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Kelsi Dwyer

Professor Lark

History 134

28 April 2019

Portfolio Reflection

There are many themes woven into history that influence a person’s actions and

decisions, and while looking into the past and studying history can help us understand which of

these themes determined certain actions, it can also help us decide how to act in order to better

our current society. One of the most common themes seen throughout history is religion, and we

can look at specific individuals to see the influence religion has on decisions. Even when we

look at individuals from different civilizations, we can still see the importance religion has on

their actions and learn from those actions.

Module 7 taught us about Imperial India and the impact Buddhism had on Ashoka, a ruler

of India in the time of the Mauryan Empire. After a difficult and bloody war against Kalinga,

Ashoka decided to renounce warfare and instead continue his reign in peace. His decision to end

the violence during his ruling went hand in hand with his conversion to Buddhism. After

converting, the influence of his religion can be seen through his actions that followed. Instead of

promoting violence, he promoted the spread of Buddhism and sent missions to Sri Lanka and

Southeast Asia. His decision to spread Buddhism helped lay the ground work for Buddhism to

become the predominant faith in these areas. There were also pillars erected around the empire

that were inscribed with messages from Ashoka, telling his subjects to live in harmony and peace

with each other. It is important to look at Ashoka’s actions and how religion affected them

because, as Blair Hodges wrote in her paper

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“On the Rhetorical Use of History to Understand the Present” that, “we look into the past to

understand the present.” By using Hodges reasoning behind why we study history and looking at

Ashoka’s actions, we can begin to understand the roots of Buddhism, and what causes it to still

be prevalent today.

Module 9 taught us about Imperial Rome and how Augustus, a powerful ruler of the

Roman Empire, used religion to increase his power and protect his political position. He used the

Roman’s superstition against them, and as Halley’s Comet passed over Rome during his reign,

he claimed it was the spirit of his father, Julius Caesar, entering heaven. Logically, if his father

was a god, then Augustus must be part-god. He encouraged this belief and pushed rumors and

stories about how he lived and used this tale to also push his political agenda. Not only did the

importance of religion influence the willingness of the citizens to believe in Augustus’ stories,

but it also influenced Augustus in his decisions when trying to become a better ruler. He knew

the importance religion had with the citizens, and he used it against them. Although most people

would see doing this as irresponsible and wrong, Augustus believed restoring traditional values

in Rome was the only way to bring it back to its full glory, and the only way to ensure this would

happen is to ensure his political position. He believed what he was doing was for the betterment

of his society. It’s important to look at the influence religion had in this situation because it

shows us the impact it can have on influencing who we follow. In his article “What Can History

Teach Us Today?” Michael Postma said, “History is a lesson; a lesson of intentions, movements,

experiments, and human production.” If we ignore the lessons given to us by Augustus and his

actions taken based on the influence of religion, we could lead ourselves down the road again of

following someone purely because we believe them to be something more than they are.

Augustus claimed to be a god for personal gain, and although he was overall a beneficial ruler
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for Rome, it may not always end up that way. We need to study situations like this to learn how

to focus on the true purpose behind a person’s actions; their true intentions.

Module 14 taught us about Imperial China and the effect Confucius, and his beliefs had

on the world. Confucius was a philosopher who is credited with creating the religion of

Confucianism. He was one of the first teachers in China that accepted anyone who was willing to

learn after he spent many years travelling trying to attain a political position. His beliefs hold

focus on kindness and contemplation, along with rationalism and common sense. Confucianism

began gaining strength during the Han Dynasty in a similar fashion to how Buddhism grew

strength through Ashoka. Confucianism was spread across China and East Asia due, and would

eventually become one of the dominant religions in Chinese culture. When we look at the history

of Confucianism, we can see how the beliefs of one man were able to spread throughout an entire

empire and become a religion that is still dominant in some cultures today. We need to study

these things because, according to William McNeill in his writing “Why Study History?”,

“…without reasonably accurate knowledge of the past, we cannot expect to accomplish intended

results, simply because we will fail to foresee how others are likely to react to anything we

decide on.” Although Confucius could not predict the revolutionary results of his beliefs, we can

study his actions and influences to determine what may have caused the spread of Confucianism,

and use this knowledge to our benefit.

By studying history and looking at how religion has influenced the actions of many

throughout time, we see how these influences also come to affect ourselves. Although the actions

of these people happened far in the past, it still has an effect on today’s world. Each action taken

led the world down the path of a specific timeline, and without these actions and the influence

that led to them, we would be living in an entirely different world. Not only can we use this
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information to learn about our past, but we can also use it to learn how to make the future better.

The goal of most religions is to create a better world, and we follow a certain religion because

we believe it is the best way to go about creating this better world. When we look at the past for

influences from religion, we can see that most people influenced by religion were trying to do

what they thought was the right thing for the situation. We have a responsibility to try and make

the world a better place and using history to observe our flaws and successes is the key to

creating that better place.

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"Augustus." The Roman Empire: In The First Century, PBS, Accessed 28 Apr. 2019.

Hodges, Blair. "On the Rhetorical Use of History to Understand the Present." Academia, 7 May


_Final_Essay_On_Rhetorical_Uses_of_History_to_Understand_the_Present. Accessed

28 Apr. 2019.

McNeill, William H. "Why Study History? (1985)." American Historical Association, American

Historical Association,

archives/historical-archives/why-study-history-(1985). Accessed 28 Apr. 2019.

Postma, Michael. "What Can History Teach Us Today?" ASCD, ASCD Express, 2011, Accessed 28 Apr. 2019.

"The Mauryan Empire of Ancient India." TimeMaps, TimeMaps Ltd., Accessed 28 Apr. 2019.

Violatti, Christian. "Han Dynasty." Ancient History Encyclopedia, Ancient History

Encyclopedia, 27 May 2013, Accessed 28 Apr. 2019.

Wheeler, L. K. "Confucius and Confucianism." , 24 Apr. 2018, Accessed 28 Apr. 2019.