Inside the classroom

A day in the life

Inside the classroom

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The traditions we look at are incredibly colourful. Students drink in the slides of Hindu temples and Shinto shrines.

Seeing and believing

First-year courses in Dal’s Religious Studies program will give you a solid introduction to some of the world’s major religions in both the Eastern and Western traditions. Professors explain the key tenets of these religions, pointing out how they affect all aspects of life in many countries and cultures.

To enhance his lectures in the Introduction to Eastern Religion courses, Chris Austin shows slides of statues, shrines, temples, paintings, and other religious iconography and architecture from across Asia and other places influenced by the spread of Eastern religions. He says these slides  help students engage with the material: “These images have a natural vibrancy that grabs the students’ attention.”

Here's a sample of the images you might see in Dr. Austin's intro course:

  • Reflect on the balanced composition and bright orange, gold, and blue hues in a 17th-century watercolour painting of the Hindu goddess Devi venerated by the gods Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva, and Indra—and take note of the gold, silver, and beetle-wings applied to the surface.
  • Contemplate a worn stone statue of Kuya Shonin, a Japanese Buddhist monk from the Pure Land sect who travelled chanting “Namu Amida Butsu” to invoke the Amida Buddha, represented by six tiny Buddha figures extending from the monk’s mouth on a thin wire.
  • Take in the dramatic image of Meoto Iwa—the “Wedded Rocks”—linked across crashing waves by a one-tonne rope bridge. The rocks, according to followers of the Japanese Shinto religion, represent Izanagi and Izanami, the creators of the gods.
  • Examine the complex symmetry of a Rajasthan painting of the god Krishna holding Mount Govardhan, in tones of indigo, olive, and rust, with crowds and cattle gathered on either side of the central, gold-swathed god.

Dr. Austin also shows films about Buddhism, Hinduism, and other Eastern religions:

  • Altar of Fire. This documentary by Robert Gardner looks at one of the oldest known religious rituals in the world, the Agnicayana. This Vedic sacrificial ritual involves several months of preparation, including a fire bird built from 1,000 bricks.
  • Devi (The Goddess). Made in 1960 but set in 19th-century India, this drama is about a family whose patriarch believes his daughter-in-law is an incarnation of a Hindu goddess.
  • To the Land of Bliss. In filmmaker/anthropologist Wen-Jie Qin’s examination of post-Mao Buddhism, she follows a group of monks in the Chinese Pure Land sect as they mourn the death and celebrate the life of their teacher, Jue Chang. 

Alexander Treiger teaches the Introduction to Western Religions course. In addition to giving students the basics of the three main Western traditions, he also explores the answers to many questions, including the following:

  • Do Jews, Christians, and Muslims have the same conception of God?
  • What is the origin of evil?
  • How does religion influence politics?
  • What is holiness?
  • Why are some religious movements tolerant of religious imagery, while others are not?

Discussing these questions, Dr. Treiger believes, makes courses meaningful and relevant to students. Combined with an emphasis on critical thinking, students are encouraged to develop an  understanding "that will broaden their horizons and enrich their future lives."

Dr. Treiger also presents images of buildings, paintings, and altars to illustrate the traditions of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. These images, he says, also "give students a 'feel' for distant times, places, and cultures." In one of his lectures alone, you might experience the following:

  • Let your eyes follow the flowing Arabic script at the top of the Mihrab (the niche that indicates the direction of Mecca) in the Aya Sofya Church/Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey.
  • Feel the solemnity of the Torah Ark in the Szeged Synagogue, Hungary, with its elements of sittimwood (acacia wood) from the banks of the River Nile and its weighty, ornate menorahs.
  • Marvel at the intricate pattern arching above the main altar inside the New Cathedral in the St. Mina Coptic Monastery in Alexandria, Egypt.
  • Compare images of the Ka’ba in Mecca from 100 years ago and from today, noting how the surrounding buildings have changed.


Photo: detail of "Krishna Holding Mount Govardhan."