Does the department have any religious affiliation or connection to the chaplaincy?
The department has no religious affiliation and is committed to no particular philosophical stance other than that underlying a liberal education. There is no connection to the chaplaincy.
Aren’t philosophy and religious studies two separate disciplines? Why one department?
We believe that the study of religious traditions and an introduction to sustained philosophical inquiry are central components of effective liberal education. It is in these two arenas that students can best reflect directly on how humans raise and respond to fundamental questions like "What kind of life is most worth living? What kinds of social arrangements best promote human flourishing? What obligations, if any, do I have to others? What are the roles of faith and knowledge in achieving a meaningful existence?"
Do courses and teachers favor any particular point of view?
In concert with other departments, we aim to promote the development of self-critical, tolerant individuals who are committed to working with others to achieve a common good. Honesty and academic freedom are crucial to the success of our courses. No points of view are prescribed or proscribed in advance. At the same time we ask that students learn to apply intellectual standards including accuracy, exemplification, and coherence to the discussion of various points of view. Given these commitments we are admittedly uncomfortable with students who remain dogmatically and unreflectively doctrinaire or skeptical. In all cases, we encourage students to view their reflection on issues raised in our courses as a work in progress. We hope they will find continuing reflection on the issues we have addressed together to be enjoyable as well as challenging and fulfilling.
Why don’t you have a single introductory course?
We deliberately organize the curriculum so that students, regardless of when they enroll in a course, are able to select from a variety of offerings. We believe that this policy increases the likelihood that students will bring some commitment and curiosity to our class explorations. We encourage students to think for themselves, to discover and assess the way they are inclined to answer fundamental questions of meaning, justice, and knowledge. We hope they will do so with a growing awareness of the variety of approaches and conclusions humans in various cultures have found compelling over time. Critical reflection about the questions and the answers they find persuasive helps students identify and assess the influences of tradition, convention, parents, peers and fashion on their beliefs and actions. It puts students in the best possible position to identify justifiable and evolving positions of their own.
There are so many different courses to choose from. Do they have anything in common?
One thing all our courses have in common is the explicit attention we pay in them to normative issues--judgments of value and worth--especially as they bear on human conduct. Reflection on what kinds of thoughts, actions and lives are most worthwhile is at the core of philosophical and religious traditions. Our efforts here are directed at asking each student to reach a deeper understanding of a variety of points of view, including their own. We seek to provide a classroom environment where students feel free to try out new ways of feeling and thinking, to change their minds, and to retain their deep convictions as they wrestle with a growing awareness of the complexities of the issues.
Shouldn’t students wait until college to take philosophy?
Adolescents and even young children raise these questions. Students of all ages can be engaged in productive reflection on them with the aid of age-appropriate texts and instruction.