Philosophy of Religion
Prerequisite / Co-requisite: None
Required Course Text / Readings:
Plato, The Trial and Death of Socrates, 3rd ed. (translation G.M.A. Grube reviewed by J. Cooper), Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 2000. eBook available from York University Library.
Steven M. Cahn, Reason and Religions. Philosophy Looks at the World’s Religious Beliefs, Boston: Wadsworth, 2014.
Expanded Course Description:
Religion and notions of the divine have been around since time immemorial. However, philosophy of religion only originates with the questions that transpire when religious doctrines/dogma/beliefs/attitudes are subject to the rules of reason. This occurs with (or shortly after) the advent of philosophy in ancient Greece in the sixth century B.C.
With the emergence of philosophy, the universe is seen as wholly natural, as beyond the control of human “actions” (prayers, sacrifices, …) and the supernatural forces such actions presuppose. There is a de-personification of the entities behind or controlling the universe. The entire universe is now reduced to, and explained in terms of, the “predictable” properties of the basic components or entities themselves; that is, the nature and behavior of the universe are determined by the essential properties of the primary entities out of which it is composed. With the first philosophers, we find, for the first time, the advent of conscious methodologies and rigorous proofs.
Despite this, most of the first and subsequent philosophers in ancient Greece (and well into the modern period), saw a close relation between God and nature. Indeed, whether we associate the divine with nature or surnature (beyond nature), the correlation remains. More important, after the advent of philosophy, a number of different rational approaches to explain new conceptions of God/gods (as opposed to “traditional” ones) and individual and collective relations to God/gods began to emerge.
This may appear to be an unconventional way to begin a course on the philosophy of religion. But it’s important to know and reflect on the historical origins of the philosophy of religion before examining the traditional topics associated with it. Consider the following. Arguments for the existence of God — one of the fundamental topics associated with the philosophy of religion — only begin with Plato. But such arguments only originated because there were individuals who contested, for the first time, the existence of God/gods. And this is also the case for arguments relative to the immortality of the soul, which also began with Plato, and their correlation with divine retribution.
With this in mind, the first pivotal text that will be examined will be Plato’s Apology. This dialogue provides a portrait of Socrates (c. 469-399BC), the epitome or archetype of a philosopher. For many, Socrates is to philosophy what Jesus is to Christianity, Mohammad to Islam, or Moses to Judaism. All these figures were inspirational for their disciples and all claim to have been inspired by God. What makes Socrates different, what makes him a philosopher, is that that “revelation” involves the philosopher’s exercise of his intellect or reason. As Socrates notes in the Apology (29d), as long as he can draw god’s breath, he will not cease to philosophize. God only guarantees the validity of his efforts.
Following this and in conjunction with it, the course will examine a number of traditional themes associated with the philosophy of religion using an anthology, which consists of relevant selections from a number of highly accessible classic and contemporary texts, which are edited for the occasion. These will include and cover the following topics: the concept of God, the existence of God, the problem of evil, religious language, miracles and mysticism, belief in God, heaven and hell, resurrection and immortality, nirvana, religious pluralism and non-supernatural religion.
Organization of the Course:
Weekly three-hour sessions consisting of a combination of lectures, class discussion and a limited number of student presentations.
Course Learning Objectives:
1. Students will be able to differentiate between the philosophy of religion and religious doctrine.
2. Students will be introduced to the main arguments and/or principle views for and against the existence of God (classical and contemporary) and, in conjunction, how they relate to different perspectives on the meaning of life and happiness.
3. Students will be able to think critically about the nature and purpose of philosophy.
4. Students will develop the ability to formulate and defend a coherent thesis within an essay.
5. Students will learn respect for a range of different views that are coherently argued for.
Weighting of Course:
1. Participation 15%
This includes attendance and contribution to class discussion. Since participation is mandatory, if you have particular circumstances that prevent you from participating, then please come to see me as soon as possible. A sign in sheet will be circulated. Missing three or more classes without proper documentation will result in zero for participation.
2. Short essay or presentation 25%
Students can choose their own presentation topic relative to the weekly readings. Presentations, which will be limited in number, should be around 15 minutes and a class discussion will follow. Short essays should be around 6 pages. Students can do both and take the best grade. Topics will be provided, but students can also choose their own, but they must be preapproved.
3. Critical essay 60%
This essay should be from 10 to 12 pages. Topics will be provided, but students can also choose their own. Students are encouraged to submit an abstract in advance so it can be critically assessed before beginning the essay.
Additional Information: There will only be time for 8 to 10 presentations. More details will be provided during the first class.
IMPORTANT COURSE INFORMATION
The Senate Committee on Curriculum & Academic Standards Web site provides an important read, the: STUDENT INFORMATION SHEET.
The Student Information Sheet includes:
The Senate Grading Scheme and Feedback Policy stipulates that (a) the grading scheme (i.e. kinds and weights of assignments, essays, exams, etc.) be announced, and be available in writing, within the first two weeks of class, and that, (b) under normal circumstances, graded feedback worth at least 15% of the final grade for Fall, Winter or Summer Term, and 30% for ‘full year’ courses offered in the Fall/Winter Term be received by students in all courses prior to the final withdrawal date from a course without receiving a grade (see the policy for exceptions to this aspect of the policy - http://www.yorku.ca/secretariat/legislation/senate/gradfeed.htm
“Final course grades may be adjusted to conform to Program or Faculty grades distribution profiles.”
If Term Test will be held outside of regularly scheduled class time, include announcement of day, date and time here (e.g., Saturday, October 28, 2006, 10 am to 11:30, room TBA).
• 20 % Rule"
No examination or test worth more than 20% of the final grade will be given during the last two weeks of classes in a term, with the exception of classes which regularly meet Friday evenings or on the weekend (Saturday and/or Sunday at any time). (Approved by Senate, November 28, 1996)
PHIL 3095 Philosophy of Religion (Winter 2015)
Lecture/seminar: Tuesdays 2:30-5:30
Course Director: Professor Gerard Naddaf
Campus address: Ross S 443
Tel: 416 736 2100 ex 77594
Office Hours: Tuesdays and Thursdays 11:30-12:30 or by appointment
Required Reading: Plato, The Trial and Death of Socrates, 3rd ed. (translation G.M.A. Grube reviewed by J. Cooper), Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 2000. eBook available from York University Library.
Steven M. Cahn, Reason and Religions. Philosophy Looks at the World’s Religious Beliefs, Boston: Wadsworth, 2014 (=R&R).
SYLLABUS (see also UUDLES posting on Moodle for other information)
Tuesday, January 6: Introduction to syllabus; reflections on the origins of the philosophy of religion
Tuesday, January 13: Socrates as the archetype of a philosopher of “religion” (a reading of Plato’s Apology)
Tuesday, January 20: The concept of God (selections from Cahn‘s Reason and Religions (or R&R): Part Two (The Divine Attributes)
Tuesday, January 27: Arguments for God’s Existence (selections from Cahn’s R&R: Part Three).
Tuesday, February 3: The Problem of Evil: God and Evil, Evil Forces, Karma, Rebirth and Evil (selections from Cahn’s R&R: Part Four).
Tuesday, February 10: Avenues to the Divine: Prayer, Miracles and Mysticism (selections from Cahn’s R&R: Part Five).
[Tuesday, February 10 first essay topics. This five-page essay is due on Tuesday, February 24. You can hand in the essay in class or alternatively you can drop it off in the box especially designated for this in the philosophy department. [ALL PAPERS MUST BE SUBMITTED TO TURNITIN VIA MOODLE] Late papers will be penalized!
READING WEEK, FEBRUARY 16-20
Tuesday, February 24: Describing the Divine: When Words Fail, Negation, Analogy and Metaphor (selections from Cahn R&R: Part Six).
Tuesday, March 3: Belief without Proof: Belief as Strategy, Belief as Certainty, Belief as Commitment, the Significance of Belief (selections from Cahn R&R: Part Seven).
[Note that March 6 is the last date to drop a course without receiving a grade.]
Tuesday Thursday, March 10: Beyond Death: Heaven and Hell, Resurrection, Reincarnation, Nirvana (selections from Cahn R&R: Part Eight).
Tuesday Thursday, March 17: Religious pluralism (selections from Cahn R&R: Part Nine).
[Thursday, March 17 final essay topics. This essay should be from 10 to 12 pages and is due on Monday, April 13. Topics will be provided, but students can choose their own. Students are encouraged to submit an abstract in advance so it can be critically assessed before beginning the essay. This is mandatory for those choosing their own topics. You must drop the essays off in the box especially designated for this in the philosophy department (Ross S 4th floor). ALL PAPERS MUST BE SUBMITTED TO TURNITIN VIA MOODLE. Late papers will be penalized!]
Tuesday, March 24: Non-Supernatural Religion (selections from Cahn R&R: Part Ten).
Tuesday, Match 31: Overview: Religion and the Meaning of Life!