Language and Religion:

Topics Course:  E103 (Section #23061)
  February 28, 2006

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

Instructor: Prof. Robert F. Port

<>Assistant Instructor: Josh Herring,
  Josh's Discussion Section Page

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.  Two midterms Mon, February 13  and Mon, March 27 and a final exam.

2.  A brief quiz will be taken about once a week (total 5)
3. There will be 5 graded homeworks.  Be prepared to discuss readings in class. All students will participate in discussions.

4.  There will be short term paper discussing some religion that is novel for you.
5. This syllabus will be updated on the course webpage from time to time.  Keep checking it.

Other Basic Information


Week 1 .  A.  What is a Religion? The case of Shinto.

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:

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

Port’s lecture notes on Shinto.

  Further recommended reading:  What is Shinto? from the Shinto Online Network Association.
Week 2.  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.


Week 3.  Oral `literature’ and 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.      

           Josh Herring's Discussion Section Page

Week 4.    Hinduism

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

Recommended additional material.

Week 5  Indo-European Language Family

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

Chart of Indo-European language family: simple,  more detail  Neither chart shows Sanskrit on the Indic branch.
Homework 3.  Read some of the Bhagavad Gita and answer questions.

Week 6.  Buddhism in General and in Tibet.

Week 7  Confucianism and Taoism

Read:  Burke  Chapter 4-5, pp. 121-140 (Confucianism) and pp 156-171.


Week 8   Zen Buddhism and Language

             Read: Burke, Chapter 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     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:

Week 10   Judaism

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


 Week 11-12  Christianity Sketch and the `Great Awakening’ in America
: Burke: chapter 9,  312-341

Week 13-14    Translation of Sacred Texts, Review


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.