HIS 2136 History of Religions

Course Description:

This course examines the origin and evolution of some of the main religions up to the 16th century, linking them to the growth of cities, to conquests and territorial expansion, to revolutions and wars. Some of the topics covered are: the coming of Hinduism, the Judaic roots of Christianity and Islam, the teachings of Buddhism and its expansion, the relations of Islam to Judaism and Christianity, the decline of the Papacy and the Reformation movement and the growth of Buddhism as a religion in diverse societies.

Learning Objectives:

The objective of this course is to read and analyze the evolution of societies using religion as a frame of analysis. Rather than narrating the history of world religions this course analytically examines the origins and evolution of some of the main religions up to the 16th century.

Learning Outcomes:
At the end of this course, the students should be able to:

• Explain how religion is connected with the politics and economy of societies
• Develop critical thinking on both general and specific aspects of religions
• Trace the origins and the evolution of religions in an analytical manner

Course Content:

1. The place of religion in human life: a historical overview
2. Egyptian politics and religion: Pharaohs and priests
3. Early urban centres of ancient India and the coming of Hinduism
4. The Bible as history and literature (Abraham, the Covenant; Moses, the Exodus; the Commandments)

5. The Judaic roots of Christianity and Islam; the Holy Land under the Roman Empire

6. Origins and teachings of Buddhism as a reform of Hinduism
7. The expansion of Buddhism into Southeast Asia, China, Korea, and Japan (The Gupta Empire)

8. Jesus of Nazareth; continuities from Judaism; the Gospels; the Sermon on the Mount; Apostles, preachers, organizers; Sts. Peter and Paul; St. Augustine, City of God.
9. Mohammed, beliefs, and moral teachings of Islam (relations to Judaism and Christianity; The Koran; the Five Pillars of Islam; Mecca and Medina).

10. Islamic expansion to the West, South, and East; religious tolerance and its limits.
11. Islamic learning, arts, letters, science, mathematics, medicine; transmittal of ancient Greek and Indian works.

12. Background of a revolution: the decline and troubles of the Papacy; conflict between religious and secular powers over lands and taxes; nascent nationalism; class conflict, and ideas traditional and new, spread in print; Gutenberg.

13. Martin Luther, religious ideas and political allies; salvation by faith; the break with Rome; the German princes and the Lutheran church. John Calvin; predestination,

14. Puritanism; austerity of Calvinist church and rites; the search for godly societies
15. The English Reformation; Henry VIII, Elizabeth I’s religious compromise
16. The Catholic Reformation; Council of Trent; Ignatius Loyola; role of the Jesuits.
17. European Wars of Religion


Attendance 10%
Midterm Test or Assignment 30%
Final Exam 60%

Recommended Readings:
Oxtoby W.G. , Segal, A. F. (ed) (2007) A Concise Course Description to World Religions, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Hopfe, L. M., Woodward, M. R. (2008) Religions of the World, New Jersey: Prentice Hall.
Cullock, D. Mac (2005), The Reformation. A History, UK: Penguin.