Review Comment

[RELIV3411] Tantra In Asia and the West

May 28, 2017

McDermott, Rachel Silver_nugget and Como, Michael Silver_nugget
[RELIV3411] Tantra In Asia and the West

I went into this class knowing nothing about eastern religions, so it was really cool to get to understand at least the basics of Hinduism, Buddhism, Daoism, Confucianism, and the cosmology of Tibet and Japan, all through the lens of Tantra. However, this class was a little more difficult and intense than I would have liked (just because I was only taking it for a global core). To start, Tantra itself is super confusing (which is the point of having a whole class on it), which makes the lectures inherently complex and it also makes it really, really hard to find outside information to supplement the lectures or clarify difficult concepts (other than the assigned readings) if you have to miss a lecture or are just generally confused. Moreover, this class covers Tantra as it's seen in India, China, Japan, Tibet, and the West, and spans more than 3,000 years of time. This is really cool because it gives you a really good overview of important concepts across the globe and time, but it is really hard to see how it all connects, and to remember the important people/places/names, etc. The good thing is that the professors are aware of this, and try to make things as clear as possible in lectures and via handouts, and the TAs also grade things with the knowledge of how hard all this stuff is to remember. That being said, it was kind of frustrating to me that we couldn't get into a ton of depth and that I often felt kind of confused and lost. The topic, in my opinion, was pretty interesting, but not really mind-blowing; I never felt bored in lectures, but was not often amazed either.

In terms of how the class functions, McDermott and Como are both great lecturers who express themselves with a great deal of clarity and do a good job of summarizing complexity down into something digestible. McDermott focuses on India, while Como takes on China and Japan; a TA named Guy covered Tibet. McDermott is really direct and focuses more on dates, names, etc., while Como likes to tell stories and is much more prone to wandering off. McDermott gives handouts every day of important terms (since otherwise they'd be difficult to spell) and images of artworks or cartoons. The professors do a great job, but because there are no slides for either of them and the only lecture materials are McDermott's handouts which are only used for referencing terms and images during lectures, I found that it is absoLUTELY essential to attend lecture and take copious notes. Otherwise, there is no way at all to reference anything discussed in lecture, which I found kind of frustrating. For example, I got docked major points on one of my essays because I misheard Como in lecture and wrote the entirely wrong phrase throughout my essay. I also think the class is kind of an awkward structure. There were 70-80 students in the class, so it was pretty much impossible to have a discussion; whenever questions were asked, they were almost always answered by the same 3 people. However, both professors still tried to have discussions, which I found not helpful. There is a mandatory 1-hour recitation every 2 weeks, which I rarely found helpful since there's just too much ground covered in 2 weeks to cover in 1 hour and still have a discussion.

This class has a HEAVY reading load. I read the first few days' worth of assigned readings, but 95% of the time I didn't do any of the readings because it was just too much. I got through the class with an A- having almost never done the readings and doing each of the two essays the day before they were due, but always coming to lecture and taking notes and studying a fair amount. Take that as you will. The grading is fair/generous, and there is no midterm, only a final worth 40% of your grade, for which the professors offer a really helpful study guide.

Ultimately, I'd probably recommend the class. If you want a super easy global core, this isn't for you, but if you want a decent sense of eastern religions with two great professors, then I'd probably go for it!

Workload:

20% - Participation - no attendance at lectures, so I think totally based on recitation attendance
40% - Essays (20% each) of like 8 pages or so on one of 3 topics given; totally doable, but I probably should have clarified some important concepts in office hours
40% - Final - totally fair; study the concepts in the study guide a decent amount and you'll come through with a B+ or higher, as long as you attended lectures and paid attention

September 04, 2015

McDermott, Rachel Silver_nugget and Como, Michael Silver_nugget
[RELIV3411] Tantra In Asia and the West

Just echoing all of the other reviewers that say Como and McDermott are great. She's a bit more linear, he's a bit more freewheeling. They're both excellent lecturers and incredibly nice human beings. If you start to feel behind take advantage of their office hours, they're both very warm and helpful.

Workload:

HEAVY on the reading, but very light on the writing. Mid-term and Final were a breeze if you pay attention to the readings and lectures.

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