Topics: Spirituality | Religion

5 free Religion 101 courses for the faith-curious

Whether you're just starting your religious studies, or you want to expand your knowledge, these courses are a good jumping-off point

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About two weeks into my new job as assistant digital editor at Broadview, I realized that my religious education was sorely lacking. 

The only meaningful brush I’ve had with religion (aside from attending a Catholic baptism that left me deeply uncomfortable with the thought that I might be going to hell) was when my mom, in what I assume was a desperate need for childcare, signed me up for church choir and occasionally dropped me off at Sunday school. I don’t remember any Sunday school lessons but I still know the lyrics to “Angel of Death.” Angel of Death flying overhead, crosses of blood on the door shine red…

In high school, I stuck my nose up at World Religions class.


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But now that I’m working at a faith-based magazine, I need a crash course in religion. But where to start? There are so many faiths out there, so much history, so many ties to culture, politics and current events.

So, I did what any millennial with a good wi-fi connection would do: I looked it up on the internet. Here are five free online courses — including one podcast — that can help you learn more about world religions if you, like me, are new to this whole religion thing, or even want to expand your knowledge. 

 

Course: Keeping It 101: A Killjoy’s Introduction to Religion

Format: Podcast, available wherever you listen to podcasts, including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher and Google Podcasts.

Length: Four seasons, each with eight to 10 episodes that are around 40 minutes long.

Who it’s for: Everyone. Seriously. Looking over the episode topics (from “You Don’t Know African Diaspora Religions” to “Who Gets Left Out of Religion?”), this podcast is a well-researched series — produced by two women professors — that is designed to make you think critically about all aspects of religion, including how it interacts with and informs our perspectives on race, gender and sexuality, to who often gets left out of religious conversations, to white supremacy and evangelism, to pop culture, and yes, to cults. 

Each episode has show notes for further research, including bibliographic information, complementary media and accessible transcripts. So yes, I’ll be listening to this podcast while I’m walking my dog, dropping my kid off at daycare and working.

 

Course: Religion 101: Intro to World Religions

Organization: Study.com

Format: Video

Length: This course is self-paced so you can take all the time you want to watch the lessons. There are nine chapters each featuring a different religion and 13 lessons within each chapter. Each lesson is about eight minutes in length.

Who it’s for: If you’re more of a visual learner, this is the course for you. The video lessons are engaging (you can watch a preview to get an idea of what they’re like) and give you a thorough overview of the popular religions including Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and more.


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There’s a quiz at the end of each lesson and each chapter also has a practice test to go over everything you learned. Example lessons include “Theories on the Origin of Religion,” “Hindu Rituals, Ceremonies and Festivals” and “The Great Crusades: History and Timeline.”

Note: When you open an account with study.com, you get a free 30-day trial. After that, you will be charged a monthly fee.

 

Course: Religious Literacy: Traditions and Scriptures

Organization: Harvard University

Format: Video lecture

Length: Five-10 hours a week for four weeks

Who it’s for: Anyone looking for an excuse to buy a Harvard logo hoodie. OK, we kid. Although this course is introductory in nature, it’s taught by Harvard senior lecturer, Diane L. Moore, the director of the Religious Literacy Project at the Harvard Divinity School, so you know you’ll be getting a thorough and enlightening education.

The goal of this course is to help students understand the diversity within religions, how religions change over time, and how religions are embedded within all parts of cultures.

It seeks to help students “better understand the rich and complex ways that religions function in historic and contemporary contexts” by exploring the faith systems of Christianity, Buddhism, Islan, Hinduism and Judaism.

 

Course: Religion Today: Themes and Issues

Organization: The Open University

Format: Text

Length: 15 hours of self-paced study

Who it’s for: Although this course is marked as advanced, it’s presented in easy-to-read slides that aren’t that long and are suitable for anyone, no matter their education level.

The course explores the role religion plays in shaping ideas, world views and actions that have an impact on us individually and socially. You’ll learn about how one’s religion shapes their perspective, examine a religion’s sources of authority and analyze who is being represented and why, among many other topics.

 

Course: Christianity Through Its Scriptures

Organization: Harvard University

Format: Video lecture

Length: Five-10 hours a week for four weeks

Who it’s for: Someone who wants to know what’s contained in the Bible from an academic perspective, how it’s interpreted by diverse voices and how Christians live out the teachings of the Bible.

It will also explore how Christians approach diversity, attitudes toward non-Christian traditions and how the teachings interact with modern science, among other themes.

For those who want to go beyond Christianity, there’s also similar courses for Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism and Sikhism

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Chloe Tejada is the assistant digital editor at Broadview. Previously, she was a lifestyle editor at HuffPost Canada. She loves pugs and lattes.


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