Senior Seminar, Comprehensive Exam Questions

Global Philosophy

  • What criticisms of Confucianism were made by the early philosophers of ancient China such as Chuang Tzu, Lao Tzu, Mo Tzu and Hsun Tzu?
  • What themes in the Vedas and Upanishads of ancient India dominated the thinking of the later schools of Hindu thought?
  • What are some the important differences between Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism?
  • What is the controversy between the Rinzai and Soto schools of Zen Buddhism over the nature of meditational practice?
  • What are the differences between the Confucian concept of governmental rule and those of Plato and Aristotle?
  • What are the differences between concepts of nature found in Confucianism, Taoism, and the Yin Yang school, and the Pre-Socratics, Plato and Aristotle?
  • What are the major differences between Buddhism and Hinduism in ancient India ?
  • What were the major transformations of Buddhism as it moved out of India into China and Japan ?
  • What similarities are found in the concept, or lack of it, of the soul in the traditions of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism?
  • What is the difference between Western and Eastern concepts of separating religiosity and secularism?
  • Describe the doctrinal differences between Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism with reference to the role of the Arhat and the Bodhisattva.
  • Explain the technique and purpose of the Hindu practice of Yoga.
  • Discuss both Buddhism and Confucianism as a response to human suffering and conflict.
  • Compare the importance of the self or ego for Eastern and Western philosophy.
  • For Confucianism, are human beings essentially good or evil? In either case, how does one act well?
  • Explain the Hindu concept of deity.
  • How is Islam related to Judaism?
  • Differentiate the Sunnis, Shiites, Sufis, and Wahhabis.
  • How does archaeological evidence substantiate or discredit the biblical record?
  • Wellhausen says that the Mosaic history is the starting point for the history of Judaism, not the history of Ancient Israel. Explain.
  • Describe the process and problems of Hellenism among the Jewish people at the time of Alexander the Great, Antiochus IV, and Jesus of Nazareth.
  • Compare and contrast the approaches of Strauss, Schweitzer, and Bultmann to the Gospels and the life of Jesus.
  • List the criteria for the third quest of the historical Jesus. (Make sure to explain the relationship between the synoptic Gospels and the development of separate sources in composing the answer).
  • Discuss Paul's theology.
  • Discuss what the church said about Jesus Christ at Nicea and Chalcedon .
  • Differentiate the Catholic, Lutheran, Reformed, and Anabaptist concept of the sacraments, emphasizing baptism and the Lord's Supper.
  • For Barth the Word of God is the basis of the church's speaking. Explain.
  • Karl Marx (1818-1883) argued that religions arise as an escape from poverty and social oppression. Consequently, he thought that when social problems were eliminated, religions would die away. What arguments and examples would you give for and against this position?
  • It is commonly said that religion is a "crutch" to help an individual deal with pain, overcome loneliness, or create meaning in life. Is this a fair assessment? What examples would you give for and against such an argument?
  • Review characteristics of ancient Egyptian, Mesopotamian, and Persian (Zoroastrianism) religions and trace their manifestations in Judaism.
  • Explain the standing of women in the Jewish Bible. To what degree did the Hebrew scriptures ameliorate the condition of women, and to what degree did they reinforce a patriarchal society?
  • According to Martin Luther, what are the three walls in the Roman Catholic Church, and what arguments does Luther use to "demolish" them? Why do you think Luther failed to reform the Roman Catholic Church?
  • How do you explain the statement: "Islam did not arise out of the history of a covenant with God, as is the case with Judaism?"
  • Based on Islamic beliefs, where does Muhammad stand in relation to previous prophets? How do Muslims view Jesus, why do Muslims refute the divinity of Jesus (and the Trinity), and why is experiencing God a problem in Islam? How do these views and beliefs affect a meaningful, productive Christian-Muslim dialogue, or do they?
  • Some scholars argue that Islam in America has become (or will become) a major religion like Christianity and Judaism. Do you agree or disagree? Discuss.
  • Compare the Islamic doctrine of Jihad with the "Just War" theory. How are they similar? How are they different?
  • Describe Sufi beliefs and practices and discuss how they differ from those in mainstream Islam.
  • Describe ShiÔi beliefs and practices and discuss how they differ from those in mainstream Islam.
  • In Indian society, was the Buddha a liberal, a conservative, or a radical? Give examples to support your answer. What considerations beyond the Buddha's personality and teachings may have contributed to the success of Buddhism, and why? What Buddhist teachings could be most difficult to practice in North America , and why?
  • The basic nature of human beings has been one of the great topics of discussion throughout the history of China . Is human nature good or bad or somewhere in between? What were the Chinese views on this matter? Discuss.
  • How does the Bhagavad-Gita present and answer the problem of war? What is your critique of its answer? How may its answer be applicable to peoples of other cultures and other religions?
  • What do you think are the most important reasons for the rise of new religious movements in recent times? How adequate is the term new religious movement in your view? What are its strength and weaknesses?
  • How do you see feminism changing traditional religions over the next hundred years? What are your predictions for the state of the world's religions in 2100? Offer support for your predictions.
  • What are some of the important similarities and differences between Sufism and Zen Buddhism.
  • How do Confucianism and Buddhism differ in what they contribute to Japanese culture?
  • Describe the Buddhism of Kukai. What part of it makes sense to the Western mind and what part does not?
  • What are the similarities and difference between Pure Land Buddhism and Zen Buddhism?
  • How does the notion of Kami make a statement about the relation between humanity and the universe?
  • In what ways is esoteric Buddhism comparable to the indigenous religions of Japan ?
  • What is the contradiction that Shinron thought found in Buddhist practice and how did it seek to solve the problem?
  • How is surrender (Shinjin) understood as a process that brings spiritual enlightenment.
  • What are the meditative and practical features of Dogen's version of Buddhism?
  • How does the theory of upaya (expedient means) affect our understanding of Japanese philosophy. What are some of the most important elements of the allegory of the burning house from the Lotus Sutra?
  • What is the nature of Dukkha (suffering, stress, etc) and how according to the 4 Noble Truths can it be overcome.
  • What is the nature of the 7th and 8th stages of the Eight Fold Path and how are what do the analogies of the pot stand and the raft tell us about both?
  • What is the relationship between Wabisumi (the life of wabi) and sabi and what kind of seeing does sabi express?
  • Analyze some of the Haikus of Basho and show how they illustrate important concepts in Japanese Philosophy.
  • In the Surangama Sutra what is the reasons for rejecting the common sense claim that the mind is inside the body?
  • What insight does Basho's experience of the Frog and the Pond and Hsiang-yen experience of the tile and the bamboo give into the nature of Satori?
  • What is the difference between the poem of Hui Neng and the poem of Shen Hsiu, as far as the nature of meditation is concerned, that the Fifth Patriarch would give the insignia of his office to Hui Neng.
  • What do the Basho's experience of the Frog and the Pond, Hsiang-yen experience of the tile and the bamboo, and Shih-pei's enlightenment experience after hitting his toe have in common? How are their insights different?
  • What insight does the Surangama Sutra gives us into the Satori of Basho, Hsiang-yen and Shih-pei?
  • How is Dogen is the image of a moon reflected in a dewdrop an analogy for meditation?
  • For Dogen meditation as an activity is a contradiction of what meditation is - to try to stop the mind is itself an activity of the mind and so it is like trying to wash off blood with blood or like trying to lift your body off the ground by pulling on the straps on your boots. Discuss passages from the reading assignment that gives insight into how Dogen understands meditation and overcomes the contradiction of understanding mediation as an activity?
  • What is the difference between the ordinary conception of time and Dogen's conception of time?
  • The Heart Sutra adds a new dimension to the discussion of the nature of meditation and marks the conceptual difference between earlier Hinayana Buddhism and later Mahayana Buddhism. How does the koan , Joshu's Mu, express the same concepts given expression in the Heart Sutra.
  • What was wrong and what was right about the answer which Hakuin gave to Shoju, when Shoju asked "What is Mu". And Hakuin answered by saying "There is nothing to get hold of." Why did Shoju painfully twist Hakuin nose and call him a "dead monk in cave?"
  • Why is the gateless barrier of Zen Buddhism gateless?
  • How does the concept of the self or ego differ between Eastern and Western philosophy?
  • Explain the influence that Zoroastrianism likely had on Judaism, and thus on later Christian and Islamic theology.

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