As the syllabus states, you must write one short essay by midterm on some aspect of the religions we have studies so far.  Below you will find seven questions; you must write on ONLY ONE of them.  Other specific rules include the following:


a) As noted, you need to respond to only ONE of the questions here.  It should ultimately be a 3-page essay, typed and double-spaced, with standard margin and font sizes.  Make sure your name is on the essay.  It needs to be in Word document or some other easily transferred word processing program and sent to the instructor as an attachment to an e-mail.  Do not expect me to log onto some other website (like GoogleDocs) to find your paper.  My email is richterk@cod.edu.


b) The midterm due date for this assignment is stated in the syllabus and course schedule.  Be sure you know the due date, as the paper will be severely penalized if it is late: 25%/day.  You may of course send the essay in early.  You’ll see that the first two questions here are from Unit One, the next two from Unit Two, and the last three from Unit Three, and it sort of makes sense that if you want to write about, e.g., Hinduism (Question #2), you might want to work on it while you’re studying Hinduism.


c) You are not required for this paper to use research sources other than our text and the provided course materials.  If you use our text, or if you do choose to add extra research, be sure to give proper credit for any quotations or ideas.  Plagiarism will be punished by expulsion from the course and your name turned in for Academic Discipline.


d) Proper grammar and spelling are not ends in themselves, but they are necessary for clear and undistracted communication.  Write clearly and carefully.


e) The paper should be carefully written for accurate information on the topic noted.  It should also have a thesis and an argumentative point to make, so that analysis and your individual thinking are evident.  That is, note how the question asks you to explain what you actually conclude about this topic.  But note, too, that a conclusion must rest on good information and good thinking.


OK?  If you have further questions about this assignment, contact your instructor as soon as possible.  The instructor can also help with ideas and outlines, but of course you’ll need to be ahead of the deadline.  The due date deadline will not be extended.




1)  Explain the meaning of, basis for, and practices implied by animism and ancestor spirits in Native Religions.  Using examples from religions we studied and others you investigate on your own, show how this religious view offers a healthy alternative to modern, technologized life.  Consider, however, the value of technology and the less romantic aspects of native beliefs in nature spirits, fear of spirits, fear of the dead, etc.  In the end, do you think we would be a happier people if we were more like native peoples religiously?  Can such a view be held consistently in the modern world?



2)  Explain the Hindu concept of Brahman/Atman and its implications for how one sees life (the world is “illusion,” individual self is unimportant, etc.).  Note also what it implies for finding salvation in the "way of knowledge."  Then describe Hindu polytheism (name, note a couple distinct gods) and its implications for life.  Note here, too, how it implies the propriety of devotional practices.  Are these two Hindu practices really compatible?  Do you think it makes sense to think of the gods philosophically as just different aspects of Brahman, or is it really more reasonable to conclude that polytheism of the gods just contradicts the monism of Brahman?  Can it make sense to see both aspects of Hinduism as equally valid?  Be critical, not merely subjective.


3)  Give the basic logic of the Buddha’s 4 Holy Truths, explaining our problem in the world and what causes it.  Be sure to explain the fundamental problems of desire and impermanence as well as what early Buddhism requires as a way of life that seeks liberation.  Do you think this accurately describes the human predicament?  Do you think it explains well how bad (or good?) life is and what causes it?  Be fair to the Buddhist ideas, but also beware not merely to change Buddhist philosophy to meet modern expectations.


4)  Note briefly some early Buddhist ideas, like self-effort for salvation, extinction of desires, impermanence and no-self, and compare them to some information about later Mahayana sects (e.g., Pure Land, Zen, Tibetan).  Do you think these various sects of Buddhism change the religion a lot?  Are they still consistent with the Buddha’s teaching?  Generally consider if Buddhism changes too much and if that is a strength or a weakness of this religion.


5)  Using family and larger social relationships, note how, for Confucianism, such relationships are natural, and how they naturally involve virtues of character.  Show that, if all parties practice and understand those virtues, family and the larger society will be harmonious.  Now, do you think this really describes human nature, or is it too contrived (not really “natural”), maybe too idealistic to be realistic?  Make some evaluation, but be careful about whether you are analyzing Confucian philosophy or criticizing modern life.


6)  Explain briefly the “unexplained” nature of the Dao, according to Daoism, and show logically how that view of ultimate reality logically implies ideals like relativity of values, simplicity, and wu-wei and ziran.  Is this an ideal way of life?  Does it take into account sufficiently the ideals of moral activism or education?  Be critical and fair.


7)  The general concept of Dao in China seems to be part of their natural optimism.  Explain the Dao concept in general, as a natural harmony or goodness in the world, but then also explain the differences between the Confucian and the Daoist concept of Dao.  Do they contradict each other, at least in emphasis?  Do you think one of these conceptions of Dao makes more sense than the other? Say which and why.



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