Religious Studies | Studies in Religion: Chinese Religions through Stories
R300 | 3643 | Robert Campany


We often imagine the core of a religion to be a short list of
doctrines or beliefs.  But, in fact, stories are one very important
way in which people make sense of their world, their lives,
themselves and others.  If all we knew of an unfamiliar religion or
culture were its stories, we would know a great deal.  Human
communities have always construed their place in the universe and
their relationships with higher powers through stories.  The
narratives a religious tradition has created and passed down offer
unparalleled glimpses of the complex ways of thinking, assumptions,
values, and goals that lie at its center.  And encountering an
unfamiliar religionís stories is a relatively accessible path of
entry into the world as imagined and lived by that religion, in part
because narrative is such a fundamental and cross-culturally shared
form of discourse.

This new course explores various aspects of Chinese religions by
examining a wide variety of types of stories.  Simultaneously, the
course also treats more general questions such as the role of
narrative in religious life; the nature and workings of narrative;
how religious narratives are made, transmitted, received, and
understood; and the relationship between narrative thought and other
modes of thought.

Our primary reading materials will consist of Chinese stories in
clear, accurate translation.  Story types covered will comprise
myths, including stories about the origins of things (from the cosmos
to social institutions and customs); legends of miracles and marvels;
hagiographies or stories of remarkable persons; scriptural narratives
of several kinds; parables; biography; autobiography (including the
autobiographies of gods); travel and pilgrimage narratives; stories
of encounters with spirit-beings and of visionary experiences and
trips to the afterlife and back; and historical narratives.  All
major Chinese religious traditions and most historical periods will
be at least touched on, and stories will be drawn from Taoist,
Buddhist, Confucian, and popular religious texts.  There are no
prerequisites and no prior knowledge or background in the subject is
presumed.  Requirements will include a series of short papers.