Religious Studies | Chinese Religions Through Stories
R300 | 3778 | 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 religion's 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.