PHL 170: The Idea of God Credits: 4 Instructor: David Scott Arnold, Ph.D.

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1 PHL 170: The Idea of God Credits: 4 Instructor: David Scott Arnold, Ph.D. I. Course Description This eight week summer course offers a comparativist perspective on the idea of God, with the objective of growing in a personal and critical understanding of its history, as it has shaped profoundly our understanding of Reality. Special attention will be given to the worldviews offered by concepts of God, views expressing or doubting reality's unity, worth and mystery. II. Extended Course Description Ideas of God or the Sacred, the Ultimate, are among the ideas in human history that have mattered most. I have chosen engaging texts and essays as required reading, works that are the best in what they try to do a novel conveying a sense of life as a quest to connect from a state of confusion about the mystery of God to a life beyond the priesthood bordered by a something more and two texts showing the purpose, history and significance for the comparative critical understanding of the Idea of God. All of these texts have often been assigned as class readings for many of my past courses, so I know they are immediate, relevant, and interesting. III. Texts and PDF files The following texts are required for the course. I include a brief blurb on each: Diana Eck, Encountering God: A Spiritual Journey from Bozeman to Banaras A timely volume written crisply for a college audience, this book is unique and, well, stunning. Eck s award-winning text is an excellent example of interdisciplinary writing, keen on scrying the sacred as we think about the many names of God in our contemporary world. Eck profiles her own life, growing up Methodist in Montana and finding herself later walking the pilgrimage events of Hinduism in India, trying to make sense of all the very real religious options of God-talk available today. The seventh chapter of her book, discussing the need for pluralism in these matters, is truly remarkable as we wrestle with conflicting claims about the ultimate in our time. Karen Armstrong, The History of God A History of God: The 4000 Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam The renowned scholar of Islam offers between two covers the most comprehensive survey of Western monotheisms and their varying explorations of the One God available. This award-winning text ranges from prehistoric roots to the present, tracing the development from classical philosophy and Medieval mysticism to the rise of science, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, and the modern age of skepticism. Unlike

2 most such texts, by the way, Armstrong supplies good maps, which are a boon for an online course. Intellectual history at its most captivating. James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (a novel) If ever there was a narrative exploring a child s wondering about the mystery of God, a wondering that leads to the struggles of a young Irish man comprehending the incomprehensible (Catholic) face of God, this is it. PDF files distributed (no expense) to students Doniger, Wendy, Inside and Outside the Mouth of God The 1980 Daedalus essay discussing mythic roots of the reality of God from Eastern and Western religious perspectives. A model of interdisciplinary scholarship. Miles, Margaret, Image as Insight Miles is a scholar of the religious dimensions of medieval tapestries, European paintings, and film Auerbach, Erich, Odysseus Scar The classic essay (1953) comparing distinctions between Hebraic and Greek philosophical roots of Western understandings of reality ***Exams are proctored*** Be sure to send in your proctoring form at the beginning of the term! For information about and setting up your proctor, please go to the Extended Campus website: or IV. LEARNING OUTCOMES 1. Define more clearly one s own philosophical position on theology, spirituality and morality in light of the personal quest for the sacred 2. Understand and explain the philosophical origins and histories of (primarily Western) ideas of God, with special attention given to the significance of Greek thought compared with Hebrew roots, the heritage of faith and reason culminating in the three arguments for the existence of God (during the High Middle Ages), and the significance of science and gender in our time 3. Examine images of the ultimate by engaging Web resources of Image banks (the Pluralism Project sponsored by Princeton University is one such viable resource). How have images provided essential insight (art icons, tapestries, paintings, music chants, silence; architecture cathedrals, mosques, nature as the sacred ) for the history of God? 4. Understand forms of modern and late modern explorations of the sacred beyond the orthodoxies (James Joyce was the first novelist to explore the sacred from a secular vantage point, to render an epiphany fully outside the Temple [literally, pro fanum]) 5. Appreciate the diversity and richness that exists in wisdom traditions other than one s own. Let me say this another way: a course goal is to help students interpret forms of exclusivism, inclusivism and pluralism in written work, images of the sacred, and

3 Blackboard discussion. This means that the course will study comparative methods of interpretation used by the academy to understand religious diversity. V. Assessment and Evaluation 1. Engage discussion weekly via Blackboard. For this class, guiding questions for each week s readings will initiate discussion. Explicit reading guides for each chapter of Armstrong s A History of God will assist students comprehension of the material. All students will commit to thoughtful reflection of the assigned readings, the initial questions, and the issues raised by one another in discussion of the week s material. It is important, to say this another way, for all students to participate in the critical discourse necessary for the life of a class through willingness to dialogue, to interpret and reinterpret the texts, and the growing body of discussion over the life of this class. Blackboard participation is worth 25% of the overall grade. 2. Written Assignments. There will be three written assignments to submit; each is worth 5% of the overall grade (15% in all). These written assignments MUST be submitted in rtf. or word.doc format. 3. Examinations. There will be two, a midterm and a final. Both will include short answer, matching, true/false, short essay, covering material (lectures, readings, Blackboard discussion) of the course. There will be significant time given over for review of the exams prior to each exam. Indeed, I will try to provide sample questions in various formats to help all prepare adequately. The midterm is worth 25% of your overall grade, the final 35%. The final is not cumulative, but covers only the material since the midterm. You will receive 5 points (5% of your overall grade) simply by securing a proctor for the midterm exam (see information above). These exams are proctored. No proctor, no exam, no pass. Grading profile: 25 % Discussion Board participation 15 % Written Assignments 25 % Midterm exam 35 % Final exam 100 Course Total VI. Teaching Philosophy and Methodology Students will look at worldviews and ideas of God, the history of concepts of God (ways of thinking about God), experiences of God realized in the development of the historically western monotheisms and (via Diana Eck) in conversations with eastern (Hindu) understandings of the Many Faces of God. The methods will include posted lecture notes, Blackboard discussions, writing, reading of texts, visiting web sites such as The Pluralism Project, engaging in current news events, hopefully listening to believers of different spiritual traditions. The material of this class invites each person to analyze from her or his own experience of encounter with those of other religious traditions. It may surprise you to hear that we shall be as much about the asking of the right questions as about the possibility of satisfactory answers. The heart of the course: to develop an empathy and understanding for the history of God. What concepts of the divine have remained fairly unchanged through

4 the ages? What has changed? Why? Are Jewish, Christian and Muslim understandings of God similar? Different? Why? Students will need to listen critically, ask questions, evaluate their own thinking and that of others. Images of God from the art of these traditions will be made available throughout the term. The course is so designed that the texts will profoundly inform discussion, so read each slowly and well. VII. Class Routine Each week s sessions will begin with Ralph Waldo Emerson s invitation offered to his Thursday evening gatherings in his living room in Concord, What new thing has come your way since last we met? Meaning, that as part of this course, I will ask you to reflect upon, and apply to your everyday experience, the things we are learning. We will then explore, discuss, evaluate the issues raised before us by the week s reading assignments in light of the syllabus. Such a pattern reveals the necessity for all participants to study well the assigned reading before engaging the life of the class. The Course Outline is revealed below under item IX. VIII. University Standards and Requirements for Class: 1. Writing Standards: All academic papers written should be presented in an organized, coherent form that reflects critical thinking and fosters the creation of understanding. All academic papers should reflect a careful observance of conventional standards of grammar, usage, spelling, and punctuation. Any portions of your paper that are not your original thoughts should be documented using the appropriate format. 2. Services for the Disabled: If you have a documented disability and will require special accommodations, please contact me early, during the first week. IX. Course Syllabus: PHL 170: The Idea of God Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4 Introduction of Instructor, Students, Goals and Overview Karen Armstrong, A History of God, Chapter I, In the Beginning... Chapter II, One God Auerbach, Erich, Odysseus Scar (PDF file, distributed) Armstrong, History of God, Chapter III, A Light to the Gentiles Diana Eck, Encountering God: A Spiritual Journey from Bozeman to Banaras, Chapter I, Questions from the Passage to India Armstrong, History of God, Chapter IV, Trinity: The Christian God Diana Eck, Encountering God: A Spiritual Journey from Bozeman to Banaras, Chapter II, Frontiers of Encounter Submit the name of your proctor for the midterm Armstrong, History of God, Chapter V, Unity: the God of Islam Eck, Encountering God, Chapter III, The Names of God Doniger, Wendy, Inside and Outside the Mouth of God (PDF file) Proctored Midterm Exam

5 Week 5 Week 6 Week 7 Armstrong, History of God, Chapter VI, The God of the Philosophers Miles, Margaret, Image as Insight (PDF file, to be distributed) Eck, Encountering God, Chapter IV, The Faces of God Chapter V, The Breath of God Armstrong, History of God, Chapter VII, The God of the Mystics Chapter VIII, A God for Reformers Chapter IX, Enlightenment Joyce, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (Chapters I & II) Armstrong, History of God, Chapter X, The Death of God? Joyce, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (Chapter III) Eck, Encountering God, Chapter VI, Attention to God: The Practice of Prayer and Meditation Week 8 James Joyce, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, (Chapters IV & V) Eck, Encountering God, Chapter VII, Is Our God Listening? Exclusivism, Inclusivism, Pluralism [This is the most important single chapter of the course read it slowly, and twice] Armstrong, History of God, Chapter XI, Does God Have a Future? Course Conclusions, Review for Final Exam Proctored Final Exam PLAGIARISM You are expected to submit your own work in all your assignments, postings to the discussion board, and other communications, and to clearly give credit to the work of others when you use it. Academic dishonesty will result in a grade of F. DISABILITIES If you have a documented disability and need accommodations, please consult with your instructor at the beginning of the term. Course content will be made available to you in an accessible format upon your request. COURSE EVALUATION We encourage you to engage in the course evaluation process each term online, of course. The evaluation form will be available toward the end of each term, and you will be sent instructions by Ecampus. You will login to Student Online Services to respond to the online questionnaire. The results on the form are anonymous and are not tabulated until after grades are posted.

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