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 A&H 368 Religion: Ethical and Philosophical Perspectives


In the 100 and 200 level courses in the religion track the emphasis is on gaining knowledge of the core ideas, texts and practices of specific religious traditions. Philosophical debates are touched upon - particularly in the two 200 level courses - but they are combined with historical and factual perspectives to enhance understanding of a particular religion. In this course, however, several important philosophical questions regarding religion will take center stage.

In the first part of this course we will focus on the internal debates within the major world religions regarding ethical questions. Controversial topics like war, terrorism, and gender inequality will be addressed, as well as benign contributions, such as peace projects, creating a more just society, inter-faith dialogue and enhanced personal well-being. Where possible the focus will be on religious figures who have had a strong influence on world politics such as Gandhi, the Dalai Lama, Thich Nhat Hanh, and Osama Bin Laden.

Whereas the first part of the course will deal with the response to certain philosophical questions by the religions themselves, the second part of the course will take a more external perspective. Here, the emphasis will be on examining the phenomenon of religion in general. Rather than focusing on specific well-known traditions, we will investigate how several philosophers and social scientists have analyzed topics like the origins and functions of religion, the truth or falsehood of religious dogma, and the existence of God. In order to investigate these topics we will discuss the ideas of thinkers like Freud, Marx, Eliade, Weber, Jung, and Wilber, all of whom devoted a great deal of time and energy to answering two important questions: 'What exactly is religion? and what does it do?'

Throughout the course, three writing assignments which foster critical thinking will be written by students: one about a documentary (Pussy Riot: a Punk Prayer), one about a novel (Siddharta), and one about a feature film (The Long Walk Home).​


Dr. Ritske Rensma​




One of the following is required in order to take this course:

  • ​Any course in the religion track. 
  • At least one course in the philosophy track with good results. 
  • A good GPA and while taking A&H 166 at the same time, but the instructor needs to approve this first.