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Unit outline_

RLST1005: Atheism, Fundamentalism and New Religions

Semester 2, 2020 [Normal day] - Camperdown/Darlington, Sydney

This unit examines religion in the contemporary world including recent high-profile debates and the emergence of new religions. Case studies and themes include: fundamentalism, the 'new' atheism, the effect of globalisation, consumerism and new media on religious practice, new forms of spirituality and enchantment.

Unit details and rules

Academic unit Studies in Religion
Credit points 6
Assumed knowledge


Available to study abroad and exchange students


Teaching staff

Coordinator Jay Johnston,
Tutor(s) Giselle Bader,
Venetia Robertson,
Type Description Weight Due Length
Online task Presentation
A short five minute presentation on a tutorial theme
10% Multiple weeks 5 minutes (approx. 500 words)
Outcomes assessed: LO5 LO7
Participation Tutorial participation
10% Ongoing n/a
Outcomes assessed: LO5 LO7
Assignment Essay
40% Week 06
Due date: 02 Oct 2020 at 23:00
2000 words
Outcomes assessed: LO2 LO3 LO4 LO6
Assignment Take Home Paper
40% Week 11
Due date: 09 Nov 2020 at 23:00
2000 words
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO6 LO4 LO3 LO2

Assessment summary

Instructions and detailed information on each assessment will be distributed in class and made available on Canvas

Assessment criteria

The University awards common result grades, set out in the Coursework Policy 2014 (Schedule 1).

As a general guide, a High distinction indicates work of an exceptional standard, a Distinction a very high standard, a credit a good standard, and a pass an acceptable standard.

Result name

Mark range


High distinction

85 - 100

Awarded when you demonstrate the learning outcomes for the unit at an exceptional standard, as defined by grade descriptors or exemplars outlined by your faculty or school.


75 - 84

Awarded when you demonstrate the learning outcomes for the unit at a very high standard, as defined by grade descriptors or exemplars outlined by your faculty or school.


65 - 74

Awarded when you demonstrate the learning outcomes for the unit at a good standard, as defined by grade descriptors or exemplars outlined by your faculty or school.


50 - 64

Awarded when you demonstrate the learning outcomes for the unit at an acceptable standard, as defined by grade descriptors or exemplars outlined by your faculty or school.


0 - 49

When you don’t meet the learning outcomes of the unit to a satisfactory standard.


For more information see guide to grades.

Late submission

In accordance with University policy, these penalties apply when written work is submitted after 11:59pm on the due date:

  • Deduction of 5% of the maximum mark for each calendar day after the due date.
  • After ten calendar days late, a mark of zero will be awarded.

This unit has an exception to the standard University policy or supplementary information has been provided by the unit coordinator. This information is displayed below:

As per Faculty guidelines

Academic integrity

The Current Student website  provides information on academic integrity and the resources available to all students. The University expects students and staff to act ethically and honestly and will treat all allegations of academic integrity breaches seriously.  

We use similarity detection software to detect potential instances of plagiarism or other forms of academic integrity breach. If such matches indicate evidence of plagiarism or other forms of academic integrity breaches, your teacher is required to report your work for further investigation.

You may only use artificial intelligence and writing assistance tools in assessment tasks if you are permitted to by your unit coordinator, and if you do use them, you must also acknowledge this in your work, either in a footnote or an acknowledgement section.

Studiosity is permitted for postgraduate units unless otherwise indicated by the unit coordinator. The use of this service must be acknowledged in your submission.

Simple extensions

If you encounter a problem submitting your work on time, you may be able to apply for an extension of five calendar days through a simple extension.  The application process will be different depending on the type of assessment and extensions cannot be granted for some assessment types like exams.

Special consideration

If exceptional circumstances mean you can’t complete an assessment, you need consideration for a longer period of time, or if you have essential commitments which impact your performance in an assessment, you may be eligible for special consideration or special arrangements.

Special consideration applications will not be affected by a simple extension application.

Using AI responsibly

Co-created with students, AI in Education includes lots of helpful examples of how students use generative AI tools to support their learning. It explains how generative AI works, the different tools available and how to use them responsibly and productively.

WK Topic Learning activity Learning outcomes
Week 01 1. Introduction: Key Focus and Thematics Lecture (2 hr)  
Week 02 A History of Atheism from Antiquity to the Enlightenment. Lecture (2 hr)  
Tutorial 2: Atheism in the Middle Ages Tutorial (1 hr)  
Week 03 1. Atheism in Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Philosophy 2. New Atheism Lecture (2 hr)  
Tutorial 3: New Atheism Tutorial (1 hr)  
Week 04 1. State Atheism 2. Secularisation Lecture (2 hr)  
Tutorial 4: Secularisation Tutorial (1 hr)  
Week 05 1. Civil Religion and the ANZAC legend 2. Atheism, Science, and the Future Lecture (2 hr)  
Tutorial 5: Civil Religions Tutorial (1 hr)  
Week 06 1. What is Fundamentalism? 2. Christian Fundamentalism Lecture (2 hr)  
Tutorial 6: Fundamentalism I Tutorial (1 hr)  
Week 07 1. Islam and Fundamentalism 2. Ultra-Orthodox Judaism Lecture (2 hr)  
Tutorial 7: Fundamentlaism II Tutorial (1 hr)  
Week 08 1. Hindutva 2. Buddhism and Fundamentalism? Lecture (2 hr)  
Tutorial 8: Fundamentalism III Tutorial (1 hr)  
Week 09 1. What is a New Religion? 2. The Theosophical Society and Its Contemporary Legacy Lecture (2 hr)  
Tutorial 9: New Religions Tutorial (1 hr)  
Week 10 1. Re-Enchantment, Esotericism and the Contemporary World 2. Occulture and the Media Lecture (2 hr)  
Tutorial 10: Re-Enchantment Tutorial (1 hr)  
Week 11 1. 'New’ Nature Religion 2. Contemporary Shamanism Lecture (2 hr)  
Tutorial 11: New Nature Religion Tutorial (1 hr)  
Week 12 1. Consuming Spirit: Self-Directed Spirituality and Consumerism 2. Sensory Souls: Wellbeing Spirituality Lecture (2 hr)  
Tutorial 12: Religion and Consumerism Tutorial (1 hr)  

Attendance and class requirements

  • Attendance: According to Faculty Board Resolutions, students in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences are expected to attend 90% of their classes. If you attend less than 50% of classes, regardless of the reasons, you may be referred to the Examiner’s Board. The Examiner’s Board will decide whether you should pass or fail the unit of study if your attendance falls below this threshold.
  • Lecture recording:  Lectures will be recorded and be made available to students on Canvas. 
  • Preparation: Students should commit to spend approximately three hours’ preparation time (reading, studying, homework, essays, etc.) for every hour of scheduled instruction.

Study commitment

Typically, there is a minimum expectation of 1.5-2 hours of student effort per week per credit point for units of study offered over a full semester. For a 6 credit point unit, this equates to roughly 120-150 hours of student effort in total.

Required readings

Tutorial 2:  Atheism in the Middle Ages

Alexander Murray, Reason and Society in the Middle Ages (Oxford [Oxfordshire]: Clarendon Press, 1978) 1–22.


Steven Justice, “Did the Middle Ages Believe in Their  Miracles?” Representations, no. 103 (June 22, 2008) 1–29.

Tutorial 3 New Atheism 

Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, (Bantam, 2006) 112­–159. 

Richard Cimino and Christopher Smith, “The New Atheism and the Formation of The Imagined Secularist Community,” Journal of Media and Religion, 10:1 (2011): 24­–38. 

Tutorial 4 Secularisation

Callum G. Brown, “What Was the Religious Crisis of the 1960s?” Journal of Religious History 34, no. 4 (December 2010): 468–479.


Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge, Mass: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2007) 1–22.

Tutorial 5 Civil Religions 

Christopher Hartney, “States of Ultimacy and the Cult of the Dead Soldier: The Anzac Tradition, The Charisma of Materiality, and Civil Religion as it is Embodied in the Australian War Memorial Canberra,” Secularisation: New Historical Perspective, C. Hartney (ed) (Newcastle­-Upon-­Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2014) 214­–250. 

Robert N. Bellah, “Civil Religion in America.” Daedalus 134, no. 4 (2005): 40–55. 


Tutorial 6: Fundamentalism I 

Henry Munson, “Fundamentalism,” The Blackwell Companion to the Study of Religion, ed. R. A. Segal(Oxford: John Wiley and Sons, 2006) 255–270.

Kevin P. Lee, “Inherit the Myth: How William Jennings Bryan’s Struggle With Social Darwinism and Legal Formalism Demythologise the Scopes Monkey Trial,” Campbell Law Review 33 (2004): 347-382. 

Tutorial 7: Fundamentalism II 

William Cavanaugh, The Myth of Religious Violence (Oxford: Oxford University      Press, 2009) 181-230. 

Bruce Lincoln, Holy Terrors: Thinking About Religion After September 11 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002), 51-61 

Tutorial 8: Fundamentalism III

Stuart Mcanulla, “Secular Fundamentalists? Characterising the New Atheist Approach to Secularism, Religion and Politics” British Politics9.2 (2014): 124–145.

Tutorial 9: New Religions

Douglas E. Cowan and David G. Bromley, Cults and New Religions: A Brief History. Chapter 1 (Oxford: Wiley Blackwell, 2015): 1–17.

Dusty Hoesly, “Organic Farming as Spiritual Practice and Practical Spirituality at Sunburst Farms,” Nova Religio23.1 (2019): 60–88.

Tutorial 10: Re-Enchantment

Christopher Partridge, The Disenchantment and Re-Enchantment of the West  (London: T&T Clark, 2004) 38-59. 

J’Annine Jobling, Fantastic Spiritualities: Monsters, Heroes, and the       Contemporary Supernatural(London: T&T Clark, 2010) 1-21. 

Tutorial 11: New Nature Religion

Kathryn Rountree, “Neo-paganism, Animism and Kinship with Nature.” Journal of Contemporary Religion27:2 (2012): 305–320.

Trude Fonneland and Siv Ellen Kraft, “New Age, Sami Shamanism and Indigenous Spirituality,” New Age Spirituality: Rethinking Religion, S. J. Sutcliffe and I. S. Gilhus (eds.) (Durham: Acumen, 2013) 132-145. 

Tutorial 12: Religion and Consumerism

Teemu Taira, “The Problem of Capitalism in the Scholarship on        Contemporary Spiritualism,” Postmodern Spirituality (Turku: Donner           Institute, 2009) 230-244.

Mara Einstein, Brands of Faith: Marketing Religion in a Commercial Age (London: Routledge, 2007): 67-94.


Learning outcomes are what students know, understand and are able to do on completion of a unit of study. They are aligned with the University's graduate qualities and are assessed as part of the curriculum.

At the completion of this unit, you should be able to:

  • LO1. identify world religions and describe historical and theoretical relationships
  • LO2. conduct research using academically reputable print and online sources, accessed via search engines, library catalogues and databases
  • LO3. communicate in clear and effective prose, and using an academic referencing system correctly
  • LO4. demonstrate the ability to learn independently
  • LO5. demonstrate an informed and open-minded perspective about social, cultural, linguistic and religious diversity in Australia and the world
  • LO6. critically evaluate news media and popular cultural sources of information about religions and spiritualities
  • LO7. demonstrate oral communication skills by working in small groups in tutorial classes.

Graduate qualities

The graduate qualities are the qualities and skills that all University of Sydney graduates must demonstrate on successful completion of an award course. As a future Sydney graduate, the set of qualities have been designed to equip you for the contemporary world.

GQ1 Depth of disciplinary expertise

Deep disciplinary expertise is the ability to integrate and rigorously apply knowledge, understanding and skills of a recognised discipline defined by scholarly activity, as well as familiarity with evolving practice of the discipline.

GQ2 Critical thinking and problem solving

Critical thinking and problem solving are the questioning of ideas, evidence and assumptions in order to propose and evaluate hypotheses or alternative arguments before formulating a conclusion or a solution to an identified problem.

GQ3 Oral and written communication

Effective communication, in both oral and written form, is the clear exchange of meaning in a manner that is appropriate to audience and context.

GQ4 Information and digital literacy

Information and digital literacy is the ability to locate, interpret, evaluate, manage, adapt, integrate, create and convey information using appropriate resources, tools and strategies.

GQ5 Inventiveness

Generating novel ideas and solutions.

GQ6 Cultural competence

Cultural Competence is the ability to actively, ethically, respectfully, and successfully engage across and between cultures. In the Australian context, this includes and celebrates Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, knowledge systems, and a mature understanding of contemporary issues.

GQ7 Interdisciplinary effectiveness

Interdisciplinary effectiveness is the integration and synthesis of multiple viewpoints and practices, working effectively across disciplinary boundaries.

GQ8 Integrated professional, ethical, and personal identity

An integrated professional, ethical and personal identity is understanding the interaction between one’s personal and professional selves in an ethical context.

GQ9 Influence

Engaging others in a process, idea or vision.

Outcome map

Learning outcomes Graduate qualities

This section outlines changes made to this unit following staff and student reviews.

No changes have been made since this unit was last offered'.


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