“Truth is the highest of virtues, but higher still is truthful living.”
-Guru Nanak, Guru Granth Sahib
So goes one of Dr. David Fowler’s favorite quotes from the Sikh tradition, one of just a few religions he will be exploring with students this fall in his course, RELIG 202 – Introduction to World Religions: Eastern Traditions. Below, Dr. Fowler reflects on teaching the class, the importance of religious studies in today’s global world, and influence that studying Comparative Religion has had on his own life and the life of former students.
It’s great to be back teaching RELIG 202 again this year. This was my first course in Comparative Religion at UW when I was an undergraduate and it’s incredibly meaningful for me to be on the other side, so to speak, teaching it. In broad outline, the course serves as an introduction to the religious traditions of Asia and aims to convey an appreciation of these traditions by introducing students to their diverse creative genius and general cultural/global significance. The goal is to cast a wide net for a broad understanding, addressing Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, Jain, Confucian, and Daoist traditions through analysis of sacred literature, art, and ritual practice. I also include Islamic traditions in the course, because the vast majority of Muslims are in Asia, so including this tradition only seems right.
I think courses like 202 are a great resource for students – no matter what their major. A large university like UW hopes to graduate students who embody a variety of different types of intelligence to be successful in an increasingly multicultural/global society and I think 202 certainly aids in that endeavor. An exposure to alternative worldviews, cultivation of empathy, and comfort in seeing through different lenses are essential characteristics of effective leaders & innovators, no matter what field a student might pursue post-graduation. The course also encourages close reading skills via analysis of both texts and visual art. The building of interpretive skills, especially in subjective space, is certainly a critical asset to cultivate so I think a course like RELIG 202 has a lot to offer in both personal enrichment and imparting of practical skill-sets.
On a more personal note, I can say that studying and teaching Comparative Religion courses has profoundly enriched my life. I likely would never have traveled so widely without a desire to better contextualize what I had learned in the Religious Studies classroom. Such travels have taken me all over the world and provided vibrant memories and experiences that have infused my life with deeper meaning. Such enrichment has been a constant buoy in times of personal struggle and strife. And those experiences extend beyond me to my students – in fact, in the last several months of the Covid-19 crisis a number of former students have contacted me, eager to share career updates, recount travel experiences made more meaningful due to 202-style classes, or simply to say that they were still thinking about, and reading through, course material from years past. It’s been extraordinarily fulfilling to have conversations with students even after they leave my classes – embodying the idea that a life well-lived is one shared and one in which learning never stops.
Relig 202: Introduction to World Religions: Eastern Traditions is 5 credits and fulfills UW’s Individuals and Societies (I&S) General Education requirements for undergraduates. Current UW students may register for the course by clicking here.