COMPREHENSIVE QUESTION #1
Miroslav Volk, a Croatian refugee, argues that one of the prevailing “sins” of our contemporary world is exclusion, distancing oneself and creating otherness. It is the precondition of violence and finds one of its most compelling expressions in ethnic cleansing. No less perverted are the identities forced on people which marginalize them. Exclusion forges boundaries not to be transgressed. At the heart of that exclusion is “taking oneself out of the pattern of interdependence. . . . The other then emerges . . . as the enemy.” Overcoming exclusion involves not only an assault on “dividing walls of hostility” but the creation of space for mutual embrace. Volk writes, “we must make space for others in ourselves and invite them in—even our enemies.” This involves new social arrangements but it begins, according to Volk, by creating social agents who shape a reconciling cultural climate.
Human history can be read as the clash between the narratives of exclusion and the narratives of inclusion. Religion can either endorse or critique both narratives and thus influence which narrative prevails.
Write an essay on the phenomena of exclusion and inclusion being attentive to the following:
1. How do religious texts inform the polarity of exclusion and inclusion?
2. How do religions influence the ways in which individuals and communities make choices in relation to exclusion and inclusion?
3. How do religious rituals enforce or challenge the polarity of exclusion and inclusion?
4. How do images of transcendence or ultimate reality/realities shape the polarity of exclusion and inclusion?
COMPREHENSIVE QUESTION #2
The Hebrew Scriptures bear witness to a profound concern for the land and a dialogue regarding what may be called a Theology of Nature and the Land. They speak to such questions as these: What is the relationship of God to the Land and to nature? What bearing does this have on the social and economic and political structures? How does this concern for the land bear on the nature of worship (holy places, pilgrimages, notions of insider and outsider, and so forth)?
Any religious tradition, then, expresses complex, multiple and changing relationships among deity, humanity and nature. These can be expressed through various frameworks – theological, ritual, textual, ethical paradigms. In your essay, using material from at least three of your core courses, analyze how these relationships are expressed.
COMPREHENSIVE QUESTION #3
Because every sacred text—written, oral, etc.—comes to its audience through the mediated vehicle of a human mind, whatever divine truths it may contain are embedded within language and imagery that is culturally and historically contingent. Over the course of time, culture changes, the meanings of words change, as does the historical situation of the audience reading and trying to understand a text. Even at any single point in time, within each religious tradition, there is a broad spectrum of interpretation with regard to which parts of a sacred text, for instance, should be taken literally and which other parts should be understood metaphorically.
Given this dynamic of interpretive shift, there is the possibility that the definition of what it means to be a faithful member of "Religion X" may actually have changed over time. It is also possible that a person who honestly engages in the study of any sacred text may have to open herself to a degree of existential uncertainty rather than being sure of finding definitive answers or the "truth."
Discuss both the positive and negative ways in which the shifting dynamic mentioned above affects individual persons in their efforts at forming personal religious identities that enable them to find and express meaning in life by bringing in examples and referring to material from each of the core courses you took.
COMPREHENSIVE QUESTION #4
The historian of religion William R. LaFleur recently wrote, "The fact that 'body' has become a critical term for religious studies can itself signify significant change in how we study religion."
This shift recognizes the basic "fact" that human beings are embodied. These studies also deal with issues such as the role of the senses; whether or not bodies are given or malleable; the intersection of religion and medicine; connections among embodiedness, gender, and sexuality; permanence and transcience; and attitudes toward physical matter itself.
We see in religious traditions a range of responses to, and attitudes and practices based upon, these basic biological facts. Using material from at least three core courses that you took, explain the range of attitudes and practices related to human embodiedness within the three religious traditions you studied in those courses. What different attitudes and practices do we see in each tradition? Which are unique to one tradition, and which are found in several? What do these attitudes and practices tell us about the religious traditions themselves?