Essay Information Page - Perspectives on Human Nature  
Essay Topics
Essay Tips
General Style Guide and Tips

Essay Topics 

In this course, you will be responsible for handing in two essays, one in each term. Here are the instructions for each essay, as indicated in the course outline:

First Term (see course web page for due dates; late penalties apply after due date).  Deliver to C213 (slot in door).  Be sure to keep a copy!

1.  Write an essay on the nature and causes of the problem of man's "homelessness",  "anomy", "encounter with nothingness" in modernity and the "nostalgia for the absolute" to which this cultural crisis has given rise.  Explore various literary, philosophical, artistic, cinematic or other cultural manifestations of these themes.




2.  Write an essay on the process of secularization, contrasting Berger's (1965) view of this process with McGrath's (2004) perspective.



Second Term (see course web page for due dates; late penalties apply after due date).  Deliver to C213 (slot in door).  Be sure to keep a copy!

1.  Write a critical study of existentialism as a series of philosophical responses to the "death of god" and the spectre of nihilism.  Discuss the distinctions between religious and atheistic existentialism and explore the work of one or more writers representing each of these perspectives.


2.  Write an essay on dialectical thinking in the work of Hegel, Marx and Freud.




3.  Outline the critique of religion as illusion developed by Feuerbach, Marx and Freud.


1.  It is essential that you discuss your essay topic thoroughly in seminar before beginning to write so that you are quite clear about what is expected.
2.  Students may generate essay topics of their own only with the explicit written permission of the instructor.
3.  Remember you are writing, not for the instructor, but for the intelligent lay person who has not taken this course. Define all key terms.
4.  Lectures are designed as a guide to your own research.  Essays which merely regurgitate lecture notes will not be accepted.  Do not quote or refer to lectures in your essays; work with relevant texts instead.
5.  Form, style, syntax, grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc., are as important as the content of your essay.
6.  The "in text" reference system is to be used.  For an illustration of this system see:  Carveth, D. (1993).  Carveth, D. (1993). "The Borderline Dilemma in Paris, Texas: Psychoanalytic Approaches to Sam Shepard."  Canadian Journal of Psychoanalysis/Revue canadienne de psychanalyse, 1, 2:19-46.
7.  Length:  Approximately three thousand words or twelve typed and double-spaced pages.
8.    Students who wish to express their solidarity with feminism linguistically should consistently write "she", "her", etc., or alternate the masculine and feminine forms, rather than "he/she", "him/her", etc.
9.  Deliver essays to C213 (slot in door).  Be sure to make and keep a copy!

10. Please use complete justification of the text (as distinct from left justification).

11. Do not attribute to Buber concepts that are Barrett's, or to Barrett concepts that are Buber's, and so on with respect to other authors.

12. In your first reference to a book provide in brackets it's year of first publication.  As long as you continue to refer to this book you need not repeat the bracketed reference; when you turn to a different book by this author, or a book by another author, provide the bracketed date.

13. In your test refer to dates of first publication if possible, but in your bibliography include the year of publication of the edition you are using.

14. Do not equate habitation and nomos, and homelessness and anomy. An epoch of homelessness still entails a nomos, but one in which there is a good deal of anomy experienced. An epoch of habitation is one in which anomy may be rare but is likely to still exist.

15. Failure to discuss concepts closely related to the one you are focused upon results in a shallow essay.  Discuss closely related concepts.

16. Comparing and contrasting each author's views adds analytical interest and depth, as opposed to discussing each theory entirely separately.

17. Make sure that when you apply concepts you discuss closely related concepts as well and explain why and how these concepts are relevant.

18. Do not write excessively long paragraphs.  Each paragraph should contain one main idea.  When you shift to another idea start a new paragraph.

19. Do not sacrifice clarity in an attempt to write elegantly.

Essay Tips

First Term Essay 
1. Selection of the cultural, literary, artistic, or social phenomenon or practice which you will be investigating under the themes of "homelessness," "nostalgia for the absolute," "encounter with nothingness," and "anomy." Why is the phenomenon you have selected interesting, topical, or important?
2. Make sure to carefully define all technical terms.  You are not writing for the Instructor but for the intelligent lay person who has not taken this course.
3. State clearly how these themes are manifested in the phenomenon about which you are writing.

Second Term Essay 
Select either Topic 1 (Existentialism) or Topic 2 (Freudian critique of religion)

Topic 1 - Existentialism
1. Select two existentialist thinkers to compare and contrast out of the four we have covered in the course (Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Sartre), keeping in mind the questions of the 'death of god,' nihilism, and religious vs. atheistic existentialism. You may certainly refer to the thinkers you are not directly writing about in the essay, if it makes sense to do so.
2. Present some of the points of similarity or even agreement between the two authors, as well as the points of difference or disagreement.

Topic 2 - Freudian critique of religion
1. Freud develops his theory of religion in four main steps.  Identify the relevant texts in which he does so. How do you plan to present the components of his theory? How are the four steps logically connected to each other?
2. What are the critiques of Freud's theory offered by Steiner, Stevenson & Haberman, Kung and Meissner, and McGrath?  In light of these critiques, what aspects of Freud's theory of religion seem valid and what aspects invalid and why?


General Style Guide and Tips for Academic Essays

Here are some general guidelines for the presentation of an academic essay.  They are not set in stone nor are they hard and fast rules, but they will help make your essay easy to read and follow.

I. Title Page
II. Text

III. Writing Mechanics and Tips

A. Paragraphs
B. Introduction
C. Citations
D. Conclusion
E. Bibliography

IV. Punctuation Style and Presentation
V. Subordinate Conjunctions
VI. Some Computer Tips
VII. Writing, Revising, and Final Checklist

I. Title and Title Page
Every essay deserves a catchy and interesting title that gives the reader a sense of what your essay is about.  The title of the essay should be placed on a separate page, known as the title page.  You should or must also include at least the following information on the title page:

Title of Essay

Your Name

Student Number

Course Name and Number
Tutorial Leader

Human Nature:
An Existentialist Inquiry

Name: Jean Smith
Student No: 00042
Course: Perspectives on Human Nature
, GL/SOCI 2660E. 6.0
Date: November 1, 2001
Tutorial Leader: Charles Dudas




II. Text

Font: 12 point fonts are standard for handing in written work.  A common and nice-looking font is Times New Roman, although you may use whatever font you like, within reason.

Times New Roman 12 point looks like this.
Garamond 12 point looks like this.

Margins: Standard margins are 1" for all margins (top, bottom, left, right).  Almost all word processing programs (Word Perfect and Microsoft Word) already have the margins set at 1", but it is useful to check to make sure.  Go to the Format menu in any word processing programme, then Margins..

Line and Text Spacing: Standard line spacing for written work is 2 (that is, double-spaced).  Double space between paragraphs.  That is, leave only two single-spaced lines between paragraphs (not four).  Leave two character spaces after every sentence.

Page Numbering: Every page of your essay needs a page number.  Go to the Page menu in any word processing program and select Page Numbering.  Another way to do page numbers is to go the Header/Footer menu, and create a Header (this is the top section of each page of your essay; you can set up page numbering in a Header).

Staple: Please staple your essay together.  Paper clips slip off easily and may lead to, well, a mess of paper.

III. Writing Mechanics and Tips

Never assume that your reader knows anything at all about the topic about which you are writing.  Concepts and ideas need to be introduced, described, and explained.  Arguments and criticisms need to be introduced, explained, and supported.

A. Paragraphs
Essays are built out of paragraphs that develop an idea.  The idea or ideas in each paragraph should logically follow one another.
A paragraph generally starts with a topic sentence, which tells the reader what the paragraph is about.  Sentences following the topic sentence can do a number of things.  They may give more information or elaborate the topic sentence.  They may also develop the argument introduced in the topic sentence.  The final sentence or final two sentences in a paragraph may sum up the information or argument in the paragraph, or might lead into the next paragraph. Make sure that paragraphs are organized in a logical and coherent order. Transition sentences, or sentences that link one paragraph to another, are very helpful for reminding the reader of what has already been presented, and for introducing the reader to the next idea or set of ideas that is coming up.

B. Introduction
An introduction, usually in the form of one or two paragraphs, tells the reader what the essay is about in both a general and specific way.  It outlines the topic and the specific ideas that are going to be presented in the essay.  It can or should give the reader an idea as to why the topic is interesting and why it has been selected.

Some questions to consider in an introduction:
- Which specific authors or theorists are going to be discussed?  Why have these authors been selected?
- Which ideas of theirs have been selected, and why (briefly present each of these ideas in one or two sentences)?
- How are the ideas are going to be presented, and in what order?
- What is the main point or thesis you are going to make or argue in the essay?

Sometimes it is useful to scope out a draft introduction to guide the writing of the essay, and then go back and refine the introduction.  Often what happens is the first general idea you want to work out in the essay becomes clearer and more refined in the writing of the essay, so you want to go back to the introduction and make sure it precisely reflects what has been written later on.

C. Citations
In order to present someone else's ideas and thoughts in your essay, you will often use the author's own words.  This is called a direct citationSince these are not your own words, you must indicate this to the reader by using quotation marks: " ". You must also indicate the page number of the citation, so that the reader may consult the text if he or she chooses. Nobody appreciates it when someone else takes your ideas and presents them as their own, or when someone claims to other people that you said something that you actually did not. Please do not make these errors in an essay.
An indirect citation, where you are restating the author's words in your own words, does not need to be set apart by quotation marks.  However, you still need to indicate where the idea comes from by including a reference to the author's work.

Why use citations?
It is useful to think about how and why citations are used in an essay, as well as how they can be presented as effectively as possible. Citations are useful for clearly presenting points, claims, or arguments that an author is trying to make. Often an author will eloquently express his or her thoughts in a well-crafted sentence or set of sentences. Incorporating this material in an essay can usually give the reader a basic sense of what the author is trying to say. You want to try to strike a balance between interpreting what the author wants to express, and giving the author a chance to speak in his or her own words.

Citations are also used to support the points or interpretation you are trying to make in the essay. Even the best writers cannot perfectly present their own ideas. That is, sometimes their ideas are unclear or are even in conflict which other ideas they have argued elsewhere in the text. It is often important to present these 'loose threads', so that the reader has an appreciation of where the author's argument is strong and where it is weak or in need of further development.

How to use citations
Here are some basic steps to consider when working with citations:

1. Selection - Choose the author's words that best convey the point or points you are making. Ask yourself the simple question "Why did I pick this particular citation?"

2. Introduce, analyze, explain, comment upon, and integrate citations with the text of your essay. Citations that are left hanging - that is, that are not connected to the surrounding text - sharply interrupt the flow of the essay. Help the reader appreciate the citation by incorporating the citation smoothly into the essay.

There are basically two general citation systems that are acceptable for academic essays. Use one or the other consistently. Please consult a style guide for a consistent and accurate style. The MLA Style Guide is an useful handbook for in-text referencing.  MLA style is often used in social science and humanities writing.

a. In-text referencing (MLA Style) (click here for link to York University Libraries Style & Writer's Guide information) (scroll up to Style & Writers' Guide section)
- references to authors' work are placed in parentheses (   ) at the appropriate places in the essay
- An example of a direct citation:  Bohannan (2001:87) argues "that human nature is pretty much the same the whole world over."
- An example of an indirect citation: The author claims that human nature is almost exactly the same wherever you go in the world (Bohannan, 2001:87).  or   (Bohannan, 87). <---- Use simply the author's name and page number if the publication date of the work to which you are referring has already been given in a previous reference.

Footnotes: If you use in-text citations, use footnotes only when you want to add your own comments.  A general rule of thumb is that information given in footnotes is relatively less important than information in the body of the essay.  However, it is interesting or important enough to mention to the reader.

b. Footnotes or Endnotes style
Footnotes: references to authors' works, and comments on essay material, are presented in footnotes at the bottom of the appropriate pages.
Endnotes: references to authors' works, and comments on essay material, are presented in a list of endnotes at the end of the essay (before the bibliography page).

c. Indented citations: When the text you are citing is longer than 3 or 4 lines, indent the left margin 1.5", and use single line spacing for the indented text.  There only needs to be two lines spaces between the essay text and the top and the bottom of the indented citation.  Do not use quotation marks for indented citations.  The reader already knows that the piece of text is a citation, because it is already indented.  Be careful to avoid overly long citations.

Indented citation example:

left margin indented 1.5"

text is single-spaced

no quotation marks needed


Do not use quotation marks for indented

citations.  The reader already knows that

the piece of text is a citation, because it is

already indented.  Be careful to avoid

overly long citations. For example, author

X argues that

While the term 'politics' commonly
refers to the formal institutions and practices of liberal
democracy, liberal democracy has always and consistently been challenged by diverse conceptions of the political.

When the text you are citing is longer than

3 or 4 lines, indent the left margin 1.5",

and use single line spacing for the

indented text. 







d. Introducing or commenting upon an author's ideas
Here is a list of useful phrases for commenting upon or explaining an author’s ideas:

Berger introduces... Steiner thinks / believes / holds / contends / argues / claims
resists the idea that... puts forward the idea that...
is unwilling to recognize... suggests....
recognizes.... explains...
refuses to believe / accept / acknowledge.... wants to make it clear that...
shows.... illustrates....
demonstrates.... presents the concept / notion / idea that....
underlines / underscores.... describes
emphasizes.... criticizes....
agrees that / disagrees with....  
draws attention to....  

To introduce an author's viewpoint, the following are useful: For Steiner / According to Steiner / On Berger's view

D. Conclusion
A conclusion, usually in the form of one or two paragraphs, sums up the ideas and findings in the essay.  It also raises questions for further research that might be explored, and suggests how this might be done.

E. Bibliography
Every essay needs a bibliography, or a list of books, articles, and other source material that you cited in the essay or consulted in preparing the essay.  Please consult a style guide for proper bibliography format.

IV. Punctuation, Style, and Presentation

A. Punctuation
' Apostrophe    An apostrophe indicates that something belongs to someone or something. Apostrophes are not used to indicate plural nouns.

eg. Alice's watch was broken. She went to the watchmaker's shop to get it fixed.
eg. The cats' food is in the cupboard. (There is more than one cat to which the food belongs)

but not     The dog's all live in the barn.
but not     The dancer's and the musicians' put on a great show.

The special case of it's vs. its
it's = it + is    It is unfortunate that we missed the movie. It's supposed to very good.
its = something that belongs to "it"    The bicycle is very comfortable. Its seat is well-designed.

: Colon    A colon introduces or announces a list of items.  For example:

The three main themes of this story are: love, conflict, and problem-solving.

,  Comma     A comma tells the reader where to pause in a sentence.  The easiest way to use commas effectively and accurately is to read your text out loud, pausing at every comma to hear if the flow is natural.  For example, compare the following sentences:

I went, to the store yesterday because, I was hungry and, also I, wanted to buy some tacos.
I went to the store yesterday, because I was hungry.  I also wanted to buy some tacos.

;  Semi-colon    A semicolon joins two closely related sentences.  However, each sentence must be able to stand on its own.  For example:

The storm arrived last night. It frightened me terribly.
The storm arrived last night; it frightened me terribly.

But not     The storm arrived last night; even though it was supposed to miss us.
But not     We looked for the flashlight; and the candles.

B. Italics, Underlining, and Boldface
Use italics, underlining, or boldface to emphasize a particular word or phrase.  Use these sparingly. Compare the following:

Bohannan argues that human nature is universal.
Bohannan argues that human nature is universal.

Book titles must be either italicized or underlined.  Use one or the other when referring to books. Use " " for titles of journal articles only.

C. Names of Authors in Essay Text
There are basically two ways to handle authors' names in essays:
1. The first time an author's name in mentioned, give the full name.  For any further mentions of the author, use only the last name.

eg.  Peter Berger argues that religion is important.  Berger further suggests that society cannot exist without religion.

2. Consistently use only an author's last name throughout the essay.

eg.  Berger criticizes Nietzsche's emphasis on the death of God, while Freud does not seem to have much to say about Nietzsche or Kierkegaard.

D. Capitalization
Capitalize only proper names, names of countries, cities, states, provinces, etc.  Do not capitalize concepts or phrases.

eg.  Peter Berger, Canada, Québec, Toronto.
But not      Freud's concept of Repression Anxiety and Berger's concept of Anomy are important.

E. Contractions
Avoid the use of contractions in an academic essay.  That is, write out the full phrase.

eg.  Marx does not believe that capitalism will last forever.
vs.  Marx doesn't believe that capitalism will last forever.

F. Symbols
Avoid the use of symbols and abbreviations in an academic essay.  For example, use "and" rather than "&".

V. Subordinate Conjunctions
Subordinate conjunctions are words and phrases like: although, even though, as soon as, while, if, because, etc.  Phrases beginning with these types of words are known as subordinate clauses. Subordinate clauses cannot stand on their own. They must be linked to a complete sentence.  For example:

Because it was raining, we went inside.
But not     We went inside.  Because it was raining.

As soon as it stopped raining, we went for a walk.
But not     As soon as it stopped raining. We went for a walk.

Be careful with "although." "Although" and the phrase it introduces cannot stand on its own.

I went to see the movie, although I heard it was not very good.
But not   I went to see the movie.  Although I heard it was not very good.

Be careful with "however." "However" can be used as a subordinate conjunction, or to introduce a pause or emphasize a point.

As a subordinate conjunction:

However much we try, the dog refuses to chase the stick.
However I lace my skates, they always come undone.

But not     The dog refuses to chase the stick. However much we try.
But not     However I lace my skates; they always come undone.

As a 'pause' word, "however" is almost always accompanied by a comma or commas:

We wanted to go swimming. However, the pool was closed.
This was not a problem, however, because there was a lake nearby.
Some of us thought the lake was too cold, however. We decided to play cards instead.

As the previous sentences suggest, using "however" repetitively should be avoided. Depending on the context and structure of the sentence, words like "therefore," "thus," "moreover," "in contrast," "in addition," etc. can often be substituted for "however."

VI. Some Computer Tips
There is absolutely nothing worse than spending a few hours typing away on your essay only to have the essay mysteriously disappear on a computer.  To avoid this unpleasant situation, always make at least 2 backup copies of your essay file every time you finish working on it.  Use either floppy disks or send the essay file to your email account as an attachment, or send it to a friend's email.  You could also continuously print out what you have written (essay draft and notes), so that if the computer file is lost you at least have a printed text that can be re-entered.  Just remember to always make backup copies in some form or other.

VII. Writing, Revising, and Final Checklist

It is often said that writing is about constantly writing, revising, and editing, until you reach a point where you are satisfied with the final product.  No one, not even the best writers, writes everything perfectly the first time.  Take the time as you write to review what you have written and make changes or additions.  The goal is to express your ideas and thoughts as clearly as possible.

Once you have completed writing your text, please do the following steps:

i. Make sure that citations are correct, and recheck the page numbers of the citations you used.
ii. Spellcheck.
iii. Proofread for errors and awkward sentences.  Make the appropriate changes.
iv. Reread your text.
v. Have a friend read your text.
vi. Make the appropriate changes.


It is extremely important to keep a copy of your essay for safekeeping and insurance in case the essay is lost or misplaced.

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