|In this course, we will survey the modern American religious landscape.
Since I am a sociologist who specializes in sociological theory, the sociology of religion, and comparative religion, these displines will be the tools or, if you like, lenses we will use to examine and understand different religious traditions.
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, page 9).
In short, I am not a theologian trying to teach you religion; I am a social scientist who will attempt to teach you about religion (think, scientific investigation).
In this course, my students will learn to understand 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 looking at what the 'believer' teaches about their beliefs and how they adhere to them.
In addition, students are taught how to compare and contrast different religions.
Take a moment and examine what a popular book has to say about being religious and religion.
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 'what it means to be Christian, what it means to be a religious believer, AND, most importantly, he points out that Christianity was not born in a vacuum, as many of the faithful maintain.
In short, religions are not static, unchanging social/psychological institutions; religions are dynamic and in a constant state of flux.