Hidden courses: Professionally comparing religions

Ian Havemann, Staff Writer

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For many in our generation, the term spiritual has become synonymous or even preferable to the term religious. There are so many different opinions, views and schools of thought on these topics, and it can become intimidating when you start to research on your own.

Whether you consider yourself a practicing believer, a secular person or even spiritually curious, Elgin Community College offers a few classes that can help clear up any misunderstandings or answer any personal questions you may have regarding the nature of religion.

Peter K. Han, Assistant Professor II of humanities, teaches a comparative religions course. Essentially a world religions class, this course takes the main Eastern (Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism) and Western (Islam, Christianity, Judaism) religions and compares their morals, themes, values and beliefs to build a better understanding of what makes each work.

Han said this course has two main goals. The first is to give practicing believers a safe space where they can examine and analyze their own personal religious traditions from a professional and academic standpoint. This is to keep the classroom atmosphere nonjudgmental and ensures students remain comfortable with asking any questions they may have.

The second goal, Han said, is to give nonreligious individuals a chance to fairly explore the world of religion and to enable civil discussion on the value of religion. Han mentions that there are many students who identified as “nonreligious” that come out of the class with a “newfound respect for religious people.”

“I want to expose the spiritual seeking people in a more guided way so they can explore on their own but not be intimidated,” Han said.

Han said he focuses on the original writings and scripture of each religion so the students can make their own decisions and analyze straight from the source material. The assignments are structured so that the student will be able to explore the readings, pick a subject/topic that means something to them and think about it.

“This course will make you more articulate on what you are really seeking,” Han said. “There is no answer I could give you in one semester, but I will get you thinking about the proper questions of how to even begin to process the variety of different religions.”

Han also plans on resurrecting the philosophy of religion class for those that wish to delve deeper into the concept of religion rather than the details of its variety. This class will focus on the very nature of religion from a philosophical standpoint. Asking questions such as: “What does it mean to be a religious person?” and “what is divine?”

Students in this class will spend much more time speculating on ideas, concepts and values of religion and thinking deeper on the themes that make something “religious”. This is geared toward philosophy-focused students that wish to think and speak about the conceptual properties of religion.

Han greatly recommends any students who are at least interested in checking out the class by simply sitting in on one of the lectures. Contact [email protected] for more information.