The Nature of the Sacred

Humanities & Social Sciences
Course Code
HUMS 2274
Semester Length
Max Class Size
Method(s) Of Instruction
Course Designation
Certificate in Global Competency
Industry Designation
Typically Offered
To be determined


Course Description
The course provides an introduction to the fundamental features associated with religion. Topics may include: the various conceptions of divinity, salvation, soul and the afterlife; the nature of religious experiences and the various methods to induce them; and how religion is expressed in the arts and holy places, in ritual and holy scriptures and through its organizations and forms of leadership. This course examines how these various aspects evolve over time, reflecting larger social and cultural trends, with the external forms and expressions being deconstructed to reveal the more universal aspects underlying this central component of human experience we call religion.
Course Content

1) Defining Religion -- examine the complexities of various definitions; present a working model that encompasses the various components found in what we label as "religion."

2) The Study of Religion -- an introduction to the academic study of religion, its history, key features that demarcate an academic approach to the topic; an overview of various methods used, such as phenomenological, psychological, sociological, anthropological and historical.

3) Sacred Power -- the various conceptions of "the Sacred" from animism to monotheism; personal and impersonal, theistic and non-theistic conceptions of the "Absolute", as well as the generic sense of "the holy", be it in objects, places or beings.

4) Experiencing the Sacred -- the varieties and nature of religious experience, various theories, models and typologies regarding "religious experiences", and an overview of the techniques associated with cultivating them from meditation to entheogens.

5) Sacred Story and Myth -- the universality of sacred scriptures; the role of myth, symbol, doctrine and narrative in religion; religion's role in providing maps of reality, definitions and identities; and visions of higher possibilities, and utopias to aspire to.

6) Sacred Action and Ritual -- the nature and role of ethics in religion, the role of rituals, art, music, dance as means of relating to the sacred.

7) Sacred Space and Time -- the nature of sacred spaces (such as that of a temple or an altar) as distinct from profane places; the role of holy days, creation stories, apocalypses, and Last Days.

8) Sacred Solutions and Soteriology -- the problems of evil, suffering, and death; the different concepts of the human need for liberation from suffering, sin, ignorance, and death; the quest for transformation and enlightenment; life after death and human destiny.

9) Sacred Organizations -- the institutionalization of religion, the church, sect, cult typology; the evolution of religion, from pre-literary societies to the world religions and to popular religious forms; how religion mirrors society; and the rise of new religions in times of rapid social change.

10) Sacred in Today's World -- issues of religious pluralism and absolute truth, the various responses to, and resolutions of, this problem.

Learning Activities

Lectures and seminar discussions around student presentations. The use of videos, and conducting of field trips are possible.

Means of Assessment

Instructor's general evaluation (may include attendance,

class participation, group work, assigned readings, etc.) 0%-20%

In-class presentations, research paper, book reviews


Exams 15%-40%



Mid-term exam 15%

Final exam 25%

In-class presentation 20%

Research paper 30%

Class participation and attendance 10%

Learning Outcomes

The students will be able to:

1. Explain the fundamental components that are universal to religion and what appears to set it apart from an ideology that may function like a religion, or take on a religious role in people's lives.

2. Delineate the variety of conceptions of the Sacred throughout history.

3. Understand how various religions conceive of human destiny and the resolution of the human dilemma.

4. Define how religion is engaged in terms of sacred space, time, and action in the world.

5. Articulate how the various concepts associated with religion are conveyed through symbol, myth, and ritual, and then systematized doctrinally, and supported by texts revered as sacred.

6. Discern the different aspects of how a religion evolves, the process of institutionalization, and how the cycles of religious evolution are tied to larger social trends.

7. Have insight into the pervasiveness of religion and its role in human experience in addressing the challenges of life, and of bringing meaning, guidance and empowerment.

8. Explore how the phenomenon of religion reveals how humans tend to navigate reality and everyday experience on both an individual and societal level.

Textbook Materials

Cunningham, Lawrence S. & Kelsay, John (2013). The Sacred Quest: An Invitation to the Study of Religion (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education, Inc.

Ellwood, Robert S. (2014). Introducing Religion: Religious Studies for the Twenty-First Century (4th ed.). Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education, Inc.

Kessler, Gary E. (2008). Studying Religion: An Introduction Through Cases (3rd ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill Co.

Livingston, James. C. (2009). Anatomy of the Sacred: An Introduction to Religion (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education, Inc.



Course Guidelines

Course Guidelines for previous years are viewable by selecting the version desired. If you took this course and do not see a listing for the starting semester / year of the course, consider the previous version as the applicable version.

Course Transfers

These are for current course guidelines only. For a full list of archived courses please see

Institution Transfer Details for HUMS 2274
Alexander College (ALEX) ALEX ARTS 2XX (3)
Athabasca University (AU) AU RELS 2XX (3)
Capilano University (CAPU) CAPU HUEL 2XX (3)
College of New Caledonia (CNC) CNC HUMS 1XX (3)
College of the Rockies (COTR) COTR RELS 2XX (3)
Columbia College (COLU) No credit
Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU) KPU ARTS 2XXX (3)
Northern Lights College (NLC) No credit
Simon Fraser University (SFU) SFU HUM 130 (3)
Thompson Rivers University (TRU) TRU HUMN 1309 (3)
Thompson Rivers University (TRU) TRU HUEL 2XXX (3)
Trinity Western University (TWU) TWU HUMA 1XX (3)
University Canada West (UCW) UCW ARTS 2XX (3)
University of British Columbia - Vancouver (UBCV) UBCV ARTS 2nd (3)
University of Northern BC (UNBC) UNBC PHIL 2XX (3)
University of the Fraser Valley (UFV) UFV RLST 2XX (3)
University of Victoria (UVIC) UVIC RCS 2XX (1.5)
Vancouver Island University (VIU) VIU RELI 2nd (3)

Course Offerings

Summer 2023