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Grant number: AQ-50723-12

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AQ-50723-12

Syracuse University (Syracuse, NY 13244-0001)
William Robert (Project Director: 09/21/2011 to present)

NEH Enduring Questions Course on "What Is Belief?"

The development of a lower-division undergraduate course to investigate multiple perspectives on the question, What is belief?

William Robert, an assistant professor in the department of religion, proposes to "explore a wide range of forms, stakes, and effects of belief as an abiding, perhaps even fundamental human phenomenon." The capacious framing of the primary question raises other questions - Is belief necessary? Is it beneficial? Is religious belief different from other kinds of belief? What happens when belief conflicts with scientific evidence or with personal experience? The course unfolds around four major themes: Belief as Human Activity, Belief as Cognitive Function, Belief as Meaningful Orientation, and Belief as Embodied Practice. The readings in each section are drawn from diverse times and cultures in order to put contemporary perspectives in the company of ancient or more traditional sources. As an example, in the second unit on the cognitive dimension of belief, students encounter Anselm of Canterbury's ontological arguments for the existence of God and Kant's extension of this rational tradition, as well as two recent books by contemporary writers, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason, by "New Atheist" Sam Harris, and, giving the theme a final modern twist, Michael Shermer's The Believing Brain, which contends that the need for belief is brain-based and quintessentially human. Also studied are works by Augustine of Hippo, Euripides, Plato (Phaedrus), Aquinas, Anne Bradstreet, Walt Whitman, Kierkegaard, Michel de Certeau, John Cottingham, and Judith Butler, along with passages in the Qur'an, the Dhammapada, writings of early Christian monks, and the Yoga Sutras. To foster a sense of community, Professor Robert relies extensively on smaller discussion groups and asks that students post and respond to posts on a course blog on a weekly basis. A wide-ranging bibliography engages the applicant in forays into unfamiliar disciplines and related investigations during the development phase.

Project fields:
Religion, General

Program:
Enduring Questions: Pilot Course Grants

Division:
Education Programs

Total amounts:
$24,526 (approved)
$24,526 (awarded)

Grant period:
6/1/2012 – 12/31/2013