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Road Scholar World Academy

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Please note that all materials on this site are copyrighted and not to be shared or reproduced in whole or in part without the express written consent of Encounter World Religions. 


This presentation aims to give an overview of the Landscape of World Religions. Not a listing of dates and names, we instead try to get at some of the underlying assumptions and key principles that orient some of the world's major religious families. 

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Judaism is a small religion that has nonetheless had an enormous impact on human history. Judaism is also a wonderful example of tradition: the preserving of stories and rituals that not only yield identity but also create a sense of permanence even if these traditions are organic and ever-evolving.

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Islam was founded when a man of no particular consequence or status had a vision one night while meditating in a cave. From this came what is today the world's second largest religion (and likely the largest within a few decades). In this class, we learn about Islam's founder, about key elements of the tradition (Sunni/Shi'i, sharia, etc.) and tackle some modern issues.

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Having spent over two decades studying religions, exploring communities, witnessing ritual and engaging with leaders, there has been much to learn besides the specifics of individual religions. Here are some key insights I have learned about religions and about those wonderful things called humans.

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The Axial Age is an era from approximately 800-200 BCE when new religious and philosophical outlooks emerged that continue to dominate our globe today. We explore how transformations in four locations (China, India, Greece, and Israel) altered human understanding and continue to orient our world. 

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The Protestant Reformation is, to some extent, the birth of the modern West. The reformation was a revolution not only religiously, but culturally, politically, even sexually and it terms of literacy. It left virtually no aspect of European life unchanged. Whether you are Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, atheist, or otherwise, if you live and reside in the West, you are somewhat an heir to the Reformation. In what follows, we track some of the Reformation’s many profound effects.

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Buddhism is the fourth largest religion in the world. Founded 2,500 years ago, the tradition is distinctive for having paths that are less deity-focused than most religions and for certain insights on the mind that have affected modern psychology.

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Confucius is unquestionably one of the most influential humans who ever lived. His views became one of the three major teachings of China and surely the most influential of the three, doing much to shape East Asian culture more generally. We explore his teachings on humaneness and ritual and how propriety can be seen as a way to cultivate personal decency and to foster social harmony.

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Daoism is one of China’s three ancient streams of thought (alongside Confucianism and Buddhism). It has a very unusual approach based on non-action and acts as a kind of counterpart/complement to Confucianism. We explore the Daoist tradition and how it permeates Chinese culture affecting aesthetics, medicine, martial arts, and much more.

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Christianity, the world’s largest religion, has greatly shaped Western culture and today thrives in the so-called "Global South.” It is also a tradition with many, many branches. Our class attempts to make sense of its founder, Jesus of Nazareth, the movement that grew from his ministry, and the influence of this religion on our modern world.

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Every human society seems to have religion in one form or another. It is not quite universal (that is, non-believers are always present) but if you have a society, it seems almost a certainty that some will gravitate towards religious beliefs even though the nature of these beliefs can vary tremendously. In this class, we look at what factors help drive religiosity.

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Of the world’s major religions, Hinduism is possibly the oldest and most diverse. In this class, we explore Hinduism's diversity by looking at its organic evolution, its collector nature over time, and how certain philosophical outlooks lend this tradition the capacity to embrace multiple perspectives.

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For some of us, the presence and reality of spiritual beings is plainly obvious and we wonder why others cannot sense them. For others of us, such sentiments are completely foreign and we wonder what are neighbours or family members are talking about. This class draws on the insightful work of anthropologist Tanya Luhrmann to try to understand how spirits come to seem eminently real to some and not to others.

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This class draws from Brian’s PhD dissertation. We will begin with some historical background on Canada’s political culture. The second and main part addresses liberal democracies, challenging our understandings of how they work, and exploring why these democracies have such regular tensions with conservative religiosity.

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