World Religions and the Wilderness

World Religions and the Wilderness* (H) 

Elective, Prerequisite: none (can be taken for English or Social Science credit)

This course is an introduction to World Religions that explores the role that wilderness plays in various faith traditions and in our lives today. The course begins by investigating basic theological and religious frameworks and by exploring the concept of wilderness as a construct. This introductory unit and its core questions guide students through the rest of the class as they investigate the role that wilderness plays in the history, sacred texts, and tenets of four of the world’s major religions: Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. The course concludes with a culminating research project that asks students to choose an element of the natural world and investigate its symbolism across a variety of traditions, and in their own lives.

This course integrates three strands of engagement with the class material: academic, experiential, and reflective. Each unit includes scholarly readings that orient students to the structures and history of the tradition it engages, gives opportunities for students to engage in a contemplative practice on Chewonki Neck that is aligned with the unit, and provides students the opportunity to reflect on what resonates (or doesn’t) with their own lives. As these three strands (academic, experiential, and reflective) intertwine, students obtain a lens through which to understand their own and others’ belief systems, a capacity to communicate comfortably and fluently about religion and spirituality, and a layered experience of the wilderness.

This class will be taught as a seminar with a rigorous workload. It will emphasize the analysis and reflection of readings and experiences using discussion, analytical essays, written reflections, and group projects. 

Texts Include: 

  • The Illustrated World’s Religions, Huston Smith
  • World Religions, Warren Matthews
  • Siddhartha, Hermann Hesse
  • Quest For the Living God, Elizabeth Johnson
  • “The Trouble with Wilderness,” William Cronon
  • Other central voices include: Karen Armstrong, Paul Williams, Marcus Borg, Sallie McFague, Rabbi Jamie Korngold, Donald S. Lopez Jr., and Robert Frazer.

* This course uses the word “wilderness” to refer to unknown territory that exists both inside and outside of ourselves. We work to problematize the word “wilderness” and the way it has been and is used to support and further colonialist agendas in the Americas. We include the word in the title of this course because of the central role it plays in multiple religious traditions as reference to and symbol of mystery, and place of revelation.

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