I teach courses in world religions and especially Eastern Religions - Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Daoism, and Shinto mostly. I'm curious what conceptions people have of these religions, and especially what misconceptions people have. This is especially so as it applies to students, as I'd like to be able to guage what is best to address as a course gets underway. Anyone have a perspective on this?
Maybe one approach you could take is to think about what Said writes about preconceptions of the East and religion in his excellent book, Orientalism, and how in particular the West "others" others by assuming innacurate knowledge about their culture and religion. A good and disturbing read which says a lot about our ignorance in the West and our assumption of cultural supremacy.
In the US, there are misconceptions about almost all non-Christian religions, including Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and the Shinto faith. As Americans, we have little contact with these religions and therefore have no natural motivation to learn more about them. Once 9/11 happened there was a renaissance, for lack of a better word, of Americans looking at Islam and learning more about the actual religion.
One of the misconceptions I had about these is that they were solely religions. They’re philosophies that encompass spiritual beliefs yes, but some of their philosophies are and have been incorporated into many secondary school classrooms across the country.
I don't think most Americans have enough of a grasp of these religions (especially Daoism and Shinto) to have many misconceptions.
What would be highest in my mind of questions I'd want answered in a course like yours is why religion plays such a small part in Japanese life today. Is it just that Shinto got discredited by the war? What role does religion play in other East Asian countries?
I guess that's one misconception people might have -- that these religions conceive of people having relationships with God the way Christians are supposed to.
Since I live in Korea, I could go on and on about Buddhism and Confucianism. One of the greatest misconceptions of these is that they are not flexible, that they are stuck in an out-dated time and can't compete with modern society itself. One of the other misconceptions is that they are reactive and not proactive belief systems which often conflict which modernity.