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Level 6

6AAT3602 Philosophy of Religious Life


The modules run in each academic year are subject to change in line with staff availability and student demand so there is no guarantee this module will run. Module descriptions and information may vary depending between years.

Credit value: 15
Module tutor: Dr Clare Carlisle Tresch
Assessment: One 2,500-word essay (40%) and one two-hour examination (60%)

Students are reassessed in the failed elements of assessment and by the same methods as the first attempt.

Teaching pattern: One one-hour weekly lecture and one one-hour weekly seminar over ten weeks.
Pre-requisites: none

This module engages with a core text – Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling (1843) - in order to facilitate philosophical reflection on the religious life (as opposed to philosophical analysis of the content of religious doctrine). Using methods of close textual reading, interpretation and analysis, students address key questions about the nature of the religious life, and the task of thinking about this philosophically. Kierkegaard’s text is used as a starting point for discussion of key themes such as imagination and the good life; religious identity; suffering and the gift; faith and reason; and virtue in a religious context. The text also provides an entry-point into critical reflection on a specifically modern religious situation, described by thinkers such as Nietzsche and Heidegger – following Kierkegaard – as a ‘crisis of value’, as the ‘death of God’, and as ‘nihilism’. In addition to the core text, students will be required to read sources by a range of historical and contemporary thinkers, and they will also be expected to engage with recommended secondary literature.

Sample topics

  • Introduction: What is ‘religious life’ – and how can we think about it philosophically?
  • Kierkegaard and Socrates: philosophy and transformation
    • Communication and method – Plato’s cave
    • Irony
  • Faith and modernity: secularism and the crisis of value
    • Matthew Arnold’s ‘Dover Beach’
    • Nietzsche on the death of God
    • Heidegger on spiritlessness in An Introduction to Metaphysics
  • Poets and heroes: imagination and the good life
  • At home in the world? Religious identity and ‘inwardness’
  • The Knight of Faith: living the problem of evil
    • Suffering, joy and the gift
  • The sword over the beloved’s head: finitude, fragility, fidelity
    • Sharon Krishek, Kierkegaard on Faith and Love
    • Heidegger on being-towards-death
    • Derrida, The Gift of Death
  • Faith, reason and terror
    • Luther vs. Kant on the story of Abraham
    • Levinas on Kierkegaardian violence
  • Spiritual virtue: silence, listening and courage
    • Jonathan Lear, Radical Hope
  • The question of repetition: Virtue, habit and freedom
    • John Davenport on existentialism and virtue ethics

Preliminary reading lists

  • S. Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling (Cambridge University Press, 2006)
  • Jonathan Lear, Radical Hope: Ethics in the Face of Cultural Devastation (Harvard University Press 2008)
  • George Pattison, The Philosophy of Kierkegaard (Acumen 2005)
  • John Lippitt, The Routledge Philosophy Guidebook to Kierkegaard and Fear and Trembling (Routledge 2007)
  • Clare Carlisle, Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling (Continuum 2010)
  • Edward Mooney, Knights of Faith and Resignation (SUNY Press 1991)
  • Sharon Krishek, Kierkegaard on Faith and Love (Cambridge University Press 2009)
  • Jacques Derrida, The Gift of Death (Chicago University Press 1995)

Past syllabus

Please find the syllabus document available here for academic year 2015-16. Please be aware that the content of the syllabus will differ each academic year.

Further information

Module aims
  • To develop a philosophical understanding of the religious life, through focus on a core text, Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling
  • To identify and reflect on key questions and problems arising from the core text and related texts
  • To gain a broad understanding of the history of 19th and 20th-century philosophy and religious thought through engaging with primary and secondary texts
  • To develop a critical awareness of methodological issues concerning the philosophical study of religion
  • To develop skills in philosophical argument and in analysis of philosophical texts written in a range of styles
Learning outcomes

Generic learning outcomes

  • Critically evaluate primary texts and secondary literature to construct interpretations and arguments in a way which demonstrates a comprehensive knowledge of the course material
  • Synthesise a range of philosophical material in an original manner in response to a given question
  • Engage effectively in debate in a professional manner, and produce coherent presentations of ideas and arguments in oral and written form.
  • Interact effectively with other students by contributing to class discussions, and by supporting other students in listening and responding to their contributions
  • Manage own learning with minimal guidance, taking responsibility for own work and, when required, demonstrating an ability to reflect critically on it
  • Seek and make use of feedback on own work

Module-specific learning outcomes:

  • Display detailed knowledge and understanding of the primary text (Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling), including its philosophical method and literary style
  • Engage autonomously in close readings of a range of philosophical texts, and identify thematic connections between them
  • Demonstrate a grasp of the historical and philosophical context of Kierkegaard’s thought
  • Display confidence and flexibility in identifying and exploring complex issues, and select appropriate methods and textual sources for addressing these
  • Demonstrate an awareness of the provisional, open-ended nature of philosophical knowledge and textual interpretation
  • Demonstrate an ability to reflect philosophically on issues central to the religious life, such as suffering and the gift; finitude and death; the relationship between faith and ethics; the nature of religious virtues; the particular challenges of faith in modernity; religious identity and community
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