Open to all majors and fulfilling the Mason Core global understanding requirement, RELI 100: The Human Religious Experience allows students to expand their global mindset through the examination of various religious expressions and traditions in the contemporary world. Professor Susan Bond, who has taught the course for the past eight years, sees the online format as an opportunity to offer this experience to more Mason students.

Working with instructional designer Susan Campbell from Mason’s Learning Support Services (LSS), Professor Bond recently piloted her first online section in the spring. Using a situated learning approach, Bond and Campbell crafted the online course to teach students not just the facts but also to demonstrate that religion itself is a community practice.

Professor Bond notes, “Susan had knowledge of online pedagogy and how to create an online course, and I had the subject matter knowledge. We worked creatively to come up with exercises to help people engage in a creative way to learn about religions.”

A New Perspective

With such a notably diverse student body, Mason is the ideal community for students to explore and come to understand the many facets of the human religious experience. “I had students from Vietnam, India, Pakistan, Ohio, and New Jersey, and from all different religious traditions,” says Professor Bond. “That helps a lot in teaching this kind of course. Students bring in so many different experiences, so they learn not just from me but from each other.”

Venerable Losang Tendrol, a Tibetan Buddhist Nun of the Gelugpa Tradition, discusses the Four Noble Truths and Eightfold Path. Video courtesy of Prof. Susan Bond and GMU-TV.

Hannah Seeling, a student from the online section of the course, found the format to be convenient and the content to be engaging. “As a psychology student it is very important to me to be able to relate to other human beings, especially outside my own religious traditions, so I felt RELI 100 would provide me with a great opportunity to do just that,” shares Seeling. “The weekly course content was engaging and interesting. It really challenged me mentally and widened my perspective.”

Creative Assignments

Topics covered in the course range from religious symbols and interpreting scripture to key figures and teachings such as the Dalai Lama and Lotus Sutra. One group project focuses on learning about Sunni and Shia Islam. Divided between the two branches, students researched within their groups and compiled information in a report, coming together as a whole class to discuss the similarities and differences.

“This method mirrors the way those two forms were created in the first place, including a lot of conversation and conflicting views,” explains Professor Bond. “If I was to just teach it, students wouldn’t get that one-on-one feeling of how they emerged in the first place.”

Imam Mustafa Akhound, Islamic Scholar and Religious Counselor at the Imam Ali Center, explains the major differences between Sunni and Shia Islam. Video courtesy of Prof. Susan Bond and GMU-TV.

Seeling notes that this creative use of assignments inspires a continued interest in course topics. “Professor Bond really made the course exciting. Her creativity really flourished throughout the semester as each week she provided us with a cool and new perspective on assignments,” suggests Seeling. “She made learning about religion enjoyable as she engaged us through lectures, videos, and personal experiences. She made the course different than any other online course I have ever taken.”

RELI 100 is offered in the spring and fall semesters and is open to all majors. Check for upcoming availability on the online courses page.