Comparative Paper GuidelinePurpose:The purpose of the comparative paper is to providestudents with an opportunity to undertake a deeper investigation into a limitedtopic within the field of comparative religion. Comparative religion comprisesa systematic study of the variety of beliefs, values, and practices encounteredin religions around the world. A rigorous attempt is made to maintainobjectivity in the analysis of religions. This requires, at the very least, anauthentic attempt to understand the beliefs, values and practices of thereligion being studied by using language and concepts drawn from that religioustradition. Essays that are primarily a defense or critique of the beliefs,values and practices of a particular religious tradition, or that explain orevaluate religious phenomena from the standpoint of another religious traditionor of a secularist ideology, are outside the scope of comparative religion andare thus unacceptable for this project. The concern is not just with what thefollowers of a faith believe and do, but also with an understanding of why theydo so, through an appreciation of the form of life and world outlook that theyconstitute. 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 anywell-defined question about any of the religions covered in the course afterthe due date of the first paper (Judaism, Christianity, Islam).Topics must be appropriate to the subject. Extendedessays must address the beliefs, values and practices of religious traditionsand showa genuine understanding of the religion from the standpoint of itsadherents.Essays that are only indirectly related to religion—for example,legal issues relating to school prayer, the wearing of religious symbols, orthe scientificvalidity of “creation science”—are not acceptable.An essay in world religions is not an opportunity towrite an essay of a confessional, evangelizing, or apologetic nature. Thismeans that students should avoid topics that involve making judgments about thetruth-value of religious beliefs.Essays should not be purely descriptive but shouldshed some light on why people believe and/or act as they do, or on therelationship between the religion and the culture of which it is a part.Research topics should be comparative in nature.The research question should be well defined. Topicsthat are too broad nearly always result in essays that are superficial, purelydescriptive, and riddled with errors and misconceptions. Do not, for example, simplycompare Christianity and Islam in general. As a rule, the narrower your topicis the better your paper will be, all other things being equal.Here are just a few examples of researchquestions the meet these criteria:·What are the differences in theunderstanding of prophecy in Judaism, Christianity,and Islam?·What are some of the significantarchitectural and artistic differences between the Chartres Cathedral in Franceand the Blue Mosque in Turkey (or some other famous Catholic Cathedral andIslamic Mosque) and why do these differences exist?·Why do some Christian communities rejectthe use of representational art in the context of worship while othersencourage it?·What are some of the difference in the waythe rite of baptism is understood and practiced and why do these differencesexist?·How does the nature and role of the Qur’anin Islam compare with the nature and role of the Bible in Christianity?·What are the difference between the RomanCatholic and Eastern Orthodox understandings of the doctrine of the Trinity andwhy do these differences exist?·How do the methods of interpreting thebible in contemporary Christian fundamentalism compare with the methods ofinterpreting scripture in ancient Christianity?·How does the understanding of the Torahcompare among contemporary American Jewish communities and how does this affectJewish practice?Treatment of the Topic:The first step in preparing an extended essay is toformulate a well-defined research question. Essays that pose a question thatmight reasonably be answered in different ways are generally better than thosethat simply discuss a topic, even one within the limits defined above. Manymethods of investigation are possible. Students might, for instance, analyzeand interpret a sacred text, image, or ritual. Or students may analyze the roleof a particular doctrine within one or more theological systems. Students areencouraged to use both primary and secondary sources. Secondary sources shouldbe consulted in order to locate the topic being studied within a broadercontext. Students should be aware that few religious traditions are monolithic,and so naïve analyses of “Christianity” or “Buddhism” are unlikely to attainthe depth necessary for an excellent extended essay. Students should be asspecific as possible about exactly what they are studying.How the paper should be organized:Thepaper should be organized into an introduction, body, and conclusion. Theintroduction 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 maininsight the student will demonstrate in the paper. The body of the paper shouldbe several paragraphs long (this will be the bulk of the paper). There are manyways of organizing the body of the paper depending on the topic. But theoverall purpose of this section is to support the thesis given in theintroduction with evidence. The conclusion should be one paragraph where thestudent addresses why the topic is important (answer the “so what?” question)and perhaps indicate additional related questions for future research. Thepaper should be 1000-1500 words in length. ComparativePaper Guidelines
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