REL/PHI 222 - Dr. Rennie


Course Description Schedule
Papers Grading and Assessment Outcomes

This webpage is under constant reconstruction and revision and remains open to change throughout the semester.


Read it carefully and thoroughly.

Rennie, Bryan. “The History (and Philosophy) of Religions.”
Studies in Religion/Sciences Religieuses 41/1 (2012a): 3 - 4 and 24 - 32.

Rennie, Bryan. “Heterophenomenology as Self-Knowledge”
Bulletin for the Study of Religions 41/3 (2012b): 6-11.

Rennie, Bryan. “After this Strange Starting: Method and Theory and the Philosophy of Religion(s)”
Method and Theory in the Study of Religion 22/2-3 (2010): 116-135.

Rennie, Bryan. “Myths, Models, and Metaphors: Religion as Model and the Philosophy of Science”
Religion 39/4 (2009): 340-347.

Schilbrack, Kevin. Philosophy and the Study of Religion: A Manifesto (Wiley-Blackwell, 2014).
This is the only text that students will have to purchase themselves.

Possible Readings

A variety of other readings will be provided on a class-by-class basis and provided as handouts by the instructor. Students are not required to read all of these but they will contribute significantly to their understanding of the issues and their ability to write about them.

Anselm, St. Proslogium; Monologium: An Appendix In Behalf Of The Fool By Gaunilo; And Cur Deus Homo, 1077-1078.

Aquinas, Thomas, “Article 3. Whether God exists?” from The Summa Theologiae, 1265-1274.

Bacon, Francis. “The Idols of the Human Mind,” from the Novum Organum of 1620.
This contributes to our discussion of what is philosophy and the philosophical method. See also the section on Bacon in Losee, 1992. Is the best way to recognize philosophy to distinguish it from what fails to be philosophy?

Berger, Peter. “Religion and World-Construction,” from The Sacred Canopy, Anchor Books, 1969.

Bowker, John. Excerpts from The Problem of Suffering in the Religions of the World, Cambridge University Press, 1975.

Dawkins, Richard. “Is Science a Religion?”
A speech delivered to the American Humanist Association, 1996, from Readings in the Philosophy of Science, Theodore Schick, Jr. ed. London and Toronto: Mayfield Publishing, 2000. Consider along with Feyerabend, 1975 and Plantinga, 1991.

Dennett, Daniel, “Who’s on First,” Journal of Consciousness Studies, 10 no. 9-10, (2003): 19–30.

Feyerabend, Paul, “Science, History of the Philosophy of” in Honderich, 1995: 806-809.
Paul Feyerabend wants to maintain a distinction between philosophers and scientists and draws a distinction among the early Greek thinkers among “scientists, philosophers, and those artisans who explained and defended their enterprise in writing” (1995, 806). However, he rather complicates that tripartite division by paralleling a division among philosophers, mathematicians, and artisans immediately following (808). Feyerabend is also inclined to argue that science is more akin to religion and does involve a strong faith component (see Against Method, London: Verso, 1975, pp. 295-309). He also claims that “Aristotle had no explicit theory of research” but, rather, that “the deductive structure that [Aristotle] proposed for explanations served the exposition, not the discovery, of knowledge” (807). Note Feyerabend’s comment: “the belief in inexorable laws of nature, which inspired Galileo, Descartes, and their followers, which gave rise to important theoretical developments and became a decisive ingredient of modern physics, not only was not based on experience, but clashed with it in many areas” (808). But he concludes that “the old antagonism between practice and the related antagonism between ‘scientific’ and ‘unscientific’ approaches may still survive in practice, or in some archaic slogans; however, it has lost much of its philosophical bite” (809).

Feyerabend, Paul, “Science and Myth” from Against Method, London: Verso 1975: 295-309.
One of the questions that we must face is, “what, if any, issues in the study of religion are genuinely tractable to the philosophical methodology?” Questions such as “Is Science a religion? Or “Is Marxism a religion?” are questions of definition, classification, and epistemology and so would surely be classifiable as philosophical questions. This reading from Feyerabend, together with those from Dawkins (1996) and Plantinga (1991) deal with the question of science and religion.

Foucault, Michel, “The Unities of Discourse,” from The Archeology of Knowledge, Routledge, 1972.

Grayling, Anthony C. Philosophy: A Guide through the Subject. Oxford and New York: The Oxford University Press, 1995.

Guthrie, W.K.C. “The Beginnings of Philosophy in Greece,” from A History of Greek Philosophy, Vol. 1, “The Earlier Pre-Socratics and the Pythagoreans,” pp. 26-38.
Guthrie’s description of philosophy (and Peirce’s) seem to make the two inimical or fundamentally opposed from the outset. He defines philosophy in (binary) opposition to (poly)theism. But note that the repeated key element is still the perception of the “world as an ordered whole”--precisely what Wm. James thought to be the defining feature of religion. The working definition , however, might be seen to be that on p. 29: “the faith that was and remains the basis of scientific thought with all its triumphs and all its limitations: that is, the faith that the visible world conceals a rational and intelligible order, that the causes of the natural world are to be sought within its boundaries, and that autonomous human reason is our sole and sufficient instrument for the search.” Guthrie soon (immediately after this definition) goes from an attempt to define and explain philosophy to the standard account of it practitioners, Thales, Anaximander, et al. Is Guthrie correct that “That practical purposes may also be served in the long run, if free rein is given to the flights of pure scientific speculation, is true but irrelevant” (31)? “This advance to higher generalizations constitutes the essence of the new step taken by the Greeks.” (36). Isn’t this a different essence than already suggested?

Honderich, Ted ed. The Oxford Companion to Philosophy. Oxford and New York: The Oxford University Press, 1995.

Jordan, Mark D. “Religion, History of the Philosophy of,” in Honderich, 1995: 759-63.
Mark Jordan’s entry on the history of the philosophy of science is succinct and very relevant to the point. As he says, “the term has taken on a fairly specific technical sense in recent Anglo-American philosophy.” That is, it “comprises philosophical analyses of certain concepts or tenets central to the monotheistic Western religions and especially to Christianity” (759). Jordan concludes clearly that the discipline as it is practiced might be better called “philosophical theology” rather than “philosophy of religion” and points out that “[t]hese terms are now used for the most part as if they were interchangeable” 759). More particularly he points out that the Medieval Christian thinkers such as Augustine, Bonaventure, Aquinas, and Ockham, whose arguments compose the fundamental fare of the “philosophy of religion” were not philosophers: “To apply the name ‘philosophy’ to the writings of those medieval thinkers is thus to ignore or undo what they made clear … Most medieval writing about God [etc.] … is self consciously not a philosophy of religion” (761). It is particularly interesting that he concludes that even the thought of Friederich Nietzsche, who was an avowedly anti-religious philosopher, “remains so thoroughly conditioned by his quarrel with religion that he still stands within the theocentric traditions of Western philosophy” (762). In this light we must ask whether the “philosophy of religion” and what it now comprises really does constitute the application of a philosophical methodology to the data of religions. If not, is anyone doing this? What would a more authentic philosophy of religions look like?

Lambert, Karel and Gordon G. Brittan, Jr. “Confirmation versus Corroboration.” From An Introduction to the Philosophy of Science, Atascadero, CA: Ridgeview Publishing Company, 4th Edition, 1992.

Lindberg, David C. The Beginnings of Western Science, Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1992.
Note Lindberg’s caution about the multiple and variable meaning of the word “science” (2) and even of the word “know” (5), but also note his distinction, drawn from Bertrand Russell, that “it is not what the man of science believes … but how and why he believes it. His beliefs are tentative, not dogmatic; they are based on evidence, not on authority or intuition” (Russell, A History of Western Philosophy, 514). This clearly echoes Peirce’s sentiment. It is also worthy of note that Lindberg chooses to refer to his subject as “natural philosophy” or “philosophy of nature” (3) thus indicating that this usage is not simply out-moded. Science still is (or, better, the sciences still are) fundamentally the philosophy of the natural world. Both the Latin-based “science” (scientia) and the Greek episteme are words for knowledge. The fundamental question is still, “how do we know?” and the claim is that the best way to know is the scientific/philosophic method. Is this the best way to know about religion? The point has not been made elsewhere but Lindberg makes it here, that “The decisive development seems to have been the invention of writing” (11). This is a point that is all too often forgotten. Writing made possible a prolonged investigation, analysis, comparison, and critical examination of claims, propositions, or utterances, previously unlikely in their fleeting oral form. As he says, “such comparison encourages skepticism and … helped to create the distinction between truth … and myth or legend” (12). This give some more meat to Guthrie’s descriptions.

Losee, John. A Historical Introduction to the Philosophy of Science. Oxford and New York: Oxord University Press, 1992.
This full-length exposition of the derivation of modern science clearly demonstrates its equivalence to the history of philosophy. I have excerpted c. 48 pages of the sections on Aristotle, Francis Bacon, Descartes, Locke, Hume, Leibniz, and Kant. The simple fact that all these figures are primarily known as philosophers and studied in the academic discipline of philosophy, and yet are indispensable fare in any consideration of scientific method itself speaks volumes. The same is true of the simple facts that Isaac Newton’s great work on gravity and optics was called The Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy and that the authors of the crucial Principia Mathematica, Bertrand Russell and Alfred North Whitehead are known as philosophers.

Merton, Robert K. “The Sociology of Knowledge,” Isis 27 no. 3 (1937): 493-503.

Oxtoby, Willard, “Traditions in Contact,” from World Religions: Western Traditions, first edition, Oxford University Press, 2001.

Paine, Thomas, “The Author’s Profession of Faith,” from The Age of Reason, 1794.

Papineau, David, “Science, Problems in the Philosophy of,” in Honderich, 1995: 809-812.
One of the major questions that any philosophy (of science or of religion) must answer, as David Papineau points out (1995, 810-11) is, how do we tell laws from accidents?

Papineau, David, “Methodology: The Elements of the Philosophy of Science,” in Grayling, 1995: 123-180.
This is a detailed study of the methodology of science from the Professor of the History and Philosophy of Science of King’s College, London. Several things are notable about it. One is that, as can be seen from the list of contents of the whole volume (Grayling, 1995), this section is given as the methodology of philosophy as a whole and not solely or specifically of science. The other is that Papineau follows the same trajectory as other writers in deriving science from the tradition of Hellenic critical speculation.

Peirce, Charles Sanders. “Four Ways of Doing Philosophy,” Popular Science Monthly 12 (November 1877), 1-15.
A simple entry into the question of what is the philosophical method (what Peirce calls “the method of science). Its fundamental hypothesis [he says], restated in more familiar language, is this: There are Real things, whose characters are entirely independent of our opinions about them; those realities affect our senses according to regular laws, and, though our sensations are as different as are our relations to the objects, yet, by taking advantage of the laws of perception, we can ascertain by reasoning how things really are” (152). Once again, he most clearly indicates what this method is by describing what it is not, neither tenacity, nor authority, nor a priori “inclination” (152).

Plantinga, Alvin. “When Faith and Reason Clash: Evolution and the Bible,” Christian Scholars Review, 21 (1991): 8-32.
An example of the faith vs. reason debate. Can the application of philosophical reasoning itself be seen as a form of religion?

Popper, Karl. “Science: Conjectures and Refutations,” from Conjectures and Refutations the Growth of Scientific Knowledge. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1963, pp. 33-39.

Quine, Willard. “Two Dogmas of Empiricism,” The Philosophical Review 60 (1951): 20-43. (Reprinted in W.V.O. Quine, From a Logical Point of View. Harvard University Press, 1953).

Rennie, Bryan. “The Philosophy of Religion Past and Present: Philosophical Theology or the Critical Cross-Examination of Institutionalized Ritual and Belief?” Unpublished paper presented to the West Virginia Philosophical Society, 2014.

Swinburne, Richard. “Religion, Problems of the Philosophy of” in Honderich, 1995: 763-65.

Some Other Recommended Recent Reading on the Topic

Allen, Diogenes and Eric O. Springsted. Philosophy for Understanding Theology. Westminster John Knox Press, 2007.

Godlove, Terry. Kant and the Meaning of Religion. New York: Columbia University Press, 2014.

Schellenberg, John. Divine Hiddenness and Human Reason (Cornell Studies in the Philosophy of Religion, 2006).

Wildman. Wesley. Religious Philosophy as Multidisciplinary Comparative Inquiry (SUNY Press, 2010).

Schedule of Classes:
Philosophy of Religions will meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 2:00 - 3:30 in Patterson Hall 110.
The schedule of assignments, quizzes, etc. remains negotiable until week 9. Changes must be made before this date.

Office Hours:
Dr. Rennie's Office hours are MWF 11:30 - 12:30 and TTr 3:30 - 4:30 and by arrangement.


Date: 1/13 | 1/20 | 1/27 | 2/3 | 2/10 | 2/17 | 2/24 | 3/3 | 3/17 | 3/24 | 3/31 | 4/14 | 4/21 | 4/28 | 5/5 |
Click the date to see the week.

Week 1 - Part One: What is the problem?

Tues. 1/13
Introduction to the course: the class description, the webpage, textbooks, and additional readings.
Reading for Thursday: Rennie, Bryan. “After this Strange Starting: Method and Theory and the Philosophy of Religion(s)”
Method and Theory in the Study of Religion 22/2-3 (2010): 116-135.

Thur. 1/15
Discussion: What is the philosophy of religion and the philosophy of religions? What is religion? What is philosophy? Re-read Rennie 2010 over the weekend or read Rennie 2014, if possible. Students are not simply expected to read, understand, and present upon or write about these readings but to ask questions about them--to actively seek further explanation.

Week 2 -
Philosophical methodology and theory:
Ratiocination, the rational method, the mythos/logos distinction; authoritarianism, Schilbrack's three philosophical questions (21). A basic comment on truth. Possible Readings from W.K.C. Guthrie, C. S. Peirce, M. D. Jordan.

Tues. 1/20 Questions and discussion of the Philosophical Method.

Thur. 1/22 Discussion continued. Begin reading Schilbrack 2014 over the weekend at least to p. 10 ("ii. The First Task of Philosophy of Religion").

Starting from the end of week two students will submit draft pieces of writing for commentary and response from the instructor. These pieces will not be assigned a recorded grade but will constitute practice and development of the skills required. These submissions will continue until the official submission for a grade of the first essay at the end of week seven.

Week 3 -
Traditional or Disciplinary Philosophy of Religion:
Arguments for the existence of God and the immortality of the soul. Pascal’s wager. Moral Philosophy: Divine Command vs. other Ethics and the religious justification of behavior. The naturalistic fallacy and the is/ought divide. Free will and determinism. Readings from Anselm, Aquinas, Pascal, etc.

Tues. 1/27 Schilbrack's "Preface" and Chapter One, section i: "What is 'Traditional Philosophy of Religion'?" Compare Schilbrack's approach to traditional philosophy of religion. Is his analysis justified? What is the task of philosophy of religion? Brief introduction to "conceptual metaphor" and "extended mind." The concepts of "superempirical realities," "unmediated experience" and ontotheology.  

Thur. 1/29 Discussion Continued. Continue reading Schilbrack, to p. 28 (end Chapter One).

Week 4 -
Traditional Philosophy of Religion, continued:
Theodicy: the problems of evil and suffering in its standard Western form is a staple of the conventional Philosophy of Religion but must be expanded to consider equivalent problems of good and bad in other traditions. Reading from N. Smart, J. Bowker.

Tues. 2/3 Questions and discussion of traditional Philosophy of Religion. Alternatives to theism and alternative solutions to the "problem of evil." Student Oral Presentations #1.

Thur. 2/5 Discussion Continued. Student Oral Presentations #1. Continue reading Schilbrack to p. 40 ("iv. Religious Material Culture as Cognitive Prosthetics").

Week 5 -
An Introduction to the History (and Philosophy) of Religion(s):
A brief introduction to (or recap of) the history of the world’s religions compared to traditional Philosophy of religion. Is traditional philosophy of religion adequate? Can, for example, the Kantian Antinomies be compared to Buddhist “ineluctably moot points”? What of different binary oppositions as an axiomatic assumption—reality as dual or nondual—how does Descartes' dualism compare to Shankara's “non-dualism?; does God compare to the Dao? Readings from Mircea Eliade, Ninian Smart, Willard Oxtoby, Lindsay Jones

Tues. 2/10 Questions and discussion of the history of religions: what sort of a study is this? Can ethology clarify the study of religious practices? Does an ethology of religion raise the specter of behaviorism? Embodiment theory and cognitive metaphor.

Thur. 2/12 Discussion Continued. Can the study of ritual be "philosophical"?
Continue Reading Schilbrack to p. 51 (end ch. 2).

Week 6 -
Epistemology, especially the Sociology of Knowledge:
Social construction of knowledge. An introduction to John Searle, The Construction of Social Reality and Ninian Smart, The Science of Religion & the Sociology of Knowledge: Some Methodological Questions. Possible Readings from Robert Merton, Peter Berger, Michel Foucault.

Tues. 2/17 Discussion of the Sociology of Knowledge, especially in the light of Schilbrack's plea for "embedded mind," "extended mind," and "cognitive prosthetics."

Thur. 2/19 Discussion Continued. Ideology and the reality of culture. The pragmatism of persistence.

Continue reading Schilbrack to p. 65 ("iv. What we Presuppose when we Attribute Beliefs").

Week 7 -
Metaphysics, Ontotheology, transcendental attributions, superempirical realities. More about truth, belief, and knowledge:

Tues. 2/24 Discussion of belief, definition, representationalism, dispositionalism, and interpretationalism.

Thur. 2/26 Discussion of Metaphysics, etc.

Continue reading Schilbrack to p. 81 (end ch. 3).

At this point in the course Essay #1 is due (c. 2,500 words on What is philosophy and how does it apply to religion? What do we know? How do we know it?) Please e-mail your paper to me by 4:30 Friday.

Part Two. How can we address these problems?

Week 8 -
Phenomenology of religion:
Phenomenology and heterophenomenology: what are they? Are they helpful or viable methods for the study of religion? What do they imply about religion itself? Reading from Jeppe Sinding Jensen, The Study of Religion in a New Key, Rennie (2012b).

Tues. 3/3 Questions? Discussion of interpretationism and attribution theory.

Thur. 3/5 Discussion of the Phenomenology of Religion.
Continue Reading Schilbrack to p. 96 ("iv. 'Religion' as Distortion").

Spring Break: March 7th to 15th
Saturday through Sunday

Week 9 -
Neurotheology and the Cognitive Science of Religion (CSR):
CSR as a progression from the phenomenology of Religion. The question of the determination of religious realities by the physical inspection of the brain. Cognitive theory: neuroscience as an aspect of evolutionary theory and its application to the understanding of religion. Possible Reading from Justin Barrett, E. Thomas Lawson, Harvey Whitehouse.

Tues. 3/17 Questions and discussion of the Cognitive Science of Religion. Student Oral Presentations #2

Thur. 3/19 Discussion Continued. Student Oral Presentations #2. Continue Reading Schilbrack to p. 111 (end ch. 4).

NAUCORP: Student are strongly encouraged to attend this conference and will be given 10% extra credit for writing one of their papers on a topic emerging from the undergraduate presentations at this conference.

Week 10 -
Religion and the Philosophy of Language:
Hermeneutics, deconstruction, postmodernism, and metanarratives. The Hindu Grammarians. What are the definitional problems associated specifically with religion? Can they be solved? Are the antinomies definitive of what is and what is not traditionally religious? Can science be said to be a religion? Readings from Paul Feyerabend, Richard Dawkins, Alvin Plantinga, Arvind Mandair.

Tues. 3/24 Questions and discussion of the Philosophy of Language.

Thur. 3/26 Discussion Continued. Some comments about Logic and Divination.
Continue Reading Schilbrack to p. 126 ("iii. Keeping Promises: The Substantive or Ontological Aspect of Religion").

At this point in the course Essay #2 is due (c. 2,500 words on The Application of Philosophical Methodologies to Religious Data— Possible NAUCORP essays).

Part Three. Religion Examined:

Week 11 -
Philosophy of Science:
The definition and understanding of science as well as its relationship with philosophy and with religion. Are the two compatible or inveterate enemies? What is the defining feature of this method? Possible readings from Francis Bacon, David Lindberg, John Losee, David Papineau, Karl Popper, Willard V. Quine, Imre Lakatos, Rennie 2009.

Tues. 3/31 Questions and discussion of the philosophy of science, etc.
Continue Reading Schilbrack to 148 (end ch. 5).

Easter Break: Thursday April 2nd to Monday April 6th

Week 12 -
Philosophy of History and Philosophy of Time:
Their role in our understanding of religion. How do religious traditions construct perceptions of time. Is there such a thing as “primal time”? Possible readings from G.W.F. Hegel, M. Eliade, H. Smith.

Thurs. 4/9 Questions and discussion of the philosophy of time and history.
Continue Reading Schilbrack to p. 163 ("iv. Unmediated Experience and Metaphysics").

At this point in the course Essay #3 will be due (c. 2,500 words on The Philosophical Study of Religion--possible NAUCORP essays).

Week 13 -
How does the fact of religious pluralism influence our understanding of religion? Can the frequently made claim that pluralism is not only factual but also desirable be justified? What is the relevance of this alternative approach to a global philosophy of religions, including the attempt to identify the equivalent to philosophy in the non-Western traditions, to religious pluralism? Possible Readings, Rennie, 2009, W.C. Smith, J. Hick, W. Oxtoby.

Tues. 4/14 Questions and discussion of religious pluralism.

Thurs. 4/16 Discussion Continued.
Continue Reading Schilbrack to p. 174 (end ch. 6).

Week 14 -
Religion and Violence:
The role of religion (and the study of religion) in peace and conflict resolution. Including Feminism, Gender Relations, and religion. Reading from Rennie and Tite, Ter Haar and Bussutil.

Tues. 4/21 Discussion of Religion and Violence. Student Oral Presentations #3

Thur. 4/23 Discussion Continued. Student Oral Presentations #3 Continue Reading Schilbrack to p. 189 ("iv. Do Evaluative Approaches Belong in the Academy?").

At this point in the course Essay #4 is due (a first draft of a reworking of the earlier papers plus an additional c. 3,000 words).

Part Four: Final Considerations and Conclusions:

Week 15 -
The Future of Religion:
The “new atheists” debate and the secularization hypothesis. Readings from D. Dennett, S. J. Gould, S. Harris.

Tues. 4/28 Discussion of the “new atheists debate.”

Thurs. 4/30 Discussion Continued. Continue Reading Schilbrack to 206 (end). Evaluation in the study of Religion.
Your final essays are due in today (the final resubmission of all earlier papers plus an additional c. 2,500 words for a final submission of 12,000 words minimum). Please make sure that I get them as e-mail attachments no later than 4:30.
I will hand out the take-home final in this class.
Student Assessments of the course.

Week 16 -

The take-home final examination is due to be handed in between 1:30 and 2:00 pm on Friday, May 8th.
It may be turned in before this time as an e-mail attachment
but you must await my acknowledgement that I have received it.
No excuses about missing finals will be accepted
Finals period May 4th through 8th
Monday through Friday.
Term ends Saturday, May 9th.


All students will submit a series of five word-processed critical essays of no less than 2,500 words. Starting from the end of week two students will submit draft pieces of writing for commentary and response from the instructor. These pieces will not be assigned a recorded grade but will constitute practice and development of the skills required. These submissions will continue until the official submission for a grade of the first essay at the end of week seven (Thursday 2/26). This process will be repeated with the submission of a second paper at the end of week ten (Thursday 3/26) and a third at the end of week thirteen (4/16). The fourth essay, which will be a reworking of the three earlier papers plus a further 2,500 words, will be submitted at the end of week fourteen (4/23) and the fifth and final essay, which will be a reworking of all previous submissions plus a further 2,500 words for a final submission of 12,000 words minimum.

You are required to submit bibliographies for all papers. Each one should contain at least three appropriate sources. You must have at least as many print sources as you have Internet sources!

These are not reports but argumentative essays: that is to say they are editorialism rather than journalism--your own arguments are as essential as knowledge of your subject material. The standard of your technical writing as well as your accuracy and argument will be taken into consideration. To that end, here is a short list of common avoidable writing errors which should help you to avoid simple mistakes which will otherwise reduce your grade.

General requirements of an argumentative essay .

1. Papers must have a title which states the topic of your essay. In order to maintain the focus on Philosophy of Religions as the topic of this course your papers should be entitled "Philosophy of Religions: . . . " with your topic or focus following the colon.

2. You must have a thesis, argument, and a conclusion. "Thesis" is defined as "a proposition laid down or stated, especially as a theme to be discussed or proved" (Oxford English Dictionary). You must explain to your reader why you believe that your thesis is correct, and clearly state the conclusion of your thought. This is mainly to help you to focus your thoughts.

3. The arguments and research which support your thesis should make the main body of the essay.

4. Source material (books, but don't forget articles in journals and encyclopedias, even newspapers and personal interviews) should be integrated into your argument as evidence, example, or illustration. You MUST document the sources of all quotations, statistical information, and paraphrased material.

5. Your conclusions must be clearly stated. They can be negative as well as positive. Don't worry if you find that your original thesis is insupportable. As long as your conclusion is based on your research negative results areas valuable as positive ones. Just re-write your introduction to reflect your results.

6. You must give a separate list of sources (entitled "References" or "Bibliography" or "Works Cited") at the end of your paper. In alphabetical order give the full name of each author, surname first, then first name, followed by the title of the work. Book and journal titles should be italicized (underlining should be avoided and used only if italics are not available, as in hand- or typewritten manuscripts). Article titles should be in quotation marks. Details of publication must be included. For example:

Godlove, Terry. Kant and the Meaning of Religion. New York: Columbia University Press, 2014.

Ferré, Frederick. "The Definition of Religion." Journal of the American Academy of Religion 38, no.1 (1970): 3-16.

Fieser, James (Ed.), The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy,, July 10th, 1996.

(For Internet sources the minimum required information is author name, URL--that is the "http://filename/etc.htm"--and the date you took it from the Internet. If you do not know the author, you must say so, for example:

Author Unknown. "Antinomy," 03/01/2015. Or
Rennie, Bryan. "Classical Chinese Scriptures," 04/10/2015.

REMEMBER: You must have at least as many print sources as you have Internet sources!

Your bibliography does not count as part of your length (min. 2,500 words as stated above).


Course description

Traditionally, philosophy of religion has focused on arguments for and challenges to the existence of God and the immortality of the human soul in the Christian traditions. This course will attempt a broader application of philosophy to the phenomenon of religion. What is religion, and how do we best come know about it? What are the meaning of terms associated with it: belief, faith, truth, the sacred, transcendence, mysticism, good and evil, but also including non-Western concepts such as the Dao, dharma, karma, nirvana? What is the relationship between religion and other "ways of knowing," such as science? What do the data of religion as a global historical phenomenon imply about our understanding of the world and of ourselves?

Disciplinary or “traditional” philosophy of religion has come under great scrutiny in recent years, largely because of its unrelenting focus on questions that are of significant concern to the Christian traditions such as the existence of God, the immortality of the soul, the problem of good and evil, and so on. An increasing number of scholars are arguing that this fails to apply the methodology of disciplinary philosophy—usually described as posing questions of an ontological, epistemological, and ethical nature—to the broader data of religion as constituted by all of the religious traditions of humanity. Prof. Rennie has published several articles on this issue (Rennie 2012, 2010, 2009) and has guest edited special issues of Studies in Religion/Sciences Religieuses (2012), Method and Theory in the Study of Religion (2010), and Religion (2009) specifically on this subject. The recent publication of Religious Philosophy as Multidisciplinary Comparative Inquiry (Wesley Wildman, SUNY Press, 2010) and Philosophy and the Study of Religion: A Manifesto (Kevin Schilbrack, Wiley-Blackwell, 2014) has added new fuel to the fire of this approach to the topic.

This course will apply these texts and their concomitant avenues of inquiry to the broad data of the whole of the world’s religious history in an attempt to gain further clarity in the on-going attempt to understand human claims concerning "relationships with the sacred." The format of the classes will consist of a close reading of Schilbrack's Philosophy and the Study of Religions in parallel with readings explanatory of the issues involved. This will be followed by discussions and student presentation of this and other related materials. Students will be required to participate in these discussions, which may take the form of assigned roles in a debate-like discussion and their preparation, comprehension, eloquence, and performance will be noted as measured against pre-determined criteria. Students will also be required to give oral presentations to the class consisting of reviews of pieces of assigned reading and considerations of specified problem areas.


5 @
= 50%
Oral Presentations
3 @
= 15%
1 @
= 10%
Final Exam
1 @
= 15%
Participation and Attendance
1 @
= 10%

Grading criteria

Students will be required to give three Oral Presentations, which will be graded on the following criteria:

(It’s all about information!)

Has the presenter acquired, assessed, analyzed, and articulated appropriate information?

Written work
will be graded on ...

Focus — written work must have an arguable point with all content directly relating to the stated thesis (without padding or sidetracking). The focus must constitute an answerable question and a suggestion of an answer and a means of attaining it.

Introduction — should be provocative in some way and raise a questionable point. It should also make an accurate promise.

Development — the body of the paper should give detailed support with evidence and proof, supported by clear logic without appeal to emotion or inappropriate authority.

Unity and coherence — the structure of the paper should employ paragraphs that are ordered around subordinate points that support thesis and have smooth transitions between ensuing paragraphs.

Quotations — should be appropriate, correct, properly cited, and grammatically integrated into the essay’s structure. They should be taken from appropriate sources and provide clear support for the paper’s thesis.

Counter-argument— the paper should demonstrate an understanding of possible counter-arguments and counter-examples, which should not be dismissed without sound reason.

Conclusion — should well-written, restating the argument in a clarifying way and matching the introduction.

Works Cited — the works cited page should correct and properly formatted with at least as many print as internet sources.

The overall quality of writing —
- should have a sentence structure that is varied, but clear, and complex where necessary
- the tone or voice should be appropriate and consistent without being either overly familiar or overly formal
- an awareness of the potential audience should be evident (don’t write to your professor!)
- your word choice should be lively, accurate, varied, and eloquent.

Negative Criteria — Deductions may occur for incorrect spelling, punctuation, grammar, word-use, or formatting (quotations, margins, title, header, heading, etc.). See this website for common but easily avoidable writing errors.

By applying these criteria with the full knowledge of the students, who will be asked to refer constantly to these criteria and graded by their application, the achievement of the stated course outcomes can be clearly assessed.


The general aims of this course are, first, to acquire and improve the basic research skills of the philosophical study of religion. This requires a knowledge of those phenomena which have been identified as religious along with some critical understanding of what “religion” and “philosophy” are taken to be. Second, various theories and definitions of both religion will be considered as tools for the construction of relevant and durable opinions about material which is often confusing and uncertain. Third, the skills required to construct and then communicate those opinions clearly and persuasively will be practiced.

So-the acquisition, the analysis, the assessment, and the articulation of specific information will all be practiced and evaluated. All student work must be well-researched, well-reasoned, and well-written. Successful students in this course will demonstrate their abilities:

Course outcomes assessment plan

The achievement of the above outcomes will be demonstrable from the students’ written work and in-class presentations and discussions. Particularly the re-submission of previously submitted written work will demonstrate the students’ improvement (or failure to improve) in the specific areas of focus. In this respect it is crucial to have clear and established grading criteria both to inform the students of expectations and to indicate their success or failure to demonstrate the requisite outcomes. These criteria will be used consistently to evaluate the standard of student work.

The Final Examination

This will be a take-home examination worth 15% of the total grade and consisting of questions addressing the full range of classroom materials covered during the whole of the semester. Students will be required to respond to a range of writing prompts requesting both factual information and argumentation. The total response will be required to be a minimum of 1,500 words.

Participation and Attendance

Student participation will be worth 10% of the total grade. Students will be required to participate in classroom discussions as well as to give oral presentations. In order to participate, of course, they must attend classes. Failure to attend and/or to participate in classroom discussion will result in the loss of this portion of the grade. However, continued failure to attend class may result in penalties involving the application of negative grade points (i.e. the loss of grade earned elsewhere).