Philosophy & Religious Studies

What is the meaning of life? how should we think about ethic, or even reality itself? Philosophy and religion tackle these and other fundamental questions in related and sometimes different ways. Both disciplines lie at the core of the humanities, and thus a liberal arts education. Philosophy, for example, often examines unstated assumptions underlying cultural practices and scholarly disciplines, from politics to physics. Religion, for its part, can be studied from a number of different angles, from sociology to psychology.

This combined program will not only provide students with an understanding of key issues in philosophy and religious studies, it will help them reflect deeply on their values, beliefs, and cultural identities. Graduates will go on to a range of careers, from working in museums to running non-profits. Many majors choose to pursue further study, whether in graduate school, seminary, or law school. We encourage capable students to double major with related fields such as English, Sociology, Politics, or Environmental Studies.

Learning Outcomes

Students who graduate with a major in philosophy and religious studies will be able to:

  1. Demonstrate competence in critical thinking and analysis of arguments;
  2. Articulate an understanding of the forces shaping culture and history;
  3. Demonstrate skill in questioning, reflecting, and arriving at possible conclusions;
  4. Analyze the ethical dimension of human action;
  5. Develop in a self-critical way philosophical insights and positions supported by relevant experience and sound reasoning;
  6. Confront, evaluate, and refine personal beliefs in historical context;
  7. Apply skills in speaking and writing to communicate complex ideas.

Planning Your Philosophy and Religious Studies Major and Minor

Entering first-year students interested in philosophy and religion, the classics, or world literature are encouraged to take PHR 120: Classic Texts in Western Thought, in the fall semester. Another excellent point of entry into the department is PHR 101: Approaches to Religious Studies (fall) or PHR 100: Introduction to Philosophy and Religious Thought (spring). There are also several possibilities for students who want to build up a strong grounding in scholarly approaches to the Bible, such as PHR 279: The Bible in the Modern Imagination; PHR 210: Introduction to the Bible; and PHR 220: Jesus. As you progress in the department, there are offerings which run the gamut from environmental ethics to religion and visual culture.

The philosophy and religious studies major is flexible by design and welcomes those students who know right away that they wish to major in the subject or discover an interest only once they take a class with us, sometimes later in their college career. Graduates will go on to a range of careers, from working in museums to running nonprofits. Many majors choose to pursue further study, whether in graduate school, seminary, or law school. We encourage capable students to double major with related fields such as English, Sociology, Politics, or Environmental Studies. PHR faculty offer advice tailored to each individual student.

Major in Philosophy & Religious Studies

– 24 credit hours required
– Required courses: four upper-division courses (12 credits). At least one course on religion and one course on philosophy.

Minor in Philosophy & Religious Studies

– 12 credit hours required
– Required courses: two upper-division courses (6 credits). At least one course on religion and one course on philosophy.

PHR 100 - Introduction to Philosophy and Religious Thought
Semester: Fall and Spring
Semester hours: 3
This course attempts to address the question "Does thinking about the meaning of one's life help us live better?" by studying a particular issue and some thought-provoking responses to it. The particular issue and texts will vary from year to year. Not open to juniors and seniors without instructor's permission.
PHR 120 - Classic Texts in Western Thought
Semester: Fall
Semester hours: 3
This course covers intensive readings in primary texts crucial to the Western tradition. Students will read from such authors as Homer, the Biblical prophets, the Greek dramatists, Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Dante, Shakespeare, Hobbes, Freud, and Nietzsche.
PHR 205 - Logic
Semester: On Demand
Semester hours: 3
An introductory course in the principles and methods used to distinguish correct from incorrect reasoning. This course aims to help students think and read critically and to write argumentative papers. Both inductive and deductive logic will be studied.
PHR 210 - Genres of Biblical Literature
Semester: Fall and Spring
Semester hours: 3
This course provides an investigation of one specific genre of Biblical literature. Past topics have included Biblical narrative, the Gospels, the Psalms, and Paul.
PHR 211 - Ancient Philosophy
Semester: Fall; Alternate years
Semester hours: 3
This course introduces students to great primary philosophical texts of the Western tradition, such as Plato's Republic, and provides them with an overview of philosophy during this early period of its development.
PHR 212 - Modern Philosophy
Semester: On Demand
Semester hours: 3
Students examine major thinkers, ideas, and movements in philosophy from the Renaissance through the 19th century. This course is a continuation of PHR 211 on Ancient philosophy and will similarly focus on the study of primary texts from Descartes, Hume, Kant, and others, while offering context through secondary sources. Students who wish to take PHR 212 at a higher level, with additional readings and extra writing assignments may do so under the title PHR 312.
PHR 218 - Topics in Catholicism
Semester: Spring
Semester hours: 3
This course explores the central principles of the Catholic religion. From year to year the course focuses on a different aspect of Catholicism. Topics covered might include the creation of basic beliefs in the first three centuries, issues in modern Catholic thinking, Catholics and the Bible, a history of the Church, or great figures in Catholicism.
PHR 220 - Jesus
Semester: Fall; Every three years
Semester hours: 3
Students will look at biblical sources as well as modern literary and theological interpretations to answer the question "Who was, or is, Jesus?" Issues to be addressed include: the quest for the "historical Jesus;" classical and contemporary Christology; and biblical hermeneutics.
PHR 236 - Religions of The World
Semester: On Demand
Semester hours: 3
This course examines the central religious principles and ideas of major non-Christian religions. From year to year, the focus may be on different religions or areas of the world.
PHR 299 - Independent Study
Semester: On Demand
Semester hours: 1-3
This course allows a superior student to devise and pursue independent study in an area agreed upon in consultation with, and supervised by, a faculty member. Students should be either a major or minor and have a cumulative GPA of 3.00 or greater.
PHR 303 - Ethics
Semester: Spring; Alternate years
Semester hours: 3
A study relating ethics, as traditionally conceived in philosophy, to one or more current philosophical works in ethics. This course will provide students with a solid background in ethics, from Plato to Nietzsche. A discussion of a contemporary work in ethics will introduce students to topics that may be covered in depth in later seminars.
PHR 304 - Environmental Ethics
Semester: Spring; Alternate years
Semester hours: 3
This course will address issues such as whether natural beings and the natural world have rights or whether only humans have rights. Students will determine what is ethically appropriate for humans in their relationship with the environment as well as what environmental ethics must take account of to be consequential in the world today.
PHR 312 - Modern Philosophy
Semester: On Demand
Semester hours: 3
This course covers the same key thinkers, ideas, and movements in philosophy as PHR 212, but allows capable students to undertake additional readings and extra writing assignments for upper-division credit.
PHR 317 - Archaeology and Philosophy of the Holy Land
Semester: Summer
Semester hours: 6
This course is designed for students participating in the Bethsaida Excavation and tour of selected sites in Israel. Students will engage in activities including excavating at the site; attending poetry readings, laboratory, and evening lectures at the kibbutz; learning archaeological methodology; and learning about kibbutz living on the Galilee. Students are also expected to participate in all guided group tours of important sites and museums in Israel.
PHR 320 - Major Modern Religious Thinkers
Semester: Spring; Every 2 years
Semester hours: 3
This course will alternate in different years between examining Modern Jewish Thought and Modern Christian Thought. The focus will be upon major thinkers from the 19th through the 21st centuries. Modern Jewish thinkers will include: Cohen, Soloveitchik, Benjamin, Buber, Rosenzweig, Strauss, Heschel, Levinas, Derrida, and Butler. Modern Christian thinkers will include: Kierkegaard, Schleiermacher, Barth, Bonhoeffer, Tillich, Milbank, Williams, Hauerwas, Volf, and Pope Francis.
PHR 321 - Major Philosophical Figures
Semester: On Demand
Semester hours: 3
This course provides a study of the writings and, in some cases, the life of a major philosophical thinker in the Western tradition.
PHR 330 - Religion and Film
Semester: Spring; Every 2 years
Semester hours: 3
Film is an illuminating way to study – and watch – religion. we will study 'sword and sandal' biblical epics, from Ben Hur and The Ten Commandments to The Passion of the Christ and Noah. We will also look at films that take on ethical dilemmas, as in Doubt, and existential themes, as in The Seventh Seal. As we will see, some theorists even argue that watching film is itself a theological experience.
PHR 340 - Christian Ethics
Semester: On Demand
Semester hours: 3
How can a Christian make moral decisions? We will study potential biblical foundations for ethics and several modern Christian ethicists to understand how they move from the beliefs of Christianity to recommendations for specific ethical actions.
PHR 362 - Christian Theology
Semester: On Demand
Semester hours: 3
What does it mean to believe in God? When we talk about God are we talking about anything more than ourselves and our ideals and aspirations? This course investigates classical and modern Christian answers to this basic question.
PHR 370 - Spiritual Journeys
Semester: Spring; Every 2 years
Semester hours: 3
Many great works of literature feature people taking tremendous journeys, both physically and spiritually. We will set the stage by reading the Book of Exodus, which formed the spiritual identity of the People Israel, continuing our literary trek with Dante's travels from Hell to Heaven, and later Captain Ahab's pursuit of the white whale in Moby Dick. We will pay special attention to modern American religious visions, from Jack Kerouac's euphoric On the Road to Cormac McCarthy's dystopia in The Road. This course is cross-listed with ENG 370.
PHR 375 - 20th Century Philosophy
Semester: Spring; Alternate years
Semester hours: 3
The 20th century is characterized by a plurality of philosophical styles such as postmodernism, phenomenology, existentialism, hermeneutics, deconstruction, analytic philosophy, pragmatism, and systematic philosophy. This course involves intensive study and critical evaluation of one or two of these styles.
PHR 378 - Philosophy of Technology and Modern Culture
Semester: Spring; Alternate years
Semester hours: 3
It is often a difficult task to understand one's own culture and age. Recent philosophical work offers profound insights into our age and places these insights within a much wider context.
PHR 421 - Philosophy of Religion
Semester: Fall; Every three years
Semester hours: 3
This course provides an investigation of some of the crucial philosophical ideas about religion. Students will study such issues as the idea of God, the arguments for and against the existence of God, the idea of revelation, and the problem of religious language.
PHR 450 - Internship
Semester: On Demand
Semester hours: 1-12
This course is a guided work experience in an already established institution. The student must arrange the internship in agreement with the instructor and the Office of Career Services. The internship should relate to the student's major or minor area of study. Contract is required.
Prerequisite: junior or senior standing
PHR 460 - Problems in Religious Thought
Semester: Fall; Every 2 years
Semester hours: 3
This course will alternate in different years between examining one of two topics: Tragedy or Beauty. Both topics will be treated from an interdisciplinary perspective, utilizing theological, philosophical, and literary approaches. We will study writers including Sophocles, Shakespeare, Coleridge, Beckett, von Balthasar, Maritain, Eco, Steiner, and Eagelton.
PHR 483 - Senior Project
Semester: On Demand
Semester hours: 1-3
Students complete a senior project in consultation with a faculty member.
PHR 490 - Seminar
Semester: On Demand
Semester hours: 2-3
Intensive study of a selected area or figure in philosophy or religion is explored.
PHR 499 - Independent Study
Semester: On Demand
Semester hours: 1-3
This course allows a superior student to devise and pursue independent study in an area agreed upon in consultation with, and supervised by, a faculty member. Students should be either a major or minor and have a cumulative GPA of 3.00 or greater.
Prerequisite: junior or senior standing
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