Drafting a Syllabus: REL100 Intro. to Religion- Christian and Hindu Traditions

I’ve been preparing for my maiden voyage in the world of teaching this coming semester. I’ve been given the privileged of  teaching my own class: Religion 100 Introduction to Religion. At Emory we teach this course comparatively so every class picks two traditions to focus on. Being an Americanist who studies Hinduism in American culture, I of course chose Christianity and Hinduism. I’m really excited about the course. I’m going to try and use Twitter inside and outside of class and we’re also going to set up a public blog for the class. Is this too much? I don’t know. We’ll see.  So, without further ado, below is my first draft of the syllabus. I’d welcome any comments, provocations, or advice. I’ve already turned to Facebook for a lot of ideas and help with it as it stands now. So let me know what you think! (The spacing in the schedule section is a little off from copying and pasting out of Word but I’m too lazy to fix it right now.)

Religion 100: Introduction to Religion

Christian and Hindu Traditions

MWF 10:40-11:30 White Hall 112

Michael J. Altman


Office Hours: Tues. 2pm-4pm, Wed. 3pm-5pm at the Starbucks in the Oxford Rd. Bldg. and by appt.

I. Course Description

This course introduces the academic study of religion through a comparative approach to Hindu and Christian religious cultures. The central question of our course is “What is religion?” We will attempt to answer this question by drawing on a range of examples from Hindu and Christian religious cultures. These case studies will come from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in both India and America and range from Hindu pilgrimage to American Catholic devotionalism to yoga to evangelical Christian revivalism. These case studies will be organized around three themes: the body, ritual and devotion, and space and motion. In each case and through each theme we will pay special attention to the ways “religion” is constructed, authorized, and maintained. Turning to the ways religion was constructed in the past will shed light on the ways it is understood today. By the end of the course we will have an understanding of the rich variety of religious cultures found within Christianity and Hinduism while also gaining theoretical tools for analyzing various constructions of “religion.”

 II. Course Outcomes

We will theorize and re-theorize the term “religion.”

We will analyze and critique public discourses about religion.

We will investigate the diverse of ways of “being in the world” in Christian and Hindu traditions.

III. Course Requirements

The requirements in our class fall into three categories: reading, writing, and class.


–          Book, articles, and student blogs (each class)


–          Response questions (each class)

–          Blogs (1 post, 1 comment on every post)

–          Twitter (3X week)

–          Exams (2)


–          Attendance & Participation (each class)

–          Discussion leadership (1 time w/ a partner)


All readings on the schedule below must be read before the class they are listed under. We will read most or all of the following texts (recommended you buy them):

 Hinduism: A Very Short Introduction, Kim Knott (1998)

Christianity: A Very Short Introduction, Linda Woodhead (2004)

Born Again Bodies: Flesh and Spirit in American Christianity, R. Marie Griffith (2004)

Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture Practice, Mark Singleton (2010)

Thank You St. Jude: Women’s Devotion to the Patron Saint of Hopeless Causes, Robert Orsi (1996)

Journey Through the Twelve Forests: An Encounter With Krishna, David L. Haberman (1994)

Passionately Human, No Less Divine: Religion and Culture in Black Chicago 1915-1952, Wallace D. Best (2005)

Diaspora of the Gods: Modern Hindu Temples in an Urban Middle-Class World, Joanne Punzo Waghorne (2004)

The rest of the readings will be found on Blackboard.

In addition to the assigned reading material, you must also read and comment on brief blog posts from your colleagues. There will be two blog posts a week, posted by Tuesday morning. You need to read both of them and comment on one of them by class on Wednesday. Your comment does not need to be more than a simple question or a single short insight. However the comment must have some substance to it. You can respond to a point the author of the post made or to an earlier comment, offer praise or critique of a particular point, suggest another article that might bear on the topic at hand, or respond to a question raised by the author or a previous commenter. Blog comments shouldn’t be too long (50-100 words, on average), but they must do something more than say, “good job!” Be civil—and offer praise when it’s merited—but also be sure to add something to the conversation.


In our class we will be writing in a few genres. Whatever the genre or platform, the writing in our class will clearly communicate analytical ideas to a public audience. The goals of the writing assignments are twofold. First, they are to prompt critical thinking and writing regarding the course materials. Second, they are to be constructive and useful. You will not just be writing for me, the instructor. Rather, we will write for each other and for a public audience who may be interested in the role of religion in modern culture. To that end, there are three writing components of the course:

Response Questions (daily)

Writing is thinking. So, to help us think through the readings, at the end of each class I will give out a response question for the next day’s reading assignment. These questions will require analytical engagement with the reading, should be answered in a paragraph or two (200-500 words) and should be brought to class in a hard copy that you can have in front of you and hand in at the end of class. Feel free to mark up, amend, and annotate your hard copy with thoughts and questions from class as we move through our discussions of the reading. Maybe something in class changes your mind, prompts a question, or challenges what you wrote before; note that on your paper. Responses are graded on a 1 to 3 scale. I will drop the three lowest response papers, meaning you get three freebies if you forget, don’t read, or miss class.


During the course of the semester our class will be running a blog on religion, Hinduism, Christianity and current events. Beginning with the second week, each week of class two students will write a brief blog post (200-300 words) about a current event, opinion piece or news story that somehow connects to something we have covered or mentioned in class and offer a brief analysis. Any story or article that covers Christianity, Hinduism, or religion more generally could work if you are able to somehow bring back around to content from our class. Furthermore, you’re blog post should not be a simple summary of the article, but instead it should offer your own opinion, critique, and analysis.

The audience of our blog is not just our class but also a wider public audience. We will be promoting our blog as a project in public scholarship and I hope to attract readers from outside Emory.

Blog posts must be posted by 6 AM on the Tuesday of the week you are assigned to write. This gives everyone all day Tuesday and some of Wednesday morning to read and comment on the posts. We will briefly discuss blogs posts during class each Wednesday.

There is a list of websites at the end of this syllabus and on Blackboard that might be good sources for news stories. Additionally, I have posted two examples of posts on the blog already so you can get a sense of what I want out of the posts. You can also look at a blog put together by a class at Duke to get a sense of what I am looking for.

I will spend time in class going over how to use the WordPress platform for our blog so everyone is comfortable posting.

Twitter (3 times per week #REL100) (Part of participation grade)

We will use Twitter as a way to share thoughts on the reading, comments or questions in class, links to possible blog stories, and for general communication. You are required to send out three course related tweets per week using the hashtag #REL100.  These three tweets must relate to content in the course. They could be comments that come to mind as you read, a question about the reading material, a comment or question during class discussion or lectures, or a link to something you’ve found online that relates to themes we covered in class. Messages or mentions to me about details (i.e. “@MichaelJAltman What time are your office hours tomorrow?”) do not count.

If you are not a very talkative person and do not enjoy speaking up in class, Twitter is a great option for you to participate in class. Class participation is part of your grade and Twitter may give you a more comfortable platform for asking questions, making comments, and joining in the discussion. I will be monitoring the #REL100 hashtag during class responding to comments and questions that appear there. You are not required to follow the Twitter stream during class.

 Exams (Midterm and final)

There will be two exams, a mid-term and a final. The mid-term format will be a combination of short answer, identifications, and essay questions. More on that as we get closer. The final exam will be a take-home essay style exam drawn from the reading and from material covered in the classroom.


Our time in class will be spent on some short lectures, discussions of the readings, and occasional in class writing.

Attendance and Class Participation

Class attendance is an important and required part of our class. Because this class is a broad survey of two diverse religious traditions you will need the context I provide in class to make sense of the readings you do on your own. We will all come to class prepared. That means I will be prepared to lead class discussion and lecture, while you will have done the reading, answered the response question, and have a copy of the reading and a hard copy of your response answer with you. During class discussions everyone is expected to participate, either verbally or through Twitter.

 Discussion Leadership (1 time, with a partner)

Each of you will lead the first 25 minutes of a discussion section, typically as a part of a pair. Your job (with your partner) will be to isolate the main themes of the reading for the day as well as its importance, and to get the class talking about it. You need to come to the discussion prepared to do the following: 1. Come up with one strong response question that we will spend ten minutes writing answers for in class. 2.  Lead the class through the actual material of the reading. What is the writers argument? How does he or she make it? How do they back it up?  3. Connect the reading with readings and lectures from previous classes 4. Get your colleagues to talk about what they thought about the reading. You run the discussion, and you must keep it going for the first 25 minutes (after the ten minutes of writing). It helps to have a long list of questions, or an outline as to how you want to talk about the source, (for yourself) but you also must ask follow-up questions and you must be able to improvise if the discussion goes off in an unexpected direction.  Oftentimes discussions will start out slow. Do not be afraid to call on your fellow students if they do not respond immediately. I will take over the second half of the discussion, but remember that it is your job to pique your classmate’s interest and get the discussion going.

Grade Breakdown:

Exams- 30% (25% each)

Response questions- 15%

Blogs- 20% (10% each)

Discussion leadership- 15%

Participation- 10%

  IV. Ground Rules


A lot of good stuff happens in class and we want you here. You have three absences for the semester. The only absences that I excuse are for those on sports teams, religious observance, or deaths in the family. Illness, oversleeping, broken down-car, missing class to go on vacation, etc., count toward the three absences that you get for the semester.  If you miss class more than five times, I will lower your Participation grade by one full grade. If you experience a serious illness (mono is probably the most common) that will cause you to miss a lot of class, arrange to have your Dean email me to explain what is going on.

 Late Work

I do not accept late work. I do give extensions in the case of extraordinary circumstances, but I expect that you will ask for the extension promptly. Do not email asking for an extension unless it is under extreme circumstances (like a relative died over the weekend and you need to leave immediately.)

 Technology policy

Let’s face it: technology breaks. Servers go down. Transfers time out. Files become corrupt. The list goes on and on. These are not considered emergencies. They are part of the normal production process. An issue you may have with technology is no excuse for late work. You need to protect yourself by managing your time and backing up your work.

Turn your cell phone on silent when you come into class. Do not text in class. While you can use your phone to send class related tweets, I will notice if I see you texting but nothing showing up in the Twitter feed. We will be using Twitter in class but we will not need to check Facebook or send email in class. Any of these abuses or any other abuses of technology in class will result in some form of snark and/or embarrassment from me.

Also, I will occasionally ask that all laptops be put away during class discussion in order to help us focus on listening and responding to one another.

Honor Code

You are bound by Emory’s Honor Code in this class.

 V. Schedule


 Week 1

Wed. 8/24 Introduction- Does religion even exist?

Fri. 8/26 Constructing Religion

J. Z. Smith, “Religion, Religions, Religious” from Mark C. Taylor Critical Terms for Religious Studies

Richard King, Chapter 2 “Disciplining Religion” from Orientalism and Religion: Postcolonial Theory, India and the Mystic East




Week 2

Mon. 8/29

Christianity Intro-Ch. 3

Wed. 8/31

Christianity Ch. 4-5, Conclusion


Fri. 9/2

Early Xtianity Article

Student Discussion

Week 3

Mon. 9/5 NO CLASS

Wed. 9/7

Hinduism Ch. 1-4

Fri. 9/9

Hinduism Ch.  5-6, 9

Week 4

Mon. 9/12

King, Chapter 5 “The modern myth of Hinduism”

Student Discussion



Wed. 9/14

William LaFleur “Body” in Critical Terms for Religious Studies

Born Again Bodies Intro

Fri. 9/16

Born Again Bodies Ch. 1

Student Discussion

Week 5

Mon. 9/19

Born Again Bodies Ch. 2

Wed. 9/21

Born Again Bodies Ch. 3

Fri. 9/23

Born Again Bodies Ch. 4

Student Discussion


Week 6

Mon. 9/26

Born Again Bodies Ch.5 & Epilogue

Wed. 9/28

Yoga Body Intro & Ch. 1

Fri. 9/30

Yoga Body Ch. 2 & 3

Student Discussion


Week 7

Mon. 10/3

Yoga Body Ch. 4 & 5

Wed. 10/5

Yoga Body Ch. 6 & 7

Fri. 10/7

Yoga Body Ch. 8 & 9

Student Discussion


Week 8

Mon. 10/10 FALL BREAK

Wed. 10/12





Fri. 10/14

Clifford Geertz, “Religion as a Cultural System”

Student Discussion


Week 9

Mon. 10/17

St. Jude Preface, Ch.1

Student Discussion

Wed. 10/19

St. Jude Ch. 2


Fri. 10/21 NO CLASS American Studies Association

Week 10

Mon. 10/24

St. Jude Ch. 3 & 4

Wed. 10/26

St. Jude Ch. 5

Fri. 10/28

St. Jude Ch. 6 & 7

Student Discussion


Week 11

Mon. 10/31

Journey Ch. 1

Wed. 11/2

Journey Ch. 2


Fri. 11/4

Journey Ch. 3

Student Discussion

Week 12

Mon. 11/7

Journey Ch. 4

Wed. 11/9

Journey Ch. 5

Fri. 11/11

Journey Ch. 6

Student Discussion




Week 13

Mon. 11/14

Thomas A. Tweed, “Confluences: Towards a Theory of Religion” from Crossing and Dwelling: A Theory of Religion

Student Discussion


Wed. 11/16

Passionately Human, Introduction, Ch.1 & 2

Fri. 11/18

Passionately Human, Ch. 3

Student Discussion

Week 14

Mon. 11/21 NO CLASS- American Academy of Religion Conference

Wed. 11/23

Passionately Human Ch. 4-6, Conclusion, & Epilogue


Week 15

Mon. 11/28

Diaspora Intro. & Ch. 1

Wed. 11/30

Diaspora Ch. 2

Fri. 12/2

Diaspora Ch. 3

Student Discussion


Mon. 12/5

Diaspora Ch. 4 & Conclusion

Hand out take home Final Exam.



2 thoughts on “Drafting a Syllabus: REL100 Intro. to Religion- Christian and Hindu Traditions

  1. I can’t tell you how much I love that you’re starting a class blog and bringing Twitter into the participation grade! Awesome stuff. I was thinking about how silly it is that we use clunky web services like Blackboard when discussion boards like blogs and twitter are out there, being used every day by our students. I’m really inspired by this- thanks for this insight into your syllabus, and I’d love to see updates!


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