Writing Religion Assignment #2: Conflicting Perspectives on Religion and Morality

Though religion has historically been linked strongly to both universal and cultural norms of morality (e.g. the description of someone as a “good Christian”), many writers today disagree as to whether religion’s role in shaping morality has a positive or negative influence on society.  Our recent readings wonder: do religious communities’ insistence on “goodness” inspire greater tolerance and benevolence (e.g., religion’s role in civil rights activism), or do they impose arbitrary strictures that instead exclude and divide (e.g., religious views of homosexuality and drugs)?  More broadly, does religion help us determine a vital sense of value and meaning in life, or does it obscure what is really important?  In this assignment, we will attempt to enter this debate by analyzing some scriptural passages that are frequently cited as displaying the moral principles that religion provides. Using these scriptural passages, your paper will target one of the writers with whom you disagree on these questions and persuade him of your position regarding them.

Audience: one of the authors with whom you don’t agree

Format: 3-4 double-spaced pages; MLA style

Advice: You will prepare for this paper with the following steps: 1) Select an author we have read during this unit with whose attitude toward religion and morality you substantially disagree. 2) Select one of the following scriptural passages and read it carefully: Tanakh—Psalms 137; New Testament—Luke 12: 22-34 AND 12: 41-53; Qur’an—Sura 4:1-25; Mahabharata—Bhagavad Gita I: 26-39 AND II: 11-25. 3) Imagine what the author you have selected would say about this passage.  Note passages in both his essay and the scripture which lead you to think so. 4) Figure out why you do not agree with his (hypothetical) interpretation of the passage and build a paper structure out of how you would respond to each point he would make.  Bolster your argument by relying on the argument of at least one source with whom you do agree and imagining what he might say about this passage to support you.

Do not: summarize the passage and class readings separately without relating them together; respond to your addressee’s ideas or the passage’s content without citing specifically.  Do: creatively and accurately imagine how your addressee would respond; identify key points to which you must respond; work back and forth in the same paragraph to relate and analyze how different sources relate to an idea.


Type: Analyze a single text/piece of primary evidence to support an arguable thesis

Rationale: The purpose of this assignment is to give writers practice with argument, counter argument, and refutation using the course texts [Dawkins’ The God Delusion, Harris’ End of Faith, Smith’s Why Religion Matters, Wright’s The Evolution of God, the Bible, the Qur’an, the Bhagavad Gita].

Pre-Draft Activities:

1. Group analysis of passages from scripture (see pre-draft activity 2.2)

2. Exercise on imitating/adopting opponents’ viewpoints

3. Practice in refutation (see pre-draft activity 2.3)

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