Draft syllabus: Intro to Islamic Thought

I have completed a draft syllabus for the Introduction to Islamic Thought elective I’ll be teaching at Shimer this fall. While I still have time to tinker — and I am most open to suggestions on the selections from the Qur’an — I am basically “locked in” on the books I’m using and don’t have the space to add anything into an already crowded syllabus. I hope to offer the course again soon as a way of solidifying my own knowledge, though, so I’d keep any suggestions in mind for future iterations.

One challenge of offering this course at Shimer is the fact that our primary source-only, no-lecture format made it very difficult to work in the necessary background information. Hence I lean on ibn Khaldun to give me background on Bedouin life and on the Caliphate (the excerpts at the beginning and middle of the syllabus, respectively), in addition to treating him as an important thinker in his own right at the end of the course. I am also using extracts from ibn Ishaq’s Life of Muhammad, supplemented by a simple timeline to help them get the overall flow of the narrative. At times I sneak the editor or translator’s introductions into the reading assignment as well.

Thanks again to everyone who has contributed to the various advice threads I’ve posted. You may be hearing from me again in the fall, as I’m planning to propose an elective for the spring semester on the Qur’an. It’s long past time for me to seriously engage with Islam — and even if it didn’t exactly fit with my plans for the summer to develop a course on the topic, I’m glad that Shimer gave me the necessary kick in the pants by assigning me to do it.

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Two requests for suggestions

Last year’s instructors of Humanities 1 (Art and Music) developed a new format for the class that is loosely organized around Ovid’s Metamorphoses, a text that has inspired a lot of art and music and is also in large part about human creativity. There were, however, a couple things that didn’t fit as well into that framework, including Svetlana Alpers’ The Vexation of Art: Velasquez and Others. The goal was to provide some art criticism from a woman in a class where it is otherwise difficult to find women’s work to include — and so I ask you, dear readers, if anyone by chance knows of another work of art criticism by a woman that has more direct overlap with art inspired by Ovid. (I know this is a weirdly specific request and probably something of a long-shot.)

In addition, for my elective over Being and Time, I have tentatively decided to begin with a couple days each on phenomenology and hermeneutics, then work through The Concept of Time (i.e., the unpublished book review that is billed as “the first draft of Being and Time,” not the lecture series with a similar title). Given that we’ll be reading through Being and Time in painstaking detail, I thought using his shorter “first draft” would be a good way to get an overview of the project as a whole without biasing them toward any particular scholar’s interpretation of it. A colleague of mine has a good text of Husserl’s in mind, and another has recommended some passages from Gadamer — but I would prefer to use Dilthey if possible, given that that’s who Heidegger is directly discussing. Does anyone know of a good essay or chunk that we could spend a day or two on?

Please note: I am not planning to use any secondary sources for the Heidegger course, so I would prefer that you not make any recommendations of that kind. (And just to make sure: yes, I am aware of Simon Critchley’s online introduction to Being and Time.)

I Am Larry David: Are You Qualified to Teach Edition

Following the comments on Adam’s recent post, “Relationship Learning,” I felt compelled to tell this story.

I long while back, shortly after I began my Ph.D. program at Drew, I had a student formally challenge my ability to teach an introduction course to the adminstration of Laughable Community College, mainly because the student was caught plagiarizing twice in my course.  The dean took this complaint from the student quite seriously–I have stories about this dean to share another time–and she went through my file.  As it happens, no one asked me to provide transcripts to prove that I in fact have a master’s degree from the University of Chicago.  So she summoned me to her office and acted as if I was in big trouble, and they were going to withhold my pay for the summer course I was then teaching until I could provide an official graduate transcript.  She assured me that this had nothing to do with quality of instruction, but “we must take concerns about the faculty’s reputation seriously.”

Fair enough, I don’t have a problem sending transcripts.

So the transcripts came a week or two later, and I was again requested to meet to her office. Read the rest of this entry »

Shimer Syllabi

Classes start on Tuesday, so I thought I’d post my Shimer syllabi thus far, with a little commentary. Read the rest of this entry »

Philosophy of Religion syllabus

I have posted the syllabus for my Philosophy of Religion course on Scribd. This is the last course I’ll be designing for Kalamazoo College, and it is also (somewhat strangely) my first time actually teaching philosophy.

Certain commenters will probably be gratified to see that I’m finally teaching Mary Daly, albeit not in the Feminist Theologies course — she does say, after all, that Beyond God the Father is an attempt at feminist philosophy.

Syllabus for Roman Catholic Theological Thought: Nature and Environmental Ethics from Aquinas to Liberation Theology

After my post last week, on the advice of Mark William Westmoreland, I added a text by Joseph Ratzinger to fill out the early section of the course on Roman Catholic Social Thought. Thanks for the discussion about Cusa, including a friendly warning from Jake Sherman. I feel quite happy now to have him on the syllabus and I think he’ll work well with the theme I have of nature as creation in theological thought. I’ve posted the penultimate draft of the syllabus (a few things to iron out out once I’ve met with the head of department) for those interested.

Syllabus Crowdsourcing: Roman Catholic Theology of Nature and Environmental Ethics

This Fall I’ll be teaching a course at DePaul University. The title of the course is “Roman Catholic Theological Thought: Nature and Envrionrmental Ethics from Aquinas to Liberation Theology” and I plan to give the students a solid survey of the various positions within Roman Catholicism, from the view of the Magisterium to those who are often in conflict with them like Boff and Ruether. The underlying idea that holds the course together is that there your ethical stance towards the environment is greatly determined by how you understand the being of nature, God, and society. I think I have a good reading list for the course, but wanted to throw out my current plan to see if readers had any thoughts.

I thought I would begin the class reading two Papal statements, John Paul II’s 1990 statement on World Day of Peace and Benedict’s Caritas in veritate, and the “Renewing the Earth” statement from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. The idea being we quickly identify the official teachings of the Roman church in relation to the environment. The question is then to examine what ideas about nature lie behind these teachings and then we’d more into more heavy lifting:

  • Selections from the Summa Theologica of Thomas Aquinas. This would also include some supplementary reading from Pope Leo’s exhortation to teach Aquinas and a chapter from Willis Jenkins’ Ecologies of Grace.
  • On Learned Ignorance by Nicholas of Cusa. Still not quite sure about this one, but I think he might teach a bit better than Aquinas and his reading of the structure of God into the universe fits with the theme.
  • Then St. Francis’ “Canticle of the Sun” and “Sermon to the Birds” along with two chapters from Roger D. Sorrell’s St. Francis of Assisi and Nature.
  • Leonardo Boff’s Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor
  • Rosemary Radford Ruether’s Gaia & God

I’ve not taught in the US before and the difference between the US and the UK in reading expectations is radical, so I’m hoping my average of 40 pages per class is reasonable. Obviously, if this weren’t a strictly Roman Catholic theology course I’d take a very different approach, but I think this set of readings works well. Are there any major CST documents I’m missing or books you’d recommend? Thoughts on the Cusa?

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