REL 101 Introduction to Religion (5 units)

Instructor: David Komito, Ph.D.

Office:  Ackerman 202 E
Phone: 541-962-3381

This course meets all the following requirements:

Gen Ed - Aesthetics & Humanities
Difference, Power & Discrimination (DPD)
University Writing Requirement (UWR)

Course Description:

Introduction to Religion is a course in the academic study and understanding of religion as an aspect of human experience and culture. As a practical matter it is organized around the central problem of religious pluralism (see the paragraph below for more about this problem). We will approach the study of religion and the problem of religious pluralism by asking how the discipline of Religious Studies can use the insights and methods of History, Psychology, Philosophy, Comparative Religions, and Academic Theology. The course will examine both the practical and the conceptual aspects of the study of religious phenomena.

About REL 101 and REL 102:

REL 102 Introduction to World Religions and REL 101 Introduction to Religion are helpful companion courses but each can also be taken independently of the other.  REL 102 Introduction to World Religions surveys the belief systems and world views of the major religions which have influenced humans from prehistoric times to the 21st century.  In reflecting on this multiplicity of religions, especially in the 21st century, we must confront the problem that each of these religions claims to have the final truth about the human spiritual condition, irrespective of the fact that other religions make the same claim, even though they propose differing final truths! REL 102 Introduction to World Religions, concludes by proposing several contemporary solutions to this problem, often referred to as the problem of religious pluralism.  REL 101 Introduction to Religion explores these solutions in some depth, asking the student to develop their own position on the problem of religious pluralism through the course essay assignments.

About your instructor:

David Komito trained as a scholar of world religions at Indiana University, from which he received M.A., M.S.Ed. and Ph.D. degrees. His primary interests are in the religions of India and Tibet and the Psychology of Religion.  He is the author of three books on Buddhism and was a member of the translating team for a fourth book, which is a meditation manual used in the Dalai Lama’s monastery. Though he is an accomplished scholar and teacher, in David’s view the more you know the simpler you will sound.  This means that you can expect to be challenged and to learn a lot in this course which (hopefully) you will find personally useful; that all instruction will be respectful of your religious views, will be straight forward, will be addressed to the curiosity of the students in this course, and (hopefully) will be easy to understand.

Required Readings:

Conference with the instructor:

I am available for telephone conferences during the work week, but not on weekends. You may arrange a telephone conference with me to discuss anything about the course by emailing me in advance so we can find a mutually convenient time to talk. Additional details about setting up a conference can be found in the course Blackboard site.

Weekly topics: The password you need to open many of the links below is posted on the course Blackboard site on the page: Course Information.

Video recorded introduction to the course.

Week 1

Topics: The problem of “religious pluralism”Approaching the problem through the disciplines of history, psychology, philosophy, comparative religions, and academic theology.  Cultural imperialism, fundamentalism, relativism and multiple perspectives on the problem of “religious pluralism.” 

Read: Selections from Pat Fisher: 1, 13

From the Harvard University Pluralism Project read:

View Diana Eck's Gifford Lectures:

Lecture 1- Globalization and Religious Pluralism
Lecture 6 -The Pluralism Within

David's audio lectures:

Week 2

Topics: The problem of “religious pluralism,” continues. The Christian academic theology of John Hick.

Read: John Hick: Religious Pluralism

David's audio lectures:

  1. John Hick's Pluralism, part 1
  2. John Hick's Pluralism, part 2
  3. John Hick's Pluralism, part 3

Week 3

Topics: The Hindu syncretism of Sri Ramakrishna.   Aldous Huxley, the Perennial Philosophy and sacred art. The Perennial Philosophy as an alternative to Religious Pluralism.


Optional reading: The Heritageof Ramakrishna and Vivekananda

David's audio lectures:

Week 4

Topic: The Buddhist Dalai Lama’s views on unity and diversity in world religions and “secular ethics”. Western psychological science and Buddhist "inner science."


David's audio lectures:

Essay 1 due on Saturday of this week.

Weeks 5 and 6

Topics: Sociolological and psychological approach to religious pluralism. Can Psychology harmonize the approaches of Hick, Ramakrishna and the Dalai Lama? Carl Jung’s Analytic Psychology.


View: The Wizard of Oz.

David's audio lectures:

Week 7

Topic: Edward Whitmont’s psychohistory. Patriarchal suppression of the feminine in religion; the return of the sacred feminine in the contemporary period.


David's audio lectures:

Essay 2 due on Saturday of this week.

Week 8

Topics: Joseph Campbell’s Mythopoeic Psychology; the Human Potential Movement.

Read: Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Prologue: The Monomyth

View movie: Little Buddha. The overall story in this movie is of no particular interest but Bertolucci intercuts scenes from the life and enlightenment of the Buddha through the larger story. Please view all of these stories of the Buddha by jumping through the movie.

David's audio lectures:

Week 9

Topic: Asian and Christian views of the self and the journey to completeness

David's audio lectures:

Week 10

Topics: Summing up - multiple perspectives on religious systems and religious pluralism.

David's audio lectures:

Students will complete their final essay this week and submit it on Saturday of this week.

Methods of Assessment:

1)  50 points total (25 points for each essay).  Students will write two 750 word essays on topics and with due dates as indicated above, under “weekly topics.”

2) 50 points total.  Students will write a final essay of 1500 words (approximately 3 pages) which will give them an opportunity to reflect on and discuss how scholars of world religions have applied the psychology of religion to the problem of religious pluralism. 

All essays will be assessed according to the following rubric (modified from AAC&U’s “Global Learning” rubric):

Note that students are not assessed on their ability to resolve the problem of religious pluralism in the 21st century, but rather on their ability to demonstrate some level of understanding of the differing disciplinary approaches contemporary scholars and researchers have taken to the problem.

More specific information about the essays and the essay topic will be available on the course site.  The final essay will be due at the end of the 10th week but students may begin to write the essay at any time. Late papers will be accepted only under extraordinary circumstances and the grade may be reduced at the instructor’s discretion.


A = 90% or a minimum of 90 points total
B = 80% or a minimum of 80 points total
C = 70% or a minimum of 70 points total
D = 60% or a minimum of 60 points total
F = Less than 60% or a minimum of 60 points total


In this course a “week” runs from Sunday through Saturday.  Essays are due on Saturdays by 11:59 PM of the relevant week.


Syllabus prepared by David Komito, March 20, 2014