What you will study
The study material for Why is religion controversial? is presented in four illustrated textbooks each dealing with a different aspect of religion and controversy.
Book One: Controversial Figures is about four individuals each from a different religious and cultural tradition. Two of the controversial figures, Jesus and Gandhi, are famous across the globe. The other two are less well known: Hassan al-Banna, who was the founder of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and Regina Jonas, who is widely acknowledged to be the first woman in the world to have received formal recognition as a Jewish rabbi. These four figures allow you to explore themes that run throughout the module: continuity and change, conflicting perspectives and the very idea of ‘religion’. Only one of our figures is a woman reflecting the marginalisation of women in history, including religious history. They were all rooted firmly in a religious tradition but represent some significant challenge to and break with that tradition. All four lived through times of heightened conflict, were controversial in their lifetimes, and met violent deaths. All four have inspired devotion, and their lives have, to some extent, become overlaid by myth or hagiography. All four have come to embody tensions between religion and modernity.
Book Two: Controversial Practices interrogates the boundaries between religion, culture, power and the use of force in various forms and will challenge some widespread stereotypes. You’ll explore some of the ways in which religion has been involved in different kinds of conflict, principally during the second half of the twentieth century and the first decade of the twenty-first century. The book explores relationships between religion and identity in relation to a range of controversial and contested understandings of gender and community. You’ll examine multiculturalism, principally in Britain; the veiling of Islamic women; connections between religion and violence; and the sex abuse scandals in children's homes run by Catholic religious orders in the Canadian province of Newfoundland.
Book Three: Controversial Ideas starts with the ideas of some of the most influential nineteenth-century critics of Christianity. It surveys the conflicts of the past while introducing the sometimes heated scholarly debates of the present. In the second chapter you will examine the ideas of four of the ‘new atheists’ – Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris – to open avenues for critical thinking about religion and atheism. Next, in this book, you will examine cognitive approaches to religion that take the mind and mental processes as the point of departure for the practice and study of religion. Finally you will examine the "new animism". This label is given to the ways in which the indigenous communities of, for example, Canada and New Zealand understand the place of humanity in the world. You will consider ways in which this animism might contribute to debates about the global environmental crisis.
Book Four: Controversial Futures examines a constellation of anxieties and risks about the future. In the first chapter you will examine the allegation often made against various groups that they ‘pick-n-mix’ eclectically from whatever sources can be appropriated. In addition to questioning the accuracy of this claim, you will consider whether any religion could exist without borrowing from others. Second, you will engage with the question of whether material possessions are detrimental to religious life; whether spiritual value and market value can coexist; and whether limiting some kinds of consumption while privileging others might be definitive of particular religious perspectives. Third, you will consider what is meant by 'modern yoga' in terms of scholarly theories about its development as a globalised phenomenon and its links to popular spirituality. Finally you will be introduced to a militant and conservative style of evangelical Protestant Christianity which has become increasingly important in the USA in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. You will focus, in particular, on their beliefs and expectations about the ‘end of time’.
Throughout the module you will have access to a website which will guide you to a wealth of scholarly resources. You will find a range of audio and visual material including original footage from India, Canada and Germany, as well as specially produced interviews with academic experts and religious practitioners. You will be assisted to develop the necessary independent skills to access appropriate electronic books and journal articles via the Open University library so that you can follow up on your own interests. The module will culminate with an extended essay in which you will be able to demonstrate those skills.
You will learn
You will learn to develop your general thinking, study and communication skills and, in particular:
- ways to analyse the complex, subtle and sometimes controversial ways in which religious ideas and practices are embedded in society and culture
- some of the ways in which religious ideas and practices reproduce and destabilise societal and cultural norms
- the range of levels – individual, community, national and global – at which religious ideas and practices are significant
- how to analyse the extent to which translation and communication of religious ideas can cause misunderstanding, tension, conflict and controversy
- how to think clearly and in an informed way about a subject acknowledged to be of growing importance in today’s world.