Exploring the Concept of Sacred Time in Religious Tradition

Religious Tradition assignment instructions

You are required to write brief (2 pgs. 300-500 word.) essays expressing their response to a body of lectures covering each religious tradition studied in the course.

Each essay must be written on a specific topic derived from the Conceptual Toolkit.  The Toolkit lists the following seven topical categories: , (1) Human Nature, (2) Evil, (3) Sainthood and Mysticism, (4) Sacred Time, and (5) Authority.***    you may choose one of the five topical categories as the theme and focus of the essays.

Essays should NOT contain the following:  (1) summaries of material from the textbook or (2) summaries of the lecture content, without any analysis.

Essays must include direct, explicit reference to material covered to receive more than 50 % credit for the assignment.  Any ideas, topics, or issues introduced in an essay must be shown to derive from lecture contents.  This means that students have to cite all relevant lectures.  For example:

“I found the Buddhist doctrine of ‘no-self’ both very interesting, and somewhat problematic (Buddhism Lecture 1).  When coupled with the concept of ‘emptiness’ (Buddhism Lecture 4), the idea made more sense to me . . .”

 Essays must conform to the grammatical and stylistic standards of the English language, must be “on point,” and must reflect a mature, careful consideration of the material.  Students will be assigned a numeric grade of 0, 5, or 10 depending on the degree to which these requirements are fulfilled.

***World Religions: A Conceptual Toolkit

scope of religious tradition

Religion is where the deepest concerns of humanity are explored and expressed. Reflecting human nature in this way, the great variety of religious ideas and practices that have existed historically and which exist in the world today should come as no surprise. One of the most important points to which we will return again and again in this class is precisely this diversity, which exists both between religious traditions and within them. Coming to appreciate the rich plurality of religion as such is thus one of the main goals of this course.

At times, this diversity can seem a bit bewildering. For this reason, it is important that we be equipped with a group of concepts that, while hardly explaining everything that we’ll examine in this course, nevertheless provides a means to help negotiate our way through the material we will be discussing. Think of these concepts as playing a vital organizational role; by picking out some important features of religion as such, they are meant to help us grasp the commonalities and pinpoint the differences between and within religious traditions. It will be helpful to have this “toolkit” of concepts to refer back to from time to time as we delve into the particularities of each religion. Moreover, as explained on the syllabus, the conceptual toolkit provides the basis for the required discussion responses.

Human Nature

As the locus of our own ultimate concerns, it makes sense that religions also have a lot to say about human nature. How, for example, should we think of how human beings related to the rest of nature? Some religions think of humanity is a special part of nature in general, whereas others focus more on the way in which we are integrated into a larger totality. Religions also think of human agency in different ways. Are people able to act independently of other things (e.g., through the exercise of free will)? Are there larger forces that govern human agency? Religious traditions also explore the origins of humanity. Where did we come from? Where did important elements of human culture, like language or art, come from? Look for the ways different traditions, and different strands within particular traditions, approach these questions in their own distinctive ways.


An inescapable fact about the human condition is that we are vulnerable creatures, liable to be confronted with pain, sickness, and, of course, death. Religions express the many ways in which human beings confront this fact. What, for example, is the nature of evil? Is evil attributable to a personal being or beings, is it a flaw in human nature, or is it a reflection of some imbalance in the order of things? Religions also explore the possibility of the defeat of evil. How can evil be overcome? Must human beings rely on their own efforts, or does the divine reality itself overcome the evils that afflict the world? An important concept here is that of salvation. All of the religions that we will examine in this course have ideas about salvation as the ultimate defeat of evil for individuals and for all things.

Sainthood and Mysticism

As human beings, we tend to learn about how to do things from other people (starting, of course, with our parents when we are very small). This feature of human nature is likewise reflected in every religious tradition. We can borrow a Christian word, saint, to describe individuals who play this exemplary role for the members of a religious community. There are many kinds of saints in the world’s many faiths. Sages are revered for their deep understanding of a tradition; ascetics are honored as individuals who live austere lives of self-dedication; visionaries help to disclose hidden dimensions of things. Connected with sainthood is the phenomenon of mysticism, likewise found across traditions. Mysticism reflects a particular deep dedication to the way of life prescribed by a religious tradition, as well as a corresponding depth of insight into the basic truths of that tradition.

Sacred Time

We are all familiar with the way time shapes our daily lives, from the first ringing of the alarm clock to the timetables for the bus. This role is reflected in religion as well. Religions organize time around natural or historical patterns, and they tend to mark off certain times as sacred, as different from the ordinary day-to-day time that we live in. Sacred time sometimes involves celebratory festivals, sometimes it involves more solemn commemorations of important events. Religions also mark the significant life-events of the members of a community, such as birth, maturity, and marriage.


Like most human activities, religions unfold within a community. Authority is a term that can be used to designate the specific ways in which religious communities make decisions about things through a communicative process. All religions have sources of authority, including sacred texts, unwritten traditions, particular institutions, and particular individuals; each of these sources is taken to provide the members of a community with reasons to do something. Religions are also concerned with the justification of authority; that is, the sources of authority themselves offer reasons for why they are, in turn, afforded their own reason-giving ability.

Such justifications might involve the supernatural or revealed origins of the authority, individual charisma, an educational process, or historical chains of transmission. Because of the central role that authority plays for a community, many traditions have also developed a symbolism of authority. This involves images and rituals that convey the source and nature of an authority. Certain modes of discourse or speech conventions, for example, allow members of a community to distinguish between authoritative and non-authoritative communication. Many traditions also mark authority with special accompaniments, from distinctive clothing to providing places of reverence dedicated to sacred texts.

religious tradition
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