Monday, May 13, 2013

Matters of Faith in America

by Susan Herlihy 

The 23 students in Dan Johnson's spring class, Matters of Faith in America, reflected a wide variety of religious faiths, as well as apathy and atheism. Dan's masterful planning allowed for the inclusion of many faiths and thousands of years of tradition, with presentations that were objective, factual, and without bias. Participant input was encouraged, enriching the learning experience.

Colonial Religion (Week 1) was characterized by Native American practices, with their reverence for the natural world, and the arrival of the Puritans, who were seeking a place to enjoy religious freedom. Tidbit: In Colonial times sheep were synonymous with good people; bad people, goats. Scapegoats anyone? Anglicans, Catholics, Quakers, Jews, Mormons, Muslims, etc. all developed a presence in America, and Christianity was to have no place of privilege in the new country that espoused religious freedom.

Week 2 explored Secularism: civil religion, Humanism, agnosticism, private spiritual beliefs, and atheism. Scott Hynek and Laurence Austen provided insight into atheism.

Judaism was Week 3’s topic, focusing on the scripture of the first five books of the Bible (the Pentateuch or Torah) and the Diaspora, Crusades, Zionism, Third Reich, the establishment of Israel, and U.S. Judaism's Orthodox, Conservative & Reform branches. Thank you, Paula, for your input which provided such enrichment.

Session 4 covered Christianity's beginning as a sect of Judaism in 30 CE (Common Era) and its spread through the writings as they’re preserved in the New Testament, ending with a look at religion in America today. Included were the mainline denominations – Roman Catholics, Episcopalians, Methodists, African Methodist Episcopalians, Baptists (American & Southern), Congregationalists, and Presbyterians - as well as those outside the mainline - Pentecostal groups, Christian Science, Quakers, Shakers, Amish, Mormons, and Jehovah's Witnesses.

In the 5th session, led by Marvin Ouwinga, we learned about Islam. Several snippets from this session included that much of the Quran was written on scraps of leather or bone; “jihad” can refer to an individual’s inner struggle of conscience as well as an outright fight or war; and the differences between the Sunni & Shiite sects are major.

Session 6 was added to include an overview of Eastern religions: Hinduism, Confucianism, Taoism, Shintoism and Buddhism. Bonnie Pooley held us rapt as she shared her personal journey as a practicing Buddhist.

Participants view this course as “just the tip of the iceberg” of such a vast topic and see its potential as the foundation for a follow-up course. They appreciate the instructor's breadth of knowledge on this set of topics, his thorough preparation, his stimulating presentation of the material, and his openness in sharing the floor with others in order to provide the fullest learning experience.

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