Professor: Dr. Leonard O’Brian
Scottsdale Community College
Office: SB 120
Office hours: To be determined
Office: 480.423.6212
Cell: 480.231.4471
Email: leonard.obrian@sccmail.maricopa.edu
Website: leonardobrian.com

Philosophy of Religion Syllabus

Purpose of the Course

The purpose of this course is to help you to think more carefully about religious experience, concepts, claims, and questions. The course does not provide answers to your religious questions. It does provide an opportunity to improve your reasoning about religion. It helps you to develop the skills for doing your own work on your own questions—and it should increase the number of your questions.

Philosophy of Religion is a philosophy course, not a religious studies course. It is analytical and evaluative more than merely descriptive. That is, rather than describing the world’s major religious traditions, as does REL243, this course, PHI244, subjects to logical analysis concepts, claims, and questions that are often associated with Western monotheisms, especially Christianity. While most of our discussion consists in analysis of ideas generated by Christianity, the techniques that we use can be applied to other traditions, as well.

The course raises many of the most important questions of life. Does life have a meaning? What makes life meaningful? What is of value? What is our psychological, spiritual, and moral place in the cosmos? Are we alone in the cosmos, aside from the things, plants, and animals, which are, themselves, alone? By contrast, are we here with these things, plants, and animals, they our (often unacknowledged) brothers and sisters? Are we here with a god or gods? If God exists, how would we be justified in so believing? If God exists, what is God like? Can human language characterize God? Can human minds learn moral truths from God?

Philosophy of Religion focuses on questions that arise within religious experience, or within discussions about religious experience. Such questions, however, interact with questions in other divisions of philosophy, so we consider some questions in ethics, the theory of knowledge, and the theory of art. Thus, Philosophy of Religion should help you to think about life’s big questions.

Textbook and Encyclopedias

We cannot examine all writings that Professor Shatz has included. Instead, we will read a few writings well. In class, I will announce readings as we proceed. You are responsible for being aware of these announcements.

Requirements: Embracing Confusion

Philosophical growth requires emotional and intellectual activity. It does not occur passively, as a result of something done to one. Therefore, I expect each person to contribute to the class in his or her own way, asking questions, criticizing arguments, and proposing ideas.

Inevitably, you will be confused in this course. Confusion is good. It signals that questions may be forming. Confusion thus provides a reason for speech rather than for silence. Confusion invites you into the process rather than exempting you from it. If you are confused, you can say that you are. You can ask for clarification. Thus, you contribute to the class process.

At the end of the semester, I will consider oral participation in determining your final grade. (See “Grades,” below.) You will receive a “B” for the participation component of the course grade if you appear to have been abiding by the spirit of principles 1-5 under “Class Sessions;” and if you have been making a reasonable number of comments and raising a reasonable number of questions. You will receive an “A” for this component if, again, you appear to have been abiding by the spirit of principles 1-5; if, again, you have been making a reasonable number of comments and raising a reasonable number of questions; and if the quality of the questions and comments is unusually good. Otherwise, you will probably receive a “C” for this component. You may receive a grade lower than a “C” to the extent that you fail to observe principles 1-5. If you are already someone who likes to talk a lot in class, please note: The concept, “reasonable number of comments,” includes allowing others to comment, too. The difference between a “B” and an “A” is not so much quantity but quality of oral contributionsthoughtfulness, insightfulness, creativeness.

In addition to contributing to class discussion, you will write three papers and take four quizzes. The schedules for the papers and quizzes will be announced at the beginning of the semester. Papers should be on time. I accept late papers, but—unless you have communicated with me before the due date, and I have granted an exception—I deduct something from the paper grade. Granted, the expression, ‘deduct something’, is vague, but there is no honest way to be precise, since the decision to deduct something must be made within a particular situation, for which no precise formula can be specified in advance.

If my initial encounter with a paper—scanning it—suggests that it may merit a grade lower than “C,” I will return it, basically unmarked. We will discuss the situation to determine what you need to do to improve your work. You may then re-write the paper. I will deduct something from the grade of the revision, but, hopefully, the grade will be better than it would have been had you not re-written the paper.

Please do not send papers by email, other than in exceptional circumstances about which we have conferred.

Paper due dates

Quiz dates

I do not give makeup quizzes, except as required by college regulations, but I do drop your lowest quiz score. (See p. 27 of the 2005-2006 SCC catalogue.) Thus, if you miss one quiz, that score will not figure into your average. If you miss two, one of them will figure into the average.

Attendance

I require attendance. If you choose to be absent for some reason, you should explain that reason to me. Preferably, you should speak to me about the absence before it occurs, though emergencies can arise that preclude prior consultation. If you accumulate absences greater than the equivalent of three fifty-minute sessions, I may withdraw you from the class. (Again, see p. 27 of the catalogue for possible exceptions.) I will not withdraw you, however, provided that it is clear to me, based on your communications with me, that you are taking your work in the course seriously and are thereby performing adequately. Absences accumulate from the first date that the class meets, not the first date of your enrollment or attendance.

Grades

The three papers will contribute to your course grade about 45%, about 15% each. The three highest quizzes will contribute to your course grade about 30%, about 10% each, the lowest of the four being dropped. Class participation, as I evaluate it, counts for about 25% of your course grade. ‘Participation’ refers to oral contributions, attendance, and observance of points 1-5 under “Class Sessions,” p. 5, below.

Class Sessions

I expect your involvement in our class, your presence in mind as well as in body.

Class sessions will conform to the principles of decency and courtesy that are generally observed by the academic community and our larger society, for example, deference toward others when they are speaking, tolerance of viewpoints that differ from our own, and respect for the questions and thinkers under discussion. It is impossible to reduce observance of these principles to formulas: Each of us must exercise a bit of wisdom in determining how to interact with her or his colleagues in an academic setting. Nevertheless, five points will help.

  1. Arrive at class on time.
  2. Before entering the classroom, turn off audible functions of your cell phone.
  3. When someone is speaking publicly, that is, to the class, direct your attention to him or her. Once I have begun class, there will be much public communication, very little, almost no, private communication.
  4. Remain in the room for the entire period.
  5. Maintain a demeanor of attention until I have dismissed class. I expect of my students an attentive demeanor throughout the class period, and that expectation applies to the last few minutes. To illustrate, I ask that, before I adjourn our meeting, you refrain from closing books and notebooks; refrain from opening book bags; refrain from reaching for purses and backpacks; and refrain from pocketing pencils and pens. In other words, please refrain from any behavior that symbolizes psychological withdrawal from the classroom.

These points are guidelines, not dogmas. I can’t imagine that there is any principle of etiquette that should never be broken. For example, regarding point 2, a loved one might be at the hospital in critical care, and you want to answer your phone during class should it signal a call. It would be thoughtful to mention to me before class that you might be leaving the room to answer a call. (Of course, the phone should be on vibrate mode.) There are no formulas that fit all situations. Use mature judgment.

If you have questions about these guidelines, or if you anticipate having a frequent problem with any of them, please consult with me as soon as possible.

Indeed, regarding any problem that you are experiencing with our work together, you should consult with me as soon as possible. The sooner you communicate with me, the more effectively we can address the problem. Talk with me in person, phone me, or email me.

Academic Freedom

We abide by the ideal of academic freedom. In general, the ideal of academic freedom entails that essentially any belief or question about any aspect of human experience that bears on the discipline in question may serve as the topic of examination. In particular, with respect to the discipline of philosophy, any belief or question about any aspect of human experience may serve as the topic of examination, because all aspects of human experience pertain to philosophy. I think as much can be said about our specific discipline, Philosophy of Religion. In Philosophy of Religion, we will—we must—discuss ideas associated with strong feelings and controversy. This course, in principle, excludes no aspect of human experience. It is a course for adults, for people who subscribe to the ideal of academic freedom, for students who seek the truth wherever it may be found.

Intellectual Honesty

Intellectual honesty is a fundamental academic virtue, plagiarism a fundamental academic vice. An act of plagiarism constitutes a serious academic offense. Papers must result from your own work; the ideas must be expressed in your own words, except when you cite the work of others. When you use the language of another author, you must (1) quote the author exactly, (2) set off the quoted material with quotation marks, and (3) identify the author, the publication and page(s) wherein the material appears. If you use the distinctive ideas of another, even though not his or her exact words, the person must be given credit by your identifying the person, the publication wherein his or her ideas appear, including the page(s). For some reason, students often fail to indicate the page(s). Proper citation includes indication of the page(s). See the discussion of “Student Misconduct,” in the catalogue, p. 205.

We will discuss footnoting further when I make your first assignment. If you have any doubts about the avoidance of plagiarism, it is your responsibility to ask me. There is nothing wrong in asking for clarification about the nature of plagiarism; indeed, asking for such clarification is commendable. There is much wrong, however, in plagiarizing. Any student who submits work as his or her own that is not his or her own will receive either a failing grade for the course or other appropriate reprimand or penalty.

Regarding use of the Internet, keep in mind that, at various sites—for example, Wikipedia, and many reached through Google—almost anyone, regardless of qualifications, can make claims. Sometimes these sources are fine, sometimes not. We will operate cautiously: If you use the Internet, except for the Routledge or Stanford encyclopedias, you must submit, appended to your paper, a printed version of either the complete text from which you have drawn, or, if the text is unduly long, the portion of the material that is relevant. If you use the Routledge or Stanford encyclopedias, cite according to the stipulations of the respective source. In the case of the Routledge and Stanford encyclopedias, accurate, clean citation suffices; you need not append a printed version of the material.

Remember libraries and bookstores. By examining books and professional journals in libraries, such as the SCC or ASU libraries or public libraries, and good bookstores such as Barnes and Noble, Borders, and Changing Hands, you can reasonably suppose that the materials upon which you are drawing have survived at least some process of expert evaluation. University presses, though not the only dependable sources, are usually highly dependable. If the university press of Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, Chicago, Princeton, or Yale, and so on, has published a book, you can count on its having been adequately juried.

Whether your sources are electronic, oral, or paper, you must abide by the principle of intellectual honesty.

Withdrawal

Under “Class Sessions,” I have asked that, with respect to any problem that you are having with our work together, you discuss it with me as soon as possible. If this process of communication has been occurring, we can (A) minimize the possibility that you will withdraw if, in fact, withdrawal is unnecessary, or (B) expedite withdrawal if, in fact, withdrawal would be appropriate. I will, thus, have been able to try to help you in any way that is feasible.

Conferences

My office is SB 120. Please feel free to drop by. In addition, you may phone me at my office. Leave a message on voice mail if I am not in. You may also email me at leonard.obrian@sccmail.maricopa.edu.