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Living the Faith: Religion and Spirituality in Everyday American Life

While the media typically covers religious conflict, the overwhelming majority of faith adherents draws on religion to promote community and peace in the global village. Religion is shaped by, and in turn shapes, those who “live the faith” in their daily lives. This course will uncover the worldviews, beliefs and practices of the three Abrahamic religious traditions in modern American life: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Anthropologist and religious scholar Zahra N. Jamal, Ph.D., will guide participants in examining the ways in which these faiths express everyday spirituality through worship and prayer, food and hunger, illness and wellness, religious objects, and acts of social justice. Through a combination of lecture and discussion, participants will be encouraged to reflect on the commonalities and unique aspects of these religious traditions and the diverse ways people of Abrahamic and other faiths experience spirituality in their daily lives. Alejandro Chaoul, Ph.D., will join Dr. Jamal for the discussion of illness, wellness and religion.

Co-Sponsor: The Rice University Boniuk Institute for the Study and Advancement of Religious Tolerance

Course Details

Section Dates: Six Thursdays, March 31-May 5, 1-2:30 p.m.
Fee: If registering by March 17: $180 After March 17: $190 For Rice alumni: $171
CEUs: 0.9

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Topics will include the following:

  • The Abrahamic faiths in modern America
  • Worship: Communal and personal prayer
  • Food and hunger: How food and feeding the hungry help affirm religious identity, belief and practice
  • Illness and wellness: Healing and expectations of medical care in the traditions of the Abrahamic faiths
  • Religious objects in daily life
  • Doing good: What is “good,” “right” and “just” in each religious tradition and expressions of social justice in modern American Abrahamic faith communities


Zahra N. Jamal, Ph.D., associate director of community engagement at Rice University’s Boniuk Institute for the Study and Advancement of Religious Tolerance, has taught at Harvard, MIT, the University of Chicago, Michigan State University and Palmer Trinity, a college preparatory school. She has consulted for the United Nations, the State Department, Aga Khan Development Network, the Swiss Development Cooperation and Aspen Institute. Dr. Jamal holds an M.A. and Ph.D. from Harvard and a double B.A. from Rice.

Guest Speaker: Alejandro Chaoul, Ph.D., who has trained with Tibetan lamas since 1989, is an assistant professor and director of education in the integrative medicine program at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, where he is involved in research using Tibetan mind-body techniques with cancer patients and facilitates meditation for cancer patients and their caregivers, as well as staff and faculty. Dr. Chaoul is also associate faculty at the McGovern Center for Humanities and Ethics at The University of Texas Medical School at Houston. He holds a Ph.D. from Rice University focusing on Tibetan spiritual traditions.