LS 813: Religious and Secular World Views

Spring 2011  | Dr. Eleanor Stebner

So-called "God debates" are hugely visible in parts of North America and Europe today, no doubt related to the emergence of a number of contemporary outspoken anti-theists (such as Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and Sam Harris).

This course provides students with the opportunity to read and ponder some of the significant Western thinkers who - long before the likes of the above - grappled with a multitude of questions related to religion (principally Christianity) and its role for individuals and societies. Many questions will emerge from these readings regarding “God,” human nature, morality, immortality, oppression, compassion, and so on. The course will begin with an Enlightenment critique of religion and conclude with a contemporary "apology" for God. Students will read approximately 100 pages per week.

Week 1: Introduction to the course, texts, and one another

Week 2: Selections from Voltaire, A treatise on toleration and other essays (1763)

Week 3: David Hume, Dialogues concerning natural religion (1779)

Week 4: Selections from Friedrich Schleiermacher, On religion: speeches to its cultured despisers (1799)

Week 5: Percy Shelley, The necessity of atheism and other essays (1811/13)

Week 6: Selections from Thomas Henry Huxley, Agnosticism & Christianity & other essays (1889)

Week 7: Selections from Leo Tolstoy, The kingdom of God is within you (1893)

Week 8: Selections from Elizabeth Cady Stanton, ed., The Woman's Bible (1895/98)

Week 9: Selections from Upton Sinclair, The profits of religion (1917)

Week 10: Selections from Bertrand Russell, Why I am not a Christian and other essays on religion and related subjects (1957) or What I Believe

Week 11: Excerpts from Richard Rubenstein, After Auschwitz (1966)

Week 12: Selections from Karen Armstrong, The case for God (2009)

Week 13: Final discussion