The University of Dayton.    
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 Mystery.
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 general.

James W. Shire, The Universe Next Door.  
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.)

Gary L. 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 interesting individuals.

Other?  Get in touch with Barnes for advance approval of any alternative.