1. Contact Information
  2. Prerequisites
  3. Course Description and Credit Hours
  4. Required Texts
  5. Course Objectives
  6. Student Learning Outcomes
  7. Other Course Materials
  8. Outline Of Topics
  9. Exams and Assignments
  10. Grading Policy
  11. Policy on Missed Exams and Coursework
  12. Attendance Policy
  13. Custom Sections
  14. Statements on Academic Misconduct
  15. Statement On Disability Accommodations
  16. Severe Weather Protocol
  17. Pregnant Student Accommodations
  18. Religious Observances
  19. UAct Statement

Intro To Religious Studies

REL 100-002Spring 2017 | 3 Credit Hours


Dr. Russell McCutcheon

Contact Information

UA Campus Directory:


UA Course Catalog Prerequisites:

No prereqs found

Course Description

Course Description and Credit Hours

Various methodological approaches to the academic study of religion, with examples of religious life and thought drawn from a variety of cultures. This course is required of all majors and minors.


As a general introduction to the academic study of religion, this section of REL 100 focuses on studying how we define religion and—more importantly, perhaps—the practical effects of those definitions. The course, then, is on the practical implications of classification, using the common act of calling something religious as our way into this complicated topic. Our goal is therefore to consider whether classification may be about the classifier as much as the thing being classified. To prepare, we will survey some classic issues in the academic study of religion—e.g., identifying an essentialist, functionalist, and family resemblance approach to definition, as well as familiarizing ourselves with various classical theories and theorists of religion. We will then apply these skills to the analysis of two U.S. Supreme Court decisions whose outcomes depended on how the Justices defined something as religion. The course concludes not with a final exam but, instead, with a group project in which students must identify and then analyze a contemporary example of their own, found in the news (whether in or outside of the U.S.) where the practical effects of defining some claim, action, or group as religious can be made evident if read using the critical tools acquired in the course.

 As a Core Curriculum Humanities course, REL 100’s goals are therefore for all students to learn about issues involved in attempts to define, accurately describe, and compare in a non-evaluative manner so as to find what they think to be significant similarities and differences among forms of observable human behavior. And, although focusing on what’s involved in designating some human action or institution as religious, the course’s focus on classification and comparison can be applied to a variety of other human actions and institutions.

Required Texts

Required Texts from UA Supply Store:

Course Objectives

Among this course’s many objectives are the following goals:

1. To learn to identify/distinguish between essentialist, functionalist, and family resemblance definitions

2. To learn to identify/distinguish between theological & anthropocentric approaches to religion

3. To learn to identify/distinguish between an emic and an etic viewpoint.

4. To learn to define key concepts and identify scholars relevant to the academic study of religion

Student Learning Outcomes

Among this course’s many objectives are the following goals:

1. To learn to identify/distinguish between essentialist, functionalist, and family resemblance definitions

2. To learn to identify/distinguish between theological & anthropocentric approaches to religion

3. To learn to identify/distinguish between an emic and an etic viewpoint.

4. To learn to define key concepts and identify scholars relevant to the academic study of religion

Other Course Materials


The course website (not the Blackboard site) contains links either to online readings or PDFs that may be required along with the course books. The schedule below provides a list of the readings that you will be responsible for on any given day. Doing all of your assigned readings in advance of class is important because our lectures and discussions all presume that you have the necessary background knowledge provided by these readings. This course presupposes that you have come to class ready both to acquire new information and also discuss (and thereby reinforce) the information that you have already acquired by doing your preparation. The integration of the new and unfamiliar, on the one hand, with, on the other, the familiar is what this course defines as learning.

Outline of Topics


Th Jan 12              Introduction to the Course

T Jan 17                Definition as Social Engineering (Studying Religion: Introduction)

Th Jan 19              Studying Religion 1: Hills & Mountains

T Jan 24                Studying Religion 1: Soil & Dirt

Th Jan 26              Studying Religion 2

T Jan 31                Studying Religion 2

Th Feb 2               Test 1

T Feb 7                  Studying Religion 3 (Plato’s Euthyphro [link on course website])

Th Feb 9               Studying Religion 3

T Feb 14               Studying Religion 4

Th Feb 16             Studying Religion 4

T Feb 21               Test 2

Th Feb 23             Studying Religion 5

T Feb 28               Studying Religion 5

Th Mar 2              Studying Religion 6

T Mar 7                 Studying Religion 6

Th Mar 9              Test 3

T Mar 14               Spring Break

Th Mar 16            Spring Break

T Mar 21               Studying Religion 7

Th Mar 23            Studying Religion 7

T Mar 28               Studying Religion 8

Th Mar 30            Studying Religion 8

T Apr 4                 Test 4

Th Apr 6               Religion & the US Courts: Introduction

T Apr 11                Religion & the US Courts: Case 1

Th Apr 13             Religion & the US Courts: Case 2

T Apr 18                Group Projects: Introduction

Th Apr 20             Work in class on Group Projects

T Apr 25                Work in class on Group Projects

Th Apr 27             Q&A on Group Projects

No Final Exam

Final Group Projects Due: Monday, May 1 by noon at Manly 212 (REL main office) in Prof. McCutcheon’s mail box or submitted to him directly at MA 211

Exams and Assignments


1. Regular attendance and adequate preparation for each day’s readings are expected and required to do well in this course. See the schedule, below, for each day’s readings.


2. There will be four equally weighted tests (each devoted to two chapters of our course book) that focus mainly on the bolded technical terms and scholars who appear in each chapter; bolded technical terms are defined in the book’s Glossary and scholars who are named in the chapters are discussed in greater length in the list of scholars at the back of the book. Content from class that is relevant to these technical terms and scholars is also testable material. Each test is worth 15% of your course grade for a total of 60% of your overall course grade.


3. There will be a total of 10 unannounced pop quizzes in this course, with at least one per chapter of the course book. They will each require you to answer a basic question on the chapter’s content as evidence of your preparation for that class. They are each worth 2 points (partial points will be possible to earn) for a total of 20% of your course grade. These quiz points add up so please take them seriously.

4. There is no final exam in this course; instead, a final group project is worth 20% of your course grade. By Th Apr 6 students must form groups of no more than 4 people—these groups will work together for the last two units of the course. Although more information will be distributed concerning this final assignment, it will involve each group finding and analyzing a contemporary example of the practical implications of defining religion. The final written version of the assignment will be due by noon on Mon May 1 at Manly 212. This final assignment must be neatly typed, stapled, have a title page (with all group members’ names in alphabetical order [by surname]), a print-out of the story to be examined, a description of the datum, and then the group’s analysis (applying skills acquired in class). The submitted assignment must be double-spaced and typed (12 point Times New Roman font, one inch margins).


There are 5 films, shown as part of REL 360 (see the course website here, for dates/times/locations: https://religion.ua.edu/rel360film.html); students in REL 100.002 are welcome at these evening films, attending both the movie and discussion afterward (led by an REL professor). In the class immediately following each of these films you must submit a one page, double-spaced, description of the discussion that followed the film for a possible total of 1 extra points in our course. There will also be an opportunity for extra credit on March 21 at 7:00pm in the Ferguson Center 3104, when we offer our annual Aronov Lecture. Finally, our Dept. is celebrating its 50th anniversary this semester, and those events (one on Mar 28 [2 pm] and two on Mar 29 [9 am-noon and 6 pm]) will constitute another opportunity. More information on these events will be provided later in the semester.

Grading Policy


                                A+          95-100%                               C             70-74

                                A             90-94                                     D+          65-69

                                B+           85-89                                     D             60-64

                                B             80-84                                     D-           50-59

                                C+           75-79                                     F              below 50

Policy on Missed Exams and Coursework


If you miss a quiz or a test, you must contact the professor immediately to explain your absence and, for example, provide a Dr’s note to document the reason for the absence; only absences deemed legitimate by the professor will be allowed. Make-up tests are not an option in this course; instead, for test absences that the professor deems legitimate, the portion of the grade dedicated to the missed test will be completely transferred to the next test. Failing to participate in the final group project for a reason deemed legitimate by the professor will result in that portion of the grade being evenly divided among all previous course work (i.e., not just the test portion of the course grade).

Attendance Policy

Custom Title

Regular attendance and adequate preparation for each day’s readings are expected and required to do well in this course. See the schedule for each day’s readings.

Custom Title

Statement on Academic Misconduct

Students are expected to be familiar with and adhere to the official Code of Academic Conduct provided in the Online Catalog.

Statement On Disability Accommodations

Contact the Office of Disability Services (ODS) as detailed in the Online Catalog.

Severe Weather Protocol

Please see the latest Severe Weather Guidelines in the Online Catalog.

Pregnant Student Accommodations

Title IX protects against discrimination related to pregnancy or parental status. If you are pregnant and will need accommodations for this class, please review the University’s FAQs on the UAct website.

Religious Observances

Under the Guidelines for Religious Holiday Observances, students should notify the instructor in writing or via email during the first two weeks of the semester of their intention to be absent from class for religious observance. The instructor will work to provide reasonable opportunity to complete academic responsibilities as long as that does not interfere with the academic integrity of the course. See full guidelines at Religious Holiday Observances Guidelines.

UAct Statement

The UAct website provides an overview of The University's expectations regarding respect and civility.