||The University of
RELIGION 103 Introduction to the Study of Religion
Summer Study at Home, 2004
Notes on Some Books
Here are some a few notes on books to
read (in part) for those seeking an A for the course. Each book has its
own theme and approach. You might find it useful to read the Preface and the end of the last chapter
before you read anything else. Then look at the table of contents to get
a sense of how the whole book is put together. If the chapters have
summaries at the end like Barnes' does, that can be a good help also.
Read those summaries first, before you read the chapters.
Michael Barnes, In the Presence of
The book is patterned on this idea:
that what we call religion is the set of ideas, values, behaviors,
social forms that relate people to the mysteries of life in a positive
way; and that we humans go through stages of development in the forms of
religion, both culturally and individually. This book is an attempt to
write about the human side of religion, with sympathy for religion but
from a rather academic or objective perspective.
Ninian Smart, Worldviews.
This book is an inventory of aspects
of religion without any overall interpretive framework such as is used
by Barnes. Most of the content is simply informative. But in each
chapter there is usually also some way of relating the topic to modern
theories or practices. One way to write a report, then, could be to use
Smart's ideas and examples to describe just what a given aspect of
religion is (myth, ritual, moral codes, etc.) and then show how there is
some contemporary significance to the description. Smart's perspective
is from a different angle than Barnes'. If you want to see more of
Barnes' topics but from a new angle, this book is good to read. Smart
writes from a perspective of an appreciation of world religions in
James W. Shire, The Universe Next
This book categorizes religions, not
according to their historical differences but according to how they look
at the world and at the human person. The list of worldviews includes:
theism, deism, naturalism, nihilism, pantheistic monism, and the new
consciousness. Shire ends by making suggestions on how to choose a
worldview. He favors Christianity. Someone seeking an A for the course
should include some defining and analyzing the similarities and
differences among the worldviews, and describing the different
implications each has for our lives.
Leslie Stevenson and David L. Habermas,
Ten Theories of Human Nature, 1998.
This is an expanded version of an
earlier book entitled Seven Theories of Human Nature It is a very
readable summary and analysis of a variety of religious and unreligious
views of human nature. The authors approach this material from their own
fairly traditionalist Christian perspective. But you are free to
disagree with their analyses.
Malise Ruthven, Islam in the World,
2000. This is a somewhat dense book
about contemporary Islam.
Chs. 1, 7, 8, and one other chapter of your choice will be enough extra
to qualify for an A for the course (if the report is well done and
relates the content to some aspects of the Barnes text). OR any half of:
Akbar Ahmed Islam today : A Short Introduction to
the Muslim World, 1999.
(The title is self-explanatory.)
Comstock. Religious Autobiographies. 1995
This includes introductory chapters to provide a different slant on the
nature of religion, as well as some advice on how to learn about
religion through autobiographies. Then 7 chapters provide a window
into how certain religions have been part of the life of various
Get in touch with Barnes for advance approval of any alternative.