Sunday Adult Education

Join us every Sunday at 9am in the Library!

Cultural Literacy for Religion

Unfortunately, the majority of Americans fail basic tests about religion, including their own faith, according to polls conducted by Gallup and the Pew Research Forum. This is troublesome, because religious literacy is about so much more than naming deities or knowing the stories of ancient history. A basic understanding of religion is crucial for today's educated citizen for several reasons:

For many of us, religion is important for examining and understanding ourselves. Religion and the interactions between different faiths play a critical role in many of today's current events.
The world is increasingly diverse and interconnected, and most of us have close friends, relatives, and neighbors of different faiths.
For many of us, religion is a powerful cultural identifier and impacts our everyday expression of ourselves. Religious literacy—the knowledge of basic teachings, symbols, practices, founders, institutions, and values of the world's religious traditions—can shed new light on the world around us and knock down the boundaries between us, making us better neighbors and better citizens.

Many stories in the news today, whether set in the Middle East or your own home town, have a religious dimension. This course will provide the context for current events by examining the breadth of the world's religions. You'll start by asking some basic questions: What is religion? And why does it matter? Then you'll tour the world, exploring each religion systematically and comparatively

You'll learn about such fascinating topics as

    the Hindu pantheon of deities, including Vishnu and his avatars;
    Siddhartha Gautama's journey to spiritual enlightenment;

    the Five Pillars of Islam;
    the ideal society according to Confucius;
    the basic distinctions between different denominations of Christianity;
    the variety of Jewish holidays; and
    smaller, but influential, religious traditions, including Jainism, Sikhism, and the Baha'i faith.

By studying the breadth of religion, you'll come to discover certain features that are common to many religions—concepts of divinity, scripture, rituals, and explanations of good and evil. You'll learn that not every religion shares every characteristic, but you'll be intrigued to discover the sometimes surprising commonalities that exist among these traditions.

You'll enjoy learning about very real differences among religions—and how these differences are connected to the larger cultural landscape. For instance, you'll explore the fascinating interplay between the Confucian focus on cooperation and capitalism's focus on competition. You'll also learn about the ancient roots of various faiths (such as the Vedic account of the world's creation and the origins of the Hindu social hierarchy) and new developments in certain traditions (such as hybrid religious identities like Zen-Christians and Buddhist-Jews).

Finally, your journey will explore religion in the world today. You'll examine the relationship between religion and law in the United States, specifically the establishment and free exercise clauses in the Constitution. And since religion is a moving target, always in flux, Professor Berkson takes time to consider current demographic trends, such as the tendency for Americans to identify as "spiritual" but not "religious," along with the rise of non-denominational Christians. The course concludes by considering the relationship between religion and violence—and how religion can be both the cause and the cure.

 3 –  Lecture 13:  God, Torah, and Covenant
10 – Lecture 14: Varieties of Jewish Thought and Practice
17 – Lecture 15: Living a Jewish Life
24 – Lecture 16: The Life and Commemoration of Jesus

 1 –  Lecture 17:  Catholic and Orthodox Christianity
8 – Lecture 18: Protestantism and Christianity Today
15 – Lecture 19: Muhammad, Qur’an, and Islamic Civilization
22 – Lecture 20: Unity in Islam—The Five Pillars

We will meet in the Library; all are welcome!