HC - Religion, Society, and Culture
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In this course, we will survey the antagonism between modern secular forces and the institution known as religion. Since I am a sociologist who specializes in sociological theory, the sociology of religion, and comparative religion, these disciplines will be the tools or, if you like, lenses we will use to examine and understand this antagonism. For those of you who have never heard of the discipline called comparative religion, allow me to enlighten you. "Comparative religion is more than the comparing and contrasting of religious structures in different religions. It is also a scientific, non-theological study of why individuals and groups of individuals are or are not religious and the impact that this has on a given society" (Jensen 2003:9). In short, I am not a theologian trying to teach you religion; I am a social scientist who will attempt to help you understand the antagonism between 'society' and 'religion.'

In this course, we will examine what goes on in the mind of a 'believer' and what drives their religious culture or 'faith based community.' I maintain that this can be achieved by focusing upon three elements: (1) what the believer teaches about their beliefs, (2) how they adhere to those beliefs, and (3) how their beliefs and actions are perceived by others. Take a moment and examine what a popular book has to say about being religious.

Student: "'Professor Langdon,' called a young man with curly hair in the back row, 'if Masonry is not a secret society, not a corporation, and not a religion, then what is it?'
Langdon: 'Well, if you were to ask a Mason, he would offer the following definition: Masonry is a system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols.'
Student: 'Sounds to me like a euphemism for 'freaky cult.'
Langdon: 'Freaky, you say?'
Student: 'Hell yes!' the kid said, standing up. 'I heard what they do inside those secret buildings! Weird candlelight rituals with coffins, and nooses, and drinking wine out of skulls. Now that's freaky!' Langdon scanned the class.
Langdon: 'Does that sound freaky to anyone else?'
The Class: 'Yes!' they all chimed in. Langdon feigned a sad sigh.
Langdon: 'Too bad. If that's too freaky for you, then I know you'll never want to join my cult.'
Silence settled over the room. The student from the Women's Center looked uneasy. 'You're in a cult?' Langdon nodded and lowered his voice to a conspiratorial whisper.
Langdon: 'Don't tell anyone, but on the pagan day of the sun god Ra, I kneel at the foot of an ancient instrument of torture and consume ritualistic symbols of blood and flesh.'
The class looked horrified. Langdon shrugged.
Langdon: 'And if any of you care to join me, come to the Harvard chapel on Sunday, kneel beneath the crucifix, and take Holy Communion.' The classroom remained silent. Langdon winked.
Langdon: 'Open your minds, my friends. We all fear what we do not understand.'" (Chapter 6, pg. 31-32)

In this brief passage, from The Lost Symbol (2009), Dan Brown challenges his readers to examine how Christianity can be perceived. In short, religions are not static, unchanging social/psychological institutions; religions are dynamic and constantly being influence by external forces.

   See you in class or around campus,
   Prof. Jensen
   P.S. Please print and read the syllabus; we will discuss it in detail during the second day of class.