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Qualifying Examination Question Archive


Exam 1: Religion, Social Thought, and the Social Sciences

Exam 2: Western Philosophical Resources for Ethical Reasoning; Social and Ethical Teachings of Christianity and Other Religions

Exam 1: Religion, Social Thought, and the Social Sciences

What is religious evolution? How does Bellah explain it? How do you evaluate his understanding of religious evolution?

The definition of religion and the sociological perspective on religion are important in religious studies. Choose two of the following thinkers who dealt with these problems and discuss their views. Geertz, Berger, Freud, Bellah, Eliade, or one other scholar of your own choice.

Throughout Durkheim's works the theme of social cohesion is of central importance. How does he understand religion and how does religion relate to social cohesion? How would you relate Durkheim’s discussion of social cohesion to an analysis of the contemporary situation in America?

What are the contributions to religious studies of two of the following: Eliade, Berger, Wuthnow, Geertz, and H.R. Niebuhr?

Compare two of the following figures on the question of the nature and function of religion: Marx, Freud, Geertz, Durkheim, Malinowski, or another figure of your choice.

What are the major arguments that Weber makes in his Sociology of Religion?

What is Weber's so called “Protestant Ethic” thesis? Critically assess both his argument for this thesis and two responses to his argument.

In view of Weber's study of China, how do you account for the recent economic development of East Asia? Explain whether you find a Protestant ethic analogy there.

Select one of Weber's comparative historical studies of religion and society (e.g., China, India, Ancient Judaism). State Weber’s main thesis and discuss his arguments in the context of his overall scheme for the study of world religions and societies.

How does Weber explain the social location of religious ideas in relation to the phenomena of innovation and historical breakthrough?

How do Bellah and his associates diagnose the troubles of American society? What theoretical framework and conceptualization do they use in their analysis? In the light of your own readings in religion, society, and ethics, do you go along with them?

How do you explain social change, especially as related to cultural change? What is the best analytical approach to the problems of social and cultural change? What would be the most comprehensive and helpful concept or concepts that can explain change in contemporary societies?

What sociological theories are useful for making sense of American religion? Discuss them briefly, but choose one of them—say, civil religion, or American quest for the problem of meaning, or something else—and discuss it more fully.

What is the role of religion in social change? Refer to the ideas of either (i) two classical thinkers or (ii) two modern theorists.

Is there a crisis of institutions in American society? If so, why? If not, why do some sociologists mistakenly think there is? How do you conceptualize the role and health of social institutions?

How is religion related to social movements and social change? How do theories of religion and social change register the themes of human agency and historical consciousness?

What is globalization? What would be the typical problems that religion would encounter in the process of globalization? How can religion cope with the problem of globalization?

Discuss some of the key issues in human rights today.

How is religion related to social stability, order, and change? How can the concepts of ideology and utopia be used fruitfully in explaining social change? Discuss these questions by means of a comparison between two contrasting theories.

Select one of MacIntyre, Nussbaum, and Sen, Giddens. Identify and discuss what you consider to be the major theme in his or her sociological thought.

How does MacIntyre’s understanding of history and sociology affect his diagnosis of the moral disorder of our times, and his prescription for this ailment?

Trace the historical and intellectual background of the emergence of the main currents in contemporary sociological thought. Include in your discussion at least two of the following thinkers: Montesquieu, Comte, Tocqueville, Pareto, Mannheim, Habermas.

What are some of the central organizing principles or concepts for thinking about changes in contemporary society that are occurring now? In your answer, draw upon at least two of the following figures: Drucker, Huntington, Daly & Cobb, Kennedy, or another figure of your choice.

Discuss Huntington’s so-called “conflict of civilizations” thesis and its relation to religious nationalism.

What do you think are the major contributions of Marx to social thought in general and sociology in particular? Include in your discussion Marx's intellectual genealogy and his influence.

Choose two of the following social thinkers and explain their theories of social change and modernization: Marx, Weber, Durkheim, and Bell.

What is the state of critical social theory? Discuss one leading scholar’s view of it, relating his or her view to the tradition of social thought prior to his or her work.

Select one of the following pairs of contrasting ideas: (i) the state and individualism, (ii) community and civil society, (iii) moral authority and moral freedom, (iv) hierarchy and equality, (v) eternal peace and the clash of civilizations, (vi) deontology and utilitarianism, or (vii) the sacred and rationality. Discuss the presence of this conflict in the tradition of social thought.

How is religion related to modernity? Include a discussion of fundamentalism in your answer.

“The concept of ‘civilizational conflict’ is overrated and overused. Why do sociologists stress civilizational conflict so much when it appears that the world is becoming more uniformly secular and consumer culture is having a unifying impact throughout the world?” Discuss.

What are some of the issues in the sociological debates over modernity? Choose one of the scholars who has dealt in detail with this theme and discuss his or her views.

Where do the social theories of Durkheim, Malinowski, and Freud agree and where do they disagree? What underlying features of their thought account for the pattern of agreements and disagreements?

Some theorists analyze the civil religion of modern nations in terms of the categories of religious collective representations and rituals. What is behind this line of thinking? How does Durkheim's understanding of society relate to this view?

What are the major contributions to the sociological study of religion of two of the following: Marx-Engels, Troeltsch, and H.R. Niebuhr? Compare their sociological approaches with that of Weber.

Do you think that religion evolves in stages from primitive to modern? What can we learn from the anthropologcal study of religion about this and related questions?

Choose two interpretations or models of social change (e.g., cyclical, evolutionary, Marxist, comparative, etc.). Explain what they are and evaluate their strengths and weaknesses as theoretical models. Cover such concepts as "evolution," "progress," "differentiation," and "development" in your answer.

Contemporary theories of social change include the concept of "modernization" as a leading conceptual model. Explain the cause, the process, and the consequences of modernization. You may choose to discuss a theorist or two in your answer.

How does religion function as ideology and utopia?

What are some of the central organizing principles or concepts for thinking about the changes in contemporary society that are occurring now? Draw upon the ideas of Sztempka in your answer.

What are the main concerns of Marx, Weber, and Durkehim about social reality? Discuss similarities and differences among them.

What are the relations between meaning, cultural tradition, and social change? Discuss the problem in the context of two of the following religious and social situations: Korea, China, Japan, North America, Latin America, India, Pakistan.

What are the major contributions of H.R. Niebuhr to the sociology of religion?

Mannheim, Marx, Habermas, Geertz, Saint-Simon, Fourier, and Ricoeur provided important theories of ideology and utopia. Compare and contrast two of these thinkers.

What are the roles of religious ideas and culture in social and economic development? Include in your answer a discussion of the ideas of two of the following figures: Weber, Bellah, and another thinker of your choosing.

How is religion related to modernity? In your answer, include a discussion of fundamentalisms.

How are globalization and modernization the same or different?

What is globalization? What are typical problems that religions encounter in the process of globalization? How do religions cope with the problem of globalization?

How do people construct symbolic reality? Can religion be understood as a cultural-symbolic system?

How and why did Weber study religion comparatively in history and society?

How do you account for the contemporary fundamentalist movements in the United Stated and the Middle East?

How do you account for the New Christian Right in the United Stated?

Exam 2: Western Philosophical Resources for Ethical Reasoning; Social and Ethical Teachings of Christianity and Other Religions

Discuss the assumptions and ideas about the individual person and society in two of the following thinkers: Machiavelli, Bentham, Hobbes, Locke, Hume, Burke, Rousseau, Calvin, and Luther.

Discuss the assumptions and ideas about the individual person and society in two of the following thinkers: Mencius, Hsun Tzu, Lao Tzu, and Chuang Tzu.

Discuss the assumptions and ideas about the individual person and society in two of the following thinkers: Paul, Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, or Luther.

Compare the meaning and function of the "social contract" in Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau.

There are several theories of justice (e.g., Nozick’s libertarian theory, Rawls’ liberal view, as well as Platonic, Aristotelian, and Augustinian views). Explain your view of justice in discussion with alternatives.

Discuss the development of the concept of natural law in the Western philosophical tradition.

Compare the idea of natural law in Stoicism with the idea in Aquinas or another Christian thinker.

Explain why Kant is considered a watershed thinker in Ethics. Identify and critique a major problem in his ethical analysis.

Compare and contrast the ethical theories of three or four major Greek philosophical schools.

Discuss critically Marx as a social philosopher. How does his use of "dialectics" differ from that of Hegel?

Discuss the use of money, work, and economics in the ethical theories of two contrasting Christian thinkers.

Discuss the use of money, work, and economics in the ethical theories of two contrasting non-Western religious thinkers.

Is Christianity uniquely qualified to address the pressing issues of justice and peace or are other religions just as well qualified to handle such issues? If so, why and how? Draw on the thought of Hick, Knitter, Gustafson, Küng, or other Jewish and Christian thinkers in your answer.

State and discuss one Christian religious criticism of homo economicus and one criticism from a representative of another major world religion (e.g., Buddhism, Islam, Confucianism).

Discuss the view of Daly & Cobb that economy, ecology, and religious vision must and can come together if human beings are to save their planetary home and protect their own future.

Explain the relevance of a comparative religious perspective for the contemporary discussion of human rights.

What are the major issues in studying comparative religious ethics?

What are the virtues and liabilities of (i) local theological ethics and (ii) comparative ethics? How do you reconcile the culturally particular and universal in doing ethics and theology?

“In doing ethics after Babel, what we need is a moral language of Esperanto that can forge a common bond of communication across cultures. Nothing less can help local cultures meet their urgent need for universal categories with which to deal with an increasingly globalized society.” Do you agree or disagree with this statement? Develop your answer in relation to one of the following specific issues: economic ethics, the relation between the individual and society, and human rights.

Discuss the major ethical tenets of liberation theology as expressed by representatives of two of the following regions of the world: Latin America, Africa, and Asia. Explain the relevance of this theology for contemporary religious and social situations, particularly as these are impacted by the global economy.

What are the main structural characteristics of the development of the Christian church's social stances throughout its history? How did differences develop between Protestant and Catholic attitudes to one of the following issues: (i) state and society or (ii) war and peace? Refer to both classic and contemporary sources in your answer.

Can there be a global ethic? How? Refer to two of Küng, Stout, and Macquarrie in your answer.

Compare a representative Confucian view of hedonism and utilitarianism with a representative Taoist view.

What are the major themes in the three ways of ethical thought in China: Confucianism, Taoism, and Realism or Legalism? What are the major similarities and differences among them? Identify and discuss a view within Christian ethical thought that is similar to one of these schools of thought.

Compare and contrast the relationship between Church and State in the thought of Augustine, Luther, and Calvin.

Compare and contrast the major contributions to modern Christian moral thought of three of the following: Troeltsch, Rauschenbush, Reinhold Niebuhr, H.R. Niebuhr, Muelder, Bennett, Tillich, Brunner, and Gustafson.

In East Asian traditions of religion and morality we find key polar ideas such as the Confucian idea of yu-wei vs. the Taoist idea of wu-wei, li-ch’I vs. yin-yang, orthodoxy vs. heterodoxy, inner vs. outer in spatial symbolism, and righteousness (i) vs. profit (li). Explain and discuss one of these pairs of ideas.

Compare and contrast Aristotle’s or Aquinas’ theory of virtue with a Confucian theory of virtue.

Compare the notion of the self and society in two representative thinkers from the following religious traditions: Confucianism, Christianity, Taoism, and Hinduism.

“The global economy is out of control. It is destroying precious cultures and ripping apart the social fabric of life for millions of people.” Do you agree with this statement? If so, why? If not, why not?

How do you go about ethical reasoning from a comparative perspective? Answer with reference to a concrete issue or the thought of one ethical theorist.

What are some of the problems associated with the plurality of moral languages (“ethics after Babel”)?

Discuss the meaning of a world ethic in the context of “the clash of civilizations.”

How could religion have anything to do with economics or business? Discuss the basic relations between the two. In this context, discuss the insights of Max Weber, R.H. Tawney, and one other thinker who has made significant contributions to understanding the problem.

Discuss the contemporary Christian church’s position toward the transnational economy. Explain what you take to be the correct view of the matter.

Can multinational corporations act with moral integrity when their primary commitment is to make profits?

Can business ethics debate really make a difference, given the importance to most businesses of the quest for the maximization of profit?

Can there be a world ethic? What is the meaning of a minimalist common morality in such a quest? How can such an ethic make a difference in a global economy?

What are the potentialities and limitations of theological ethics for a workable international or transnational business ethics?

Can religion really justify wealth-making?

Summarize and evaluate Catholic social teaching on economic justice.

Compare and contrast a Protestant view of economic justice with the official Catholic teaching.

Discuss the potential influence of religious ideas and commitments on the corporate culture of a business organization.

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