World religions

When Columbia hired me to build them a curriculum in the study of religion, World Religions was the only class the College specifically asked me to teach. To do so responsibly, I overhauled the course completely, focusing it around the skill of reading primary texts. For each of the five traditions in the course description (Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism), I assembled a reader of excerpts from a half-dozen or so documents. Then, in order to provide the students with context for making sense of the documents, I built multimedia presentations about the history of each tradition. About half of our class time was spent discussing the primary texts (what can we infer about the author? The culture that produced this text? Whose interests does it serve? What values does it reflect?); the other half we spent in highly interactive lectures, with the printouts of the presentations serving as a kind of ‘textbook.’ We also discussed the history of the category of 'world religions' and its problems. Evaluation was divided roughly evenly between textual analyses and participation in discussion about the texts, on the one hand, and quizzes and an exam on the other.