The belief that the various religions of the world hold competing claims to truth is not uncommon. But what does this mean? Could it be the case that one contains the truth and the others are false? That some contain more truths than others? That none contain the truth? Could it be the case that different religions express the same truth(s), just in different ways? We can begin to make sense of these questions only if we can clarify what we mean by "truth." One prominent, contemporary philosopher, William Alston, argues 1) for a realist conception of truth, i.e., that p is true if and only if it is the case that p, and 2) that only a realist conception of truth can accommodate theistic language. However, one of the implications of a realist conception of truth is that for conflicting accounts of p, at most only one can be correct. If, for example, we substitute for p "only a Buddhist account of truth is correct," then we can see how a realist conception of truth raises a problem given the many, and often conflicting, claims to religious truth there are. In this course we explore such religious and philosophical issues raised by religious diversity.
The American culture of the 20th and 21st centuries has been called not death-defying, but death-denying. It is often said that America is the only place in the world that treats death as optional. Once upon a time, we could not have open, public conversations about breast cancer, because the word could not be uttered aloud. In many places, it is just as hard today to have an open, public conversation about death and dying. This phenomenon is not just a social more; it affects the practice of many professions and entire segments of our economy and society. This course explores our individual and cultural reactions to mortality, religious ideas about death, the ways in which dying in today’s America is different from dying throughout history or elsewhere in the world, and the responses of a variety of professions, both within the field of healthcare and beyond, to their encounters with people in the various stages of dying. Students will be asked, at turns, to be scientific, philosophical, clinical, analytical, and emotional in encountering the concepts and material presented here. This should be a true interdisciplinary experience.
In the 6th century BCE, world renunciation emerged as a component of religious teachings that would become the heterodox traditions, the two most long-lasting of which are Buddhism and Jainism....
This course serves as an introduction to the major religious traditions of South and East Asia. During the course of the semester, we encounter Hinduism and Jainism; the native Confucian, Daoist (Taoist), and popular traditions of China; and the Shinto, folk and new religions of Japan. Buddhism, which originated in India but later spread to East Asia, is examined in its relation to the history of both Chinese and Japanese religions. We approach these traditions through lectures and discussion based on Chinese classical and popular literature, secondary scholarship, and films, which inform us about cultural and historical context, beliefs, practices, and personal experience. In the process we expect to learn something about the ways in which non-Western religious traditions see themselves and their world on their own terms, and to see how/if they can complement our own worldviews.
Words have consequences. How a society defines “religion” and “culture” have much to say about how they balance individual freedom and collective responsibility. This course focuses on how religion has been and is practiced in East Asia in modern and contemporary times. We begin with an overview of the major religions in the region (e.g., Confucianism, Daoism, Buddhism, Shintō, folk traditions), and examine various themes to help us learn how religion influences the lives of individuals and the wider societies in which they live. Themes dealt with include the relationship between religion and politics, nationalism, terrorism, secularization, gender and the family, the life cycle and ritual calendar year, healing, ethical behavior, and the environment. By looking at how these issues unfold in modern China and Japan and at their global significance enable us to better understand how religion shapes our world.
This course takes up different topics and themes in the ancient world. Recent topics include Religion in Ancient Egypt; Death in the Name of God: Martyrdom and Spectacle in Ancient Rome and Beyond; Apocalypse Then and Now; and Jews, Pagans, and Christians in the Roman Empire.
We live in a time when there is no single tradition of wisdom that all Americans hold in common. As a result, many of us are searching to find—or reclaim—a wisdom to live by. Fortunately, the resources of the world’s traditions are now available as never before, and there has also been an outpouring of wisdom literature in our own culture. Of course, not all of this "wisdom" is really wise, but some of it is—hence the need to think critically about it. This course, then, is a consumer guide to wisdom. Using examples from several traditions, we talk about how to evaluate sayings, stories, and practices that present themselves as "wise." Some of our readings come from the western tradition, some from other traditions, and some from contemporary spiritual and self-help literature. Readings also include theoretical writings on religious language, metaphor, and ritual. The principal readings are drawn from the following works: (Chuang Tzu), (Lao Tzu), (George Lakoff and Mark Johnson), “Betwixt and Between” (Victor Turner), (Anonymous), (M. Scott Peck), (Plato), (Aristotle), (in the Bible), (Epictetus), (Mencius), (Maimonides), (Sophocles), and (Wasserstein).
Why is there evil in the world and who or what is responsible for it? How can we reconcile a belief in a good God with the existence of evil? Even without the theological underpinning, in secular terms, evil poses a problem about the world¹s intelligibility. This course undertakes a historical analysis of the various ways in which ancient and medieval minds pondered these questions and their solutions to the problem. We begin our survey with the monism of Hebrew Scriptures then move to the changes brought on by Persian culture and the Hellenization of the Mediterranean basin after the conquests of Alexander with the introduction of Dualism. Dualism is a theory or system of thought that recognizes two independent and mutually irreducible principles, which are sometimes complementary and sometimes in conflict. The course focuses on the polarities of "good" and "evil" (and the methods by which "evil" is defined), specifically highlighting the evolution of the emergence of the Devil in Judaism and Christianity and the social construction of good and evil in the Western tradition. At the same time, we consider the rationalization of "our" good against the evil of "others," or the issue of religious intolerance.
Are there good reasons for thinking that God exists? Are there good reasons for thinking that he doesn't? In this course we examine the chief arguments for and against the existence of God, as well as other topics central to philosophy of religion: the nature of religious language and attempts at describing God, the problem of evil, and religious experience. Members of the class develop a working knowledge of the issues by reading and discussing traditional and contemporary authors from a variety of faith traditions. Lectures are used to initiate and focus discussions.
What was/is a "pagan?" And what does "paganism" have to do with Christianity? This course introduces students to religious texts and traditions in a formative era of Western civilization and culture. Our focus is on the variety of religious expressions in Greco-Roman culture, which flourished in the geographical area of the Mediterranean basin during the first five centuries of the Common Era. By considering such topics as debates about the nature of the gods and access to them (through oracles, ritual, and magic), the emergence of the idea of the holy person, and a variety of religious traditions as expressed in prayer, ritual, and art, students encounter a rich religious imagination that is truly different from contemporary understandings of religion and yet strangely familiar. We also explore the integration of religion and politics in the ancient world.
The holy city of Jerusalem is at the heart of the Western religious imagination and of contemporary political conflict in the Middle East. Traditionally it has been a center of religious pilgrimage, home to Israelite kings and Islamic caliphs. Today it is a cutting-edge urban center marked by stunning demographic diversity, a rapidly expanding economy, and an intractable political crisis. In this course, we will examine the history of the city-from its earliest days to today-with an eye toward its religious significance in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Special attention will be given to Jerusalem's changing urban fabric: its architecture, neighborhoods, natural resources, economy, and religious institutions.