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Assignment 1: Dabbling in Historical Inquiry
In Ch.4, “History,” Hedges introduces us to the Historical-Critical Method, which is a somewhat misleading title because to study the history of religion requires less of a singular approach and more of a toolkit approach wherein on draws from a collection of methods, theories, and bodies of knowledge (e.g., linguistics, archaeology, sociology, history) to analyze the subject at hand. For example, to study a scripture historically, one needs facility with its original language, background knowledge (or at least a working theory) of the author, familiarity with the literary genre, understanding of the culture in which the text was written, and perhaps even an understanding of the surrounding cultures—to name just a few categories. In other words, the history of religion is complex, and there is much to consider.
Choose one of the following texts, and use the concepts discussed in Ch.4 of Hedges to craft a post that talks your facilitator and classmates through how you might go about analyzing that text from the perspective of a historian. Your task is not to perform an analysis, but to reflect on the process of historical-critical analysis and the kinds of information or skills you might need to succeed. Feel free to do additional research as needed.
From the Hebrew Bible: Isaiah 14:3-22, “Israel’s Remnant Taunts Babylon” (ESV)
From the Rig Veda: Book 10, Hymn 129 (CXXIX): “Hymn of Creation”
A Buddhist sutra: The Heart of Perfect Wisdom (multiple translations)
Please post your initial post (400 words) to the appropriate discussion thread no later than Thursday evening (11:59pm MT). Sources to cite:
Lincoln, B. (2006). How to Read a Religious Text: Reflections on Some Passages of the Chāndogya Upanishad. History of Religions, 46(2),127-39. Recommended
Bianchi, U. (2005). History of Religions. In L. Jones (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Religion (2nd ed., Vol. 6, pp. 4060-4068). Macmillan Reference USA. “This article presents an overview of the history of religions as a scientific discipline. It is not intended to provide a comprehensive survey of the specific data that lie within the province of the historian of religions, nor does it attempt to survey the broader history of the discipline. The purpose here is rather to provide a brief description of the nature of the history of religions and to discuss its methods of research. The first part presents a theoretical examination of the dialectical method proper to the discipline. In the second part, attention will be given to the actual field of comparative research through the presentation of a brief historical typology.” Casadio, G. (2005). History of Religions [Further Considerations]. in L. Jones (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Religion (2nd ed., Vol. 15, pp. 10041-10047). Macmillan Reference USA. 2. (ORIGINAL CONTENT ONLY) (400 WORDS FOR THE POST) (APA CITATIONS) (IN-TEXT CITATIONS ARE A MUST)
Assignment 2: Imaging a Tradition
Hedges’ case study on spirituality is a thought-provoking choice for illustrating the concepts of power that he discusses earlier in the chapter. Let us use his case study as a launching point and dive deeper into what he is saying about religion and spirituality as culturally mediated phenomena.
Go to Google Image Search and search the name of a religious or spiritual tradition that interests you. Peruse the images, paying special attention to ones that include people practicing this tradition. What trends do you see? What ideals, expectations, or messaging do these images express? Do you see any forms of privilege or power (e.g., wealth, class, leading figures, high architecture, pilgrimage) normalized as emblematic components of the tradition? Whether you are an insider or an outsider, to what extent do you think these images are accurate portrayals of “lived religion” (think: Ch.3)?
Share an image with your facilitator and classmates that exemplifies your findings, and craft a post in which you discuss your thoughts on the matter. 3. (ORIGINAL CONTENT ONLY) (400 WORDS FOR THE POST) (APA CITATIONS) (IN-TEXT CITATIONS ARE A MUST)
Assignment 3: Reflecting on Your Own Experience
We have all heard the phrase “everything is relative.” Hedges hints at the idea that this is true only to a certain extent—an idea that he will return to in later chapters. For now, let us focus on the ways in which religion is indeed relative or socially constructed.
Pick something from your social world that appears to be a “natural” part of your social circle but is simply a particular way of doing things. You might discuss something as mundane as shopping or something as meaningful as your favorite religious or spiritual practice. In what ways is this “natural” practice socially constructed; that is, what is your habitus (pp.123-4 & box 5.3) when it comes to the practice you’ve chosen? How does this type of analysis impact your connection to this practice? Are there ways of incorporating your new insights that allow you to maintain or even enhance your experience of your chosen practice?
Assignment 1: Narrating Ourselves
Could I have been anyone other than me? This week, we are going to discuss the implications of that question—and your answer—for
understanding religion.
This prompt has three parts:
What is your identity? Craft a brief paragraph in which you tell your classmates and facilitator who you are, using Hedges’ explanation of identity, in-group, and out-group as a prompt (see box 6.3 for inspiration).
Go through your paragraph closely. Which elements of your identity might alter your understanding of religion were they to somehow change or if they were different from the start?
Questions you might ask yourself include but are not limited to: how might your understanding of religion differ if you were born of other parents, in another place, or of a different race? If you were raised in the middle class, how might your understanding of religion differ if you were born into the lower or upper class? The options for exploration are endless.
This is an exercise in imagination. You don’t have to have all the answers, but please do share the highlights of your exploration with us.
What did you learn about yourself and your identity through this exercise?
Sources to Cite: Warrior, R. A. (1989). Canaanites, cowboys, and Indians: deliverance, conquest, and liberation theology today. Christianity and Crisis, 49(12), 261–265. Recommended
Powell, A. J. (2020). Identity. In A. Possamai, & A. J. Blasi (Eds.), The SAGE encyclopedia of the sociology of religion. Sage UK. Salhi, K. (2008). Religion. In P. Poddar, & R. Patke, A historical companion to postcolonial literatures: continental Europe and its empires. Edinburgh University Press. 5. (ORIGINAL CONTENT ONLY) (400 WORDS FOR THE POST) (APA CITATIONS) (IN-TEXT CITATIONS ARE A MUST)
Assignment 2: Narrating Others
In the United States, it has become increasingly rare to know one’s neighbors. How, then, can we know someone across the country or world (not to mention from another historical period), especially if we’ve never met them or walked their neighborhood? This, for many religious studies scholars, is an ethical question, one that is at the root of many methodological and theoretical decisions.
To what extent can we know whether our—or someone else’s—representation of another person or group is accurate? What ethical values do you hold that might help you understand what you can and cannot know, and to accept those limitations? You are encouraged to engage the Jesuit Values here, although it is not required.

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