Centre for Continuing Education

Philosophy Course: Philosophy of Religion

Philosophy. Study the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality and existence.

This course on the philosophy of religion examines religious experience while borrowing from different schools of thought, including psychology, anthropology, sociology, phenomenology and political theory.

Religion is central to the personal lives of many people. It is integrated in the cultural heritage of every people, and understanding it is crucial to understanding the human condition.

We will delve into topics, including: personal spirituality as independent of religion; the ongoing debate between religion and science; the role of ‘wonder’ in human life; and the paradox of religious violence.

Outcomes

By the end of this course, you should be able to:

  • identify key concepts in the philosophy of religion
  • identify the many approaches to understanding religion in anthropology, psychology, sociology, phenomenology and philosophy
  • relate ideas about religion and spirituality to the history of politics and contemporary issues
  • discuss the issues involved in the debate between science and religion
  • apply the ideas discussed to your personal life and your choices.

Content

What is religion?

  • Do all religions have supernatural beings?
  • The distinction between sacred and profane objects.
  • Are all religions also ‘moral systems’?

Anthropology

  • The origins of religions.
  • Theories of how and why religion emerged.
  • Mythological narratives of religion, including: music, dancing, miracles and taboos.
  • Mythological narratives in the early stages of human religious history.

Sociology

  • The social functions of religion in societies.
  • The tribal bonding of shared religion and its advantages to early societies.
  • From a sociological sense, what is the function of religion now?

Psychology

  • The mental states of belief and faith.
  • Humans and our natural propensity for religious belief.
  • The role religion plays in our need for emotional satisfaction and personal values.
  • Can the psychological need for religion (as outlined in the traits above) be replaced by other systems of thought?

Political theory

  • The ongoing connection between religious structures and political frameworks.
  • Theories of religion as covert political/power institutions.

Spirituality

  • Ideas of ‘spirituality’ as broader than religion.
  • Spirituality and our relation to nature, art and the cosmos.
  • Is it possible to have a personal spirituality without a religion?

Phenomenology

  • The powerful feeling that there is something beyond the ordinary world that we inhabit.
  • The subjective religious experience as both a very personal experience, or something that can be shared as a group.
  • How should we understand these extraordinary experiences?

Religion and science

  • The ongoing debate between religion and science.
  • The ‘compatibilists’ who argue that you can have the benefits of both without an unacceptable paradox.

Wonder

  • What is the role of ‘wonder’ in human life?
  • Wonder is the common origin of philosophy, science and religion, but is ‘wonder’ just a state of lack of knowledge to be filled in, or a necessary recognition of a universe beyond our comprehension?

Religion: violence and non-violence

  • The core beliefs of many religions are about the need for love, kindness, hospitality, and peace.
  • The paradox of religious violence.

Intended audience

Anyone with a general interest in philosophy and the topic of religion.

Delivery style

Lecture/seminar.

Materials

Handouts are provided in class.

Features

  • Expert trainers
  • Central locations
  • Small class sizes
  • Free, expert advice
  • Student materials – yours to keep
  • Statement of completion

Philosophy Course: Philosophy of Religion

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