REL100 Syllabus: Blogging, Tweeting, and Deconstructing Religion

I finally finished the syllabus for REL100. Good thing, too. The first day of class is tomorrow morning. It’s all filled up–40 students. Here goes nothin’!

REL 100: Introduction to Religion

Christian and Hindu Traditions

Michael J. Altman


Office Hours: Thursday 9am-noon, Callaway S220 (or 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 Catholic devotionalism to yoga to evangelicalism. 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” in public discourse and culture.

II. Course Outcomes

We will develop expertise in interpreting the plurality of religions (especially Christianity and Hinduism) in their historical settings.

We will critically assess the influence religions (again, especially Christianity and Hinduism) exert in shaping experience and society.

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.


  • Books, articles, and student blogs (each class)


  • Reading questions (each class)
  • Blogs (2 posts, two comments per week)
  • Twitter (3X week)
  • Exams (2)


  • Participation


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 Reserves Direct.

In addition to the assigned reading material, you must also read and comment on brief blog posts from your colleagues. There will be two or three blog posts per class posted the day before class. You need to read them and comment on two of them by class on Friday (or the last class of the week if it is a short week). These comments count toward your participation grade. 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. 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:

Reading Questions (daily)

Writing is thinking. So, to help us think through the readings, at the end of each class I will give out a question for the next day’s reading assignment. I will also post the question on the Blackboard site after class. These questions will require analytical engagement with the reading, should be answered in a paragraph or two (150-300 words) and should be brought to class in a typed (12 pt. font) hard copy that you 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. These questions are a way for me to make sure you understand the readings and a chance for you to tell me what is confusing in the material or what I need to go back and spend more time on. At times, I may ask you to read or summarize your answer aloud in class or share them with a partner/small group.

Reading questions are graded on a 0 to 3 scale (I do give out scores like 2.75) and I will make brief comments on them as needed. I will drop the three lowest response papers, meaning you get three freebies if you forget, don’t read, or miss class. I will not accept late reading questions, nor will I accept them electronically.

Blog (2 for the semester, 2 comment weekly)

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, two or three students will write a brief blog post (300-500 words) about a current event, opinion piece, piece of media, or news story that somehow connects to something we have covered or mentioned in class and offer a brief analysis. I’m leaving the jumping off point for your blog post very broad. If you have a question about whether an item would make a good post please ask me. Any story or article that covers Christianity, Hinduism, or religion more generally could work if you are able to somehow bring it back around to content from our class. Furthermore, your blog post should not be a simple summary of the article, but instead it should offer your own opinion, critique, and analysis.
There is no universal “blog style,” but blogging is a medium that seems to encourage partisanship and even pettiness. We’re aiming for something different here. I’d like for this blog to be an extension of the conversations we have in class. I’ll ask you to exhibit academic skill in your blog posts. That does not mean, however, that your writing on the blog needs to become overly stilted or formal. It also does not mean that your writing should not have an argument or critique to put forth. Rather, I hope the blog provides a place for you to show your readers that academic writing can be lively, relevant, and sophisticated all at once. Additionally, I have posted an example post 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.

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 the day before the class you for which you are assigned to write (i.e. you’re post is for Friday 9/16, it must be online by 6AM Thursday 9/15) This gives everyone all the day before and some of the morning of class to read and comment on the posts. We will briefly discuss blogs posts (5-10 minutes) during class.

There is a list of websites that might be good sources for articles for your blog posts on Blackboard. I will also be tweeting links to stories that might work for blog posts as I come across them. If you have trouble finding something to write about let me know. The goal is for you to produce a good post, not spend the whole time looking for an article.

I will spend time in class going over how to use the WordPress platform for our blog so everyone is comfortable posting. I will also spend some more time going over how to write a good blog post.

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, a link to something you’ve found online that relates to themes we covered in class, or a response to someone else’s tweet. Retweets without further comment do not count. 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 #REL100 during class and responding to comments and questions that appear there. You are not required to follow the Twitter stream during class.

I will spend time in class explaining how to use Twitter so everyone feels comfortable with the platform. I will also briefly cover how to write a good “thick” tweet.

Exams (2)

There will be two exams. Exam #1 will be a combination of short answer, identifications, and short essay questions (as in a paragraph or two). More on that as we get closer. I will provide a study guide for exam #1. Exam #2 will be a take-home essay style exam drawn from the reading and material covered in the classroom. It will focus on larger themes we’ve discussed throughout the course. It will not require any research but it will require you to synthesize the various readings we’ve done and come up with an original argument to answer the questions.


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

Class Participation

Class attendance is an important and required part of our class insofar as you have to be here to participate. I will not take attendance. But you have to be here to turn in your reading questions, listen to the lectures, and join in class discussions. 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. So, I won’t be taking attendance but if you don’t come to class you will probably do very poorly.

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 reading 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. Your class participation grade consists of the following: 3 tweets a week, 2 blog comments a week, tweeting/discussing in class.

Grade Breakdown:

Tweets, Comments, Participation- 10%

Response questions- 20%

Blog posts- 20% (10% each)

Exam #1- 20%

Exam #2- 30%

IV. Ground Rules

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.) If you have a problem, illness, or emergency that causes you to miss a lot of class or assignments then you need to go to your dean, explain the situation and have them contact me. I am happy to work with you through the Dean’s office if you find yourself in a difficult situation, but it is not my job to adjudicate whether or not your excuse is real or not. That’s what their office does.

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. If Google’s motto is “don’t be evil” than ours is “don’t be rude.”

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- Religion, Christianity, Hinduism

Fri. 8/26- Constructing Religion- Whence religion?

J. Z. Smith, “Religion, Religions, Religious” from Mark C. Taylor Critical Terms for Religious Studies, pp. 269-284

Week 2

Mon. 8/29- Religion, Christianity, and Power

Richard King, Chapter 2 “Disciplining Religion” from Orientalism and Religion: Postcolonial Theory, India and the Mystic East, pp. 35-61


Wed. 8/31- Jesus, Church & Biblical Christianities

Christianity Intro-Ch. 3, pp. 1-70

Fri. 9/2- Eastern and Western Christianities

Christianity Ch. 4-5, Conclusion, pp. 71-108, 147-150

Week 3

Mon. 9/5 NO CLASS- Labor Day

Wed. 9/7- Gnosticism and the Construction of Orthodox Christianity

David Brakke, “Imagining ‘Gnosticism’ and Early Christianties” from The Gnostics: Myth Ritual, and Diversity in Early Christianity, pp. 1-18.

Fri. 9/9- Revelation and the Self

Hinduism, Ch. 1-4 pp. 1-49

Week 4

Mon. 9/12- The Image and the Empire

Hinduism Ch. 5-6, 9 pp. 50-79, 109-117

Wed. 9/14- Colonialism and the Construction of Hinduism

King, Chapter 5 “The modern myth of Hinduism,” pp.96-117


Fri. 9/16- Religion and the Body

William LaFleur “Body” in Critical Terms for Religious Studies, pp. 36-53

Born Again Bodies Intro, pp. 1-21.

Week 5

Mon. 9/19- Disciplining Evangelical Bodies

Born Again Bodies Ch. 1, pp. 23-68

Wed. 9/21- New Thought, Control, and the Mind/Body

Born Again Bodies Ch. 2, pp. 69-109

Fri. 9/23- Metaphysics of the Body

Born Again Bodies Ch. 3, pp. 110-159

Week 6

Mon. 9/26- Divine Diets: Christian Diet Culture

Born Again Bodies Ch. 4, pp. 160-205

Wed. 9/28- Bodily Discipline in Consumer Diet Culture

Born Again Bodies Ch.5 & Epilogue, pp. 206-250

Fri. 9/30- Ancient Yoga and Orientalist Discourse

Yoga Body Intro-Ch. 2, pp. 3-53

Week 7

Mon. 10/3- Representing the Yogin

Yoga Body Ch. 3-4, pp. 54-94

Wed. 10/5- Yoga, Masculinity, and Nationalism

Yoga Body Ch. 5-6, pp. 95-141

Fri. 10/7- So, How Ancient and How Indian is Yoga?

Yoga Body Ch. 7-9, pp. 143-210

Week 8

Mon. 10/10 FALL BREAK

Wed. 10/12

Exam #1


Fri. 10/14- Religion, Suffering, and Devotion

Clifford Geertz, “Religion as a Cultural System”

Week 9

Mon. 10/17- The American Catholic Experience

St. Jude Preface, Ch.1, pp. xi.-39

Wed. 10/19- Catholicism and Immigration in America

St. Jude Ch. 2-3, pp.40-94

Fri. 10/21 NO CLASS American Studies Association

Week 10

Mon. 10/24- Women’s Devotions to the Saint

St. Jude Ch. 4-5, pp. 95-141

Wed. 10/26- Healings

St. Jude Ch. 6, pp. 142-184

Fri. 10/28- Miracles

St. Jude Ch. 7, pp. 185-211

Week 11

Mon. 10/31- Encountering Krishna

Journey Ch. 1, pp.3-40

Wed. 11/2- The Twelve Forests

Journey Ch. 2, pp. 45-94

Fri. 11/4- Mountains, Ponds, and Deserts

Journey Ch. 3-4, pp. 100-57

Week 12

Mon. 11/7- Playing Around

Journey Ch. 5, pp. 160-193

Wed. 11/9- Surrender and Return

Journey Ch. 6, pp. 196-223


Fri. 11/11- Religion, Movement, and Space

Thomas A. Tweed, “Confluences: Towards a Theory of Religion” from Crossing and Dwelling: A Theory of Religion, pp. 54-79

Week 13

Mon. 11/14- African American Religion, an introduction

Passionately Human, Introduction, Ch.1, pp.1-34

Wed. 11/16- Moving North: Churches in Chicago

Passionately Human, Ch. 2, pp.35-70

Fri. 11/18- Southern Sacred Spaces in the North

Passionately Human, Ch. 3-4

Week 14

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

Wed. 11/23- The AME Church and Women in Chicago

Passionately Human Ch. 5-6, Conclusion, & Epilogue, pp.118-193

Fri. 11/25 NO CLASS- Thanksgiving

Week 15

Mon. 11/28- Temples, Communities, Spaces

Diaspora Introduction, pp. 3-34

Wed. 11/30- Mylapore

Diaspora Ch. 2, pp. 75-128.

Fri. 12/2- Religion, Space, and Class

Diaspora Ch. 3 pp.129-170

Mon. 12/5- Globalized Localism: India to America and Back Again

Diaspora Ch. 4, pp.171-230

Hand out take Exam #2 (take-home)

12/12 Exam #2 Due by 7pm


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