Purpose and impact of symbol or teaching
Devotion (bhakti) to God animates many selections from Hindu scriptures in our anthology (Fisher and Bailey, pp. 62-90). Yet the style of devotion and the nature of the devotee’s relationship to God may vary a great deal, depending on the manifestation of the divine being (god, goddess, spirit or force) that is being invoked. Your task in this essay is to choose one such expression of devotion and to convey its essence or flavor to the reader.
Part I Choose a passage from the anthology that reflects a feeling of praise, worship, or devotion to God. Quote several lines from the text and then identify the type of scripture (e.g. hymn, sruti, smrti, sutra, saint song) and its origins, use in ritual, social settings, age. (Consult LR as well as AR here.) What form of God is praised in the poem or song? What literary figures or style is used here to express devotion? Don’t forget to cite author, title, page for all quotes, even from the course texts.
Part II Based on this passage, what can you learn about the relationship between the devotee and God? Does God reward the devotee for his/her devotion, or is the act of devotion its own reward? What qualities does this aspect of God manifest, and what qualities does the devotee summon to praise and serve this aspect of God? Would it be appropriate to speak of “salvation” or “liberation”?
Part III How does the religious outlook contained in this text compare to your own? (Refer back to your first essay.) Your answer to this question will fall somewhere along the continuum from “Not at all” to “Somewhat,” to “Surprisingly well.” If some aspects of this outlook may be compatible with your worldview, and some may not be, explain how. Do the teachings of Hinduism exemplify your definition of religion? Explain.
Encounter with Mystery
Religions express the mystery of life and the reality of the sacred through “symbol systems”: poetry, metaphor, paradox, objects (e.g. the cross), gestures, architecture – even silence. The Hindu sound Om; the smile of the Buddha and the teachings of no-self (anatta), emptiness (shunyata); the humor of Chuang Tzu in expressing “the way” (tao) and “not-doing” (wu-wei); and the miracles of the Bible – all point to powers or relationships that are invisible or transcend conventional speech or logic.
Part I Choose an example of symbolic expression from one of the traditions we have studied (not your own). Describe the symbol, gesture, or object, and give some background: its origin and place in the tradition. Quote authorities, give examples, and identify your sources with proper citations.
Part II How does such a mode of expression work to produce a state of mind and or style of behavior for those who use it? What seems to be the purpose and impact of this symbol or teaching?
Part III What do you find appealing or unappealing about this symbol? Have you ever experienced the mystery of life that it points to? Are you drawn to such ways of expressing mystery?
Or do you hold that such indirect modes of expression obscure the truth about life and the world?
ESSAY 4: Religion: Scourge or Refuge?
In Letter to a Christian Nation, Sam Harris presents religion (not only American Christianity) as irrational, obsolete, and guilty of great harm in the world. Harris questions not only the failings of contemporary religious believers and institutions, but the very beliefs that inspire religious life.
Part I Identify three strong arguments that Harris makes against the Abrahamic traditions – Christianity, Judaism, and Islam – stating the argument in your own words and citing evidence that Harris offers for each of these attacks on religious faith or practice.
Part II Choosing examples from the Abrahamic traditions in LR and AR, answer Harris’s criticisms. Bearing in mind that the purpose of the course is to emphasize the positive value of religion, use the texts you have chosen to show of the benefits of religious faith and practice.
Part III Drawing from the essays in “Subverting Hatred,” show how a specific religious teaching or practice (perhaps purged of the flaws Harris targets) might contribute to the easing of tension or the reduction of violence in the world today. Show how this teaching or practice might be made acceptable to persons of any background. Here, you may refer to any tradition we have studied in the course.