Professor James W. Laine hosted a National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Summer Institute for college and university teachers during the summer of 2017 on the theme of World Religions and World Religions Discourse: Challenges of Teaching the Religions of the World. The Institute will be a four week workshop on the problems of teaching a broad survey course intended to introduce students to the major religious traditions of the world, while taking into account major scholarly critiques of that enterprise that have raised fundamental questions about the basic definitions and categories we employ in the critical study of religion. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this program do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Summer Institute Details

  • Director: James W. Laine, Arnold Lowe Professor & Chair, Religious Studies
  • Theme: World Religions and World Religions Discourse: Challenges of Teaching the Religions of the World
  • Dates:  July 9 – August 4, 2017
  • Location:  Macalester College, St. Paul, Minnesota
  • Application Deadline:  March 1, 2017
  • Notification Date:  March 31, 2017
  • Accept or Decline Offer by: April 7, 2017
  • Eligibility Criteria: NEH Summer Seminars and Institutes For College and University Teachers (PDF)
  • Stipend: Individuals selected to participate in this four-week Institute will receive a stipend of $3,300. Stipends are taxable and intended to help cover the Institute’s expenses.
  • Contact: James W. Laine at or Toni Schrantz at

Topics and Approach

The central question we will address in the Institute will be how one can responsibly teach a survey course on the religious traditions of the world. On the one hand, many students and the general public might emphasize the need for all citizens in a modern, multi-cultural world to have a certain broad literacy and basic understanding of the major traditions. On the other hand, critical scholars warn of the dangers of excessive essentialism, reducing a complex tradition to a few basic, doctrinal elements. Some wonder if the very category of ‘religion’ is inappropriate for traditions other than Christianity or perhaps the western monotheisms. Perhaps there is no genus (‘religion”) to which the various traditions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam) belong as species. Moreover, perhaps the internal diversity of any given tradition is at least as important as the differences between the traditions. How can we take the critiques of scholars like Masuzawa and McCutcheon and yet impart to students useful knowledge about the diversity of religious traditions of the world?

Summer Institute Links

Project Director and Visiting Faculty
Program of Study

Sample Syllabi from Participants

Approaches to the Study of Global Religions Madhavi Venkatesan

Comparative ReligionsMark A. Torgerson

 Intro to World ReligionsCarissa Wyant

Religion and U.S. Civil SocietyJames Martin

Religion in the American ExperienceKonden R. Smith

Religions of the WorldPaul R. Gilliam III (Trey)

World ReligionsJames Martin