[Please see below an expanded list of potential paper topics.  I am open to other ideas (particularly creative ideas) as well.  Please turn in your paper to me either as hard copy or as an e-mail attachement by Monday, June 11.  I will grade your papers as soon as I can and have them available fo you in my office.  If you have not picked up your paper by June 18, I will mail the paper to your home address.  Please include that address in your title page.]


The second half of this class focuses on three great monotheistic religions, Christianity Judaism and Islam and a fourth "faith" which, for lack of a better name, is often called secularism.  These faiths have much in common, but also major differences. Not surprisingly, adherents of these faiths have often been in conflict with each other, though they often try to find enough common ground where they can peacefully coexist.  Please demonstrate your understanding of these faiths and their potential for cooperation and conflict by writing an essay of 1000-1500 words that addresses one (1) of the following prompts:

1.  Stephen Prothero and Huston Smith take very different approaches to world religions, Smith emphasizing what the great religions have in common and Prothero emphasizing the differences among faiths.  Choose any two of the faiths discussed in the last part of the course (Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Secularism) and compare and contrast what Prothero and Smith have to say about these faiths.  Which author makes the more convincing argument?  Support your view with citations from the religious texts studied in class.

2.  "Why can't we all just get along?" asked Rodney King during the riots following his beating by the police. Unfortunately, there are plenty of reasons why we can't so easily get along with each other, and, while religion might sometimes help end conflicts, it might aggravate conflicts as well. Discuss the reasons followers of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and/or Secularism  might end up at odds with one another.  Are there ways of reconciling the differences and living at peace, or are conflicts inevitable?

3.  Following a religion involves more than just believing certain things: it involves actions as well. Choosing to follow Judaism, Christianity, Islam or Secularism has a great deal of influence on aspects of life not always immediately seen as religious.  Choose an area of life particularly important to you (e.g., law, ethics, family life, cultural/artistic life, economic life) and compare and contrast what the four faiths we studied in class have to say about this issue.

4.   Some human achievements involve the discovery of already existing truths, e.g., Newton's discovery of the law of universal gravitation.  Others involve invention, e.g., Watt's invention of a more efficient steam engine.  And sometimes human achievements are based on something else entirely: Kepler claimed that, though he had worked hard, his dicovery of the laws of planetary motion came about through "divine providence."  Compare the religions we studied in the last half of class.  To what extent do these religions seem to reflect "discovered" universal truths?  To what extent do these religions seem to be invented, employing human ingenuity to achieve a desired end?  To what extent do they involve elements of something like Kepler's "divine providence," e.g., to what extent are they "revealed" religions?

5.  Much of the finest religious teaching is done in story form.  Choose some favorite stories from Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.  What do you find particularly appealing in these stories?  What lessons do the stories teach that might not be so easily taught in a different format? 

6.  Imagine a trial involving this REL 492 class in one way or another, with charges brought against someone or something connected to the court.  Present  the case of either the prosecution or the defense (or perhaps both) would make at that trial.  Possible "trials" would include:

a.  A case for or against REL 492 itself.  Should the course be taught at all?
b.  A case for or against the way the course was taught and structured.
c.  A case for your own role in REL 492: reasons you should  get an A (or shouldn't get an F).