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RELS-327 FA08 syllabus

RELS-327 FA08 syllabus

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Published by Nathan Rein
Provisional syllabus for the Fall 2008 iteration of my Religion and Violence course at Ursinus.
Provisional syllabus for the Fall 2008 iteration of my Religion and Violence course at Ursinus.

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Published by: Nathan Rein on Aug 25, 2008
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Religion and Violence
 Fall 2008MW 2:30-3:45, Olin 103rels-327.pbwiki.comInstructor: Nathan ReinOffice hours: MW 10-12 and by appointmentOlin 211, x. 2571, nrein at ursinus dot edu
Course description
In recent years, religiously-motivated violence has been a regular part of thenews. Where does this phenomenon come from, and how should we understandit? Who are the violent extremists who appear daily in headlines around the world, and what kind of religious beliefs could cause a person to behave sodestructively? Historically, religious ideas have been used to justify both war andpeace, both violence and reconciliation. This course will examine the relationship between religion and violence in various historical contexts. This will be aseminar-style, discussion-based course. Most of your work will consist of readingand discussing -- in written and oral form -- widely varying treatments of religious violence. In general, there will be no lecturing.Religious violence is a slippery topic -- religion in general can always be said to bea "moving target" for scholars, and religious violence tends to be even moreproblematic than religion itself. Defining "religion" is notoriously difficult.Defining "violence," for many, turns out to be just as tricky. Due to the nature of the topic, then, this course will have an exploratory nature. We will be inquiringtogether into the history, causes, and characteristics of religious violence, butnone of us should expect to leave the class in December with a definitiveexplanation for it. There are, at this point in our collective human history, noclear "right answers" that cannot be questioned. What we
do, however, and what I hope we will accomplish in this course, is to learn to ask the rightquestions. What might some of those questions be? There are many possible starting points,and you will undoubtedly bring your own questions and ideas with you. For thiscourse, we will initially organize our inquiry around the following questions:
Should we understand violence as an intrinsic part of human nature?
 When does religion promote, and when does it discourage, violentacts?
 And given that religious violence will inevitably strike most of us asrepugnant, what does it mean to "understand" something that we findmorally reprehensible or simply bizarre? Is it true that "
tout comprendre, c'est tout pardonner 
(to understand is to forgive)? Whatdo we have to know about such acts in order to feel we have understoodthem?
Course goals
In this course, you are asked to:
Develop the skills of analyzing, critiquing, and drawing inferences fromacts of religious violence
statements about those acts (this should
-2-make you, among other things, a much more informed consumer of thenews media);
Understand and analyze the arguments of a variety of scholars of religion, drawing on a variety of sources and contexts, about religious violence
Sharpen your ability to make critical judgments and formulate yourown arguments about religious violence and related topics
 Assignments and grading
Four written and two oral assignments will be required in this course, in additionto focus papers and responding in writing to your peers' work:Three papers (900-1200 wordseach)9/15, 10/6, 10/2710%eachOne paper (1200-1500 words)12/315%First in-class presentationSecond in-class presentation
dates to bedetermined
10%15%Focus papersdue weekly10%Classroom participation 20%
Informal writing
This course requires regular informal writing in the form of "focus papers" (10%of final grade), keeping up regular blog entries, and peer responses to formalpapers (counted as part of your participation grade).1. B
: The more blog entries, the better. This is a kind of writing thatincreases in effectiveness the more frequently you practice it. At a minimum youmust write twenty blog entries over the course of the semester to receive fullcredit. They can take almost any form you want, as long as they deal with theclass in some kind of substantive way, and they can be quite short. Aim forfrequency. I reserve the right to let you know if your blog entries are
short or
unrelated to the class, but I am pretty open-minded about this. Treat your blog like an open-ended journal about the class, and feel free to refer not just tothe assigned readings but to current events, the news, class discussions, and soforth.2. F
. The purpose of these assignments is to help you focus yourreading (that's why I call them focus papers). They are due via email each Wednesday at eleven a.m. and
will not be accepted late
. Period. You must writeten over the course of the semester. A focus paper has two components. First,identify and give a precise summary of some element of the week's readingassignment (it must be current -- in other words, not last week's reading). Youcan choose a particular passage that struck you as interesting or problematic; youcan describe an overarching theme; you can give a capsule summary of theauthor's argument; etc. Second, give your
perspective on what you have justidentified and summarized: a critical analysis of what you find interesting orcompelling. In writing your analysis, ask yourself questions that probe into theunderlying meanings and problems in the texts. Examples might include:
 What is the author's unstated agenda? Is he/she trustworthy?
 What is at stake in this text? Is there some underlying conflict?
 What historical conditions or causes might explain the author's point of  view? Would
have written something like this given the samecircumstances? Why or why not?Sometimes I will give you specific questions to think about as you write. Focus onthe assigned readings, not on other texts or ideas from outside the coursematerial. Length: approx. 300-600 words (one to two pages). Include the dateand a word count. Focus papers will not be graded. If you hand in ten papers overthe course of the semester that meet these requirements, you will receive an "A"for the focus paper portion of the grade; if you hand in nine, a "B"; if eight, a "C",etc.2. P
: All papers will be available to the entire class. Within a week from the due date of each paper (except the last one), each of you will beresponsible for choosing two papers you find particularly interesting and writinga short response (a few paragraphs) in the form of a letter to the paper's author.These responses will also be available to the class.
Guidelines for in-class presentations
Everyone in the class will present twice during the semester. The presenter'sresponsibilities are to (1) introduce the material for the day, (2) connect the day'sreadings to material we have read previously, and (3) act as a discussion leaderand "resource person" for the rest of the session. This can take many forms, butin general, you should plan to speak for fifteen to twenty minutes at the start of class, giving a basic introduction to the day's assigned material. This can mean,among other things:
outlining the author's argument;
identifying the author's underlying assumptions or unstated agenda;
providing background information for understanding the reading;
pointing out connections between different texts or different ideas, or between the primary sources and the textbook reading;
showing how the day's readings represent a continuation of or adeparture from themes and positions we've seen before;
drawing the class's attention to significant, confusing, difficult, orproblematic areas for discussion. You should be as comfortable with the day's readings as possible. If you wish, thismay involve some library research, but you will never be penalized for stickingexclusively to the assigned text or texts. You don't have to have a
understanding of the texts for the day; but if there's something you don'tunderstand, be honest about it. Come to class prepared to talk about what youfound interesting or confusing, give us the benefit of your ideas, and ask yourclassmates what they thought. You will also lead the day's discussion. Determine what you think are the mostcentral questions that the class needs to talk about. Bring a list of questions andof the most important themes and quotations from the reading. (Since everyonein the class is responsible for bringing ideas and questions to class, you won't becompletely on your own.) A handout may be very helpful. It is highly 

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