Introduction to Religion


    General Information

    Professor Information

    Professor Photo
    Joseph Holbrook
    GL 150 (MMC)
    M-W, 11:30 am - 12:30 pm, or
    by appointment
    Please use Blackboard Messages. In case of emergencies, email me at

    Note: this is hybrid course which requires both in-person meetings and online coursework.

    Course Description And Purpose

    This course will explore basic concepts in the study of religion, such as deity, cosmology and myth, ritual, scripture, ethics and salvation/liberation. The student will be introduced to each concept through the textbook, class lectures, videos, Internet sources, and discussions. Throughout the course, the student will also be exposed to specific rituals, myths, doctrines, ethics, and symbols from various different world religions and cultures. Students will be tested on this material with exam(s) , class discussions, and essays to develop their critical-thinking skills and writing abilities. This course fulfills the Gordon Rule requirement.

    Course Objectives

    Upon successful completion of the course, students will be able to:

    • Explain the basic history, development, and belief system of various religious traditions.
    • Recognize religious themes and concepts found in other cultures.
    • Identify the meaning behind religious concepts and symbols.
    • Evaluate their own religious views in regards to other cultures and paradigms of religious thought.
    • Apply critical thinking to various topics in the field of religious studies.
    • Think creatively about religious issues in the contemporary world.
    • Perform field research to better understand a particular religious community.

    Global Learning Objectives Targeted: 

    • Analyze topics in the field of religious studies from multiple perspectives
    • Assess how global issues and trends are interrelated with the development and practice of religions
    • Demonstrate willingness to think creatively about religious issues in the contemporary world

    Important Information

    Technical Requirements & Skills

    One of the greatest barriers to taking a hybrid course is a lack of basic computer literacy. By computer literacy we mean being able to manage and organize computer files efficiently, and learning to use your computer's operating system and software quickly and easily. Keep in mind that this is not a computer literacy course; but students enrolled in hybrid courses are expected to have moderate proficiency using a computer. Please go to the "What's Required" webpage to find out more information on this subject.

    Technical course requirements include the following:

    • A reliable Internet connection
    • Regular access to a laptop or desktop computer with an updated operating system and web browser
    • An active FIU email account that is checked daily (or forwarded to an email that is checked daily)
    • Microsoft Office Suite (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etx)
    • Anti-virus software
    • Required Browser Check for Blackboard Learn (our online learning platform)

    This course utilizes the following tool:

    • Turnitin 

    Please visit our Technical Requirements webpage for additional information.

    Important: If you encounter any technical problems while submitting an assignment or assessment, it is your responsibility to contact FIU Online Support Services immediately and take note of your case number for future reference.

    Accessibility And Accommodation

    The Disability Resource Center collaborates with students, faculty, staff, and community members to create diverse learning environments that are usable, equitable, inclusive and sustainable. The DRC provides FIU students with disabilities the necessary support to successfully complete their education and participate in activities available to all students. If you have a diagnosed disability and plan to utilize academic accommodations, please contact the Center at 305-348-3532 or visit them at the Graham Center GC 190.

    Please visit our ADA Compliance webpage for information about accessibility involving the tools used in this course.

    Please visit Blackboard's Commitment Accessibility webpage for more information. 

    For additional assistance please contact FIU's Disability Resource Center.


    Please review the FIU's Policies webpage. The policies webpage contains essential information regarding guidelines relevant to all courses at FIU, as well as additional information about acceptable netiquette for online courses.

    Academic Misconduct Statement

    Florida International University is a community dedicated to generating and imparting knowledge through excellent teaching and research, the rigorous and respectful exchange of ideas and community service. All students should respect the right of others to have an equitable opportunity to learn and honestly to demonstrate the quality of their learning. Therefore, all students are expected to adhere to a standard of academic conduct, which demonstrates respect for themselves, their fellow students, and the educational mission of the University.

    All students are deemed by the University to understand that if they are found responsible for academic misconduct, they will be subject to the Academic Misconduct procedures and sanctions, as outlined in the Student Handbook. Offenders will receive a grade of F (0 points) for the plagiarized assignment, and possibly for the course.

    Academic Misconduct includes: Cheating – The unauthorized use of books, notes, aids, electronic sources; or assistance from another person with respect to examinations, course assignments, field service reports, class recitations; or the unauthorized possession of examination papers or course materials, whether originally authorized or not. Plagiarism – The use and appropriation of another’s work without any indication of the source and the representation of such work as the student’s own. Please be aware: Previously submitted papers are not allowed, even if it is your own work and even if you are retaking this class. You may not “reuse” papers. Any student who fails to give credit for ideas, expressions or materials taken from another source, including internet sources, is responsible for plagiarism.

    Learn more about the academic integrity policies and procedures as well as student resources that can help you prepare for a successful semester.

    Course Prerequisites

    There are no prerequisites for this course. 

    Proctored Exam Policy

    There is no online proctoring required for this course. 


    Textbook Image
    Anatomy of the Sacred: An Introduction to Religion (6th Edition)
    James C. Livingston Emeritus
    Pearson, 6th Edition, 2008
    ISBN-10: 013600380X
    ISBN-13: 9780136003809
    Book Info. You may purchase your textbook online at the FIU Bookstore.
    Additional Notes

    Expectations of this Course

    This is a hybrid course. Hybrid courses require self-motivation, self-discipline, and technology skills sometimes make these courses more demanding for some students. If you find that you are having difficulty keeping up with the out-of-class work, please make an appointment with or email me.

    You are responsible for carefully reading the syllabus and weekly calendar, meeting deadlines as posted, and submitting mature, thoughtful work. Some of this material may be new, personal or controversial, so please maintain an open-minded and considerate attitude, allowing others time to reflect and communicate. The online portion of the class is required and constitutes the online attendance. Please review additional expecttions below. 

    As a student in this course, you are expected to:

    • Review the how to get started information located in the course content
    • Introduce yourself to the class during the first week in the appropriate discussion forum
    • Take the practice quiz to ensure that your computer is compatible with Blackboard
    • Interact online with instructor/s and peers
    • Log in to the course 3-4 times per week
    • Respond to Blackboard Messages within 1 day

    As the instructor, I will:

    • Log in to the course at least 6 days per week
    • Respond to discussion boards, blogs and journal postings within 2 days
    • Respond to Blackboard Messages​ within 1 day
    • Grade assignments within 7 days of the assignment deadline

    Course Detail

    Course Communication

    Communication in this course will take place via Blackboard Messages​.

    Messages is a private and secure text-based communication system which occurs within a course among its Course members. Users must log on to Blackboard to send, receive, or read messages. The Messages tool is located on the Course Menu, on the left side of the course webpage. It is recommended that students check their messages routinely to ensure up-to-date communication. 

    Visit our Writing Resources webpage for more information on professional writing and technical communication skills.

    Attendance and Participation

    Attendance and Participation together are worth 10% of the final grade.

    You are expected to attend every in-person session, arrive on time, and stay for the duration of the class. Every student will need to sign in on the class roster as documentation of his/her attendance. Students with 10 or more absences will receive 0 points for attendance. Arriving late, leaving early or stepping out of the class for long periods of time may incur an absence penalty. Please refrain from texting and emailing in class. Please inform the instructor immediately if a situation develops which will impact your performance or attendance.

    Participation includes reading for class, contributing to discussions, and being attentive to lectures and student presentations. Almost every week, you are required to bring to the in-person session a current event news item that has a religious theme or undertone (please refer to the weekly calendar). The current event news item will count for 6 points, or the equivalent of 2 attendance days.

    Discussion Forums

    You are required to participate in six (6) online discussions about historical films, documentaries, and particular concepts or issues covered in the course. Each discussion requires that you answer the a discussion prompt and then comment on a peer's post. Overall, this assignment contributes 1,200 words toward fulfilling the University Gordon Rule requirement. Only five (5) out of the six (6) will count toward your final grade (lowest discussion grade will be dropped). Discussions constitute 15% of your final grade. 

    Discussion forums are available from Monday 12 am - Friday at 11:59 pm, ET during the weeks they are assigned. Your must answer the prompt early enough in the week (at least by Wednesday) to allow others the opportunity to comment on your post before the due date.

    Discussions Posting Guidelines 

    • Post a  300-word minimum response to each film
    • Give a summary of the movie: who? what? when? where? (20%) 
    • Give your critical reaction to the film. (20%) 
    • Discuss what aspects of religious study or elements of religion are illustrated by the movie? What role did European politics play? Back up your argument with examples.  Back up your argument with examples. (20%) 
    • Proofread your post for grammar, punctuation and verb agreement. Use the spell checker! (20%) 
    • Post a 50-word-minimum reply to at least one peer's post. (20%)

    Keep in mind that your discussion forum postings will likely be seen by other members of the course. Care should be taken when determining what to post. Be sure to review acceptable netiquette for online courses. 


    As this is a Gordon Rule course, you are required to complete a minimum of two major writing assignments. 

    Essay 1: Religious Site Visit 

    For this essay, you will need to visit a religious site from a religious tradition that is not your own and write a report on it. Detailed assignment instructions and format are provided in the course. 

    • Essay is due Friday, February 3 at 11:59 pm, ET, and it is worth 5% of the final grade. 
    • Essay 1 Revision (after feedback) is due Friday, March 10 at 11:59 pm, ET, and it is worth 10% of the final grade

    Essay 2: Contamination

    For this essay, you will analyze and discuss the article “The Case for Contamination” by Kwame Anthony Appiah. You will pick a position and give support for your argument using the Appiah article and at least two other scholarly sources. Detailed assignment instructions and format are provided in the course. 

    • Essay 2 is due Friday, April 7 at 11:59 pm, ET, and it is worth 15% of the final grade (no revisions).

    Essays General Guidelines

    • Each essay listed on this section needs to be 1000 - 1200 words in length. 
    • Source material must be cited correctly using MLA Style, and long quotes should be avoided.
    • Papers need to be submitted in Blackboard through Turnitin. Be sure to review the detailed Turnitin Instructions on how to submit your assignments and how to review the Grademark comments (feedback) from me.
    • Please do NOT send any writing assignments as email or message attachments! All writing assignments must be submitted in the proper drop box in Blackboard; there are no exceptions.
    • Papers with an originality score of over 35% similarity in Turnitin will be subject to additional scrutiny and may incur additional penalties, up to and including receiving an F (0 points). 
    • Late papers may be accepted with a legitimate excuse and a 10% penalty for late submission. After more than two weeks, papers either be refused, or will be discounted by 50 percent at the professor’s discretion.

    Group Presentation

    You will give a group presentation on a topic related to course readings. Each group presentation might include a demonstration, an explanation of a term/idea, a brief travel description/slide show, or a book review. You are encouraged to be creative and informative! The presentation will be worth 10% of the final grade. Please review guidelines below. 

    • Each group member should speak for about 5-10 minutes
    • You are responsible for signing up for presentation slots during the in-person sessions.
    • If you cannot attend of the day of the presentation, you may arrange with another student to switch slots, but please inform me by email of changes to the schedule.
    • If you miss your presentation slot and there is no other available slot, you will receive 0 points for the presentation.

    ​A more detailed grading rubric is provided in the course. Please refer to the weekly calendar for dates.

    Group Project

    Each group will collaborate in a group Wiki to design their own sect, church, or religion. The following components of the sect/church/religion must be thought out and articulated in writing: myth, rituals, scriptures, community practices, deity(ies), cosmogony, human problem(s), theodicy, ethics, and salvation. This project is worth 10% of your final grade.

    Further assignment details are provided in the course and will be discussed during the in-person sessions. Please refer to the weekly calendar for dates.


    Weekly Chapter Quizzes

    There are 15 weekly chapter quizzes (one quiz per textbook chapter). Each quiz is worth 10 points. Together, all of the quizzes make up 10% of your final grade. Format: 10 multiple-choice and true/false questions. They are due each Wednesday. Please refer to the weekly calendar for dates.

    Midterm and Final Exams

    The Midterm Exam and Final Exam will be available online during their respective scheduled dates. Each exam is worth 10% of the final grade, for a total of 20% of the final grade. Format: 50 multiple-choice and true/false questions based on assigned readings

    • Midterm: material from weeks 1-7.  Available online Friday, March 3 from 12:00 am - 11:59 pm, ET.
    • Final: material from weeks 8-15. Available online Tuesday, April 25 from 12:00 am - 11:59 pm, ET.

    In order to mitigate any issues with your computer and online assessments, it is very important that you take the "Practice Quiz" from each computer you will be using to take your graded quizzes and exams. It is your responsibility to make sure your computer meets the minimum hardware requirements

    Assessments in this course are not compatible with mobile devices and should not be taken through a mobile phone or a tablet. If you need further assistance please contact FIU Online Support Services.

    Extra Credit Opportunities

    The maximum amount of extra credits that are possible are 3 points on the final grade or ¼ of a grade level. All extra credit assignments are due no later than Friday, April 21 at 11:59 pm, ET. Absolutely no extra credits or make-up work will be accepted after the Final Exam.

    Extra-Credit Film Review

    Review a movie and write a three- paragraph film review (300 words) describing the role that religion plays in the story or event. Focus on religious symbols, rituals, myths or the ways in which religious beliefs or practices influence the plot or meaning of the movie. Do not tell the whole story of the movie, but just enough so that your points are clear. The movie selection must be approved by the instructor. The extra credit paper is worth 1% of the final grade.

    Extra-Credit Social Media Participation

    Extra credits will also be given for students who follow the class twitter account, @REL_FIU, or who make at least 10 comments (complete sentences) on the Class Religious Studies Blog



    Course Requirements Number of Items Points for Each Total Points Total Weight
    Attendance and Participation  1 50 50 5%
    Discussions  5 (out of 6) 10 50 15%
    Essay 1: Religious Site Visit, 1st Draft 1 100 100 5%
    Essay 1: Religious Site Visit, Revision  1 100 100 10%
    Essay 2: Contamination 1 100 100 15%
    Group Presentation  1 50 50 5%
    Group Project  1 100 100 15%
    Weekly Quizzes 15 10 150 10%
    Exams 2 50 100 20%
    Total 28 N/A 800 100%
    Letter Range (%) Letter Range (%) Letter Range (%)
    A 95 or above B 83 - 86 C 70 - 76
    A- 90 - 94 B- 80 - 82 D 60 - 69
    B+ 87 - 89 C+ 77 - 79 F 59 or less

    Course Calendar

    Weekly Schedule

    Note: Weeks are scheduled Monday - Friday. Holidays and non-weekly assignments due are bolded. This schedule is subject to change; please pay attention to class announcements in-person or online regarding any changes. 

    Week Activities

    Week 1
    ​Jan. 9 - Jan. 13

    What is Religion?


    • Jan. 9: Introductions, syllabus review, class plan
    • Jan. 11: Lecture “What is Religion” definitions


    • Read Chapter 1, pp. 1-14
    • Take Chapter 1 Quiz (due Wednesday)
    • Begin watching film “The Mission” (1986 with Robert De Niro)

    Remember to start your Religious Site Visit research early!

    Week 2
    Jan. 16 - Jan. 20

    Ways of Studying Religion


    • Jan. 16: Martin Luther King Day, no in-person session
    • Jan. 18: Lecture “Methods of Social Science Analysis”


    • Read Chapter 2, pp. 15-34
    • Take Chapter 2 Quiz (due Wednesday)
    • Finish watching film "The Mission"
    • Complete Discussion 1: “The Mission” (due Friday)
    Week 3
    Jan. 23 - Jan. 27

    The Sacred and the Holy


    • Jan. 23: Chapter 3, Sacred Power
    • Jan. 25: Lecture: "The Sacred and the Holy"


    • You will be randomly assigned to a group by Blackboard (Monday)
    • Read Chapter 3, pp. 35-52
    • Take Chapter 3 Quiz (due Wednesday)
    • Review Class Religious Studies Blog and comment (extra credit)
    Week 4 
    Jan. 30 - Feb. 3

    Sacred Symbol, Myth and Doctrine


    • Jan. 30: Lecture “Myth”; Current Events News item
    • Feb. 1: Review, discussion, Current Events News item


    • Read Chapter 4, pp. 53-73
    • Take Chapter 4 Quiz (due Wednesday)
    • Begin watching film "Luther" (2003, with Joseph Fiennes)
    • Update Group Project for #Myth
    • Essay 1: Religious Site Visit due by Friday, Feb. 3 at 11:59 pm, ET
    Week 5
    Feb. 6 - Feb. 10

    Sacred Ritual


    • Feb. 6: Group Presentation; Lecture "Ritual"
    • Feb. 8: Review, discussion, Current Events News item


    • Read Chapter 5, pp. 74-95
    • Take Chapter 5 Quiz (due Wednesday)
    • Update Group Project for #Ritual
    • Finish watching "Luther" film
    • Complete Discussion 2: “Luther” (due Friday)
    Week 6
    Feb. 13 - Feb. 17

    Sacred Scripture


    • Feb. 13: Group Presentation; Lecture "Scripture"
    • Feb. 15: Review discussion, Appiah article 


    • Read Chapter 6, pp.96-123
    • Take Chapter 6 Quiz (due Wednesday)
    • Update Group Project for #Scripture
    Week 7
    Feb. 20 - Feb. 24

    Society and the Sacred


    • Feb. 20: Group Presentation; Lecture "Society and the Sacred"
    • Feb. 24: Review, Current Events News item


    • Read Chapter 7 p. 124-150
    • Take Chapter 7 Quiz (due Wednesday)
    • Review Class Religious Studies Blog and comment (extra credit)
    • Update Group Project for #Community
    • Complete Discussion 3: "Appiah" (due Friday)
    Week 8
    Feb. 27 – March 3

    Concepts of Deity, or Ultimate Reality


    • Feb. 27: Group Presentation; Lecture “Deity”
    • Mar. 3: Review, discussion, Current Events News item


    • Read Chapter 8, pp. 151-182
    • Take Chapter 8 Quiz (due Wednesday)
    • Begin watching film "Gandhi" (1996, with Ben Kingsley)
    • Update Group Project for #Deity
    • Take Midterm Exam by Friday, March 3 at 11:59 pm, ET
    Week 9
    March 6 – March 10



    • Mar. 6: Group Presentation; Lecture “Cosmogony”
    • Mar. 8: Review, Discussion, Current Events News item


    • Read Chapter 9, pp. 183-210
    • Take Chapter 9 Quiz (due Wednesday)
    • Update Group Project for #Cosmogony
    • Finish watching film "Gandhi" 
    • Complete Discussion 4: "Gandhi" (due Friday)
    • Essay 1: Religious Site Visit REVISION due by Friday, March 10 at 11:59 pm, ET
    Week 10
    March 13 - March 17

    Spring Break. No classes. 

    Week 11
    March 20 – March 24

    The Human Problem


    • Mar. 20: Group Presentation; Current Events News item
    • Mar. 22: Review, discussion, Current Events News item


    • Read Chapter 10 pp. 211-234
    • Take Chapter 10 Quiz (due Wednesday)
    • Begin watching film “Malcolm X" (1992, with Denzel Washington)
    • Update Group Project for #Human Problem
    Week 12
    March 27 – March 31

    The Problem of Evil and Suffering


    • Mar. 27: Group Presentation; Lecture "Theodicy"  
    • Mar. 29:  Review, discussion, Current Events News item


    • Read Chapter 11 pp. 235-258
    • Take Chapter 11 Quiz (due Wednesday)
    • Update Group Project for #Theodicy
    • Finish watching film “Malcolm X" 
    • Complete Discussion 5: “Malcolm X" (due Friday)
    Week 13
    April 3 – April 7



    • Apr. 3: Group Presentation, Lecture "Ethics"
    • Apr. 5: Review, discussion, Current Events News item


    • Read Chapter 12 pp. 259-286
    • Take Chapter 12 Quiz (due Wednesday)
    • Update Group Project for #Ethics
    • Begin watching the film "Black Robe" (1991) Bruce Beresford
    • Essay 2: Contamination due by Friday, April 7 at 11:59 pm, ET.
    Week 14
    April 10 – April 14

    Salvation and Liberation


    • Apr. 10: Group Presentation; Lecture "Salvation"
    • Apr. 12: Group Presentation; Review, discussion


    • Read Chapter 13 pp. 287-338
    • Take Chapter 13 Quiz (due Wednesday)
    • Update Group Project for #Salvation and finalize 
    • Finish watching the film "Black Robe" (1991) Bruce Beresford
    • Complete Discussion 6: “Black Robe" 
    Week 15
    April 17 – April 21

    New Age and New Religious Movements; Secularization and Pluralism


    • Apr. 17: Group Presentations; Lecture "New Religious Movements"
    • Apr. 19: Group Presentations; Review discussion


    • Group Project due Monday, April 17 by 11:59 pm, ET
    • Read Chapters 14 and 15
    • Take Chapter 14 and Chapter 15 Quizzes (due Wednesday)
    • Review all quizzes for Final Exam
    • All Extra-Credit assignments due on Friday, April 21 by 11:59 pm, ET.
    Week 16
    April 24 – April 28

    Final Exam Week


    • Take Final Exam by Tuesday, April 25 at 11:59 pm, ET.