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Phil 214-01:
Philosophy of Religion

2:00 - 3:15 TuTh -- FH 319

Fall 2008

Douglas Shrader, Ph.D.
Distinguished Teaching Professor of Philosophy
507 Fitzelle, 607- 436-3690 or 2456 
Email: email Professor Shrader
Office Hours:
M:     5:00 - 5:30
Tu:    3:15 - 5:00

Th:    3:15 - 4:00
and by appointment
Course Description:
Philosophical study of both Eastern and Western religions. Examines epistemic and metaphysical presuppositions of religion, including the influence of modern science. Analysis of belief, truth, symbolism, and the limits of language.
The course, conducted in seminar fashion, will draw content and direction from three texts, listed below. Background, perspective, and additional content will be provided via lecture, internet sources, videotapes, etc. Students are expected to become involved in the issues and will be encouraged to do some serious thinking of their own.

The first segment of the class, utilizing Daniel Quinn's underground classic Ishmael , raises questions concerning spiritual identity and responsibility which will be explored in greater depth as the course progresses.

The central portion of the class focuses on issues and controversies typical of the field known as “Philosophy of Religion.” Topics include debate concerning the existence and attributes of divine beings, foundations of religious belief, the nature and eventual fate of the soul (if any), concepts of karma, foundations of morality, and implications of religion for day-to-day life.

The final segment marks a return to questions and issues with which the class began. Through the Tao te Ching, students will find fresh perspectives and vantage points from which to rethink Ishmael as well as more traditional issues in Philosophy of Religion. Hopefully, they will also find a framework from which to better evaluate their own spiritual journeys.

Quinn -      Ishmael (Bantam Books, 1992)
Shrader -   Philosophy and Religion (McGraw-Hill, 2008)
Malhotra - Wisdom of the Tao te Ching (Global Scholarly Publications, 2006)
Based on three take-home essay exams (90%) and attendance/participation (10%).  Late assignments will not be accepted without advance arrangement and adequate justification.  Extra credit will be available for those who wish to pursue additional research/activities.
Due Dates

          First Essay:      September 30
          Second Essay: November 4
          Final Essay:     December 18

Note: Interim reports will be based on the first essay, class attendance and participation. Students are encouraged to meet with the professor throughout the semester to discuss assignments, expectations, and grades.
Course Attributes
LA (Liberal Arts) and WS2 (Writing Skills)
books Assignments

Part I: Ishmael -- A Place to Begin

Week 1 8/28  
Week 2 9/2-9/4
Ishmael: chapters 1-4; Shrader: pp. 1-18 (In the Beginning);  On-line : Genesis Ch 1-4, 12-13, 15-16 
Week 3 9/9-9/11
Ishmael: chapters 5-9; Shrader: pp. 19-40 (The God of Israel);  On-line : Genesis Ch 17-18, 21-22
Week 4 9/16-9/18
Ishmael: chapters 10-13; On-line: selected passages from the Quran: Creation (35: 1-17), Iblis/Satan and "The Fall" (2:27-40, 7:11-27, 15:26-50, 17:61-67, 18:51, 20:116-128, 26:90-102, 38:71-85), Cain and Abel (5:27-34), Abraham and Ishmael (19:41-55), Judgment Day and Guardian Angels (82 and 86), Judaism and Christianity (4:163-173, 5:68-93); On-line: Exodus Ch 1-20; and Darwin (The Descent of Man) (S: 41-51)
Week 5 9/23-9/25
Shrader (Religion in America: The Intelligent Design Controversy) (S: 53-85)

Part II: Finding Reasons to Believe (or not)

First Essay due 9/30
Week 6 9/30-10/2

Plato (Euthyphro and Apology) and Anselm (Proslogion) (S: 86-128) [Traditional Proofs: Part I]
Week 7 10/7    
Aquinas (Summa Theologiae) and Paley (Natural Theology) (S: 129-144) [Traditional Proofs: Part II]
Week 8 10/14-10/16  
Hume (Natural Religion) and Kant (Critique of Pure Reason) (S: 145-159) [Traditional Proofs: Part III]
Week 9 10/21-10/23
Dostoyevsky (Brothers Karamazov) (S: 160-168) [The Problem of Evil] 
Pascal (Pensees) and James (The Will to Believe) (S: 169-183) [Choosing to Believe]
Week 10 10/28-10/30  
James (Varieties of Religious Experience x 2), Scholem (Religious Authority and Mysticism), Shrader (Seven Characteristics of Mystical Experiences), and Davis (The Vision) (S: 184-247) [Religious Experience]

Part III: Spirit and Nature -- How Should I Live?

Second Essay due 11/4
Week 11
Augustine (The City of God), Tolstoy (My Confession), King (Letter from Birmingham Jail), and Shrader (Thou Shalt Not) (S: 248-332); On-line: Matthew Ch 5-7 (Sermon on the Mount) and  Luke Ch 12 [Christian Thought]     
Week 12 11/11-11/13
Epicurus (Letter to Menoeceus), Epictetus (Handbook) and Seneca (On the Happy Life) (S: 333-354) [Classical Greek and Roman Thought]
Confucius (Analects), Mo Tzu (Book of Mo Tzu), Mencius (Book of Mencius), and Hsun Tzu (Book of Hsun Tzu) (S: 355-403) [Chinese Thought]
Week 13 11/18-11/20
Shrader (Render Unto Caesar), Radharkrishnan (An Idealist View of Life), Gyekye (African Philosophical Thought), Mohawk (Thoughts of Peace: The Great Law), and Hick (Religious Pluralism) (S: 405-447) [Religious Pluralism]
Week 14 12/2-12/4
Tao te Ching : Book I (chapters 1-37, pp. 1-40)
Week 15 12/9-12/11
Tao te Ching : Book II (chapters 38-81, pp. 42-87)
Final Essay due 12/18
Week 16 12/18  

Final Class Meeting (11:00-1:30 p.m.)


  • This syllabus represents honest intention, not contractual obligation. The professor reserves the right to adjust assignments, requirements, and dates as the class proceeds. Students should consult the on-line version of the syllabus on a weekly basis to make sure they have up-to-date materials:

  • Supplemental Materials

    Resources and Links on the World Wide Web

    Website constructed and maintained by
    Douglas Shrader / Distinguished Teaching Professor of Philosophy

    email Professor Shrader
    Originally Posted: August 26, 2008
    Last Updated: October 15, 2008