World Religions, Philosophy/Religion 1150 COD, Online Course Term Paper/Research Paper Assignment

The syllabus notes that there is a Research Paper due near the end of the semester.  Check the online folders for the exact due date.  The paper is to be 5-6 pages long, on a topic of your choice, but limited to the project of analyzing specific religious comparisons, specific religious persons or specific religious movements.  The purpose is to let you go into detail, and do some research and analysis.  That is, you will have to focus on some issue in more detail and depth than we could cover in class.  You will have to pursue some research, using books or movies or even direct information gathered on field trips and interviews.  Choose sources (especially web sources) critically.  The paper does require a bibliography.


Of course, clarity and organization will be important.  They are not ends in themselves, but are the indispensable means for giving information and explanation.  More vital are analysis and opinion, that is, a thought-out effort to wrestle with religious ideas or a comparison of concepts and a risk at expressing your own view of what makes such beliefs reasonable, attractive, acceptable, or offensive.


You may choose a topic from the list below, or invent one of your own.  Note that the topics below are just that, mere topics.  You must have a thesis, a point to defend about the issue.  Be bold, but be fair.


Talk to your instructor soon if you are unsure about what you want to write about, or if you want to go over an outline.  Don’t wait until the last minute to look for your sources, your focus or your ideas.




I) Critical report on the life of a great religious leader: Jesus, Muhammad, Dalai Lama, Mary Baker Eddy, Krishnamurti, Blavatsky and Olcott, Sai Baba, Mother Teresa, etc.

-    Is there evidence that this person is as great as the tradition says?

-    Are there critical points to raise about this leader’s character or ideas?

-    Is this person worth listening to?

-    Don’t try to write about all or even many such persons; best to pick just one and embrace some controversy.

-    Beware of doctrinaire praise for your own religious founder or hero; there is controversy to consider honestly, even if one then finally defends the person.


II) Critical report on a big issue for most any religion: role of women, justifications of war, value of other religions, justifications of morality, ethical directions, racial problems past and present, etc.

-    Does (do) the religion(s) in question take a stand on your important moral issue, offer clear moral direction, have a good/bad track record?

-    Does it (do they) cause more unity or strife, do more good than evil?

-    Do we end up better or worse people for following this or that religion?

-    Again, don’t try to cover too much; also, be aware of your own biases in such controversies and your own assumptions about moral issues (moral attitudes of our own time and place are not necessarily right).

-    I repeat that last point: beware of simply assuming that our current view of gender equality or sexuality or “tolerance,” etc., are right.


III) A comparative question of truth: concepts of God or the Absolute, ultimate purposes and soteriologies, comparative claims about the dependability of scripture/authority.

-    Do religions say the same thing about God, etc., or do they differ significantly?  Is the Triune God of Christianity the “same” as Allah or JHWH?  Be sure to consider challenges to simple comparisons.

-    What criteria could we use to evaluate whether one religion describes God, the world, ourselves better than another?  Is, e.g., Buddhism more logically consistent than Judaism?  Is Judaism more livable, practical than Buddhism?

-    How historically reliable on their own terms are the claims of Judaism or Christianity.  Or, say, how well historically documented are these religions compared to the historicity of, say, Krishna or Rama?

-    Is (e.g.) monotheism more reasonable than polytheism, animism, monism?

-    Is "heaven" a greater ideal than "nirvana", etc.?  Is salvation by moral effort more reasonable than by a "savior"?

-    How do religions explain human suffering?  Does one religion explain/resolve the “problem of evil” better than another?

-    Discussions of pluralism or universalistic inclusivism might fit here: Are all religions really the same?  So they all seek "God", even if they use different names and descriptions?  Are all religions just "different paths to the same summit?"  How could we defend or critique such claims?


IV) A general question about religion, using our religions as source material: psychological grounding of religion, epistemology of religious experience, Marxist critiques, etc.  You’ll have to be especially careful here to find reasons and even data, not just projected suspicions.  Challenge your own assumptions.

-    Are religions based just on the fear of death?

-    Are they the "crutch" of the materially feeble?

-    Is religion valuable, even "true", just because people feel better?  How does it make people feel better?

-    Are religious experiences just a way of hyping oneself up, like using drugs?  Is religion the "opiate of the masses", a tool of the powerful to keep society in control?


V) A presentation and analysis of a lesser known religion/sect: ideas and critique of Voodoo, Wicca, Jehovah's Witness, Mormonism, Unification Church, Scientology, Sufism, etc.

-    Is this or that sect a strange aberration or a reasonable interpretation of basic animist, Christian, Hindu (etc.) doctrine?

-    Is this “religion” a genuine version of its original, or is it a heretical cult, perhaps a sheer fantasy?

-    Is this a small, but valuable religion, or a cultish oddity?


SUM:  See what I mean?  There is a lot of room here for variation, so be thoughtful and inventive and follow your interests.  You can, indeed must, take an argumentative view of something, but you also need to be fair in viewing the issues, seeing counter-examples in different world religions or looking for people who would argue against your position.  If you are unsure of the appropriateness of your chosen topic, or if you fear you need more information than you have, talk to your instructor SOON.  Again, good luck.





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