Graduate Liberal Studies Program

Course Description

GLS 592: World Religions, Post 9-11

Instructor: James Brewster

Author-historian Huston Smith says "if we take the world's enduring religions at their best, we discover the distilled wisdom of the human race." Unfortunately, these days, there are great tensions among the earth-religions. This course is a survey of the major faiths, including history, figures, beliefs, worship and ethics, updated with special references to the causes of religious fundamentalism, fanaticism and corresponding problems.



  1. The study and appreciation of world religions has changed dramatically since 9-11. Any analysis of the faiths of the world must include the causes and results of frictions among the adherents of the major religions.
  2. An in-depth study of world religions is academically sound. The history and beliefs of the various faiths are well researched. Yet it must also be recognized that the study of other cultures' religious experience may be hindered by our own perceptions.
  3. Therefore, it is necessary to examine our approach to these religions. Respect of the history and beliefs of others is absolutely essential. It is a key word and attitude in our study of world religions.
  4. The primary beliefs/experiences of these faiths will be naturally compared and contrasted. Yet, in no way, is the successful completion of this course dependant upon the evaluation of the integrity or effectiveness of any religion.
  5. The student's own personal religious beliefs and practices will not affect an evaluation of the grading of the course. These are private matters and of no concern in the academic purposes of the class.
  6. The special, unique history of religion in the United States needs highlighting if we are to appreciate and understand the beliefs of others in different cultures.


Bowker, John, World Religions (London, UK Publishers, 1997)
ISBN 13: 978-0-7566-1772-1
ISBN 10: 0-7566-1772-3

Kimball, Charles, When Religion Becomes Evil (New York City, HarperOne, 2008)
ISBN: 970-0-06-155201-4

Smith, Huston, The World's Religions (New York City, HarperSanFrancisco, 1991)
ISBN (cloth): 0-06-250790-0
ISBN (paperback) 0-06-250811-3


SESSION ONE: Introductory Materials

  • Review of the Syllabus, course assumption and outline

"Our Perspective: Religious History in the U.S." (Lecture discussion by Dr. Brewster)

  • The Mayflower Compact defines the Puritan Experiment
  • The Myth of colonial religious freedom-Christian theocracies in New England
  • Constitutional crisis about Church and State
  • Christian fundamentalism defined, and North Carolinian Blue Laws discussed.
Other resources:

Introductory materials: When Religions Become Evil: Five Warning Signs (Charles Kimball)


  • An Overview of Judaism, based on Huston Smith's analysis.

    Review Chapter 1, Kimball, "Is Religion the Problem?"

Post-9-11 concern: The historic challenges of idolatry: Egypt and the Promised Land. The origins of Holy War Theology in the Old Testament

SESSION THREE: Christianity

Discussion includes similarities and differences between Judaism and the emerging Christian religion. Reviewing Chapter 2, Kimball, "Absolute Truth Claims"

Post 9-11 concern: Karen Armstrong, author of The Battle for God, analyzing the historic animosity between Christians, Jews and Moslems.


The role of Mohammed. The Significance of the Qur'an. A comparison of the contents related to Judeo-Christian scripture. The prophetic "complaints" in the Qur'an regarding Judaism and Christianity.

Additional emphasis:
  • The role of mysticism, e.g. in Islam, Sufism, and the poet Rumi.
  • Review Chapter 3, Kimball, "Blind Obedience"

Video presentation: Rumi (emphasis on whirling dervishes)

Post 9-11 concern: UNC criticized for mandating students to read the Qur'an; "Flushing the Koran (sic): Christian conservatism vs. Islam.

Bill Moyer's report: "Faith and Reason" (Video) The reward for killing Novelist Salman Rushdie, accused of blasphemy against Islam.


The literature of ancient Hinduism is vast; its rituals and festivals are complicated, and its art extraordinary. An examination of the four paths to religious enlightenment and the various ways to God. The stages of life will be illustrated by a video presentation from the BBC.


Video: "Spiritual India: The Fourth Stage" (BBC TV Video, 30 minutes) A retired newspaper editor considers becoming an Hindu holy man.

SESSION SIX : Buddhism

In the 5th century B.C.E., Gautama Buddha discovered meditation as an escape from the suffering of the world. An eightfold path provides a blueprint for the religious life.


Video: Tantric Buddhism,

Video: Bill Moyers: World Religions with Huston Smith, section on Buddhism

SESSION SEVEN: Confucianism

An almost entirely different approach to religion can be found in China with the teachings of Kung Fu-tzu (known to us usually as Confucius). The "divine" as we have learned in Hinduism and Buddhism seems almost unknown in a culture where the values of family and community provide the link to a transcendent tradition.Review Chapter 6, Kimball, "Declaring Holy War"


Mysticism and political philosophy are mixed in "Taoism," the "way" advocated by Lao Tzu. Review Chapter 7, Kimball, "An Inclusive Faith Rooted in a Tradition"

Additional Resource:

Video: the practice and importance of yoga, as described by Huston Smith.

SESSION NINE: Primal Religions


Video: "Haida Gwai" People of the Islands (PBS, Nature, 1990, 40 minutes) Description of religion and nature in the Port Charlotte Islands, British Columbia, Canada

Video: Bill Moyers: Interview with Chief Oren Lyons, Onondaga Nation, American Indian.

Discussion: Post 9-11 concern: What to do now re: inter-religious conflict.

Last Update: October 31, 2014