Inq 110: Who or What is God?

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INQ 110: Who or What is God?

Roanoke College, Fall 2014

Block 3, 10:50-11:50 a.m., MWF, 111 West

Block 5, 1:10-2:10, MWF, 22 West
Professor: Holly Jordan Email:

Office: 303 West Office Hours: Block 6 (2:20-3:20 MWF)

and by appointment

Course Description

In this course, we will use the course title, “Who or What is God?” as a starting point to investigate a range of different components of humanity’s encounter with God, including, but not limited to, the idea of the divine/Ultimate Reality. To answer these questions we will concentrate on three major religious traditions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. This will allow us to limit the scope of our study and explore questions in depth. We will explore these questions through primary texts, films, and one novel.

One of the primary purposes of this course is to develop your writing. We will focus on the writing process as a tool for critical thinking. We will write in a variety of ways, focusing on the writing process and drafting.
Course Objectives

By the end of this course, students will be able to:

  • Identify important concepts related to the topic of Who or What is God?;

  • Critically analyze and compare the ways in which the Abrahamic traditions respond to these concepts;

  • Read, discuss, and write about college-level academic texts and ideas;

  • Use a process of drafting to write papers that have clear theses, cogent argumentation, proper use of evidence, effective organization, and a minimum of sentence-level errors; and

  • Use library and other resources to find, evaluate, and synthesize information from multiple sources and use this information in support of a research question.

Required Readings

  • Textbook: World Religions, Western Traditions 4th edition by Willard G. Oxtoby, Amir Hussain, and Roy C. Amore. ISBN-13: 978-0199002870, Oxford University Press, March 2014.

  • The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood.  ISBN-10: 0307455475, ISBN-13: 978-0307455475; Anchor; Reprint Edition, July 27, 2010.

  • A Writer’s Reference, Roanoke College Edition by Diana Hacker and Nancy Sommers. New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2012.

  • Additional readings posted on Inquire

  • Note: Students must bring that day’s reading to class in either print or digital format. Failure to do so will result in a half-absence (students get one “freebie” on this requirement).

Recommended Readings

Students must have access to a scholarly translation of the Qur’an and the Bible. The King James version is not appropriate for this class. If you are unclear if your edition would be appropriate, please bring it to me.

  • The Qur'an by M.A.S. Abdel Haleem (trans.).  ISBN-10: 0199535957, ISBN-13: 978-0199535958; Oxford University Press; Reissue edition, June 15, 2008)

  • The New Oxford Annotated Bible with Apocrypha: New Revised Standard Version (Hardback).  ISBN-10: 0195289552, ISBN-13: 978-0195289558; Oxford University Press; 4th edition, March 19, 2010.


Come to class. Come to class prepared. If for some reason, you are not prepared that day, still come to class. You are paying for this degree. Come to class.

Obviously, only a select few of you will have perfect attendance in this course. If you are absent, you still must complete any work due that day. This includes any work to be submitted online. You will be allowed three unexcused absences this semester (I don’t feel like it/It’s too pretty outside/I just want to eat sleep/etc. days). Use them wisely. More than three will affect your participation grade.
Legitimate situations may arise during the semester that keep you from class (illness, family death, religious holiday, etc.). If you plan to be absent for a session, please notify me via email before that session. If you are unable to attend class unexpectedly, please notify me before the next class session with the reason for your absence. Absences ultimately will only be considered “excused” if proper documentation (doctor’s note, etc.) is provided within a week of the absence. Please note that every three times you are late to class will count as one absence. Absences are factored into the Participation grade.
Course Policies and Resources
Academic Integrity

The integrity of the classes offered by any academic institution solidifies the foundation of its mission and cannot be sacrificed to expediency, ignorance, or blatant fraud. Therefore, I will enforce rigorous standards of academic integrity in all aspects and assignments of this course. For the detailed policy of Roanoke College, regarding the definitions of acts considered to fall under academic dishonesty and possible ensuing sanctions, see Academic Integrity at Roanoke College ( Should you have any questions about possibly improper research citations or references, or any other activity that may be interpreted as an attempt at academic dishonest, please see me before the assignment is due to discussion the matter.

During class and at observation visits, collaboration is highly encouraged. Please note, though, that all work must be completed individually. For group projects, students will be required to submit a document explaining their involvement in the project.
Communication with Professor:

Students should contact me at with any questions or concerns they have. It is the instructor’s goal to have all written work graded within 10 days of submission. If you are concerned that I have not graded something of yours after this 10-day period, please feel free to email me. My goal is to respond to your emails within 48 hours of them being sent.

Disability Support Services

  • The Office of Disability Support Services, located in the Goode-Pasfield Center for Learning and Teaching in Fintel Library, provides reasonable accommodations to students with identified disabilities. Reasonable accommodations are provided based on the diagnosed disability and the recommendations of the professional evaluator. In order to be considered for disability services, students must identify themselves to the Office of Disability Support Services. Students requesting accommodations are required to provide specific current documentation of their disabilities. Please contact Rick Robers, M.A., Coordinator of Disability Support Services, at 540-375-2247 or e-mail

  • If you are on record with the College’s Office of Disability Support Services as having academic or physical needs requiring accommodations, please schedule an appointment with Mr. Robers as soon as possible.  You need to discuss your accommodations with him before they can be implemented.  Also, please note that arrangements for extended time on exams, testing, and quizzes in a distraction-reduced environment must be made at least one week before every exam.

  • For more information, visit

The Writing Center

The Writing Center at Roanoke College, located on the Lower Level of Fintel Library, offers writing tutorials focused on written and oral communication for students working on writing assignments/projects in any field.  Writers at all levels of competence may visit the Writing Center at any point in their process, from brainstorming to drafting to editing, to talk with trained peer tutors in informal, one-on-one sessions.  The Writing Center is open Sunday through Thursday from 4 to 9 pm.  Simply stop in, or schedule an appointment by going to, where our schedule of writing workshops and creative writing playshops is also posted.  Be sure to bring a copy of the assignment and the syllabus with you. Questions?  Email or call 375-4949. For more information, visit

Course Structure and Rules of Conduct

The structure of our classes will change from session to session. Some days will rely more on lecture; others will be student-led. As this is a class happening in real time, a day’s scheduled events may change if there is an item in the news worth bringing to the table.

As unstructured as this sounds, I do have a few rules. First, just be the adults you are. I expect everyone to treat both the material and each other with respect. Religious tolerance is expected from each student. At no time will you be required to discuss your personal religious beliefs in class, but if you do, assume that you will be treated with courtesy.
Second, use whatever technology you need to do well in this class (computers, tablets, etc.), even if that means quickly looking up a word in your phone’s dictionary. That being said, use your technology wisely. If something your doing with your tech is distracting to me or someone else, we may need to have a talk. At minimum, I reserve the right to tell you to close it/turn it off immediately.
Third, bring whatever else you need to do well in this class. Yes, that includes coffee and snacks. Just don’t bring anything terribly disruptive to other students (food requiring silverware, loud wrappers, anything that smells like a chicken biscuit). Feel free to bring enough to share with everyone.
Finally, check your email often. Set Inquire up to forward messages to your email if you are not good at checking Inquire often. Check your email before class daily to make sure there have not been last-minute handouts or articles sent out (or cancellations due to weather—I live in Blacksburg).
Assignment Requirements:

Students must complete the readings for the course in the order they appear and on time. Due dates for readings assignments will be posted at the end of this document and in the calendar tool of the website. Students shall at all times turn in their own work.

All assignments must be turned in Microsoft Word (.doc/.docx) or Rich Text (.rtf) format. No other file formats will be accepted. All assignments must be written following proper spelling and grammar and must be free of Internet-speak. Students who do not own an office suite are encouraged to download LibreOffice, a free open-source alternative to MS Office or iWork:
Students should strive to complete all work on time. Work that is not handed in on time will lose 10% of their grade on the assignment for every day it is late. Exceptions can be made to this policy if requests are made prior to the scheduled date and time of an assignment, quiz, or test.
At all times, I will endeavor to have assignments graded within one week of submission. If this changes, I will inform students of delays as soon as is possible.

Grades for this course are on a percentage system. At the end of the semester, the student’s grade will be given as a percentage, based on the points earned out of all possible points. The types of graded work in this course include:

Attendance/Participation 20%

Quizzes 15%

Autoethnography 5%

Observation Papers 20%

Three Research Papers 30%

Final Conversation/Report 10%

Attendance/Participation – See Attendance Policy beginning on page 1. First, students should email me by midnight each day before class with a question to be answered in class each day (based on that night’s readings). Second, students are expected to participate in class daily. This involves bringing that day’s assigned reading to class (in print or digital format) as well as being actively engaged in learning (being engaged and thoughtful listeners, contributing to class conversation, etc.). Exceptional students will bring material to the conversation not necessarily assigned. Attendance and participation will be graded on the following 1-3 scale:

  • 1 – Student emailed the professor a question/topic of discussion from the reading.

  • 2 – Student emailed the professor a question/topic of discussion from the reading and came to class (rear in chair only).

  • 3 – Student emailed the professor a question/topic of discussion from the reading, came to class, and participated in class discussion.

Quizzes – There will be one quiz covering each religion, totaling three quizzes. Quizzes will consist of multiple choice, true/false, matching, and short answer (on some) questions and one essay. Each quiz will open the day a religion begins and must be completed approximately one week after each religion has been started. Students will complete quiz on Inquire on their own time and will have 60 minutes to complete each quiz. Study guides will be provided for each quiz on Inquire. Quizzes are due by midnight on Inquire on the following dates: September 12 (Judaism), October 10 (Christianity), and November 14 (Islam).
Publisher study guides and practice quizzes can be found here:
Autoethnography – Students will complete an autoethnography (at minimum, 4 full pages, double spaced, 12-point Calibri, 1’ margins) by Friday, September 5. An autoethnography is “a form of self-reflection and writing that explores the researcher's personal experiences and connects this autobiographical story to a wider cultural-political-and social meanings and understandings” (Collins English Dictionary). For this assignment, students will complete a self-reflection on their religious lives (or lack thereof), placing it in the context of both their non-religious personal beliefs and day-to-day lives. Students will use their “This I Believe” essays from their Summer Assignment as the beginning point of this project. See Inquire for more details about the nuts and bolts of this assignment. The autoethnography is due by midnight on Inquire on September 5.
Observation Papers – Students will attend two religious services outside of their own religious tradition and write an observation paper (3-4-pages, double spaced, 12-point Calibri, 1’ margins) on each experience. In addition to describing their experience, students will be required to relate their observations to course texts. I will provide instructions on how to structure the observation paper as well as a sample observation paper. Observation papers will be submitted on Inquire.

  • The first observation paper is due on Wednesday, October 29.

  • The second observation paper is due on Monday, November 24.

Three Research Papers – Students will turn in a 6-8 page scholarly analysis paper after we finish studying each religion. Students will pick from predetermined topics or have the opportunity to choose their own topic in conjunction with me. Details (length, format, etc.) are available on Inquire. Papers are due at midnight on Inquire on the dates listed. A complete rough draft is due for each religion, which will then be workshopped in class with other students as well as discussed with the professor.

  • Judaism: Complete Rough Draft – September 22; Final Draft – October 3.

  • Christianity: Complete Rough Draft – October 24; Final Draft – November 5.

  • Islam: Complete Rough Draft – November 19; Final Draft – December 5.

Final Conversation/Report – In lieu of a traditional final exam, students will complete a second autoethnography reflecting what they have learned this semester. These autoethnographies will be discussed during the final examination period

  • Block 3: Tuesday, December 9, 8:30 am-12:30 pm.

  • Block 5: Wednesday, December 10, 2:00-5:00 pm.

Students in this course will be graded on a plus/minus system (i.e. A, A-, B+):

A: 100-93, A-: 92-90, B+: 89-87, B: 86-83, B-: 82-80, C+: 79-77, C: 76-73, C-: 72-70, D+: 69-67, D: 66-63, D-: 62-60, F: 59-0
Course Outline
Week One (August 27-29) – Introduction to Course

  • Wednesday: Introduction to the Course

  • Friday: Introduction continued; Tech for the course (bring laptop/tablet).

Week Two (September 1-5) – Introduction to Studying Religion/Introduction to Judaism

  • Monday: Introduction to Studying Religion. Reading: Oxtoby, Chapter 1.

  • Wednesday: Intro to Ancient Near East. Reading: Oxtoby, Chapter 2. Skim non-Ancient Near East sections.

  • Friday: Judaism/Framing Questions. Reading: Oxtoby, Chapter 3 (Jewish Traditions). AUTOETHNOGRAPHY DUE BY MIDNIGHT ON INQUIRE.

Week Three (September 8-12) – Judaism: Traditions

  • Monday: The Bible, Talmud, Midrash, Canon, and Extra Things (Oxtoby 74-92). Readings:

    • Creation and Fall - Genesis 1-3 (Compare with Jubilees 3 – on Inquire)

    • Covenants: Genesis 9:1-19, 17; Exodus 19-20:21; 2 Samuel 5:1-10; 7

    • Judges and Kings: Judges 4, 6-8; 1 Samuel 8-10:1, 16; 1 Kings 2:1-12, 11; 2 Chronicles 36

  • Wednesday: Hellenistic and Early Rabbinic Judaism (Oxtoby 92-106)

  • Friday: The Bible, Talmud, Midrash, Canon, and Extra Things Continued. Readings:

Week Four (September 15-19) – Judaism Continued: Rabbinical Judaism/Modern Judaism

  • Monday: Traditions – Jewish Medieval History (Oxtoby 109-116); Holidays and Life-Cycle Ceremonies (Oxtoby 134-140). Readings: What Is a Jew – Sections III, VI, and VII (See Inquire)

  • Wednesday: Holidays and Life-Cycle Ceremonies Continued (Oxtoby 134-140)

  • Friday: Denominations and Modern Jewish History (Oxtoby 116-134)

Week Five (September 22-26) – Judaism Continued

  • Monday: The Arab-Israeli Conflict – Jewish Perspectives. Readings: Herzl – The Jewish Question (read through page 15 – skim rest), the Balfour Declaration, the White Paper of 1939, (See Inquire). JUDAISM PAPER COMPLETE ROUGH DRAFT DUE AT MIDNIGHT ON INQUIRE.

  • Wednesday: Library Day (meet in the 3rd floor computer lab of Fintel Library)

  • Friday: Paper Workshops.

Week Six (September 29-October 3) – Judaism Concluded/Introduction to Christianity

  • Monday: Film: The Frisco Kid

  • Wednesday: Film: The Frisco Kid

  • Friday: Film Discussion. Christianity/Framing Questions. Readings: Oxtoby, Chapter 4 (Christian Traditions). JUDAISM PAPER FINAL DRAFT DUE.

Week Seven (October 6-10) – Early Christianity

  • Monday – Historical Jesus (Oxtoby 151-159)

    • Readings: Luke 1-2, Mark 1:1-20; John 2:13-22; Matthew 5:1-7:28, Mark 12:28-34; Mark 6:30-44, Matthew 21:1-17; one of the following: Matthew 26-end, Mark 14-end, Luke 22-end, John 12-end;

  • Wednesday: Paul and Early Christianity. Heresy. (Oxtoby 159-174)

    • Readings: Romans (entirety); Infancy Gospel of Thomas (see Inquire)

  • Friday: The Lost Gospels documentary. CHRISTIANITY QUIZ DUE BY MIDNIGHT ON INQUIRE.

Week Eight (October 13-17) – FALL BREAK (No Class)
Week Nine (October 20-24) – Christianity: Traditions

  • Monday October 16 – Traditions – Holidays and Life-Cycle Ceremonies (Oxtoby 174-178)

  • Wednesday: Catholics, Protestants, Orthodox, and Everyone Else (Oxtoby 178-190)

    • Readings: Christianity: A Very Short Introduction, Chapters 3-6 – See Inquire

  • Friday: Catholics, Protestants, Orthodox, and Everyone Else continued (Oxtoby 190-218). CHRISTIANITY PAPER COMPLETE ROUGH DRAFT DUE AT MIDNIGHT ON INQUIRE.

Week Ten (October 27-31) – Christianity Concluded/Introduction to Islam

  • Monday: Paper Workshops.

  • Wednesday: Film: Saved!

  • Friday: Film: Saved!; Discussion of film/final remarks. OBSERVATION PAPER ONE DUE.

Week Eleven (November 3-7) – Introduction to Islam

  • Monday: Islam/Framing Questions. Oxtoby, Chapter 5 due. Ancient Arabia and Early Islam (Oxtoby 228-244).

  • Wednesday: Early Islam continued/Muhammad. The Qur’an . Readings: The Koran: A Very Short Introduction, Chapters 1-2, 6-7, 11-12 – See Inquire. CHRISTIANITY PAPER FINAL DRAFT DUE.

  • Friday: The Qur’an. Readings: Suras 1, 2, 37:19-end, 19.

Week Twelve (November 10-14) – Islamic History and Traditions

  • Monday: The Spread of Islam: Sunnis, Shia’s, Seveners, Twelver (Oxtoby 244-278). ISLAM QUIZ DUE BY MIDNIGHT ON INQUIRE.

  • Wednesday: Sunni, Shi’a, Seveners, Twelvers, Sufis, and Everyone In-Between (Oxtoby 244-278).

  • Friday: Holidays and Life-Cycle Ceremonies (Oxtoby 244-258).

Week Thirteen (November 17-21) – Islam Continued


  • Wednesday: Film: The Color of Paradise.

  • Friday: Film: The Color of Paradise; Discussion of film/Final Remarks.

Week Fourteen (November 24-28) – Islam Concluded

  • Monday: The Arab-Israeli Conflict – Muslim Perspectives. Readings: ANERA packets – see Inquire; Qutb – Social Justice in Islam, Chapters 8-9 – See Inquire. OBSERVATION PAPER TWO DUE.



Week Fifteen (December 1-5) – Novel Week: The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood

  • Monday: Chapters TBD.

  • Wednesday: Chapters TBD.


Week Sixteen (December 8-12) – Final Examination Week

  • Final Examination Discussion (PJs and Cookies encouraged).

  • Block 3: Tuesday, December 9, 8:30 am-12:30 pm. AUTOETHNOGRAPHY 2 DUE AT 8:30 AM ON INQUIRE.

  • Block 5: Wednesday, December 10, 2:00-5:00 pm. AUTOETHNOGRAPHY 2 DUE AT 2 PM ON INQUIRE.

NOTICE: There may be minor changes to the syllabus at the discretion of the professor, and notification of these changes will be made to students in a timely manner.

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