Is Nothing Sacred?

Topics in the Philosophy of Religion

Oxford University Department of Continuing Education

[Course description] [Practical details]
[Department for Continuing Education]

course description

We'll start by looking at the notion of religion itself, examining the main usages of the term, and exploring possible alternatives. Apart from laying foundations for the course, the question "what is religion?" is a way in to the more general topic of the application of familiar concepts and terminology to unfamiliar cultures. We'll also look briefly at the role of rational grounds for religious belief; this will again be largely a matter of scene setting, as the main discussion of the nature of faith, knowledge, and belief will come later in the course.

The first part of the course will deal with reasons for religious belief. The most important topics here concern belief in god; we'll cover, though sometimes briefly, all the main attempts to provide arguments for the existence of god. We'll then look at the role, nature, and status of religious experience, before going on to examine the relationship between morality and religion.

In the second part of the course we'll cover the same sort of ground with respect to reasons for atheist attitudes to the notion of god. The main area of discussion will, of course, be the problem of evil, but we'll also look at some lesser philosophical arguments (including the ontological argument against the existence of god), as well as arguments from the nature and effects of religion.

In the third part of the course we'll move on to philosophical problems that arise out of particular religious concepts and practices, including faith, knowledge, and belief, prayer, life after death and reincarnation, religious language, the attributes of god (including time and eternity), and religious pluralism.

The aim of the course is to introduce students to the main areas of philosophical interest within the field of religion, dealing with certain key questions in greater depth, and attempting to make connections between the approaches to what might seem unconnected issues. I also aim to develop philosophical abilities, approaches, and techniques by tackling these questions, and in doing this we'll delve into metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, the philosophy of science, language, logic, mind... virtually all philosophy is here.

The course will take the form of relatively informal lectures, followed by discussion. In addition to the course hand-out (which includes reading lists, essay questions, and some introductory material), I'm preparing a section of my Web page specifically for students on this course. It will stand as a supplement to the more conventional material, offering links to on-line papers, introductions, discussions, etc., though it will also contain most of the material in the printed hand-out. N.B.: use of the Web is not at all essential to the course.

Philosophy is an activity - a process not a product, a way of thinking, not a set of ideas - and the course will reflect this.

practical details

Ref: O99E196PHC [LXGG188]

10 meetings, starts 5 x 99: Tuesdays 7.30-9.30pm

Rewley House, 1 Wellington Square, Oxford OX1 2JA

47.00 pounds sterling -- 60% reduction available on application for people who are eligible for Job Seekers' Allowance, Income Support, Family Credit, Housing Benefit, Incapacity Benefit, or Severe Disablement Allowance, or whose sole source of income is a DHSS State Retirement Pension.

Enrolment is through Rewley House:

Weekly Class Administrator
1 Wellington Square

Telephone: (+1865) 270308/ 270391/ 270360

University of Oxford Department for Continuing Education

The Department has a Web site, unfortunately badly frames-crippled, but I've linked to the main section..

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