Reading Scripture (Alternate Exercise)

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World Religions and Spirituality: Exploring and Experiencing Alternate Exercise

Reading Scripture (Alternate Exercise)

This exercise requires extensive preparation from participants as well as class time to discuss. If you are unable to find a guest speaker, this may be a good alternate exercise. Although it is designed for the Hinduism module, you could substitute other readings to discuss during other modules.


  • To read selections from the Bhagavad Gita

  • To explore some of the issues we will face as we try to understand scriptures and beliefs written in another place and time

  • To compare different translations of a religious text and explore how these versions can affect one’s understanding of the text


During the class prior to using this exercise, give participants the following “reading homework”:

  • Read Essays on the Gita.

    • The reading provides a good introduction and overview to the Gita. It also discusses some issues we will face as we try to understand scriptures and beliefs written in another place and time.

  • Choose at least one chapter from the Bhagavad Gita (or another translation).

    • The chapters are short; Chapter 4 discusses the caste system a bit, Chapters 7 and 10 describe Krishna, Chapter 8 talks about reincarnation, and Chapter 11 shows Krishna in all his glory.

  • If you have time, read the same chapter in another translation.

  • Keep a journal or notes on your thoughts about what you've read (what did you like, what was confusing, what was new to you, etc.)

Class Discussion

  • Listen to a reading of the Hindu scriptures (one suggestion: Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 1, Verse 1 from the International Gita Society; note that the Gita is separate from the Vedas)

  • Hindus revere the sounds of Vedic scriptures in the original Sanskrit, and they were originally transmitted orally. Even today, some worshippers spend years learning to properly recite these scriptures.

    • How does reciting and listening to sacred scripture differ from silently reading it?

  • If you read different translations of some of the chapters, what did you find?

  • Like Hinduism, many world religions, such as Judaism and Islam, place a high value on hearing or reading their sacred scriptures in their original language; translations and “sermons” in one’s native language are available, but adherents are encouraged to listen and recite in the original language, even if they do not understand the language.

    • How can listening to sacred texts be meaningful when you do not know the language?

    • What are the advantages and disadvantages to using the original language?

    • Compare Protestant Christianity, which prioritizes making scripture available in the common language, to Catholicism, which until recently held Mass in Latin (not, incidentally, the original language of either the Old or New Testament).

    • How does the experience of Christianity compare with Hinduism and other religions?

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