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The Nature of the Sacred

Course Code: HUMS 2274
Faculty: Humanities & Social Sciences
Department: Humanities
Credits: 3.0
Semester: 15
Learning Format: Lecture, Seminar
Typically Offered: TBD. Contact Department Chair for more info.
course overview

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.

Methods of Instruction

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.

course prerequisites

One of HUMS 1171, HUMS 1172, HUMS 1173, PHIL 1135, or PHIL 1170; or consent of the instructor.



curriculum 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 schedule and availability
course transferability

Below shows how this course and its credits transfer within the BC transfer system. 

A course is considered university-transferable (UT) if it transfers to at least one of the five research universities in British Columbia: University of British Columbia; University of British Columbia-Okanagan; Simon Fraser University; University of Victoria; and the University of Northern British Columbia.

For more information on transfer visit the BC Transfer Guide and BCCAT websites.


If your course prerequisites indicate that you need an assessment, please see our Assessment page for more information.