Loyola University Chicago

John Felice Rome Center

THEO 107 Introduction to Religious Studies

Spring 2015

Loyola University, John Felice Rome Center




Course Title:                            Introduction to the Study of Religion

                                                Spring 2015

Course Number:                      Theo 107

Time:                                       10-12.30



Office hours:                           After class or by appointment

Prof. Zara Pogossian




Course Aims

This course introduces students to the key terms and concepts associated with 'religion' and 'religiosity' by looking at a variety of religions from around the world. It also aims at exploring the function of religion(s) in societies. The course will encourage students to think critically about key terms/concepts associated with religion and evaluate whether there are any common patterns that emerge from the study of such concepts in a comparative perspective.


Summary of Course Content


We will start by attempting to define 'religion' itself. Then, we will review the various methodological approaches that have been used for the study of religions, such as anthropology, philosophy, history, text criticism, etc. and discuss problems and/or advantages inherent in each of them. This part of the course will enable the students to think critically about what constitutes a religion(s), what is the function of religion within societies and how religion interacts with and/or is tied to other spheres of life. Subsequently, we will focus on discussing key terms in religious studies, such as God, the concept of the Sacred, myth/belief/faith, and ritual. These terms will be analyzed within major religions or religious systems of the world such as the varieties of Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, African religions and Native American religions. We will also discuss what are the consequences of the development of the study of religion as separate from theology and how to contextualize the presence of religious themes in contemporary global culture.


Reading Assignments will include both secondary literature and primary sources written at various times within various religious traditions. Moreover, we will view documentary and fiction films and discuss the way religion is represented/explained/practiced through the visual media.


Course Procedure

Students are given reading assignments prior to lectures on a given topic. This should enable them to participate actively in class-room discussions. Moreover, students are encouraged to take an active approach to the material read and/or discussed in class.


Participation in class: This means that you: a) have done the readings and thought about them; b) are in class; c) express your views and questions orally in class; d) are able to recall what went on in the previous class and relate it to the topic(s) under examination for the current class.  If any of these elements are missing you receive no credit for participation for that day.  I assume that occasionally students will be absent or have less to say than usual, however, persistent absence, unwillingness to speak in class, or having failed to do the reading will affect your overall participation grade.


Field Trip, Group Project and Other Activities

The course will include a visit to a religious site in Rome (date and place TBA). This field trip will be combined with a group project. Students will work on the assignment in groups of 4-5 and will present the results of their research during the field trip. The requirements of the relevant research and specific guidelines will be posted on LUC-Sakai.


Writing Assignments


There will be two graded writing assignments (5 pages double-spaced each): a book review and a film review. Further instructions will be posted on LUC-Sakai.



Students must provide appropriate footnotes and a bibliography of ALL sources used in their papers in order to avoid plagiarism. Students may consult the internet (e.g. Wikipedia et al.) only for their own information. General information found on the internet is not acceptable as a source for academic papers. However, students are encouraged to research academic databases, such as J-Store or Academic Search Premium, or primary sources from different religions published on the internet. Students should feel free to discuss the acceptability of specific internet resources with me should they have any questions on the matter. Cases of intentional or unintentional plagiarism will be dealt with in accordance with the university policy. Students may fail the paper or the entire course depending on the gravity of the situation.

If you have questions about how to cite material properly, refer to the appropriate sections of the MLA Style Manual or Chicago Manual of Style (or make an appointment to speak with me).  There are copies of both in the reference section of the library downstairs.


Please note that your papers will be submitted to turnitin.com to check their content for plagiarism.



The mid-term and the final exams will combine essay writing with short questions.


Learning Outcomes

At the end of the course students will be able to:

n  appreciate the diversity of religious traditions in the world and the complexity of defining the term “religion” given this diversity;

n  understand the various key concepts in the religious studies, such as ritual, scripture, holy, God, and their multiple expressions within different traditions.

n  evaluate and analyze the “religious” component in such diverse areas of human experience/expression as art, literature and film.



J. Livingston, Anatomy of the Sacred: An Introduction to Religion. 6th Edition. Pearson/Prentice Hall, 2009 (Text 1).


Daniel L. Pals. Introducing Religions: Readings from the Classical Theorists. Oxford-New York, Oxford University Press, 2009 (Text 2, optional).


A. Ghosh, In an Antique Land: History in the Guise of Traveler’s Tale (any edition).


Assessment Methods

Book Review                                      15%

Film Review                                        15%

Group Project                                      5%

Attendance and Participation               20%

Mid-Term Exam                                  20%

Final Exam                                          25%



Assessment Guidelines

General Guidelines for Letter Grades: A, B, C, D, and F.

A:  Work of this quality directly addresses the question or problem raised and provides a coherent argument displaying an extensive knowledge of relevant information or content. This type of work demonstrates the ability to critically evaluate concepts and theory and has an element of novelty and originality. There is clear evidence of a significant amount of reading beyond that required for the course.

B:  This is highly competent level of performance and directly addresses the question or problem raised.  There is a demonstration of some ability to critically evaluate theory and concepts and relate them to practice. Discussions reflect the student’s own arguments and are not simply a repetition of standard lecture and reference material. The work does not suffer from any major errors or omissions and provides evidence of reading beyond the required assignments.

C:  This is an acceptable level of performance and provides answers that are clear but limited, reflecting the information offered in the lectures and reference readings.

D:  This level of performance demonstrates that the student lacks a coherent grasp of the material.  Important information is omitted and irrelevant points included.  In effect, the student has barely done enough to persuade the instructor that s/he should not fail.

F: This work fails to show any knowledge or understanding of the issues raised in the question. Most of the material in the answer is irrelevant.


A  = 94 to 100   B  = 83 to 86   C = 70 to 74

A- = 90 to  93   B- = 80 to 82   C- = 60 to 69

B+ = 87 to  89   C+ = 75 to 79   F =  0 to 59 


Attendance Requirements

Students are allowed one excused absences. Any further absences will result in subtracting two points from your attendance and participation grade (20% of your final grade). Late arrivals will be noted and will affect your grade. Any student who is more than 15 minutes late may not enter the classroom as this will disturb the lecture and those class-mates who have made an effort to arrive on time. Students cannot leave the classroom before the end of the lecture.



Academic Honesty

As stated in the university catalog, any student who commits an act of academic dishonesty will receive a failing grade on the work in which the dishonesty occurred. In addition, acts of academic dishonesty, irrespective of the weight of the assignment, may result in the student receiving a failing grade in the course. Instances of academic dishonesty will be reported to the Dean of Academic Affairs. A student who is reported twice for academic dishonesty is subject to summary dismissal from the University. In such a case, the Academic Council will then make a recommendation to the President, who will make the final decision.


Please note that also submitting work that you have previously submitted (or plan to submit) for credit in another course is also a form of academic dishonesty, unless you obtain the explicit approval from both instructors to do so.



Loyola University does not discriminate on the basis of disability or handicap. Students with approved accommodations must inform their professors at the beginning of the term. Please see the website for the complete policy.