Introducing World Religions:
The eBook

Introducing World Religions Online:
Study Questions

This area contains "Study Questions"that are designed to help students review chapter materials in preparation for exams and discussions. Questions are provided for each textbook chapter except the last.


  1. Chapter 1: Approaching religious traditions
    1. What is the insider-outsider challenge?
    2. Distinguish between the religionist and the reductionist approaches to the study of religions.
    3. Name and define five main concepts developed by religionists to do research in the phenomenology of religion. Include concepts of Rudolph Otto, Gerardus van der Leeuw and Mircea Eliade.
    4. Name the three ways religion function in society. How do religions change their role in society over time?
    5. Name three cultural roots of the modern study of religions. What did some of the European Enlightenment thinkers contribute to the Western way of studying religions?
    6. Summarize the attitudes and oversights that contributed to the "erasure" of people from consideration in the study of world religions.
    7. List the four types of "players," three types of "religious texture" in world religions, and state what distinguishes them from one another. Then name the "ten elements of performance" and think about their relation to each other.
  2. Chapter 2: Expressive traditions of Oceania, America and Africa
    1. Name two culturally significant ways in which the indigenous peoples of Oceania, America and Africa are alike. How would you expect them to differ?
    2. Who held significant powers on the world stage in 1500 CE? How did Europe manage to "dominate much of the rest of the earth," according to historian Paul Kennedy's assessment?
    3. Describe religious practices found among the indigenous Oceanic peoples of Papua New Guinea, Australia and New Zealand.
    4. Name four obstacles to understanding oral cultures faced by the student of world religions. How might a student of world religions deal with the problems created by these obstacles?
    5. Describe religious practices found among of the Sioux and Navajo Native American Nations.
    6. Name some issues faced by indigenous peoples in the midst of defining their identities following the period of European colonialism.
    7. Describe religious practices found among indigenous West African peoples. Describe some New World developments of Yoruba-based West African traditions.
  3. Chapter 3: Zoroastrian tradition
    1. Name the two worlds fashioned by Ahura Mazda, and discuss the relationship between them.
    2. Who are the cosmic twins, and their helpers? What is the relationship of these entities to human beings and to the natural world?
    3. When did Zarathushtra live? (Discuss alternative views of Zarathushtra's dates.) What stories are told about his life?
    4. Trace the development of the Zoroastrian religion in the Achaemenid, Parthian and Sassanid eras (between 550 BCE and 651 CE)? What happened to the Zoroastrian community after that 1000-year period ended?
    5. What core values are set forth in Zoroastrian teachings? How are these tied into the Zoroastrian conception of divinity and the world year?
    6. What is the meaning of fire in the Zoroastrian religion? What types of fire are used in Zoroastrian ritual?
    7. What happens after death to a Zoroastrian -- in this world, in the next world, and ultimately?
  4. Chapter 4: Judaic tradition
    1. Who are the patriarchs and matriarchs of the people of Israel? What are their stories and contributions to the Hebrew tradition?
    2. Who are the three types of leaders in ancient Israelite tradition? What were their functions?
    3. List the three temples that were built in Jerusalem. Give the dates and circumstances of their construction and discontinuance of use.
    4. Name some historical and cultural facts about the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah. How do their histories differ? What is common to their histories?
    5. What is the relationship between Pharisees of the Hellenistic era and the later rabbinical tradition in Judaism?
    6. What was the plight of Jews during the Middle Ages in Europe? How did they respond?
    7. Name three major Jewish mystics, and outline their views of life.
    8. Name and define the various key texts of Judaic tradition: Tanakh (Torah, Nevi'im, Ketuvim), Talmud (Mishnah, Gemara'), Midrash. What is the difference between halachah and aggadah?
    9. Name the major components of Jewish ritual life.
  5. Chapter 5: Christian tradition
    1. What events of Jesus's life and teaching made him into a successful religious leader?
    2. What factors contributed to Christianity becoming a separate religion from Judaism?
    3. What turning points in the history of Christianity occurred in the 4th, 11th, and 16th centuries?
    4. What new ideas prompted the separation of Protestant Christians from Roman Catholic Church? What new ideas does the Woman's Bible bring up?
    5. What options for religious practice opened up for Christians from the time of Jesus through the Middle Ages? Were the roles of men and women the same?
    6. What ideas never made it into the official Christian canon? (Think about the Nag Hammadi library, as well as heretics such as Bishop Arius.)
    7. What are the main ideas behind icon painting? Why is this form of art so important to the Christian Orthodox churches?
  6. Chapter 6: Islamic tradition
    1. Name some prophets in the Muslim tradition, and state why they are so important to Islam. What is special about Prophet Muḥammad?
    2. What happened in the 100 years after Prophet Muḥammad passed away? How did the Islamic tradition change? In what ways did it stay the same?
    3. Who are Ṣūfīs, and what are some of their major concerns as opposed to Muslim philosophers or theologians?
    4. What have been some Muslim concerns after European colonialism? What have been some Muslim responses to religious life in the post-colonial period?
    5. What are the Qur'ān and ḥadīth? Why are they important to Muslims?
    6. What are the Six Articles of Faith in Islam? How do they work to reinforce each other?
    7. Describe the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca (the ḥajj).  Pay attention to some of the symbolism involved in this pillar of Islam.
  7. Chapter 7: Bahá’í tradition
    1. Describe the role of God's Manifestations in this world.
    2. What was the historical relationship between the Bábí Faith and the Bahá’í Faith?
    3. Describe the Bahá’í mystical path according to Bahá’u’lláh's teaching on the "four valleys."
    4. What is the Bahá’í attitude toward other world religions? (Account for the concept of "progressive revelation" in your answer.)
    5. What are the key Bahá’í teachings that relate to unity?
    6. What is the Bahá’í understanding of history? What is the role of the Bahá’í community in the course of history?
    7. Name five key figures in Bahá’í history and note their contributions.
  8. Chapter 8: Jain tradition
    1. Which Jain tīrthaṇkaras are known to be historical persons? When and where did they live?
    2. What is the relationship between jīva and karma in Jain thought?
    3. What is kevala-jñāna, and what happens when a person attains it?
    4. What cultural conditions were developing in India's Ganges basin during the 6th century BCE?
    5. What distinguishes Digambara Jains from Śvetāmbara Jains? Why did the Sthānakavāsi and Terāpanthī sects splinter off from the Śvetāmbaras?
    6. Why does one need to consider the meaning of divya-dhvani to understand the role of scripture in the Jain religion?
    7. What is involved in the Jain ritual of holy death (saṃlekhanā)?
  9. Chapter 9: Buddhist tradition
    1. List the various kinds of imaginal and exceptional players according to whether they are more involved in Nikāya (Theravāda) or Mahāyāna Buddhist tradition.
    2. Distinguish mythic, historical, and philosophical elements in the story of Buddha's life. Why do you think the Buddhist tradition mixes these?
    3. Name several historical persons, and state their contribution to the development of the Buddhist ideas and practices.
    4. What are the basic teachings of Buddha-dharma? (Hint: See the Four Great Facts with the Noble Eightfold Path, and the six perfections.)
    5. Describe the realms of saṃsāra according to Buddhist cosmology. What is the relationship between mental states of meditation and places that exist?
    6. Identify some styles of meditation that developed in Buddhist tradition.
    7. Contrast the life and aspirations of Buddhist monks and nuns with those of lay people such as villagers in Thailand.
  10. Chapter 10: Hindu tradition
    1. Distinguish between the early Vedic and the later Hindu concepts of the universal principle, and the deities.
    2. Define these terms: ṛṣi, brāhmaṇa, śramaṇa, and bhakta. What is the difference between a Śākta, a Vaiṣṇava, and a Śaiva in terms of their object of worship?
    3. Describe the main teachings of these two classical Hindu darśanas: Yoga and Vedānta. What new sense did the term darśana take on in the Hindu bhakti movement?
    4. Name three developments of Indian culture that were associated with the emergence of the Hindu religion from the older Vedic tradition. (Hint: These have to do with ritual, art, and architecture.)
    5. Name some prominent figures who helped develop Hindu devotional theism (bhakti). Name other prominent figures who responded to India's encounter with the west (social activists and gurus).
    6. Distinguish between śruti and smṛti in Hindu religious literature. Name some major texts from each category.
    7. Name several ways of going on inner and outer "pilgrimage" in Hindu tradition. What different methods do Hindus use to encounter the divine?
  11. Chapter 11: Sikh tradition
    1. How do Sikhs describe the divine?
    2. Name the Ten Gurus along with one or two main contributions of each.
    3. Why were Gurūs Arjan Dev and Tegh Bahādur killed?
    4. Name three main developments in Sikh history during the three hundred years after the death of Guru Gobind Singh.
    5. List the key Sikh teachings.
    6. What is the role of women in the Sikh tradition?
    7. Name and describe the three main ways that Sikhs remember God's Name.
  12. Chapter 12: Chinese traditions
    1. What was the Mandate of Heaven, and under what circumstances did the concept of a mandate develop?
    2. Define these five key Confucian notions: cultural patterns (wen), filial piety (xiao), the genuine human (jun-zi), ritual propriety (li), Heaven (Tian), benevolence (ren), and the five social relationships.
    3. Name the Five Classics and Four Books of the Confucian tradition. Describe their contents.
    4. Define the three Daoist concepts as used in the Dao de jing and the Zhuang-zi: Dao, De, and wu-wei. Note how they were applied in the martial art of Tai-ji quan.
    5. Compare the writings of Mencius and Xun-zi. Why were Confucians reluctant to consider Xun-zi a true Confucian?
    6. Name the cultural progress made during the Qin and Han dynasties. Contrast their official ideologies.
    7. Describe the symbolism of the Book of Changes in terms of agricultural imagery, harmony and balance.
  13. Chapter 13: Shinto tradition
    1. Define the term "kami" and name two types of kami recognized in the Japanese Shinto tradition. Review stories about the kami given in the Kojiki and Nihongi.
    2. Describe the religious life of the early Japanese people and reflect on connections between early forms of worship and religious practice today.
    3. What impact did the import of Chinese civilization (sometimes through Korea) have on Japanese religious and political life? When were the periods of most intensive contact between Japan and China?
    4. Name two Japanese contributions to world literature, and identify a couple of great authors. (Hint: Think of the novel and haiku.)
    5. Define kokutai and kokugaku. What was their impact of on life and thought in Japan in the century or so prior to World War II?
    6. Describe the rise of the New Religions in Japan, with specific reference to the origins and beliefs of Tenrikyo.
    7. Describe Shinto ethics and practices today in terms of: (1) the importance of makoto, (2) removal of impurities, and (3) maintaining communion with the kami.

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