana, Reincarnation, the origin of evil and suffering in the world, the meaning of Christ’s death on the cross, the meaning of Buddha’s enlightenment, the importance of religious ritual, and many others. For every concept discussed, ask what each way of determining truth would have to say pro and con, then give each approach a chance to rebut the other

For example, if the topic was the existence of God, do it like this:

1. Define what you mean, for the sake of this argument, by God and existence.

2. What are the arguments from the standpoint of reason for the existence of God?

3. What are the arguments from the standpoint of reason against the existence of God?

4. How would the pro side rebut the con side?

5. How would the con side rebut the pro side?

Then do the same with arguments pro and con from the standpoints of experience, empiricism, authority, sociological factors, and existential choice. (On the last, you will have to ask why anyone would choose to make an existential choice for or against belief in God, or what ever the concept is.) At the end, you may determine which side has scored the most debating points if you wish – and if you can.

This can work as a team project, with each person taking a specific responsibility, then combining each others work in a finished product. Each person's contribution should be noted and supported by documentary evidence (outlines, descriptions of what the person did and other research materials). The project can be presented in the form of a debate. (Furthers materials on how to organize this are available from me.)

Option 3: Analyzing an Ethical Problem

Write a paper that analyzes a specific case in which an ethical decision must be made. It can be a hypothetical case, one you have read or heard about in the media, or, if you are free to discuss it without violating anyone’s confidentiality, a case you know personally. Here are some examples. Fill in the specifics.

  • Should an employee report misconduct by another employee, or a boss, of which he or she has knowledge, such as misusing company funds or sexual harassment?

  • Should a lawyer suppress or misrepresent important information she or he has uncovered while researching a case in order to help his or her client, even though the suppression of this information will damage an innocent person.

  • Should an abortion be performed, or euthanasia permitted, or the death penalty exercised, in a particular case?

  • Should a political leader be removed for misdeeds of a personal and moral nature that do not bear directly upon the performance of his/her office?

  • Is the use of economic sanctions against a country justified if the political leaders of that country are judged to be dangerous or criminal?

  • After describing the case in sufficient detail, being sure to include every fact that could conceivably be relevant to an ethical judgment, give the arguments on both the pro and con sides. Be sure to include the relevant religious (meta-ethical) principles behind each: concepts of God and divine command, ideas of proper social relationships and obligations, ideas of personhood, of what life really means, etc. Compare views from two or more religious traditions.

    For example, in the case of abortion, some of the issues to be addressed include:

    • What is life and when does it begin? When does human life become a separate person. How much does quality of life count in cases of deformity?

    • Is preserving and protecting innocent human life an absolute value?

    • Are the rights of the mother or the embryo foremost?

    • Is an unborn child a human being with full rights and, if so, at what stage of development?

    • What is the proper place and function of religious, judicial, and legislative institutions in public-policy decision making on this issue?

    Then tell how a decision would be reached, and what the decision might be, using both deontological and consequentialist principles (These concepts will be discussed in class).

    Then give your own judgment and defend it in terms of what principles and methods of deciding seem most important to you. Be sure you make clear why you consider them the most important, and how they work in terms of the specific facts of the case as you have presented it.

    As with Option 2, this can work as a team project, with each person taking a specific responsibility, then combining each others work in a finished product. Each person's contribution should be noted and supported by documentary evidence (outlines, descriptions of what the person did and other research materials). The project can be presented in the form of a debate. (Furthers materials on how to organize this are available from me.)


    Last Modified on 02/26/2007