Spring Seminar: Faith and Doubt in the Modern World

PLT Director Charles Marsh returns to the classroom to teach “Faith and Doubt in the Modern World” at UVA this spring. This course introduces students to seminal writings in modern western thought concerning the meaning, truthfulness, and uses of religious belief. The goal is to develop a multi-storied narrative that conveys the variety of interpretations given to the idea of God in modernity and to clarify the conditions of responsible religious belief in a pluralistic and post-modern, post-theistic, post-something world. 

Lectures and discussions will follow such questions as: 

Is belief in God a product of wishful thinking?

Is religious belief a symptom of neurotic behavior? 

If there is no God, is everything permissible? 

Is atheism (new and old) parasitic on the moral convictions inspired by religion? 

Is religion a primitive stage in human intellectual development in need of an education to reality? 

Does religion promote violent tendencies among individuals and groups? Is it inherently immoral? 

How do we account for the fact that some intelligent people argue that belief in God is rational and others that belief in God violates reason? 

We will consider such questions by studying the modern critiques of religion and the implications of such critiques for believers and people of faith.  

We will build our narrative not only from philosophical and religious sources but from novels, film, music, and psychology as well.  

Students will be reading:

Albert Camus, The Stranger 

Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen), Babette’s Feast

Sigmund Freud, The Future of an Illusion

David Bentley Hart, Atheist Delusions

David Hume, The Natural History of Religion

Friedrich Nietzsche, The Genealogy of Morals

Flannery O’Connor, A Prayer Journal

Dorothee Soelle, Suffering

Howard Thurman, Deep River

The Project on Lived Theology at the University of Virginia is a research initiative, whose mission is to study the social consequences of theological ideas for the sake of a more just and compassionate world.