Philosophy of Religion

This course is designed and conducted with the aim of assisting the student toward an understanding of the rational, or lack of rational, basis or standing of beliefs and practices fundamental to religion as a human activity. Such an understanding would constitute a philosophy of religion.  It is religion as a human, historical actuality that provides a unified point of reference for all that we deal with, and hence the course is not just a grab-bag of metaphysical, epistemological and ethical issues.

Since religion is a universal human concern, one should expect that the various religious and anti-religious traditions or tendencies of the world might provide significant statements relevant to a philosophy of religion.  The positions of Atheism, Agnosticism and Secular Humanism are considered at length.  The conceptual substance of the course is most heavily dependent upon the History of Modern Western Philosophy, which is embedded in an essentially Judeo-Christian culture, and especially upon the great Rationalist and Empiricist thinkers of that period, such as Hume and Kant.
 

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Philosophy of Religion

This course is designed and conducted with the aim of assisting the student toward an understanding of the rational, or lack of rational, basis or standing of beliefs and practices fundamental to religion as a human activity. Such an understanding would constitute a philosophy of religion.  It is religion as a human, historical actuality that provides a unified point of reference for all that we deal with, and hence the course is not just a grab-bag of metaphysical, epistemological and ethical issues.

Since religion is a universal human concern, one should expect that the various religious and anti-religious traditions or tendencies of the world might provide significant statements relevant to a philosophy of religion.  The positions of Atheism, Agnosticism and Secular Humanism are considered at length.  The conceptual substance of the course is most heavily dependent upon the History of Modern Western Philosophy, which is embedded in an essentially Judeo-Christian culture, and especially upon the great Rationalist and Empiricist thinkers of that period, such as Hume and Kant.


Topics include:
  • The role of religion in life. What is religion? The clear cases.
  • Religion and “World View.”  The three currently common “World View” stories: Nirvana, Theistic, Naturalistic.
  • Origins of Fundamental Concepts of God or “The ‘Other’ Reality” in Religious Traditions and Brief Elaboration of Those Concepts.
  • The relation of religion to questions about God and personal existences beyond     ‘normal’ human life.  The unity of personality and the question of spiritual substance. The metaphysics of substance.
  • Problems of Religious language. Ways of meaning God.
  • Arguments for the Existence of at Least One God.
    - The Cosmological and Teleological (‘Design’) arguments.
    - Kant's assessment of theistic proofs.
    - Kant's argument for God's existence from the reality of moral obligation.  `Moral' arguments in general. Relation to the 'Divine Command' analysis of ethical principles.
    - The Conversion of Atheist Anthony Flew to Theism/Deism by the “design” argument updated to modern molecular biology.
  • Arguments Against the Existence Of God
    - Atheism and Agnosticism.  What would it be like to prove that no super-human personality exists in the universe.  Is the reality of Evil inconsistent with the existence of God as traditionally conceived?  Suppose a Genie (a jinni, as in "Alladin") existed.  No all-good, all-powerful person.  How big would something have to be to be a god? The God?
    - The argument from Evil against God’s existence.
    - How to be a morally responsible skeptic.
  • Religious 'Experience' and its Interpretation.
  • Is the validity of religion and the reality of the ‘Other World’ certified by what religious experience ‘does’ for people?
  • The human condition and the role of religious experience
  • Less Systematically Fundamental Topics in the Philosophy of Religion.
  • ‘Secular Humanism’ as a reasoned response to philosophical issues raised by religion.
  • Irrationalism, Fideism and the Ethics of Belief: Dealing with Non-conclusive evidence.
  • Miracles: Is there a ‘natural’ order? Can it be disrupted?  Has it been?
  • Miracles and Science. The Ideas of Revelation and Prayer -- What might it be like for God to communicate with human beings.
  • Existence beyond death, Immortality and the Idea of a Future Life.
  • Empirical considerations of ‘Immortality’? “Near Death” Experiences. “Mediums” or “channeling.”
  • Can Ethics Function Without Religion?  How and to what Extent? Ethics with and without God? (Religion not the same as God.)
  • “Pluralism”: Could All (Some?) Religions Possibly Be Equal? “The same.” In what respects?
  • Conflicting Truth Claims of Religions.
 
TEXTS:
  1. David Hume., Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, Hackett edition. Pb
  2. James Kellenberger, Introduction to Philosophy of Religion, Pearson edition,Pb
  3. Wm. James, Varieties of Religious Experience, Penguin Classics edition, Pb
  4. Paul Kurtz, Humanist Manifesto (I & II), Prometheus. Pb
  5. J. P. Moreland and Kai Nielsen, eds., Does God Exist? Prometheus Pb
  6. Anthony Flew, There is a God! Harper One edition
  7. S. Freud, The Future of an Illusion, Norton Pb
  8. John Hick, Philosophy of Religion. 4th edition, Prentice-Hall, Pb  
  9. A “Course Reader,” available from USC bookstore.

 

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