Rev. Sandra P. Malloy
When I am free to see comparisons in religions over historic time, without regard to the hows and whys, I experience a deep appreciation for my own belief system. Someone asked me, “Doesn’t seeing these parallels make you think that this (what we believe) is all just a of version of some superstition people made up a long time ago to explain what science couldn’t?” Surprisingly, instead of doubt I feel stronger in my faith, more deeply connected to humanity, and grounded in my concept of spiritual oneness. I have a greater appreciation for the diversity that cultural and historic influence have had on our attempts, as a human race, to communicate with and understand the nature of the Divine and as a result, to communicate with one another and understand ourselves.
I feel especially grounded, as a Christian, when I contemplate the number of religions prior and parallel to Christianity that revere Christ-like figures. The stories of Osiris, Dionysus, Mithras and others show how many different cultures have grown in their spiritual development through the same archetype. This leads me to feel a greater underlying truth in the symbolism than I ever could see while studying in isolation. It breaks down time and geographical boundaries and makes me feel more apart of the global, timeless, beingness. Seeing other similarities, such as how in every religion we tend to celebrate cycles, important events in our histories, great leaders and teachers, how we communicate with the Divine through prayer, and pass on ideas through sacred texts and symbols also leads me to a deeper appreciation. At the same time it inspires gratitude for how our differences allow all of us to participate and meet the Divine right where we are.
I really appreciate the way this course was designed to compare religions in topic format. Viewing the similarities and differences of how the angel concept manifests and how leadership is named and decided helped me see things in a new way. I never realized how pervasive angels are throughout world belief systems. I also never thought about Jewish religious titles and the idea that a Jewish community does not necessarily need a rabbi to lead it. Instead, any member of the community educated to perform leadership tasks can do so. I also saw the rabbi as both teacher and “priest.” I did not connect that the title priest is held for those ordained to do ceremonies in the temple. This stood out to me, because the entire topic of religious titles are given in one lesson. This format also helps me remember more of the extensive information presented. I also like the many resources sited for further reading. Although it would be impossible for this course to be an exhaustive study of comparative religion, I feel I have plenty of resources to learn more about every topic presented.
One thing I would really like is a second part to the course that puts me into the lives of those practicing these religions today. Now that I have the appreciation for the background and some fundamental concepts of each, I would like a more focused view of what it is like to live the life of a someone who practices Shintoism or Islam. I am hoping that other courses offered by the ULC Seminary, such as Master of Buddhism, Shamanism and others will offer this kind of information. I love the way Reverend Kythera Ann introduces the course and includes a section on the development of interfaith studies. In the spirit of this message of creating appreciation and understanding among faiths, it seems that a second layer of deeper comparison should be completed by those of us in the Seminary. This way, when we go into the individual courses, such as Master of Wiccan Studies or Paganism, we have a stronger foundational scaffolding in which to attach new information. I cannot site anything specifically about this course that I disliked or should be changed.
I would definitely be interested in taking other classes through Reverend Kythera Ann. Overall, I am impressed with not only the amount of interesting information and examples from scripture, architecture, and symbolism that are given, but also the ease with which I could read, understand, and assimilate it. This is just the beginning of my studies of world religions and I am grateful that I am heading into the rest of my journey with the appreciation of the unity we share across the world through our religious diversity.