top of page

Spirituality, religion and social change



16:30 – 18:20


2nd semester

Lecture venue
Lecture time
Offer semester
  • The aim of this course is to engage you in a reflection on spirituality and religion, and on their relevance to contemporary social change. It will aim to do so in a manner which is personally meaningful, appropriate for critical analysis, and relevant to social action. Society is undergoing a resurgence of religious or spiritual beliefs and practices. Many of us are personally committed to spiritual or religious beliefs, are engaged in what could be called a “spiritual search”, or at the very least have many questions of a spiritual nature. As faith in secular ideologies declines, there is a growing tendency to turn to religious traditions as conceptual and social resources for personal growth and social engagement. But is this appropriate or even right? In the past few decades the world has witnessed a dramatic resurgence of spiritual seeking and religious engagement in society, in ways that may be either constructive or destructive. Given the historical record, is it realistic to expect religion to provide answers to personal and social problems?

    Open to believers, agnostics, skeptics, atheists and seekers, this course will give you exposure to, and an opportunity to engage with, the spiritual heritage of humanity. You will explore topics such as human operating systems, objects of consciousness, the mindscape, spiritual practices, existentialism, materialism, the meaning of life and death, ritual and mythology, human nature, the evolution of religion, religion and society, and the crisis of religion. You will discuss teachings of some of the world’s major religious traditions, as well as spiritual themes contained in popular feature films. You will critically consider the contemporary social implications of religious teachings and spiritual principles. You will reflect on whether these approaches to human spiritual life are part of the cause or part of the solution for global social problems.

    Study load


    Number of Hours





    Fieldwork / Visits


    Reading / Self-study


    Assessment: Short essays


    Assessment: Field journal writing


  • On completing the course, students will be able to:

    • Engage in self-reflective dialogue with others on issues of spiritual and social concern.

    • Compare expressions of religion and spirituality emanating from different cultural and religious backgrounds.

    • Apply social scientific perspectives and concepts to analyze, interpret and evaluate spiritual concepts and their associated social and religious practices.

    • Evaluate the appropriateness of different forms of spiritual and religious engagement for improving the human condition in the context of an emerging global society.

  • Tasks


    Analytical writing


    Field visit report


    Final reflective video


    Tutorial and fieldtrip participation


  • [The required reading should be realistic in relation to the amount of time allocated in the specified study load [item 10] and please assign only reading tasks that will be discussed in the tutorials or the lectures.]

    [If a few chapters rather than the entire text are set as required reading, please specify the selected chapters or page numbers. For consistency, please use Harvard reference style ( to list your readings. For example:

    • Chang, F. T., & Hard, L. A. (2002). Human-animals bonds in the laboratory: how animal behavior affects the perspective of caregivers. ILAR Journal43(1), 10-18. From

    • Siegel, D. (2012). The developing mind: How relationships and the brain interact to shape who we are(2nd ed.). New York: Guilford Press. [Chap. 7 “Self-regulation”; Chap. 8 “Interpersonal connection”]

    Required Reading

    Required readings will be posted to the class Moodle. There will generally be one article of around 20 pages to read per week. The assigned readings have been specially written for this course, based on transcriptions of previous years’ lectures. Additional suggested readings from books and academic articles are also uploaded to the class Moodle site. Please read the materials for each week BEFORE the lecture on the week’s topic.

    Required Film Viewing

    You are required to view some feature films on your own, which will be assigned by the instructor based on their relevance to the course themes. Copies of these films will be placed on reserve in the University Library. In lectures and tutorials we will discuss the relevant spiritual or religious themes associated with the films. Some ethnographic documentary films will be shown in class as well.

    Field Trips

    Students shall join field trips to religious communities in Hong Kong, which may include Baha’i, Buddhism, Daoism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism and Sikhism, and take part in activities such as meditation, spirit-writing, ritual, study circle, interviews and discussions with believers.

Prof David A Palmer


Prof David A Palmer
Course co-ordinator and teachers
bottom of page