Joe’s Finding Religion
June 8, 2006 — 20:44

Author: Matthew Mullins  Category: Teaching  Tags: ,   Comments: 10

Joe Ulatowski is preparing to teach his first philosophy of religion course and he’s seeking some input on how to proceed. Should he go topical or historical, lecture or discussion, what topics should he focus on? I know some of Prosblogion’s readers could lend him a hand. So, please take a moment to share your wise council with Joe.

Technorati Tags: philosophy of religion, religion course, lend, wise, focus

Technorati Tags: philosophy of religion, religion course, technorati, lend, wise, focus

Technorati Tags: philosophy of religion, religion course, technorati, lend, wise, focus

  • David Hunter

    It depends on what level it is being taught at and what sort of students.
    If it is introductory then I typically would go topic based and start from either the argument from evil or the classic arguments for the existence of God, then work my way into a discussion of the possible nature of God or perhaps Will James and the nature of belief.
    Going this way round works becuase they are already usually (vaguely) aware of the argument from evil and/or the arguments for the existence of God. Starting with these gets them engaged becuase thye already have views about the questions being addressed and they recognise them as important.
    Personally I would avoid a historical approach with students new to the area, people tend to view history as a bit dull and so it can lose students new to the area. Note I thnk learning the history of the arguments is very important, I just doubt it is a good idea with students who are beginning philosophy for purely pragmatic reasons namely it won’t excite all of them about continuing with philosophy.

    June 9, 2006 — 2:09
  • Matthew

    It looks like my comment has gone through over at Joe’s so I’ll reduplicate part of it here.
    I agree with David about avoiding the historical approach. To do the historical approach real justice would take a lot of extra work. It’s just too easy to do injustice to medieval thinkers when you’re not a specialist. Most competently trained analytic philosophers could teach undergraduates contemporary philosophy of religion with a little extra reading.
    When I took this course the instructor started out doing a number of typical topics in PR. Towards the last couple of weeks he selected a single book on the argument from evil for us to read and examine more closely. This gave the class an bit of depth that is sometimes lacking in survey courses.

    June 9, 2006 — 2:57
  • Sam

    Honestly you could just read Hume’s dialogues with a bit of background lecturing and cover pretty much everything you need to in an intro class.

    June 9, 2006 — 8:20
  • I like both sides of an issue to be represented, and I don’t think Hume’s dialogues do that, at least not in a way that represents the best presentation of the positions he disagrees with. I couldn’t do a philosophy of religion course without doing contemporary sources unless it was specifically earmarked as the history of philosophy of religion. Too much of the best work in the area has been in the last 20 years.

    June 9, 2006 — 8:55
  • Matthew

    Sam- I think you probably could use Hume if you added Of the Immortality of the Soul, Of Miracles, Of a Particular Providence and of a Future State, and The Natural History of Religion. However, I think you’d have to do a lot of extra lecturing. Like Jeremy thoough, I think you’d miss out on some of the best work in the area.

    June 9, 2006 — 12:52
  • i concur with my peers insofar as the topical/historical issue goes. Philosophy of Religion is just too unwieldy a thing to try and approach in a linear fashion.
    It is also, I believe, too unwieldy a thing to approach in a dialectic fashion with one’s students. If you give them a chance to reply to virtually any argument you happen to be making, you open your classroom up to run-on expositions of their pet folk theologies.
    I am a firm believer that you must limit your students in such a class to maybe 15-20 minutes of in-class discussion out of a 50 minute session. At least at the outset, then as they see how the classic arguments interlace and grow both in thir appreciation of the subject matter and liberation from pet theology (later in the semester one hopes), then you can open the discussion up a little more.
    And be clear at the outset which side of the issues you are on. Even if it is really none of their business (and it isn’t), i still think it helps the stundets to know clearly where you stand on these central issues.
    This is the model of teaching philosophy of religion that was handed down to me by undergrad advisor, and mentor, Barry Brown at MSSU. I use it, and I think other should also.

    June 9, 2006 — 16:33
  • Mike K.

    I think Patrick makes some excellent points in his post just prior to this one. Philosophy of religion seems, to me, to be somewhat unique from the perspective of teaching it to undergraduates for two (related) reasons:
    1) It’s one which a lot of students with less exposure to philosophy as a whole see the immediate relevance of, since many of those students are likely to be concerned about the topic and more aware that there are serious controversies about it.
    2) Its topics are ones concerning which many students are likely to have fairly strong views which haven’t yet been subjected to the sort of “purification” that philosophy tries to provide.
    The practical result of these characteristics seems to be that by devoting too much time to inter-student discussion at the expense of lecture will lead to a lot of time spent by students discussing in a distinctly non-philosophical way various issues about which they disagree, rather than engaging the arguments and positions in a philosophically rigorous way.
    I might be biased, however, because the one philosophy of religion course offered when I was an undergrad was open to any student whatsoever, regardless of whether the had even had an intro course. While this was a great way to get students interested in philosophy in general (because of reason (1) above) the course ended up suffering a bit because the discussions degenerated into the “pet theology” that Patrick mentioned, backed up with little to no argumentative support.

    June 9, 2006 — 16:57
  • All of this is very interesting, and I’m glad to see such a great discussion going on.

    When I use the word “dialogue” or “dialectic,” I think that I have something closer to what Mike and Patrick are talking about (I should have made myself clear from the outset). I conceive of dialogue as lecturing for a while on a topic and then presenting an argument in favor of that position. Once the argument has been presented I ask students, “what’s wrong with the argument?”

    I expect (& this can be a tall order) them to give me a few counterarguments. If they can’t formulate a good counterargument, some one will pipe up with a reason for thinking that an inference doesn’t go through or why a premise is a bad assumption. Then, after a little bit of discussion, I present the counterargument more formally. This gives the lecture and the discussion a sense of structure – everything is tied together at the end.

    And, yes, indeed, a course like the philosophy of religion will need to be very well-controlled and well-disciplined to avoid the “rambling” discussion.

    I am a bit curious about one of Patrick’s comments. He said, “be clear at the outset which side of the issues you are on… This is the model of teaching philosophy of religion that was handed down to me by undergrad advisor, and mentor, Barry Brown at MSSU. I use it, and I think other should also.” I was taught by a professor who did exactly the opposite, and I’ve followed in his footsteps. I rarely give the student *my* take on any philosophical position.

    First, why is it best to make clear what your position is? Second, how does one avoid being accused of proseltyzing?

    June 9, 2006 — 18:15
  • In Dr. Brown’s class, he told us at the outset that he was an atheist, having been raised Hebrew, and having come to serious doubts about religion in general, later in life. Knowing this up front, I know that I for one was impressed with the rigorous way in which he presented the arguments FOR God’s existence. He took each argument vary seriously, and pressed them effectively. The end result (in my case) being the impression that in philosophy you take ALL of the arguments seriously, you give each one careful consideration, you don’t just skip or gloss over the ones that are hard to refute just because your idealogy runs contrary. I think this is a great leasson for undergrads (who may never have another philosophy course) to learn.
    I actually think you less of a chance of being accused or suspected of prosletyzing if you can pull this off. If you can show that you can present the arguments contrary to your predilections just as effectively as the rest.

    June 9, 2006 — 18:40
  • I took part in the CU Boulder Summer seminar when the subject was phil of religion. The set up was quite nice and the readings could be adjusted to accomodate different levels. The course had three sections.
    -God’s properties: Is God a consistent concept, how do we make sense of simplicity, etc.
    -God’s existence: problem of evil, Plantinga’s EAAN, cosmological, fine tuning arguments, etc.
    -God and morality: Divine freedom and foreknowledge, middle knowledge, divine command.
    If you emailed Bob Pasnau at boulder you could probably get a copy of the reading list.
    *It should be noted that I’m just a student and therefore not an expert by any means. I just felt the syllabus was effective.

    June 11, 2006 — 19:14