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Michael Stoff, Director 305 East 23rd St, CLA 2.102, (G3600) Austin, TX 78712-1250 • 512-471-1442

Fall 2003

T C 357 • Rethinking Religion in the 21st Century-W

Unique Days Time Location Instructor
40670 MW
3:00 PM-4:30 PM
WMB 4.118

Course Description

Throughout modern times, it has been confidently argued that advances in the rational understanding of the world will diminish the influence of religion as a force in human culture. Plainly, things have turned out very differently than expected. It is true that mainstream Christian churches in the US have declined significantly in membership over the last 50 years, and that a thoroughly or even militantly secular attitude prevails in many cultural quarters today. But it is also the case that there has been tremendous growth among broadly conservative, sometimes fundamentalist, churches in the US in recent decades, and that the non-Western world is awash in new conservative Muslim, Christian, and an astounding variety of syncretistic religious movements that many of us in the educated West are likely to find puzzling and disturbing. In addition, a large number of well-educated, thoughtful individuals everywhere regard themselves as earnest spiritual seekers who are uncertain about how to pursue their religious interests. Thus, the author of the lead article in the October 2002 issue of the Atlantic Monthly magazine opines, "The twenty-first century will be regarded by future historians as a century in which religion replaced ideology as the prime animating and destructive force in human affairs." The seminar has two purposes. The first is to review some recent writings in the sociology of religion and religious studies that describe and interpret the current situation with regard to religion and culture. The second and main purpose is to consider some of the writings of a handful of influential, contemporary Western (Jewish, Christian, and Muslim) and Eastern (mainly Buddhist) writers and/or theologians who, interestingly, endeavor to respond creatively to the present situation in a generally similar way. They seek to reconnect with and remain faithful to the heart of their traditions but also to reinterpret them (they would say authentically) in a way that radically disposes of claims to exclusive, final, or certain truth. The perspective outlined in Huston Smith's recent book Why Religion Matters will serve as a partial framework for the course. Other writers we may investigate include Václav Havel, Jonathan Sacks (Chief Rabbi of Great Britain). Thich Nhat Hanh, René Girard, Elaine Pagels, and Rowan Williams (current Archbishop of Canterbury). We will read them both for an appreciation of their particular insights and to consider the distinctive approach they share to cultivating the religious dimension of life in a modern context, ont that might be said to neither downplay nor absolutize religious tradition or belief.

About the Professor: Professor Richardson received a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology and for about 10 years taught and published in the area of the cognitive and behavioral therapies and the psychology of stress and coping, including a book entitled Stress, Sanity, and Survival. Over the last 20 years, his interests have shifted to the philosophy of social science and critical issues concerning the social meaning of modern psychology and psychotherapy. His recent books include Re-Envisioning Psychology: Moral Dimensions of Theory and Practice and Critical thinking in Psychology. He is also interested in the philosophy of religion and philosophical ethics, is a politics junkie, follows UT sports, and is a bit of a gym rat.

Grading Policy

This course contains a substantial writing component. Student oral presentations on class readings A take-home mid-term exam (6 to 8 pages in length) A final research paper (10-15 pages in length)


Possible readings include the following: Why Religion Matters, Huston Smith The Heretical Imperative, Peter Berger The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching, Thich Nhat Hanh The Celebration of Life, Jonathon Sacks Violence Unveiled, Gil Bailie The Girard Reader (selections) Reverence, Paul Woodruff Chapters, articles, and/or papers by Jean Bethke Elshtain, Elaine Pagels, Václav Havel, D. T. Suzuki, Rowan Williams, Charles Taylor, Christopher Lasch, and others.


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