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Philosophy of Religion

PHIL 171 – Spring, 2006
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SUMMARY
Short Description: This course explores the development, not only of some classic positions within the philosophy of religion, but also of how these views have affected the formulation of more contemporary discussions

Outcome Statement: Students will be able to demonstrate understanding of the enterprise of using reason, broadly construed, to articulate issues arising out of religious belief and practice and to formulate and defend positions with respect to those issues.
THIS COURSE AND THE UNIVERSITY CORE CURRICULUM


Knowledge Area(s) satisfied:

Philosophical Knowledge, Theological and Religious Studies Knowledge

Skill(s) Developed:

Critical Thinking Skills and Dispositions

Values Requirement(s) satisfied:

Understanding Spirituality or Faith in Action in the World


CORE LEARNING OBJECTIVES




First Knowledge Area (Philosophical Knowledge):
Philosophy of religion is the enterprise of using reason, broadly construed, to articulate issues arising out of religious belief and practice and to formulate and defend positions with respect to those issues. The issues that practitioners of this discipline consider are (roughly) of three kinds:
A. Those that pertain to particular questions of religious belief, such as

-whether God, gods, goddesses, or anything that can fairly be called 'divine' exists; or

-whether there is continued existence after death in the form of personal immortality, reincarnation or something else altogether;

B. Those that pertain to the nature of religious belief itself, such as

-whether, in what way, and under what conditions religious belief is rational, or

-whether and to what degree evidence may be available to support religious belief;

C. Those that pertain to value questions that derive from religious belief, such as

-how human freedom and responsibility are maintained in the context of divine power;

-how “good” and “evil” may be characterized.
Second Knowledge Area (Theological and Religious Studies Knowledge):
NOTE: A course in the philosophy of religion is an appropriate option for Loyola students who may not be committed to any specific faith tradition, but who are nevertheless spiritually and theologically inquisitive.
The objectives associated with the second knowledge areas are to enable the student to develop the following competencies:
(a) Analyze and interpret religious texts, beliefs, and practices using standard scholarly methods and tools. (This course focuses on the nature, content and variety of religious belief and will employ “standard scholarly methods and tools” appropriate to the philosophical analysis of religious beliefs and concepts.)

(b) Demonstrate knowledge, with attention to historical development, of the central texts, beliefs, ethical understandings, and practices of at least one religious tradition. (This course will, of necessity, utilize the belief content of one or more specific faith traditions in developing its analysis. Further, it will examine how theological understanding itself can develop historically within such a given belief system. It will also explore the implications of various theological positions on the nature of “good” and “evil” for value questions, that is, for right human action.)

(c) Demonstrate knowledge of the intersections between religion and selected contemporary issues, including ethics, social, political, economic, or cultural issues. (This course will not seek an understanding of religion in a cultural or conceptual vacuum. That is, religion will be examined within the context of larger views concerning the nature of reality, human identity, human culture, the capacities of human knowledge, and moral value. This perspective has immediate relevance for a concrete philosophy of life.)

(d) Evaluate one's own religious perspective and the religious perspectives of others.

Demonstrate knowledge of central ethical teachings and perspectives of a religious tradition. (This overlaps with (b), but a course in the philosophy of religion may be somewhat distinct from a traditional course in theology in that it adopts an essentially comparative perspective, examining the problem of how individuals with disparate religious beliefs can share a common view of reality and the world. In this respect, an “ethics” that tries to rise above religious differences, while recognizing the value of the ethical principles within those traditions, may in the end provide a greater opportunity for cultural harmony.)
Objectives common to both Knowledge Areas:
Specifically, students will develop the following competencies:
(a) Distinguish among various basic conceptions of divine being, such as those that take such a being to be “personal” in a sense modeled on the human person vs. those that might take this characterization to be anthropomorphic; those that take finite being to be separate and apart from infinite being vs. those that take the latter to somehow encompass the former (as in pantheism); and, in so doing, showing how these different conceptions may derive from different faith traditions.

(b) Provide examples of arguments for the existence of a divine being.

(c) Characterize the mode of existence of human being in relation to divine being; for example, whether human beings are capable of existing in two distinct states (corporeal/mortal and spiritual/immortal) and how this question relates to the meaning and possibility of an “afterlife.”

(d) Analyze the problems that beset the relation between “religious belief” and “knowledge”; for example, is religious belief to be taken to be superior or inferior to knowledge?; to what extent is religious belief subject to the same requirements of justification as knowledge-claims?

(e) Distinguish among differing theological conceptions of “good” and “evil,” drawing out their implications for our understanding of human identity and human destiny, and showing how these different conceptions may derive from different faith traditions.

(f) Explain the strengths and weaknesses of all these various approaches, evaluating and criticizing them in a balanced way while defending their own point of view (that is, to "think critically" about all of these arguments and points of view). (This is a competency shared with “skills”).



Skills (Critical Thinking Skills and Dispositions):
Students will be able to
(a) Read and interpret philosophical texts, demonstrating their comprehension by their ability to explain them when asked to do so, either in examinations, essays or other format.

(b) Analyze relationships among concepts and claims made in these philosophical texts (or among philosophical ideas and positions developed in class) and distinguish among even subtly differing philosophical positions.

(c) Evaluate the strengths and weaknesses among the varying points of view they will encounter. It is of the essence of philosophical inquiry, of course, that such diversity of viewpoint be developed within the context of every philosophy course and be presented to students precisely as a means of enhancing their ability to evaluate in this way.

(d) Not only grasp the concepts, positions and arguments of the viewpoints they encounter, but to develop their own points of view–a process that encourages the exercise of their own imagination, resources and creativity by requiring them to strike out on their own.

(e) Examine both their own philosophical positions and those of others with balance and a critical eye, weighing reasons for and against, examining them and defending them with arguments of their own devising.

(f) Examine not only the arguments they put forward in this way, but also be aware of the motivation behind those arguments through critical self-reflection.



Values Area (Understanding Spirituality or Faith in Action in the World):
A significant part of the course will be devoted both to the evaluation of faith claims from the standpoint of reason and to the examination of the rationality of faith or religious belief generally. A by-product of this will be a heightened understanding of the nature of religious belief and practice.


PROCEDURES
Full Course Description: Philosophy of religion is the enterprise of using reason, broadly construed, to articulate issues arising out of religious belief and practice and to formulate and defend positions with respect to those issues. The issues that practitioners of this discipline consider are (roughly) of three kinds:
A. Those that pertain to particular questions of religious belief, such as

-whether God, gods, goddesses, or anything that can fairly be called 'divine' exists; or

-whether there is continued existence after death in the form of personal immortality, reincarnation or something else altogether;

B. Those that pertain to the nature of religious belief itself, such as

-whether, in what way, and under what conditions religious belief is rational, or

-whether and to what degree evidence may be available to support religious belief;

C. Those that pertain to value questions that derive from religious belief, such as

-how human freedom and responsibility are maintained in the context of divine power;



-how “good” and “evil” may be characterized.

Required and Recommended Readings:
Course Requirements:
Grading Policy:
Attendance Policy:
Statement on Plagiarism: Plagiarism on the part of a student in academic work or dishonest examination behavior will result minimally in the instructor assigning the grade of "F" for the assignment or examination. In addition, all instances of academic dishonesty must be reported to the chairperson of the department involved. The chairperson may constitute a hearing board to consider the imposition of sanctions in addition to those imposed by the instructor, including a recommendation of expulsion, depending upon the seriousness of the misconduct.
Special Needs: Any student needing a special accommodation in this course due to a documented disability is asked to bring this to the attention of the instructor at the beginning of the semester so that needs can be appropriately addressed.

Course Schedule:



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