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REL 356 : World Religions

 Suggestions for Major Academic Paper Topics – Rel 356

Please remember to discuss your topic with the instructor.  Be sure that you have a critical engagement with your subject matter.  Must be a topic in religion.

One Idea:  Pick a religion and examine how their tradition and scriptures tells them to engage modern life: science, technology, pluralism, globalization, gender, or sexual orientation, etc.  Or examine fundamentalism and the refusal to engage these issues.


  • Sex and Hinduism: Religious ideas and significance of Kama Sutra
  • The meaning of reincarnation: hope for change or fatalistic?
  • An extended examination of one of the main gods
  • Widow Burning:  Hinduism or custom?
  • The third eye: what is it, how does it open, what’s its function?
  • Fundamentalism and violence: focus on a particular event/group
  • Reforming Hinduism – find a specific individual or event
  • Rabindranath Tagore – How poetry can be religiously influential
  • Gandhi: Hindu Reformer or Revolutionary?


  • Buddha’s biography: legend or history, human or deity?
  • Buddhist meditation or mindfulness
  • The life and beliefs of the Dali Lama: Religion or Philosophy?
  • Explore a concept like emptiness, no-self, or compassion
  • Introduction to Zen: the nature of a koan
  • Buddhist/Zen humour
  • The traditions around the Laughing Buddha: who is he?
  • Fundamentalism and violence: in Buddhism? Really?
  • Summary and critique of Thich Nhat Hanh, D. T. Suzuki or Allan Watts


  • An in-depth analysis of wu wei or yin yang
  • An extended analysis of Tao Te Ching or the stories of Chang-Tsu
  • Connections to an ecological ethic today
  • Feng Shui’s religious core
  • Taoist humour
  • Laozi:  legends and meanings
  • The Tao of Pooh: Why the success of book and how true is it to Daoism?
  • The life and times of Allan Watts and his Daoist ideas
  • Death or sex in Daoism
  • The five Elements/Agents
  • Daoism and “how to govern properly”: contra Confucianism?
  • Contrast with C. S. Lewis’ view of Tao in Abolition of Man


  • Faith mixed with politics in Islam:  Islamic State?
  • Muslim view of the Qur’an: Is it inspired?
  • Islamic Hell: describe and critique and compare
  • Critical biography of Muhammad using Muslim and other sources
  • Jihad, violence, fundamentalism or extremism and the Qur’an: different views of the massacre of the Banu Qurayza Jews: justice or genocide?
  • Suicide bombing: religious texts for and against and religious means of promoting it and preventing it
  • Muslim humanitarianism and the Qur’an
  • A critical discussion of different approaches to the law of apostasy in Islam (including the punishments for it).  Include reference to religious freedom and human rights.
  • Sexual ethics, music, art, humor in Islamic tradition…
  • A critical assessment of the concept of the “ummah” in Islam and the “da’wa” that accompanies it.  Compare with Christian and/or Buddhist missionary impulse.
  • The Sufis: mystics for Allah.  Pick one aspect of their faith.
  • Tariq Ramadan: Muslim Martin Luther?
  • Seyyed Hossein Nasr: Traditionalist or Modern?
  • Sayyid Qutb: Founder of Muslim Extremism?
  • Wahabism: Return to Empire?
  • Radical mission to Muslims: Phil Parshall and John Travis
  • Abraham: source for inter-religious connections?

Theology and Dialogue

  • Summary and Critique of John Hick, Karen Armstrong, Joseph Campbell, Paul Knitter or Paul Heim’s theory/theology of world religions.
  • Summarize and critique the “Common Word Between Us and You” dialogue.  Include the Pope, Rowan Williams and the Yale response.
  • Max Weber or Emile Durkheim’s views on world religion
  • Multi-religious identity: Ann Holmes Redding and beyond
  • Compare/contrast some aspect of two religions in this course

Eg.  fundamentalism in Judaism & Islam;  “no-self” in Buddhism & Hinduism; Buddhist and Christian ideas of compassion, Christianity and Islam: the same God? Mission in Buddhism and Islam.  Meditation in Hinduism and Judaism.

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