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Bait and Switch

May 5, 2010

I teach Introduction to Religion like a sociology of religion course: how are the elements of religious traditions used to create, maintain, or challenge social order?

When students sign up, they think they’re getting World Religions: what are the basics of Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, etc.?

At the end of the course they feel like they’ve been the victim of a bait and switch, and I can fully understand (with the exception that I tell them—on the first day, no less!—that this course will not be a world religions course).

I’d like to re-title the course “Religion and Society,” or something like that, but the administration won’t take me up on the offer. Any of you have similar problems? What are your courses called?

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. John permalink
    May 5, 2010 2:00 pm

    I taught sociology of religion last year. At my college, the course is called sociology of religion, plain and simple. Didn’t stop students from expecting a “world religions” course—even though I, too, spelled out repeatedly that we would explore “religion and X” topics, where X included politics, economy, sexuality, secularism, gender and more.

  2. May 6, 2010 3:09 pm

    Anthropological Theory is a required course for anthro majors at my school. I have classmates who are specializing in archaeology or physical anthropology who find it kind of weird that all of our readings are solely about cultural anth, never their own subfields of the discipline.

  3. Sean B permalink
    May 6, 2010 9:16 pm

    I’m working through a similar problem, too. Perhaps one could cover (or allow a textbook to cover) some basic terms and concepts and then give straightforward tests/quizzes on those concepts, saving the soc. of religion material for lecture/other readings and ‘testing’ that knowledge through writing assignments. My own inclination is similar to yours, in that I wish to focus on social and functional aspects of religion (not to mention my discomfort with the entire concept of ‘world religions’). I too am concerned about not misleading my students, but I also wonder if focusing on theoretical topics (“religion and X”) without making them learn basic world religions factoids might actually make the topics even harder to understand (or, worse, “easier” for them to understand by slotting everything into their preconceptions about religion). My problem has then become a concern about an inability to cover enough of both world religions factoids AND theory of religion.

  4. missivesfrommarx permalink*
    May 6, 2010 10:16 pm

    My school has an Eastern Religions and Western Religions set of courses (I hate the titles, but what can you do?). I try to tell that if they want the “basics” or “factoids,” take one of those classes. THIS course will not cover those basics. But they don’t listen.

    I totally get the “or worse, ‘easier’ for them to understand”! I TAed for a prof in grad school who spent an entire semester complicating “Hinduism,” but who then sent the students to a Hindu temple, only to have a priest or something give them Hinduism-in-a-nutshell. The students came back thinking they had “got it,” and wondering why the professor made things more complicated than they needed to be.

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