Cathedral News, January 29, 2017


“What, exactly, is religion? And why does one religious tradition often differ so markedly from another, even when you might not expect it to? Why, for example, are the Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—despite their common source—often so different? And what kinds of factors separate the beliefs of a Hindu or Buddhist not only from those held by Jews, Christians, or Muslims, or by each other, but also from many who identify themselves as fellow Hindus or Buddhists?” These are questions that are addressed by the series for the Dean’s Forum, continuing today.

The format will be one of the Great Courses, video classes that explore a wide variety of subjects. This course, Comparative Religion, looks at the place of world religions in relation with each other, certainly an important investigation in a world struggling with religious intolerance and polarization.

Every day, religion affects your life, whether directly or indirectly. It forms the foundation for a wide range of moral codes. It is the driving force behind the conduct of many individuals. It can influence the actions of nations on the world stage. It can affect the public and private lives of citizens through religiously based acts of governance.

Using the basics of the five major religions as a starting point, the course explores the essential structural components shared by all faiths:

  • Creation myths and sacred stories
  • Concepts of the divine
  • Lifecycle- and calendar-based rituals
  • Various types of sacred people, texts, objects, and spaces
  • Religion’s ultimate goals—the reasons its adherents give them such importance

Concepts of a God, or gods, or even no god, and how some religions emphasize the idea of an afterlife and the beliefs required and rules for conducting your life in preparation for it are considered in this course. Also, the distinct perspectives of different religions, such as the cyclical concepts of life and rebirth held by Hindus or Buddhists, which differ so markedly from the linear understanding of life and its purpose seen in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, are introduced. Basic life concepts can vary dramatically from one religion to another.

Even within the same broad religion, the range of practices reflected in faithful observances can be startling. Religious rituals encompass far more than sacrifice and can indicate commonality as well as divergence. Throughout this course’s fascinating exploration of sacred rituals, you see how those associated with one tradition so often parallel those of another, even when the tenets of the faiths cause them to differ.

The Dean’s Forum meets in Kaseman Hall, beginning after the 9:00 service. Come and be part of this enlightening class and discussion.

Read the rest of the announcements.