IF YOU GO
What: “My Neighbor’s Faith,” a study of world’s religions
When: 7 p.m. most Mondays, Jan. 22-April 30
Where: The Episcopal Church of the Heavenly Rest Gerhart Hall, 602 Meander St.
Teacher: Mark Waters, McMurry University religion professor
Cost: Free; book, “My Neighbor’s Faith,” may be purchased
Jan. 22: Introduction to the course and introduction to Hinduism
Jan. 29: Hinduism, continued
Feb. 5: Jainism and Buddhism
Feb. 12: Buddhism, conintued
Feb. 19: NO CLASS
Feb. 26: Taoism and Confucianism
March 5: Zoroastrianism
March 12: NO CLASS
March 19: Judaism
March 26: NO CLASS
April 2: Selected Christian doctrines (Day after Easter, may not meet. If so, all future classes will shift down a week)
April 9: Islam
April: 16: Islam, continued
April 23: Indigenous religions
April 30: Wrap-up
(Editor’s Note: Mark Waters, professor of religion and director of international education at McMurry University, will lead a class on world religions that is open to the public, Mondays, Jan. 22-April 30, at the Episcopal Church of the Heavenly Rest. He tells about the class below.)
By Mark Waters
Professor of religion and director of international education
The study of world religions is based on the golden rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Would you rather someone of another religion evaluate your religion–positively or negatively–based on ignorant stereotypes or based on a genuine understanding of your faith? Most of us, of course, would answer that we prefer that the religious “other” would “do unto us” based on genuine understanding. Consequently, if we are to evaluate other religions, or even have opinions about them, the golden rule requires basic understanding at the very least.
For instance, why do many Hindus bathe and clothe the murti (a statue of a deity) each day? This practice probably sounds odd to those who do not understand its deeper meaning. But Christian practices can also sound odd. Imagine the impression left on some non-Christians when they hear that Christians “eat the flesh and drink the blood” of Christ. Although the following is debated among historians, it appears that second century Christians were sometimes accused of cannibalism based on a misunderstanding of the Eucharist. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
We will begin the study with an exploration of various meanings of the word “religion.” We’ll also explore reasons to study religion. The golden rule is only one among several reasons to become religiously literate. Stephen Prothero of Boston University begins his book, “Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know–And Doesn’t,” with a paradox. Namely, Americans are deeply religious and yet generally uninformed about religion, even their own religion. Here is a brief, fifteen-question religious literacy quiz for those interested: www.pewforum.org/quiz/u-s-religious-knowledge
Readers of spiritofabilene.com will probably do well on the quiz. You likely have an interest in religion or you would not be reading this article. But, in a nationwide survey of 3,412 random adults conducted by the Pew Research Center, only 1 percent answered all fifteen questions correctly.
Following a general introduction to religion, we will plunge into the specifics. We will learn about Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and indigenous spiritual practices. My lecture style is interactive and flexible. Therefore, this schedule may be adapted based on the interests of those who come to the class. Additionally, copies of the book, “My Neighbor’s Faith,” edited by Jennifer Peace and others, will be available. The book is a series of over fifty very short stories told by people who befriended someone of another faith. This class is not a study of the book per se, but the book will add a personal dimension–real people in interfaith encounter–to the course.
You do not have to read the book to be part of the course, but I will occasionally give participants in the course an opportunity to describe a favorite story in the book and explain why the story is a favorite. My students at McMurry find these stories to be one of the favorite parts of the class, Religions of the World.
Everyone is invited. We hope to have people from a variety of religions represented in the Abilene community in addition to members of Heavenly Rest. I hope to see you in Gerhart Hall at the Episcopal Church of the Heavenly Rest beginning at 7 p.m. Jan. 22, and most Mondays thereafter through April.