REL 238
Islam and Reason Fall 2021
Division II Difference, Power, and Equity
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In an essay on the “reality of Islam,” the popular New Atheist writer, Sam Harris, concludes: “All civilized nations must unite in condemnation of a theology that now threatens to destabilize much of the Earth… It is time we realized that the endgame for civilization is not political correctness. It is not respect for the abject religious certainties of the mob. It is reason.” These words forcefully express the common sentiment that the fanatical blind faith demanded by “mainstream Islam” poses a major threat to the so-called civilized world. Islam is thus seen as exemplifying the irrational dogmatism of religion par excellence. This course will critically examine such assumptions, by exploring how Muslim philosophers and theologians throughout the history of Islam have addressed a variety of questions, such as: Is faith compatible with reason and rationality? What is the relation between reason and scripture? What modes of perception, reasoning, and knowledge are involved in religious belief? What room is there for doubt, skepticism, and critique in Islam? We will explore these questions through an array of primary and secondary readings in Islamic theology, philosophy, mysticism, and ethics, as well as anthropological engagements with lived Islam. Through these explorations, we will also critically reflect on our own cultural assumptions about religious belief, the nature of reason and knowledge, and the politics and power-dynamics of reason and rationality.
The Class: Format: seminar
Limit: 10
Expected: 5-10
Class#: 1760
Grading: yes pass/fail option, yes fifth course option
Requirements/Evaluation: Regular discussion posts; Midterm essay; Final essay
Prerequisites: none
Enrollment Preferences: Religion majors
Distributions: Division II Difference, Power, and Equity
DPE Notes: This course requires students to engage deeply with a very different philosophical universe than that of the modern West. This is also meant to prompt a critical engagement with our own cultural and philosophical assumptions about reason, knowledge, and religious belief. Finally, we will also reflect on the politics and power-dynamics of reason and rationality, considering how dominant modes of thinking are designated as "reason" and others are relegated to being objects of critique.
Attributes: PHIL Related Courses

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