Experiential Learning

Course: Religions of the Far East
Duration: Semester
Number of Students: 28


“The things we have to learn to do, we learn by doing them.”
Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics


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I. Introduction

Religions of the Far East is an upper division course that students may take to satisfy a Global Diversity requirement in the general education curriculum. I organized this course into three sections: 1) an examination of the history of Eastern religions in American history, 2) a survey of the major religious pathways of India, China, and Japan, and 3) an analysis of the contributions these faith traditions make to contemporary social, political, and spiritual issues.

II. Academics

I organize this course into five units: 1) American religious pluralism, 2) Hinduism and Jainism, 3) Buddhism and Sikhism, 4) Taoism, Confucianism, and Shinto, and 5) contemporary perspectives on social, political, and spiritual issues from Eastern religious writers. In addition to quizzes on each unit and two map quizzes, students write a research paper on the historical background and literary themes found in a primary source (e.g., The Upanishads, The Bhagavad Gita, The Dhammapada, and The Tao-te Ching) and deliver a group presentation on a specific topic from unit five (e.g., ecology, gender, social justice, spirituality).

III. Experiential Learning Opportunities

The experiential learning opportunities are designed to complement the readings, class discussions, and research projects.  I have organized visits to three religious centers in central Virginia: Satchidananda Ashram/Integral Yoga Institute in Buckingham, the Blue Ridge Zen Group in Charlottesville, and the Lotus Garden Retreat Center in Stanley. Students visit two of the three centers and compose a short essay describing the main features of the experience (e.g., the lecture or tour, the religious service, the discussion period) and detailing how it contributed to their appreciation of the particular religious tradition.