PHIL 131: Philosophy of Religion syllabus, FALL 2020 - subject to revision -

Sacramento State site for COVID-19 Information & Resources

Sections: 3, 4, 5


Course Description

PHIL 131. Philosophy of Religion. Introduction to philosophical theology, the philosophical study of religious assertions, arguments, and beliefs: the existence and nature of God; the rationality of religious belief; the relation of faith to reason; the problem of evil; immortality and resurrection; the possibility of miracles; the meaning of religious language. Includes both traditional and contemporary approaches. 3 units.

This course satisfies GE Area C2, find details on how this is accomplished in each Learning Module at the end of this Syllabus. This course samples over two thousand years of human history, tradition, culture, and debate about the nature and scope of the religious worldview. We focus on typical faith-based and intellectual attitudes, values, and practices from major religious traditions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The primary goal is to appreciate, understand, and scrutinize the religious perspective. Philosophy Department General Education Courses listed here.


Course Structure

This is a fully online course delivered via Canvas, the campus Learning Management System (LMS). Online activities include: Lectures in the form of narrated slideshows, videos, readings, discussions, and quizzes. You will need to use the Internet and a campus-supported Web browser e.g., Firefox, Safari, or Chrome. For all assignments and especially quizzes, you should use a desktop, laptop or tablet. Do not use smartphones for quizzes, they are unreliable and have inadequate displays. There will be no Zoom or Google Meet sessions in this course.

Students in online courses should be independent, disciplined, self-motivated learners. Notice that there are numerous required activities you must accomplish on your own by specific deadlines. In addition to processing all of the material presented online within the modules, it is important that you stay in touch with me, let me know how it is going via email. Contact me ASAP when any confusion or problem arises - include a screenshot whenever possible.

Tutorials for Canvas. Each short video introduces components of the course that we use.

  1. Canvas Overview:
  2. Discussions:
  3. Quizzes:
  4. Grades:



Required instructional materials are available online in digital form or in Canvas

1. Philosophy of Religion: An Anthology, 7th edition, by Louis Pojman and Michael Rea, eISBN-13: 9781305162938, rental cost from RedShelf = $35

2. Learning Modules, lecture/slideshows and other required material beyond the assigned text are all within Canvas or online. START HERE:

3. Visit the Blog page where I post weekly commentary on course material and assignments. Find a link to the Blog within each Learning Module in Canvas. It is required reading.


Schedule, arranged by Learning Module

Modules contain and organize course material. Find additional course materials such as lectures, videos, and articles not from the text within each module. It should take you about two weeks to work through the list of things in each module. With the exception of those items marked optional, all items within a module are required, including the Blog page. Numbers and letters on the Schedule below correspond to required readings in the Pojman and Rea text.


MODULE 1: Religion Defined, Its Origins and Philosophical Import - opens August 31, 2020

FIND assigned items and videos within the module in Canvas, there are NO required readings from the course text yet.

Discussion 1 opens August 31, closes September 14

QUIZ 1 opens September 7, closes September 21


MODULE 2: Religious Experience - opens September 14

Required reading from the course text:

1. Part IV: Religion and Experience, intro
2. IV.A: Mystical Experience and the Perception of God
3. IV.A.1: Selections of Mystical Experiences
4. IV.A.2: James: Mysticism
5. IV.A.6: Jordan: Religious Experience and Naturalistic Explanations

FIND additional items and videos within the module in Canvas.

Discussion 2 opens September 14, closes September 28

QUIZ 2 opens September 21, closes October 5


MODULE 3: Miracles - opens September 28

Required reading from the course text:

1. Part IV.B: Miracles, intro
2. IV.B.1: Hume: Against Miracles
3. IV.B.2: Mackie: Miracles and Testimony

4. Part IV.C: Science and Religion, intro
5. IV.C.1: Dawkins: Is Science A Religion?
6. IV.C.2: Gould: Non-overlapping Magisteria

7. IV.C.3: Pope John Paul II: Faith and ScienceL Lessons from the Galileo and message on Evolution

FIND additional items and videos within the module in Canvas.

Discussion 3 opens September 28, closes October 12

QUIZ 3 opens October 5, closes October 19


MODULE 4: The Problem of Evil - opens October 12

Required reading from the course text:

1. Part III: The Problem of Evil, intro
2. III.A: Historical and Literary Perspectives
3. III.A.1: Hume: The Argument from Evil
4. III.A.2: Leibniz: Theodicy: A Defense of Theism
5. III.A.3: Dostoevsky: Rebellion
6. III.B.2: Rowe: The Inductive Argument from Evil against the Existence of God
7. III.C: Replies, intro
8. III.C1: Plantinga: The Free Will Defense
9. III.C.2: Hick: Evil and Soul-Making

FIND additional items and videos within the module in Canvas.

Discussion 4 opens closes October 12, closes October 26

QUIZ 4 opens October 19, closes November 2


MODULE 5: Arguments for the existence of God - opens November 2

Required reading from the course text:

1. Part II: Traditional Arguments for the Existence of God, intro
2. II.A: The Ontological Argument for the Existence of God, intro
3. II.A.1: Anselm and Gaunilo: The Ontological Argument
4. II.A.2: Kant: A Critique of the Ontological Argument

5. Part II.B: The Cosmological Argument for the Existence of God, intro
6. II.B.1: Aquinas: The Five Ways
7. II.B.2: Clarke: The Argument from Contingency
8. II.B.3: Rowe: An Examination of the Cosmological Argument

9. Part II.C: The Teleological Argument for the Existence of God, intro
10. II.C.1: Paley: The Watch and the Watchmaker
11. II.C.2: Hume: A Critique of the Design Argument

FIND additional items and videos within the module in Canvas.

Discussion 5 opens November 2, closes November 16

QUIZ 5 opens November 9, closes November 23


MODULE 6: Faith and Reason - opens November 16

Required reading from the course text:

1. Part V: Faith and Reason, intro
2. V.A: The Nature of Faith, intro
3. V.A.2: Buchak: Can It Be Rational to Have Faith?
4. V.A.3: Pojman: Faith, Hope, and Doubt

5. V.B: Pragmatic Justification of Religious Belief, intro
6. V.B.1: Pascal: The Wager
7. V.B.2: Clifford: The Ethics of Belief
8. V.B.3: James: The Will to Believe

9. V.C: Rationality and Justified Religious Belief, intro
10. V.C.1: Hick: Rational, Theistic Belief Without Proof
11. V.C.2: Flew: The Presumption of Atheism

FIND additional items and videos within the module in Canvas.

Discussion 6 opens November 16, closes November 30

Discussion 7 opens November 30, closes December 14

QUIZ 6 opens December 14, closes December 18 - this is the Final


Assignments, Attendance, and Grades
What required assignments are there?

THIRTEEN graded assignments occur within the Learning Modules presented in Canvas, look for links to them in there. Grades for each submitted effort will appear under Grades as soon as I process them. All graded work occurs according to the schedule on this page. Once an assignment closes, it closes forever. Students cannot re-take or make-up any quiz or discussion, absolutely, no exceptions. There isn't time for this and there are plenty of points available so that one can miss an assignment or two and still do well in the course.


What happens if you do not complete an assignment by its deadline? Is there any extra-credit?

If you miss a deadline, then you have missed the opportunity to earn whatever points were available for that assignment. Look at the Schedule, notice that you will have had plenty of time to complete each assignment by its deadline. You will not be able to post anything after a deadline. I cannot grade assignments until after deadlines pass. After the deadline I release or discuss answers. There are many assignments, missing one or two should not harm your overall performance that much. Missing multiple tests or discussion posts will have a larger effect, so arrange your life so as to meet your obligations. No assignments can be re-opened, extended or made-up, it is unfair to people who submit work by deadline and we must treat people equitably. Multiple versions of assignments and sliding deadlines in such a course as this are not feasible. Unless you have a documented hardship (see my Grading Policy in the time of COVID-19 below), course requirements and grading standards remain the same for everyone. My advice if you miss a deadline: Life happens, let it go. Focus on what assignments remain and continue to do your best.


Attendance = Participation

Attendance is entirely online. Online participation is satisfied by online assignments. If you fail to complete an assignment online by its deadline, then you have missed the chance for whatever points that assignment offers. For instance, say you do not post an answer to a Discussion Board question-prompt for a Learning Module, then you do not earn the possible points available to those who do. There are no penalties here, only missed opportunities. There are no class meetings on campus.

Non-participating students will be dropped from the course within the first three weeks. This course has strict participation and activity requirements, including engagement with the course material on a weekly basis. Students MUST:

1. Login to the course at least once each week during the first three weeks of the semester, AND

2. Submit answers and respond to other students in the first Discussion Board topic by the end of the first two weeks of the semester.

If you do not satisfy BOTH of these requirements, then you will be considered to have abandoned the course and may be administratively dropped by the instructor.


How do I determine your overall course grade?

Grades are NOT based on percentages, instead grades are based on total points accumulated. I add the scores you earn on all graded work, then assign the final letter-grade based on my grading scale (below). For instance, if you earn a total of 94 points, then you receive a C for the course. Since my overall grading scale is generous and rounding introduces error, I will not round scores up or down. Please keep track of your own Grades in Canvas.

GRADING POLICY in the time of COVID-19. In general, students cannot re-take or make up any assignment after deadlines pass, absolutely, no exceptions, since I release and discuss answers. However, in documented cases of serious injury or illness (e.g. confirmed coronavirus infection), grades will be adjusted to accommodate hardship. Each case is different, we can work it out but you must contact me ASAP. There is no extra credit, extra credit is extra work, we don't have time or resources for more work. Everyone must be treated equitably: I cannot do for one person what I cannot do for everyone. Also, there are plenty of points available so that one can miss a quiz and still do well in the course.

Grade thresholds are as follows: The number on the left is the total number of points at the end of the course which corresponds to to the letter-grade on the right.

Total points = Course Grade

120+ = A

115-119 = A -

110-114 = B +

105-109 = B

100-104 = B -

95-99 = C +

90-94 = C

85-89 = C -

80-84 = D +

75-79 = D

70-74 = D -

less than 70 = F


Services to CSUS Students with Disabilities

If you have a disability and require accommodations such as the use of assistive technology, you need to provide me with your official documentation from Services to Students with Disabilities (SSWD), which is in Lassen Hall 1008, (916) 278-6955. Please discuss accommodation needs with me ASAP during my office hours or by appt. early in the semester so that we may make a plan to help you out. To apply for SSWD services, start here:

SSWD at Sacramento State offers a wide range of support services and accommodations for students in order to ensure students with disabilities have equal access and opportunity to pursue their educational goals. The Assistive Technology Act of 2004 defines an assistive technology device in the following way: “…any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities.” (29 U.S.C. Sec 2202(2))

If you are registered with SSWD and require the use of the Campus Testing Center in 2302 Lassen Hall, then for any test, you will need to complete a Testing with Accommodations Instruction Form to give to your instructor, so that we can make a testing schedule.


CSUS Policies and Procedures Regarding Academic Honesty

Review all academic responsibilities, definitions, sanctions and rights described here. Student sharing or copying answers on tests is cheating, which is dishonest and violates campus codes of conduct. See especially the definitions of Cheating and Plagiarism.

Plagiarism is a serious academic offence and will not be tolerated in this class. Always use quotation marks and a footnote citation to indicate sentences or passages you borrow from another author. Assignments in which cheating or plagiarism is found will be assigned a failing grade. ALL incidents of either will be reported both to the Department Chair and to the Judicial Officer in the Office of Student Affairs for possible further administrative sanction.


Specific Learning Outcome (SLO) aims

By the end of the course, students will be able to:

  1. DEFINE basic philosophical and religious terms used in the course. E.g., We examine and apply Ninian Smart’s description of religion throughout the course, including but not limited to our discussions of the social, mythical, doctrinal, and ethical dimensions of Western and non-Western religions.

  2. PRESENT a diversity of biological, historical, ethnic, and cultural influences on religious belief and practice. E.g. We contrast naturalistic and divine origin theories of religious ideas, values, and principles and draw their philosophical implications for a variety of traditional societal and genders roles.

  3. THINK less subjectively and more critically about religious beliefs and issues and their implications for tradition and culture. E.g., Many people believe that one cannot be a good person without being religious or believing in God. Students examine the case for and against this view as presented in recent video debates on this issue.

  4. UNDERSTAND broadly the nature and importance of religion and more specifically the philosophical issues and controversies that religious experiences and practice engender. E.g., Students will consider how to interpret mystical experiences and to what extent these support religious and scientific worldviews.

  5. DISTINGUISH various philosophical concepts and theories about the nature and acceptability of religious claims and whether or not such claims are reconcilable with a scientific worldview. E.g., What role, if any, does evidence play in the forming and justifying of any belief about gods or cosmic design or miracles? Are religion and science ever incompatible?

  6. APPLY philosophical methods to religious dilemmas in professional and personal life. E.g., Does faith alone justify belief in God or can the existence of God be demonstrated by reason or experience? Should we ever believe religious descriptions and moral assertions based on divine revelation or natural theology? Can theism and atheism co-exist in a secular society? Shall we raise our children with (or without) religious education?

  7. ENGAGE in cogent and respectful discussion about religious ideas and values, e.g., Suppose we presume that “It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.” Doesn’t this imply that faith and reason are hostile to each other? Is faith independent of reason, or shall we proportion belief to the strength of evidence? Does faith alone justify belief in God or can the existence of God be demonstrated by reason or experience?

  8. DEVELOP analytical writing skills. I.e., Students will learn how to interpret and analyze philosophical articles on religious topics, and must participate regularly in online discussions wherein they will produce cogent answers to questions about specific issues in response to essay question prompts. All written efforts will be judged for clarity, accuracy, and competence. The best answers will demonstrate an understanding of material presented in the course and apply philosophical concepts and methods. Quotations or statements of mere agreement or disagreement without giving rational reasons are unsatisfactory.


General Education Outcome (GEO) aims

GE learning objectives associated with C2 focus on the human condition. Here I provide examples of how GE content and writing requirements are met. As can be seen by reviewing the Schedule on the Syllabus, seven biweekly discussions based on instructor prompts about specific issues, and seven biweekly, comprehensive online tests, are designed to both promote and assess student learning outcomes. By the end of the course, students completing C2 requirements in this should be able to:

A. Demonstrate knowledge of the conventions and methods of the study of the humanities

At the outset of the course, students survey and examine several major religious traditions and varieties of religious experience. They learn to compare and contrast religion and ideology from the perspective of religious studies scholars and philosophers of religion. For example, students develop a conceptual understanding of the origins and nature of religion and religious experience in Learning Modules 1 and 2 by watching videos, perusing course texts, and watching online lectures. In the first online discussion assignment (via Canvas) students present and defend their own reasoned opinion about whether it really matters to society or culture whether any religious claims are true. In the second discussion students distinguish religious feelings from mystical experiences and present an argument either for or against the notion that such experiences are good evidence of actual contact with the divine. Students answer these questions in light of assigned readings and online lectures.

B. Investigate, describe, and analyze the roles and effects of human culture and understanding in the development of human societies

In weeks 3 through 8 course material and the instructor present historical, theological, and philosophical answers to these questions: What is religion, why are people religious, and what good is it? In the third online discussion assignment students present and defend their own answers to the question, What do miracles, if real, prove, in your reasoned opinion? That is, what implications, if real, do they have for human existence?

C. Compare and analyze various conceptions of humankind

In each Learning Module of the course, we examine critically specific religious assertions and arguments about nature and our place in it. Human interests, human beliefs and cultural practices, are the primary focus of much religious fervor and behavior. People are the alleged paragons of divine creation, the subjects of miraculous events, but also the bearers of much pain and suffering, or evil. In weeks 5 through 8, we discuss how traditional and modern views about miracles and evil influence greatly our judgments about the nature of the cosmos and our place in it. In weeks 9 through 11 Students examine the major historical proofs for the existence of God and important conceptual criticisms. In the fourth and fifth discussion board assignments, students answer and criticize each others views on (a) whether it is practical or rational to attempt to prove God's existence, and (b) whether pain and suffering might conceivably disprove God's existence.

D. Demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the historical development of cultures and civilizations, including their animating ideas and values

In the history of humankind, religious values express and inform moral values, and religious conviction motivates behavior, for better or worse. Lectures, videos, and readings throughout the course probe the relation between faith and reason, religion and science. The implications of each for the other are the subjects of weeks 12 through 15. In the last two Learning Modules we discuss how and to what extent faith is (or is not) rational, and how people can be righteous or compassionate without religious education. In the last two discussion board posts, in Learning Modules 6 and 7, students examine critically whether (a) one can be a good person or do good deeds without being religious, and (b) whether religion alone justifies moral behavior.


Important: This syllabus, along with course policies, assignments and due dates, is subject to change. Don't print it, instead use this online version as a reference. Any changes will be announced in Canvas or by email.