COMPREHENSIVE QUESTION #1
Paul Tillich, in Systematic Theology, Vol. 1 (pp. 11-15), introduces the concept of ultimate concern as a way of explaining the nature of faith. One consequence of his argument is that “atheism is an ontological impossibility.” That is, everyone has something that functions as a god for her or him.
After you have carefully developed Tillich’s position, write an essay in which you assess its validity by exploring three of the following issues:
1. Tillich distinguishes between our process of being ultimately concerned and that with which one is ultimately concerned. Develop how one theologian represents what functions as ultimate.
2. Tillich contends his concept has moral dimensions. Consider an ethical issue and how the nature of what is ultimate would shape its analysis.
3. Tillich claims his concept “works” for all religions. Is this a valid claim or one that can be contested?
4. Tillich asserts that his concept clarifies religious experience. Does his concept distort our understanding of religion?
5. Tillich claims his concept is an interpretation of a biblical text. Is there larger warrant for that in Hebrew/Christian scriptures?
COMPREHENSIVE QUESTION #2
In the introduction to a book he edited on immigrant congregations, the sociologist of religions R. Stephen Warner writes:
. . . religion as understood [in this book] exists in the form not of texts but of living communities. This sociological principle stands opposed to a historically Protestant attitude, deeply seated in American culture, that holds that true religion is found only in the bible and stands outside the world.
Drawing on material covered in four of the department’s core courses, evaluate this provocative statement above in respect to the relationship between religion and community (we can understand community to be broadly defined as individuals and the multiple, intersecting societies in which they live). You must make an argument that evaluates this statement using data and concepts from four core courses.
COMPREHENSIVE QUESTION #3
Religious persons are ever mindful of the passage of time and so seek to orient their personal lives and community histories through rituals and myths (stories of God[s], of the beginning [s] and ending[s] of time and history). That is, they bring order to the otherwise random events of their lives by framing a story for themselves, their communities, and the cosmos. They then give expression to that story (or stories) through ritual, art, doctrine, social organization, personal piety, ethical norms, and other means.
Write an essay in which you analyze and compare the different, paradigmatic approaches to time and history in ancient religion as well as in modern society, in Eastern and Western religious traditions, in contemporary theology and even in ethical thinking. Illustrate your arguments with attention not only to abstract conceptions of time but also to rituals, stories, and other phenomena that address the human need for temporal orientation.
COMPREHENSIVE QUESTION #4
While the changing economic world has created significant new wealth for some people, it has not been successful in alleviating poverty in much of the world. People continue to die from treatable diseases; women and children suffer in the sex trafficking trade; and sweatshops continue to abuse workers. It is predicted, for example, that those who are most economically marginalized will suffer the most from the consequences of global warming.
This dynamic can even be seen in the United States, a highly developed, wealthy country. According to census figures and other economic data, the U.S. has been experiencing a significant rise in economic inequality since the late 1970s. Between 1979 and 2005 the real (i.e., inflation adjusted) income of the richest 0.1% of the American population grew by 296%, even though the real median household income grew by merely 13%. The most recent U. S. Census data reveal that while the richest 20% of American households have experienced a 1% growth in real income since 2000, the households that comprise the bottom fifth of the income distribution ladder experienced a 4.5% decline in their real incomes. For comparison, the real median household income in the U.S. has declined 2% ($962) since 2000. In 2006, 17.4% of all children under the age of 18 were in poverty, an increase of 10.7% since 2000.
These trends have created disproportionate burdens for people of color. In 2006, the overall poverty rate was 12.3%, while the poverty rate was 24.2% for Blacks and 20.6% for Hispanics. South Asians, who are highly educated when compared to the general U.S. population, are doing quite well economically in the U.S., partially because the U.S. accepted many Indian medical professional immigrants during the 1970s. Furthermore, Cambodians, who lack similar educational opportunities and English language skills, experience some of the highest poverty rates (around 29% in 2000). Economic bipolarity characterizes some Asian communities as illustrated by the Chinese population. A number of established Chinese professionals are currently enjoying relatively high standards of living, even though many Chinese newcomers are surviving in extreme poverty.
The lack of health insurance has become a factor in how resources are being distributed and retained. According to the Census data, the number of people in the U.S. without health insurance rose to 47.0 million 2006 (i.e., 15.8% of the population). These data also estimated that 20.5% of Blacks and 34.1% of Hispanics were uninsured in 2006 as well as 8.7 million children under 18 (11.7% of this population). The rate of being uninsured was significantly higher (19.3%) for children living in poverty.
The symbolic worldviews found within particular religious traditions and theologies influence not only how people encode and interpret data such as those mentioned above, but also how people understand what is the proper (i.e., moral) response to situations such as that described above. Write an essay which analyzes and compares four different religious interpretations and suggested responses to the kinds of developments summarized above.
Your essay should include one tradition or author found in each of the four core course that you have completed. Therefore, you will be analyzing and comparing how a particular theologian, a specific Hindu tradition, one of the Asian religious communities that has moved into the U.S., a significant tradition in Hebrew Scriptures, and/or a certain Christian ethicist would interpret these developments by placing them within a symbolic framework of religious meaning. When appropriate, your essay should consider how cultural and religious stereotypes influence this encoding process. Your essay should also analyze and compare how each tradition or religious writer would determine what would be an appropriate, that is, moral response, to these economic developments by those who accept each religious framework of meaning that you have described.