COMPREHENSIVE QUESTION #1
The historian of religion William R. LaFleur recently wrote, "The fact that 'body' has become a critical term for religious studies can itself signify significant change in how we study religion."
This shift recognizes the basic "fact" that human beings are embodied. These studies also deal with issues such as the role of the senses; whether or not bodies are given or malleable; the intersection of religion and medicine; connections among embodiedness, gender, and sexuality; permanence and transcience; and attitudes toward physical matter itself.
We see in religious traditions a range of responses to, and attitudes and practices based upon, these basic biological facts. Using material from all four core courses, explain the range of attitudes and practices related to human embodiedness found in the materials for all your core courses. What different attitudes and practices do we see in different religious traditions? Which are unique to one tradition, and which are found in two or three? What do these attitudes and practices tell us about the religious traditions themselves?
COMPREHENSIVE QUESTION #2
In his most recent book, Adventures of an Accidental Sociologist, Peter Berger relates his intellectual journey in relation to secularization (p. 136):
Secularization theory holds that the modern world suffers from an absence of god. Max Weber used the haunting phrase “the disenchantment of the world” to describe this alleged situation. The enchantment is gone and modern man is imprisoned in the “iron cage” of pervasive rationality. It offends my filial piety to disagree with Weber. Alas, I must. I would now say that the modern world, with a few exceptions here and there, is not characterized by secularity but rather by plurality.
For the purpose of this essay, assume the validity of the claim about plurality and develop it in relation to the following:
1. How does American religious diversity simultaneously shape identity and draw boundaries?
2. What are the consequences created by plurality for “how to live”?
3. Does plurality subvert the validity of religious claims?
4. Are religious texts, rituals, symbols diminished by the multiplicity of religious options?
Your essay should give convincing evidence of what you have learned in your core courses. You may limit your essay to three of the four questions above.
COMPREHENSIVE QUESTION #3
In his diatribe against Cultural Amnesia (2007), or rather his plea for Cultural Memory, literary critic and essayist Clive James writes of “humanism” what may also be said of “religion” as a part of the human situation. He argues (pp. xvii-xviii):
Learned books are published by the thousand, yet learning was never less trusted as something to be pursued for its own sake. Too often used for ill, it is now asked about its use for good, and usually on the assumption that any good will be measurable on the market, like a commodity. The idea that humanism (read here “religion”) has no immediately ascertainable use at all, and is invaluable for precisely that reason, is a hard sell in an age when the word “invaluable,” simply by the way it looks, is begging to be construed as “valueless” even by the sophisticated. . . . If the humanism that makes civilization civilized is to be preserved into this new century, it will need advocates. Those advocates will need memory . . .”
Write your essay on the role of the study of religion in the modern university, with special reference to your core courses.
COMPREHENSIVE QUESTION #4
Many of the contemporary religious consider religion a responsible institution in society. In order to be a responsible participant in civil society, what resources does religion use? More specifically, argue what particular resources and methods religion uses in order to create and practice moral/ethical discourse in civil society and how religion uses them.
As a responsible participant in the decision-making process in our democratic society, religious institutions are interested in the power relations among different social groups. In light of your chosen religious tradition(s), (1) articulate its (their) analyses of power structure (race, gender, class, religion, etc.) and (2) assess its (their) suggestions for just power relations.
How and why do religions cause war and armed conflict? What sort of teachings and practices may religions bring peace into the world? Contemplate these two questions within at least one particular historical event. Make sure that your answer argues both war and peace found in religious traditions.