If we define religion as a system of belief in and worship of some force or power higher than humankind, whether it be the one God of the Judeo-Christian and Moslem traditions, or the multiple deities of many ancient (and some contemporary) belief systems it seems safe to say that all cultures and societies practice some form of religion. Religious practices involve some form of oral communication with the superior power(s), which requires the use of language, the only tool available to humans to communicate (directly or indirectly) with the divine and to share the chosen beliefs with others. This course will examine how religions make use of language to meet their spiritual and non-spiritual goals, and how various facets of language are (or have been) influenced by their use as the linguistic medium of religion. Topics to be examined and discussed include legends on the divine origin of human languages (and writing systems), references to language and speech acts in sacred texts, the nature and use of sacred and liturgical languages, the development of the religious vocabulary of a language, the problems involved in the translation and transmission of sacred texts, the linguistic nature of prayer, the interplay between language, religion and national identity, and the role that religious use of language has played in the development of linguistics. Although this course will seek to examine these issues with reference to a large number of religions, emphasis will be placed on the Jewish, Christian and Islamic traditions.
Readings will be provided in a coursepack. Students will also be expected to read materials available in certain on-line reference sources. In addition, students should have at their disposal a Bible containing the Old and the New Testaments. As necessary, I shall supply passages from the Qu’ran.
Students will write two exams and a research paper on a topic (chosen in consultation with the instructor) relevant to the course topic. In addition, each student will make a brief oral presentation based on his/her paper topic.
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