This course explores major philosophical questions about death and the meaning of life from a multicultural perspective. Major questions include: the possibility of disembodied existence, the nature of consciousness, the nature and significance of individuality and personal identity, concepts of reincarnation or transmigration of souls, the nature and significance of so-called "para-normal" experiences, and the meaning of salvation or liberation or transcendence (concepts of heaven, nirvana, moksha, satori, etc.). Required readings will be taken from classic texts of both Eastern and Western philosophy and religion, as well as feminist philosophy of religion, and studies of African, Australian aborigine, and native American sources. Contemporary American death rituals of various cultures will also be analyzed. This course fulfills the WVC graduation requirement in Cultural Diversity/Intercultural Studies (Area F).
Recommend eligibility for English 1A
No department requirement. Works such as the following might be read and discussed:
I. INTRODUCTION TO PHILOSOPHICAL ISSUES ABOUT DEATH 2 weeksCommon views about death that constitute the "raw material" for philosophical reflection, such as: -- body dies, but soul continues to exist;-- individual persons do not die, since the seat of personal identity and individuality is soul, which is immortal; -- the fate of the soul after death is determined by the "law of the deed" (karma, or "as you sow, so shall you reap");-- the atheist or materialist viewPhilosophical methodWhy all common views about death pose philosophical problemsArgument and counterargumentWriting essays in philosophyConsidering what some people call "empirical evidence" for life after death: near-death experiences, astral projection, spiritualism, channeling, ghosts, and other so-called "para-normal" phenomena Alternative philosophical perspectives: faith II.MIND AND BODY 4 weeksDifferent metaphysical systems construe death in different ways: -- Dualism (Plato, Descartes, Christianity, Islam, many tribal religions) -- Idealistic monism (most Hinduism, especially Vedanta, many tribal religions)-- Materialist monism (Charvaka, Stoicism, existentialism)-- Questions that do not edify (Buddhism, logical positivism)The mind-body problem in Western philosophyFeminism and the bodyNative American views of the bodyIII. CONSCIOUSNESS/SOUL - OPPOSING ARGUMENTS 2 weeksIndividual consciousness is something really important: the Christian/Islamic/Jewish conceptionIndividual consciousness is not anything: Hume, Vedanta, Buddhist doctrine of anatta, existentialism, connectionism in cognitive scienceIV. INDIVIDUALITY AND PERSONAL IDENTITY 3 weeksWhat exactly makes me me? Is body essential to personal identity?Alternative conceptions of identity: -- African Akan -- Buddhist doctrine of "5 aggregates"-- Hindu jiva vs Atman-- Hume-- Feminist perspectives; identity constituted by connection (Gilligan)V. ALTERNATIVE CONCEPTIONS OF SALVATION, LIBERATION, TRANSCENDENCE 3 weeksReincarnation (transmigration) of souls-- Reincarnation and caste (class)-- The relative insignificance of death in a world-view that includes reincarnation Resurrection of the bodyChristian fundamentalism: the raptureMuslim paradise of sensual delightVarious conceptions of hellNative American "happy hunting ground" or return to Mother Earth (eco-feminism)No-soul, extinction of desire, freedom from re-birthLiberation now (Zen, existentialism)Ancestral transcendence (Native American, African, Confucian)VI. DYING AND DEATH RITUALS 3 weeksMormon baptism of the deadMardi GrasFunerals and burial practices of various religious and ethnic groups in America, including practices associated with AIDS deathsThe Egyptian Book of the DeadThe Tibetan Book of the Dead
Completion of required reading and final exam. Other requirements are determined by instructor. These may include completion of one or more papers, oral reports, other written exams, journal assignments, participation in class discussion, etc.
In accordance with Title V regulations, there must be at least one substantial (greater than one paragraph) writing assignment. Generally evaluation is based primarily on written papers and essay examinations.
Suggested Instructional Methods and Materials
Primarily lecture and discussion. These can be supplemented by films, videos, guest speakers, class debates, etc., as deemed appropriate and desirable by the individual instructor. |||