The purpose of the comparative paper is to provide students with an opportunity

The purpose of the comparative paper is to
provide students with an opportunity to undertake a deeper investigation into a
limited topic within the field of comparative religion. Comparative religion comprises a systematic
study of the variety of beliefs, values, and practices encountered in religions
around the world. A rigorous attempt is made to maintain objectivity in the
analysis of religions. This requires, at the very least, an authentic attempt
to understand the beliefs, values and practices of the religion being studied
by using language and concepts drawn from that religious tradition. Essays that
are primarily a defense or critique of the beliefs, values and practices of a
particular religious tradition, or that explain or evaluate religious phenomena
from the standpoint of another religious tradition or of a secularist ideology,
are outside the scope of comparative religion and are thus unacceptable for
this project. The concern is not just with what the followers of a faith
believe and do, but also with an understanding of why they do so, through an
appreciation of the form of life and world outlook that they constitute. The
result of writing an essay in comparative religion should be, among other
things, improved intercultural understanding.
Choice of Topic:
Essentially,
students may choose to answer any well-defined question about any of the
religions covered in the course prior to the due date of the paper, present or
past, subject to the following guidelines.
· Topics must be appropriate to the
subject. Extended essays must address the beliefs, values and practices of
religious traditions and show a genuine understanding of the religion from the
standpoint of its adherents. Essays that are only indirectly related to
religion—for example, legal issues relating to school prayer, the wearing of
religious symbols, or the scientific validity of “creation scienceâ€â€”are not
acceptable.
· An essay in comparative religion is not
an opportunity to write an essay of a confessional, evangelizing, or apologetic
nature. This means that students should avoid topics that involve making
judgments about the truth-value of religious beliefs.
· Essays should not be purely descriptive
but should shed some light on why people believe and/or act as they do, or on
the relationship between the religion and the culture of which it is a part.
· The research question should be well
defined. Topics that are too broad nearly always result in essays that are
superficial, purely descriptive, and riddled with errors and misconceptions. Do not, for example, simply compare
Hinduism and Buddhism in general. All other things being equal, the
narrower the research question, the better the paper will be. It is better to
say more about less than less about more.
Here
are just a few examples of research questions the meet these criteria:
· Why did Buddhism develop from being
aniconic (not using representational images for religious purposes) to iconic
(using representation images for religious purposes)?
· What are some differences in the
understanding of reincarnation in Hinduism and Buddhism?
· What is the difference in the role of
scripture in Hinduism and Mahayana Buddhism?
· How do the ethical teachings of the
Buddha compare with the ethical teachings found the laws of Manu?
· How do the Buddhist exemplars of the
arhat, the bodhisattva, and the buddha compare and contrast and why might
certain Buddhist communities emphasize one kind of exemplar over the others?
· How do the teachings of Shankara on the
Atman compare and contrast to the teachings of Ramanuja?
· How has Buddhist sacred architecture
changed as Buddhism moved into different cultural environments and what
accounts for this change?
· How do Hindu and Buddhist funeral
rituals compare to one another and what accounts for the similarities and
differences.
Treatment of the Topic:
The
first step in preparing an extended essay is to formulate a well-defined
research question. Essays that pose a question that might reasonably be
answered in different ways are generally better than those that simply discuss
a topic, even one within the limits defined above. Many methods of
investigation are possible. Students might, for instance, analyze and interpret
a sacred text, image, or ritual. Or
students may analyze the role of a particular doctrine within one or more
theological systems. Students are encouraged to use both primary and secondary
sources. Secondary sources should be consulted in order to locate the topic
being studied within a broader context. Students should be aware that few
religious traditions are monolithic, and so naïve analyses of “Christianity†or
“Buddhism†are unlikely to attain the depth necessary for an excellent extended
essay. Students should be as specific as possible about exactly what they are
studying. How the paper should be organized:
The
paper should be organized into an introduction, body, and conclusion. The
introduction should be one paragraph where the student introduces the topic, offers
a thesis statement, and provides a “road map†for the rest of the paper. The
thesis should be stated explicitly in the first paragraph as the main insight
the student will demonstrate in the paper. In order to be significant, the
thesis should not be something that is obviously true, but
something that requires the comparative analysis in order to demonstrate.
The body of the paper should be several paragraphs long (this will be the bulk
of the paper). There are many ways of organizing the body of the paper
depending on the topic. But the overall purpose of this section is to support
the thesis given in the introduction with evidence. What counts as evidence
will depend on the topic, but it may include an analysis of some text, ritual,
work of religious art, etc. The conclusion should be one paragraph where the
student addresses why the topic is important (answer the “so what?†question)
and perhaps indicate additional related questions for future research. The
paper should be 1000-1500 words in length.