Language and Religion:

Topics Course:  E103 (Section #15546)
  February 19, 2007

Link to Oncourse
Click on `IUB' and enter login and password.

Instructor: Prof. Robert F. Port  Office hours:  Mon 2-4

Assistant Instructor: Mark VanDam

Course Goals:

1. To examine ways in which religion and language influence each other: specialized speech styles (chant, prayer, speaking in tongues, etc),

2. Study the influence of literacy and writing on sacred texts and the resulting problems of translation.

3. Learn various ways religions use language to implement religious ideals.

4. Learn something about unfamiliar religious, although studying the beliefs of specific religions is a secondary goal.

General Procedures

1.  A midterm exam and a final exam.

2.  Five (5) brief unannounced quizes will be given in lecture.
3. There will be 5 graded homeworks.  

4.  Students will write a report about a religion they are not familiar with.  Details coming soon.
5. This syllabus will be updated on the course webpage regularly.  Keep checking it.

Other Basic Information


Week 1. (Jan 8, 10)   What is a Religion? The case of Shinto

Read:  Burke, 1-12.
Overview of topics

How can we talk about religion in class?

What is a religion?   Do they all share a common purpose?
Read on the web (required):

Shinto page at `'. A nice quick summary of many features. (about 5 pages)

Port’s lecture notes on Shinto.

  Further recommended reading:  Shinto from Wikipedia.
          Lecture Slides
Week 2. (Jan 15, 17) What is language? How do they work?

              Read:  Design Features of Language  (by Port revised from C. Hockett)  

            Listen to Abbot and Costello's `Who's on First?'This comedy skit reminds us how ambiguous language is and should make you think about how amazing it is that we can somehow use this system for reliable communication.

                  Lecture Slides

Week 3.  (Jan 22-MLKday- 24)  Writing

 Excerpts from Walter Ong’s `Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word’ (1982)

 History of Writing - notes by RP

Homework 1.  A couple problems involving writing.     
Lecture Slides

Week 4.  (Jan 29, 31)  Hinduism

        Read Burke, Chapter 1, Hinduism, pp. 15-38 and  Bhagavad Gita excerpts, pp. 51-60.      

Recommended additional material.

Week 5. (Feb 5, 7)  Indo-European Language Family and Oral  `literature'

Read Why do languages change? Edited
Read Reconstructing the Proto-Indoeuropean language (or PIE) Edited

Chart of Indo-European language family: simple,  more detail  Neither chart shows Sanskrit on the Indic branch.

Week 6. (Feb 12, 14) Buddhism in General and in Tibet.

Week 7  (Feb 19, 21) Confucianism
        First Midterm Exam Wednesday -
covers through week 5 (not Buddhism or Confucianism)

Read:  Burke  Chapter 4, pp. 121-140 (Confucianism) and Confucian texts, pp. 143-154


Week 8   (Feb 26, 28)  Taoism, Zen Buddhism and Language

             Read: Burke, Chapter 5 (156-171) and 6 (Chinese and Zen Buddhism) pp 189-200.

  Linguistic distortion of reality: Defending Zen on language (by R. Port)

  A page of Koans   (by R. Port)

Zen approach to swordplay   (A couple paragraphs from D. T. Suzuki `Zen and Japanese Culture', 1952


Week 9   (March 5, 7)   Islam and Arabic Language

Required readings:  Burke chapter 8, pp. 265-285

        Introduction to Islam. (a website at, Parts 1 and Part 2.

        Sufi Poetry
Reading on Arabic language from Wikipedia. Read `Varieties of Arabic'

Homework on Islam, due March 10.

Recommended: For information on the population size and growth of major world religious movements, see:

Spring Break (March 12, 13)

Week 10  (March 19, 20)  Judaism

Required readings:  Burke  Chapt 7. pp 213-241.  


 Week 11  (March 26, 28) Christianity Sketch
: Burke: chapter 9,  312-341

Week 12-13 (April 2, 4, 9, 11) Protestantism and the `Great Awakening’ in America
       Read:  Article about The Great Awakening

Week 14
-15   (April 16, 18, 23, 25) Translation of Sacred Texts


    A Virginia Baptist Church and Pastor John Sherfey    by Jeff Todd Titon (excerpts)

Port's Notes on Protestant preaching and religious services

 Revised Standard Version:  Acts 2 and Mark 16 (especially the last few verses, 11-20)
A Pentacostal Revival  by Jeff Todd Titon  (excerpts)

Comparing Bible translations.
Port's notes "The Problem of Translation
Zondervan Bibles, Inc: Scale of Literalness of Translation.
Homework about translation
Final Homework on Instinct due before the end of the week.

Recommended: These readings are part of a collection of good essays on Bible translation by Scott Munger.
   Read Sections 5.0-5.4 (in 5 successive web pages)
Another good reading is by Herbert Wolf: `When literal is not accurate'.

RFP . Copyright Indiana University.