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Skeptics and Believers: Religious Debate in the Western Intellectual Tradition

Skeptics and Believers: Religious Debate in the Western Intellectual Tradition

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Skeptics and Believers: Religious Debate in the Western Intellectual Tradition

Course No. 4670
Professor Tyler Roberts, Ph.D.
Grinnell College
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4.1 out of 5
63 Reviews
71% of reviewers would recommend this series
Course No. 4670
  • Audio or Video?
  • You should buy audio if you would enjoy the convenience of experiencing this course while driving, exercising, etc. While the video does contain visual elements, the professor presents the material in an engaging and clear manner, so the visuals are not necessary to understand the concepts. Additionally, the audio audience may refer to the accompanying course guidebook for names, works, and examples that are cited throughout the course.
  • You should buy video if you prefer learning visually and wish to take advantage of the visual elements featured in this course. The video version is well illustrated and features more than 500 portraits. These include those of prominent voices in the history of religious debate like Immanuel Kant, Soren Kierkegaard, David Hume, and Martin Buber. There are on-screen spellings and definitions to help reinforce material for visual learners.
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Course Overview

With the advent of modernity, the questions on which philosophers and religious thinkers had been reflecting for centuries underwent a dramatic and unprecedented change.

For over a thousand years, the existence of God and the importance of religion had gone unquestioned in the Western world. Any discussion was confined to the best ways of understanding and putting into practice a religious truth that had already been revealed.

But beginning in the 16th century, the Protestant Reformation and the Scientific Revolution began to erode the position of authority held by religion. A new willingness to confront religious authority and a new respect for reason and its accomplishments began to counter established ways of thinking based on revealed religious truth.

As a result, modern philosophy began to separate from theology, and new philosophers began constructing a universal, human rationality independent of faith. For the first time in human history, it had become possible to not simply ponder faith and its forms of expression, but to challenge it as a fundamental truth-and to even question the very existence of God.

This schism fundamentally changed the course of Western civilization, and it has had consequences that remain with us to this day.

Now, with Skeptics and Believers: Religious Debate in the Western Intellectual Tradition, noted scholar and Professor Tyler Roberts of Grinnell College leads you through a 36-lecture journey that will help you understand exactly what the debate has been and will continue to be about.

The Challenging Debate That Has Defined Western Culture

This conversation is especially important in the West, which still plays host to an active debate between belief and skepticism far more vigorous than in other parts of the world.

It's a debate that increasingly swirls around the role religion should have in our lives, not only in terms of our personal decisions about worship but over how much influence religion is to have in the public arena, including politics, education, and medicine and other sciences.

The unmistakable conclusion is that each of us has a vital stake in understanding the nuances of the debate. By gaining a richer understanding of the debate's key aspects-including the nature of the conflict, the meaning of the arguments, and what is at stake both philosophically and theologically-you can add significantly to the level of sophistication you already bring to one of today's most far-reaching issues and increase your understanding of both Western civilization's past and the direction of its future.

Grasp the Ideas of the West's Most Influential Theological and Philosophical Minds

Skeptics and Believers is not a course in religious doctrine but one of intellectual and philosophical exploration, examining more than three centuries of debate in the Western world about the nature of religious faith and its compatibility with reason. Drawing on some of Western civilization's greatest theological and philosophical minds, Professor Roberts even-handedly follows and analyzes the arguments of a broad range of skeptics and believers, including the likes of Thomas Aquinas, Denis Diderot, Karl Barth, Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, Daniel Dennett, Martin Luther, John Locke, Immanuel Kant, David Hume, Soren Kierkegaard, and many others.

Professor Roberts's presentation maintains the sense of a true conversation across time, so that one never loses the thread of how one idea relates to another as he weaves a vast amount of material into a coherent whole that amounts to far more than the sum of its parts. The result is one of the most intellectually satisfying plunges into philosophical and theological thought you will ever take.

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36 lectures
 |  30 minutes each
  • 1
    Religion and Modernity
    Modernity brought new views of knowledge and reality and new methods of inquiry, allowing Western thinkers unprecedented freedom to criticize religion and even to question the existence of God. Learn how this ushered in a tension between faith and suspicion that has endured as a major dynamic of Western religious thought. x
  • 2
    From Suspicion to the Premodern Cosmos
    Learn how Friedrich Nietzsche's 1882 picture of a meaningless cosmos marked a high point of the modern conflict between faith and suspicion, offering a stark contrast to the once-dominant conception of the Christian cosmos reflected most clearly in the work of the medieval period's major Christian thinker, Thomas Aquinas. x
  • 3
    From Catholicism to Protestantism
    Nietzsche was far from the first challenge posed to Aquinas, as you learn in this examination of the theological, social, and cultural conflicts that began to loosen Catholicism's hold on Europe as early as the 14th century, ultimately paving the way for Martin Luther's radical new Christian vision. x
  • 4
    Scientific Revolution and Descartes
    Watch modernity begin with the arrival of the Protestant Reformation, which brought not only religious wars and challenges to established social structures but also a Scientific Revolution and radical new ideas about the cosmos. These changes inspired thinkers like Rene Descartes to reconsider the nature of intellectual authority. x
  • 5
    Descartes and Modern Philosophy
    Grasp how Descartes' efforts to find new foundations for knowledge led him to make sharp distinctions between reason and revelation, philosophy and theology, and make him, for many, the first truly modern philosopher. x
  • 6
    Enlightenment and Religion
    The Enlightenment produced thinkers who embraced a natural, universal human reason they saw as promising freedom from the past and tradition. See how thinkers like John Locke presented religion with modernity's first great challenge: Can religion be rational? Some, like Locke himself, answered the question with a definitive "yes" while others thought the answer was clearly "no." x
  • 7
    Natural Religion and Its Critics
    The Enlightenment idealization of reason created its own debates. You learn to contrast the "rationalism" of Descartes—with knowledge's origins found in innate ideas—with the "empiricism" of thinkers like David Hume and Denis Diderot, who argued that knowledge must be grounded in the evidence of our senses. x
  • 8
    Kant—Religion and Moral Reason
    Follow Immanuel Kant's reasoning as he seeks a way beyond the rational-empirical impasse with a "critical philosophy" that claims knowledge is based not in the passive reception of sense impressions, but rather in the mind's active organization of them. From this perspective on the nature of human knowledge, we can never "know" God, but we can rationally postulate God's existence. x
  • 9
    Kant, Romanticism, and Pietism
    Kant's revolutionary ideas were extremely influential and remain so today, but they raised many questions for 19th-century religious thinkers dissatisfied by the idea of God as "postulate." You examine the alternatives offered by two radically different schools of thought. x
  • 10
    Schleiermacher—Religion and Experience
    Often called the father of modern theology, Friedrich Schleiermacher was deeply influenced not only by Kant, but also by Romantic and pietist views of religious experience. You grasp his defense of religion as being grounded in a "sense," "intuition," or "feeling" of the whole of the universe. x
  • 11
    Hegel—Religion, Spirit, and History
    Learn how the views of Schleiermacher and Kant were challenged by those of G. W. F. Hegel, which stressed our conceptual, not just experiential, knowledge of God and sought to overcome the static rationalism of the Enlightenment. Hegel argued that history was the process by which Absolute Spirit, or God, empties itself in creation and then comes to self-consciousness in humans. x
  • 12
    Theology and the Challenge of History
    Some Enlightenment thinkers had questioned whether historical events—such as miracles—could help prove religions; others had begun to study the Bible as a historical document. As historical consciousness achieved dominance in the 19th century, you see how a new set of challenges emerged for religious thinkers. x
  • 13
    19th-Century Christian Modernists
    You encounter ways in which the challenges of Enlightenment philosophy and modern historical studies were met by a variety of 19th-century Christian modernists. These include Protestants Horace Bushnell and Albrecht Ritschl, the Anglican Oxford movement, and the Tubingen school of Catholic thought. x
  • 14
    19th-Century Christian Antimodernists
    In contrast to liberals and modernists, many Catholic and Protestant thinkers viewed modernity with suspicion. You learn how Catholic antimodernists were successful in increasing papal authority and establishing Aquinas's ideas as foundational, while Protestant resistance took shape in evangelical—especially fundamentalist—ideas. x
  • 15
    Judaism and Modernity
    Step to the other side of the Judeo-Christian tradition to learn how modernity was challenging Jewish thinkers just as it had their Christian contemporaries. And grasp how the distinctiveness of Jewish history—including marginalization and persecution—shaped Jewish thought in different ways, as seen in the 18th-century writings of Moses Mendelssohn and the later work of Herman Cohen. x
  • 16
    Kierkegaard's Faith
    Ultimately as influential as Kant, Schleiermacher, and Hegel, the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard attacked modern efforts to make Christianity "reasonable." You learn how Kierkegaard instead emphasized that faith is only realized in the passionate commitment of the existing, not just the thinking, person. x
  • 17
    Kierkegaard's Paradox
    Continue your introduction to Kierkegaard in his Philosophical Fragments, seeing how he presents faith as a gift from God that, paradoxically, can never be accepted by reason, no matter how diligently reason tries to "grasp" it. x
  • 18
    19th-Century Suspicion and Feuerbach
    You are introduced to the work of Ludwig Feuerbach, one of the major 19th-century critics of Christianity. Unlike Enlightenment critics attacking religion's supposed irrationality, Feuerbach sought to "unmask" the way religion prevents us from grappling with the reality of life. x
  • 19
    Marx—Religion as False Consciousness
    Not everyone agreed with Feuerbach that the power of thought was enough to change human life. Here you see how Karl Marx argued for a more materialistic interpretation of religion and culture, portraying religion as a symptom of a human alienation grounded in social and economic structures. x
  • 20
    Nietzsche and the Genealogy of Morals
    Friedrich Nietzsche was a critic of both religion and modernity. In examining his On the Genealogy of Morals, you see the clearest expression of his view that the modern period is a culmination of the nihilistic "slave morality" at the heart of Judaism and Christianity. x
  • 21
    Nietzsche—Religion and the Ascetic Ideal
    Continuing Nietzsche's Genealogy, you explore his presentation of a process by which "bad conscience" uses religion to increase feelings of guilt, ultimately culminating in Christianity and its "ascetic ideal," of which modern ideals of science and this-worldliness are but the latest stages of development. x
  • 22
    Freud—Religion as Neurosis
    Following along the "unmasking" trail blazed by Feuerbach, Sigmund Freud sought to expose religion from a psychological perspective. Here, you see faith presented as a "universal obsessional neurosis" born out of the Oedipal complex, with God as a wish fulfillment of the loving father able to forgive our hatred of him. x
  • 23
    Barth and the End of Liberal Theology
    Shaken by the brutality of World War I, Karl Barth published Epistle to the Romans, launching 20th-century religious thought and rejecting the liberalism of the 19th century. He argued that the task of the religious thinker is one of "confession," acknowledging and reflecting on God's saving message. x
  • 24
    Theology and Suspicion
    Prior to Barth, those suspicious of religion saw it, in varying degrees, as a product of "false-consciousness." Learn in this lecture how Barth and subsequent thinkers like Paul Ricoeur began to integrate this into their analysis, acknowledging how religion can foster illusions and false, mystifying comforts, even as they affirmed the richness, value, and realism of genuine religious faith. x
  • 25
    Protestant Theology after Barth
    Examine the spectrum of Protestant theology after Barth, from the "correlational theology" that sought to reconcile human experience with Christian revelation to the evangelical ideas of the mid-20th century, which saw revelation as offering "fixed truths" and "moral absolutes" for all times. x
  • 26
    20th-Century Catholicism
    In this sweeping examination, you learn that much of the Catholic theology of the 20th century was dedicated to overcoming the antimodernism instituted at the First Vatican Council in 1869—culminating in 1962's Vatican II—in spite of antimodernist views that continue to hold substantial power. x
  • 27
    Modern Jewish Philosophy
    Focus on the work of Martin Buber—who believed that so-called "I-You" relationships fostered contact with the divine—and that of Franz Rosenzweig, whose "New Thinking" focused on the revelatory encounter with God's love, through which one is released into "the flow of life." x
  • 28
    Post-Holocaust Theology
    With traditional monotheism holding that God is both omnipotent and benevolent, the problem of "theodicy"—explaining the existence of evil and the suffering of the innocent—has always been problematic. You explore the theological responses to what is perhaps history's most agonizing example. x
  • 29
    Liberation Theology
    Explore how Christian theologians and clergy developed "liberation theology" in response to poverty, colonialism, and an underdeveloped third world. Learn how their work has also influenced feminist and black theologies in Europe and the United States since the 1960s and has influenced a number of different religious traditions. x
  • 30
    Secular and Postmodern Theologies
    Increasing secularization has also challenged religious thought in recent decades, as you discover in this bracing look at the work of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the impact of philosophers such as Nietzsche, Martin Heidegger, and Jacques Derrida on the work of contemporary thinkers like Mark C. Taylor and Gianni Vattimo. x
  • 31
    Postmodernism and Tradition
    For many, postmodernism offers a way to recover traditional elements of religion. Explore the ways in which this opportunity has been seized by different thinkers, including philosophers Emmanuel Levinas and Jean-Luc Marion, and theologians who use a "narrative" approach to understand God's revelation as the primary shaping force of life. x
  • 32
    Fundamentalism and Islamism
    This lecture focuses on two examples of the contemporary resurgence of fundamentalist religion around the world— Christianity in the United States and Islam in the Middle East—exploring the history of each and the way each manifests itself in the modern world. x
  • 33
    New Atheisms
    With the rise of the Christian Right and militant Islam has come a corresponding and vocal rise in various kinds of atheisms, many warning us of the irrationality and violence inherent in religion. You hear two of those voices as you examine the work of Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett. x
  • 34
    Religion and Rationality
    Gain important context for understanding that part of the debate that holds faith irrational by definition by exploring the variety of ways in which philosophers of religion approach this often-divisive relationship between religion and rationality. x
  • 35
    Pluralisms—Religious and Secular
    Enjoy a look at how some of today's most creative religious thinkers have approached one of their discipline's most provocative questions: How do you incorporate issues like pluralism, diversity, and tolerance when the religions you are studying contain claims of exclusive salvation or of being God's choice? x
  • 36
    Faith, Suspicion, and Modernity
    In concluding the course, you address the unavoidable point that the religious life does involve making claims about the nature of reality. Explore what those claims might be and the directions in which reasonable common ground between skepticism and belief might lie. x

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Your professor

Tyler Roberts

About Your Professor

Tyler Roberts, Ph.D.
Grinnell College
Dr. Tyler Roberts is Professor of Religious Studies at Grinnell College in Grinnell, Iowa, where he teaches courses in religions of the Western world, modern religious thought, theory and method in the study of religion, and religion and politics. After earning his A.B. in Philosophy and Religion from Brown University, Professor Roberts studied philosophy at Albert-Ludwigs University in Freiburg, Germany, and religion at...
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Reviews

Skeptics and Believers: Religious Debate in the Western Intellectual Tradition is rated 4.1 out of 5 by 63.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Becoming a better writer Being a columnist, when writing for the column it must be very professional. I have found many of the books to be teaching manuals. My column is being read in 13 states. Thanks to the wisdom gained in my writing skills.
Date published: 2016-09-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very important course, well presentedW The subject matter of this course is important for an understanding of the most basic of life's issues. The speaker is very knowledgeable, speaks very distinctly, and presents the material in a very understandable way. He is also very fair in his manner of presenting beliefs to which many people will have very strong objections. Some topics gave me a much clearer knowledge about the issues in those topics, such as the criteria for acceptance of certain books in the Bible, and cross-currents of thought in modern Judaism (which is not my own faith). With regard to the material itself I felt that the many divergent views in Protestantism came about because of Luther's teaching on private interpretation and that those theories presented were too often a case of mere subjective conjecture by the Protestant theologian. One aspect I felt the speaker should have mentioned is that many non-experts develop their acceptance or rejection of religion and faith based on their acceptance or rejection of the moral law, which is a backward way of thinking.
Date published: 2016-08-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from
Date published: 2016-08-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Immensely rewarding, but be prepared to work Audio CD review Pay no heed to the relatively low star and “recommend to a friend” ratings for this course; it is immensely rewarding in multiple ways. I surmise that the low ratings are a function of how hard this course makes you work. The lectures are very dense – you really need to attend to them – it is not suitable for driving, at least not for me. Dr. Roberts provides the best explanations of the ideas of many key western intellectual figures I have heard in the many Great Courses I have taken. Moreover, he does so in a way that personalizes the materiel in regards to your own beliefs and values. I cannot over-emphasize this point. I gained much more than factual knowledge; I gained hard self-examination. I do agree with some other reviewers that the “Skeptics and Believers” main title is a bit of a misnomer. If Dr. Roberts had just titled the course “Religious Debate in the Western Intellectual Tradition” it would have been a better rubric match. This, however, in no way detracts from the quality and value of this course. Regarding the other reviewers’ critiques about a predominance of lecture time being devoted to the “believers”: yes, Dr. Roberts does devote more time to the “believers”, but that is more a function of there being more of them given the multiple religious groups he covers, not a sign of bias. In fact, I assert that Dr. Roberts goes out of his way to avoid championing one perspective over another. On the negative side of the ledger, the course guide is very thin. For a course as dense as this one I wish Dr. Roberts had outlined down as least one more level of materiel, but two more levels would be appropriate. Another nuanced lament is in regards to the closing of the course. Given the weight of the materiel he carried throughout the first 35 lectures I thought it ended with a bit of a whimper. Dr. Roberts spent the last session largely discussing the implications of religious pluralism in a modern democracy. While it was a very good and worthwhile lecture, it was not what I was expecting or looking for – but I am carping here. Bottom line is this is an exceptional Great Course, but you are going to have to work for it.
Date published: 2016-05-06
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Skeptics and Believers: At the end of the course, one gets the sense the professor is implying the evangelical and fundamental scholars are the only influential characters on Christian modernity. It seems to say that Catholicism is dying and is superseded by the new reformers of reformers. Christian reformation began before Luther within the Catholic church, prior to Reformation. This fact was glossed over lightly. Thought out the course there is a lack of balance, light on the works of Catholicism scholars, and practically there was nothing mentioned on the Vatican II Council influence on modernity. I find the course gave an unbalanced attribution to Christian modernity.
Date published: 2016-05-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Dense, full of profound ideas across centuries I've been listening to these lectures for weeks now. Dr. Roberts gets deep into the core ideas of many well known ancients like Descartes, Locke, Hume and then onto to modern thinkers. After listening to the audio lectures straight through, i realized i barely touched the mounds of useful information. Dr. Roberts really opened up John Locke for me, and got me interested in those politically unstable years in England when Locke lived. The ideas of this 17th century philosopher are very deep, very well thought out, much deeper than the arguments of Sam Harris, but just as damning. These are true geniuses, writing that makes you sit up and take notice, pointing out obvious ideas that we of lesser talents didn't notice in all our years. An amazing intellectual journey.
Date published: 2016-04-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Be prepared to work with this. If you are expecting to absorb the information in this course while multitasking with a sound track in the background, you will probably be disappointed. The material is dense, and for that reason valuable. I suggest you get the printed transcript along with the audio. If you are prepared to study, to take notes, to write, to think, to paraphrase, to review, in short, to pay attention, this is a valuable survey. His working method, "the hermeneutics of suspicion," is akin to the concept of false consciousness of ideology. This course at times touches on an analysis of religion from the point of view of critical theory or a sociology of knowledge. This makes it rare and valuable.
Date published: 2016-01-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Deserves an A I have taken half a dozen of The Great Courses, and this remains one of the ones I like best. It's a fine example of what a course should be. The material is carefully curated and the delivery engaging, without theatrics or condescension. This is the kind of instructor I wish I had in all my college classes. Tyler Roberts earns a straight A.
Date published: 2015-09-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from
Date published: 2015-02-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Brilliantly Done; Fascinating; Wonderful! I must first express my utter amazement at the number of negative reviews of this course (although still a distinct minority), a course which I consider to be truly outstanding. I guess that just says something about horse racing. . . If you take it, please review it! The topic may not seem of value to all, but I believe anyone with an interest in the study of religion; in the many ways humans have found to express our sense of the momentousness of the ineffable, immaterial aspects of life; in the often bitter and too often horrendous conflicts between religions, and between religious and secular approaches to culture and society; or in determining the best individual, social, and political responses to all of these, will find this course fascinating and very worthwhile. That should include most of us. *Very* importantly, and pace some other reviewers, this course is neither pro- nor anti-religion. Professor Roberts does an excellent job of presenting fair and balanced descriptions of all sides of this complex area. When he is speaking, it often sounds as if he is presenting his own deeply felt ideas rather than simply explaining those of others; but he sounds like this on all sides of the issues. I honestly came away with no insight whatsoever into what his personal beliefs might be. Professor Roberts is one of the best in almost every way. He makes the often complicated and abstract views discussed as clear as I believe can be done in this sort of survey. I found his speaking style expressive and easy to listen to. The only exceptions to this are his occasional tendency to muffle the last word or two of a sentence, and a few times stumbling over the words that he is apparently reading rather than speaking spontaneously. (He also has some odd pronunciations of even simple words, such as "papal," which he rhymes with "apple.") He is extremely well-organized, and gives very helpful, brief introductions to the subjects of each lecture. And the breadth and depth of his knowledge of many centuries of the work of theologians and religious scholars is truly impressive. As a bit of an aside, I found it helpful to informally consider the ideas presented to fall into three broad, overlapping categories: - Are they about what is "true"? and/or - - Are they about what is instrumentally good for the individual believer, regardless of their truth? and/or - Are they about what is instrumentally good for society? These are importantly distinct questions which are often conflated in discussions about religion. Also, keep in mind that some of the philosophers discussed were writing from an outside, analytic perspective, while others were explaining and defending their own beliefs, and still others were offering instruction on the "right" way to believe, or not believe, in God. And all of this does raise the question of how such sophisticated, intellectually challenging writings could have any significant influence on the great majority of people. Or is this, by default, simply a conversation among the elite? The course would work equally well in audio and visual formats; there are essentially no worthwhile visuals other than a few portraits of the thinkers, and written quotations which our professor reads. The course guidebook is concise but helpful. It includes a useful glossary which somehow manages to leave out some important words, such as "fundamentalism" and "modernism;" biographical notes; and a fairly extensive annotated bibliography. So - this course and this professor have my highest recommendation for pretty much everyone. The material is fascinating, the presentation is outstanding, and the topic is of at least potential importance to every human being.
Date published: 2014-12-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The best of the best I have listened to well over fifty of The Great Courses, many of which have been outstanding. This one has exceeded them all. The lectures are well-balanced, and the ideas fairly presented. With the exception of the true fundamentalists (whether atheist or religious), each philosopher or theologian Professor Roberts discusses brings something of worth to humanity's attempts to understand the big questions of existence.
Date published: 2014-12-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Challenging & Rewarding AUDIO: CDs I got so MUCH more from this course than I expected. The title caught my attention, as I have been spending a good deal of time lately with a skeptical friend (one unwilling to accept anything more than a Jesus who would be a good fit for the faculty lounge, certainly nothing divine or transcendent for him), and I wanted to know more about what lies behind that very prevalent prejudice. I ended up not only learning a good deal about that skeptical perspective, but also a great deal about Christian and Jewish (and, to a much lesser extent, Islamic) traditions in their responses to “modernity”. That is an essential term in this course, denoting an attitude about the world which, according to Professor Roberts, has its roots in the 17th century scientific inquiry, and in which “…cultural authority is no longer located in past traditions or in divine revelation but in our exercise of reason in the present and where our sense of indebtedness to the past is replaced by confidence in our ability to shape our world for the future” (Course Guidebook, Page 1). This course will appeal to most believers and to those open-minded skeptics willing to take a closer look at what they have rejected. The hard-core variety of skeptic will likely be turned off. Professor Roberts’ historical approach to skeptics and believers pays big dividends in understanding not only the stimulus/response between the two, but also the often complex and very fruitful variety of responses over time among Christians and Jews to both modernity and skeptics (including, as Professor Roberts shows repeatedly, taking some of the skeptics’ criticisms quite seriously). Though I was familiar with the arguments of the “masters of suspicion”, Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud, I knew little of many others, especially those more recent examples of the “new atheisms”. Of the latter, Professor Roberts pays close attention to the authors of two 2006 books, Sam Harris, ‘The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason’ (whom he faults for failing to think historically enough by arguing “…that religion is essentially irrational fundamentalism…[and] inherently dangerous” Page 108), and Daniel Dennett, ‘Breaking the Spell; Religion as a Natural Phenomenon’ (whose study “ignores the religious thinkers we have discussed who have shown great willingness to direct the hermeneutics of suspicion to their own religious traditions” Page 109). In all, Professor Roberts does an admirable job in tracing developments, placing matters in context, and drawing connections (and disconnects) among the many individuals and groups he discusses. In this regard, I must mention Professor Roberts’ absolutely superb treatment of Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855). The two lectures devoted to Kierkegaard are the best treatment I have ever encountered of this truly important but difficult thinker, whose “Christian challenge to modernity” is still relevant today. More often than not, however, it is Kierkegaard the existentialist that is emphasized today among philosophers, rather than the religious man. I was surprised and pleased to learn about the amount of religious content in Kant (1724-1824) and, also, more surprisingly, the Christian aspects of Hegel (1770-1831), who I learned pronounced Protestantism “the consummate religion” (Page 148). Little, if any, of that religious content comes through in treatments of those philosophers today. The ironic aspect of Professor Roberts’ history is that modernity itself is now challenged by post-modernism, a “…much abused term…that [as defined in these lectures] relies more on tradition than most modernists did, though without rejecting, like many fundamentalists or other conservatives, the importance of critical reason” (Page 134). Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, is discussed at length as an example of a post-modern theologian, and as a believer I found Professor Roberts’ comments quite interesting and engaging. In a later lecture, however, I found out in a bit of progressive revelation, so to speak, that Williams is uncertain about the Resurrection. Oh, well. The debate goes on. This course does a great deal to show that religious belief can be rationally justified (harking back to St. Anselm’s 11th century “faith seeking understanding”) though, as Professor Roberts admits, “…not in a way that will be universally accepted,” and that religious thought can be “self-correcting and self-critical” (Page 111). The final lectures of the course delve into such weighty and hot button issues as secularism, pluralism, and the education of children, with some of the best comments and insights that I have had the pleasure to hear on the subjects. As long as this review is, I have really just touched the surface of this fine course. There is much here for further thought and reflection and, inevitably, going through it a second time. Professor Roberts is an engaging lecturer and easy to follow. I especially appreciated his frequent recaps, so I was easily able to keep my bearings through what could have been a bewildering maze of names and developments. The course guidebook is a bit of a disappointment, however, as the lecture notes are quite spare. Also, Professor Roberts’ use of BCE/CE is a bit irritating. The glossary, biographical notes, and exceptionally fine annotated bibliography, are noteworthy. I have yet to determine how my study of this course will affect my skeptical buddy, but I feel like I learned a lot about both sides of the ongoing debate. I highly recommend Professor Roberts’ excellent course!
Date published: 2014-02-20
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Needs a Different Title If you want a history of the debate between skeptics and believers told essentially from the believers' point of view, this lecture series does a good job. My impression is that Professor Roberts includes just enough of the skeptics to show how they affected the arguments of the believers. But if you're looking for a robust summation of Hume, Nietzsche, Marx, Freud, etc. presented with an emphasis equal to that given the other side, this is not it. In fact, I'd say it's at best 1/3 skeptics and 2/3 believers. At the very least, the title of the series is misleading. It might have more appropriately been something like: "Religious Debates in the Western Intellectual Tradition: The Response of Believers to their Critics." But then, I would not have purchased it.
Date published: 2013-12-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Don't Miss This Course Having listened to a great number of Teaching Company courses on the intersection of western religion and philosophy, this is certainly one of the best. In fact I am astounded that the average review is as low as it is. Most of this I attribute to a declared hostility to religious thought, in any form, on the part of many of the negative reviewers. Many other negative reviewers state a general boredom with and/or lack of knowledge of the general subject matter. For anyone who considers themselves philosophically aware this course should not be missed. The two lectures on Kirkegaard alone are worth the cost of the lectures and the effort in listening to them. They are potentially life changing. For me the most interesting part of the course, toward the end, was professor Robert’s consideration of the reasonableness of a religious perspective from a philosophy of language perspective. While I am not sure I fully accept the professor’s argument, it certainly needs to be taken seriously, and I can hardly think of a more sophisticated case for religious belief. As many have noted, this course has a ‘pro-religion’ perspective. This is hardly hidden by the professor. Given the overwhelmingly secular nature of our culture, and in particular, our educational institutions, I find this refreshing (note that I am not religious and have no ‘ax to grind’ here). In fact, I found that looking at predominantly secular thinkers in our tradition from a religious focus, who previously I thought that I understood deepened my understanding of them. In sum, if any expression of religious opinion antagonizes you, buying this course is probably not a good idea. However, if you would enjoy listening to a modern, highly sophisticated and philosophically complex explication of the western religious perspective I can’t recommend this course highly enough.
Date published: 2013-09-11
Rated 4 out of 5 by from 3.5 stars (CD review) I gave the overall score on this course 4 stars rather than 3 for a number of reasons. Professor Roberts gave a clear presentation of the material with few misspeaks and relevant definitions for most terms used. There were times when the material seemed to relate exceptionally well within the historical context compared to our world today. I often found myself drifting away while he was speaking. In large part I think this had to do with my lack of interest in the topic combined with listening to the course sporadically in my car over a couple of month time frame. To some degree I think it also had to do with a lack of energy and enthusiasm on his part. For someone who is passionate and hungry for philosophy with regard to the religion in the Western cultures, this would be highly recommended. The final lecture in which he raises important, timely issues with regard to the material presented made the effort worthwhile.
Date published: 2013-06-19
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Alternative Presentation Professor Roberts clearly embraces a religion-is-valid point of view. The skepticism perspectives are presented as rather weak, mostly highlights-only arguments, while the religious beliefs aspect is presented in greater detail I have been entertained by many of The Great Courses instruction on the various religions and belief systems that exist today. But all of these lectures have been presented from the perspective of a theist, or deist . . . a religious believer. I would like to see several similar courses regarding religious belief systems presented by atheists. A more balance viewpoint could then be added to your repertoire of mostly very good instruction courses. Thanks for all you do. QuiteRational
Date published: 2013-05-07
Rated 2 out of 5 by from A Swing and a Miss DVD. This is an intriguing topic that doesn’t quite live up to its potential. I hope that TTC and Dr. Roberts go back to the drawing board and issue a second edition. Dr. Roberts frames this course as a series of biographical lectures. The problem with this is that it naturally leads to focusing on what each particular proponent advocated without ever considering how belief systems and skepticism interact, including what are strengths and weaknesses of their respective positions. This framework also admits a tacit assumption that whoever has the last say wins the argument. That is, since the leading advocates of modernism are the later biographies, it presents the appearance that modernism has defeated religious thought, which is represented by the earlier biographies. A case might be made for or against this position, but I suspect that Dr. Roberts would rather not make the assertion in this course. I think he would rather look at each position in its own terms and what each position says about the other position. Finally, I think that the religious portion is misguided. It views all religions as the same – just paper tigers. The lectures ignore the possibility that they might be true – that there really is a supernatural being. In short, the lectures look at religious with a modern bias. It would be better to look at each religions in their own terms, not in the terms of their opposition – modern thought.
Date published: 2012-10-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An interesting look at things The was was excellent. The lecturer had an easy to follow insightful method of teaching. Many of the reviewers were disappointed with the course, but this may have been due to them taking the topic as the beliefs of the lecturer. I would highly recommend the course, it's interesting.
Date published: 2012-06-17
Rated 3 out of 5 by from He's good with god I bought this course to learn about the history of religious thinking, but Professor Roberts is definitely lecturing from inside the box. Don't bother with this course unless you are firmly in the protestant Christian camp.
Date published: 2012-05-07
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Penetrative analysis and very rewarding Professor Tyler Roberts is an engaging lecturer who covers often complex material with clarity and very useful insights. Some of the material overlaps with the survery of Professor Jones ("Introdcution to the Study of Religion")but this is absolutely worth buying as a complementary course. Understand that it begins from the "modern" era so much of the thought of course is skeptical and hostile to religion. The course also covers responses from Catholic, Protestant and Jewish thinkers to the modern doubts over Faith based worldviews. The lectures on Barth and 20th century catholic responses were particularly fascinating. Highly recommended
Date published: 2012-03-18
Rated 1 out of 5 by from By believers, for believers There is barely a word about skepticism in here. One lecture, on "Modern Atheisms," merely dismisses the rational approach to very real world issues - e.g. Islam invoking jihad or American fundamentalists wanting the Mideast to go up in a mushroom cloud so that the Rapture and Second Coming can happen - as lacking hermeneutic rigor, i.e., these critics don't worship the god to whom the lecturer tacitly nods. Save the 18 hours of lectures and go to a megachurch instead, the service is livelier and the (initial) cost is a lot less.
Date published: 2012-02-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Another WOW! for TTC An outstanding, mostly balanced, approach of what to me is a very interesting but complicated subject. The depth and breadth presented by Professor Roberts is truly amazing and probably the most I've seen in any Teaching Company course I've purchased to date. Because of that, like some others, I found my self listening to some of the lessons over and over, each time coming away with a greater understanding and appreciation. I particularly enjoyed the summations in the last three lectures which for me tied everything together
Date published: 2011-12-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent presentation of complicated material This is challenging subject matter, but Prof. Roberts has done a superb job of making it approachable. Beginning with Luther, and ending with post-modernist theologies, he covers over 450 years of modernism in the Christian tradition. The course really hits its stride with the late 19th century Masters of Suspicion (Nietzsche, Marx, Freud) and their antecedents. By this time, Roberts has laid a detailed background, (Kant, Schleiermacher, Hegel, Feuerbach) particularly with the German philosophers who set the stage. He does not ignore parallel political and scientific developments of the day when they are central to the theme, which keeps this course relevant. TC courses succeed when they present three elements which make up a valuable listening experience; a consistent theme ("plot"), an engaging presentation by a detached narrator, and robust subject matter which draws on a wide variety of sources. This series succeeds in all these ways. The theme of modernism and its critiques is apparent, and the lecturer is careful to point out when those themes recycle in western thought. The presentation engages the listener, but the material requires concentration. One must really want to know this stuff - and it is marvelously essential for any student of western culture. I had many "aha" moments as he negotiated the twists and turns of western history that make up our political and religious world, still today. The narrator is remarkably objective while still drawing a coherent trajectory through history, not pushing themes of his own, I thought, but giving a comprehensive overview of the subject. If there is one small drawback it is that this professor sometimes swallows the ends of his sentences. My frequent listening partner and I found ourselves replaying several parts, turning up the volume to "get" that last phrase of a sentence or idea. The good news is that it was usually worth it. For a student of history who wants to place religious thinkers in context with the politics, culture, and science of the day, this course is essential. For those who want to know how we got from Vatican absolutism to modern theological diversity, I suggest this reasonably brisk course. It "listens well" always inviting one's attention to the next chapter.
Date published: 2011-10-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Beyond "pro" and "con" As a former student of comparative religion, I found this course understandable, even salutary, but I sympathize with those who find it dense. Furthermore, this is predominantly a theology course, not a philosophy course, so you should not expect the usual philosophical arguments for God's existence by Aristotle, Aquinas, Anselm, Descartes, and others, nor the rebuttals. There is some of that here, but these lectures focus much more on theological attitudes toward skepticism than on philosophical refutations of it. Many want any treatment of religious skepticism to remain wedged between familiar ideas like outright theism and outright atheism, between Paley and Hume as it were. Christian fundamentalists want to keep it there, and atheists like Christopher Hitchens want to keep it there, too: because there the debate over religion is a kind of "war," and both sides want to arm themselves for victory. But the best of contermporary Protestant theology has moved beyond the "culture wars" and is interested in other things, like clarifying what faith means in the modern world. Here is where this course excels. This course brings the discussion of religious skepticism out of the rococo past and lands it squarely in the 21st century, where the concerns of the past have either been abandoned or have been frankly inverted. Among some of today's theologians, for instance, religious skepticism is no longer the antithesis of faith, but its very substance! How did that happen? These lectures will tell you. While I was familiar with much of the material covered here, what I was not able to do before was to put the various parts together into a picture. These lectures have helped me do that. Especially helpful were the lectures on what Ricoeur called the "hermeneutics of suspicion." Professor Roberts explains how the theologian Karl Barth drew from the 19th century "fathers of suspicion" (Feuerback, Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud) the basis for a theological critique of religion. In other words, by assimilating rather than rejecting these atheistic writers, Barths transformed their atheism into a kind of bitter but healing hermeneutical pill, a pill that destroys not faith per se' but only faith's idolatrous substitutes. Though I was doubtful at first, thinking that maybe Barths was whistling past the graveyard, I found myself suddenly remembering that many years ago my own religious director, a highly-educated Benedictine monk, urged me to read the work of Albert Camus. I wondered why, given Camus' atheism. But now I see that my director must have recognized - as Barth did apparently - that the great enemy of religion is not atheism but idolatry (or in modern parlance, "religious ideology") and that sometimes a little atheism is the best cure! - in that it employs suspicion to clear away ideological contaminants, which otherwise can misdirect belief and instill fatuous certitude. And lest you think faithful skepticism is some sort of postmodern fad, recall writers like Kierkegaard, Nicholas of Cusa, Augustine of Hippo, Tertullian, and perhaps even those earliest Christians whom the Romans condemned as "atheists." They all found the limits of human understanding in the act of finding "God." At any rate, these lectures may not be flawless, but I found them intellectually satisfying - a reflection of my own needs no doubt. They are not for "true believers," or "true disbelievers," or "culture warriors" of any kind, whose certainties - whatever they may be - will find scant substance here. But to all others, I can recommend them as an excellent introduction to Protestant thought in the modern and post-modern eras.
Date published: 2011-08-06
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good course This course shaped my understanding of religion, rationality, and revelation. It examines the interplay between rationality and revelation over the years, and sheds light on Christianity's reaction and adaptation to the challenges of modernity. I enjoyed it.
Date published: 2011-07-02
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Mostly Over My Head An important criticism of the course is that the Professor often fades the last word of a statement, sometimes rendering it inaudible. His discourses usually went over my head, the words conveying little to me that was intelligible. I find it easier to understand the Bible. The philosophies of Nietzsche, Marx and Aquinas have resulted in Nazism, Stalinism and Popery. The Bible’s legacy has been Freedom within the Law, a Law which it underpins. Lecture 28 on the conundrums of evil and suffering was the first and the last that was pitched at my low level of and capacity for philosophical thinking. Lecture 31 which included the views of Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, shows that Williams doesn’t trumpet a sound of certainty; he blows bubbles. Islam and the Koran are better not commented on as one does not wish to weary its enlightened followers and readers with a debate.
Date published: 2011-04-22
Rated 3 out of 5 by from More believers than skeptics The course seems to be more about how various views on Christian faith changed in the face of skepticism from within than without. There is comparatively little on skeptics of religion, even given that this is a rather modern phenomenon in the West. There is also extremely little given on Judaism, less on Islam and almost nothing about non-Judaeo-Christian-Islamic religious thought. I was expecting this to be centered in Western tradition to a point, but not expecting it to be basically how Christianity has defended itself throughout the modern world from skepticism; even as it appropriated suspicion into it's methods. That said, there is good information here, my own disappointment notwithstanding. For believers-- especially Christians-- especially ones interested in their own philosophical history, this is an in-depth review and a well-presented course with some good insights. The connection between modern skepticism and Fundamentalist Christianity was particularly memorable. I truly wish, however, that this course was more like the description I can see above, but the truth is it hardly touches on politics or the sciences and remains, primarily, a Christian religious philosophy course.
Date published: 2011-04-19
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Mixed Results This was a very deep look into the religious thinking of philosophers over several centuries. The professor is clearly enthusiastic about his material and well prepared. However it is very difficult for someone like myself who does not have a strong background in philosophy. It was more like a graduate level course in the very intricate thinking of the various philosophers covered. It was not until the last 5 lectures that I really enjoyed the lectures as opposed to surviving them. The course would have been more enjoyable if the first 31 lectures were condensed into 7 with the last 5 left intact. As a non-believer, I could appreciate the professors insightful analysis of the weaknesses of pop-media atheists such as Sam Harris.
Date published: 2011-03-21
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Problem with CD format while driving. While the course material was well presented and thorough, I had a problem with the professor's delivery on CD while driving in a car (or plane). He has a speaking pattern similar to a bell curve that emphasises the center of a sentence but tails off at the end. While this can be effective in person or when one can see the speaker as in the DVD format, when background noise is introduced, it results in a loss of words/thoughts. This may be overcome to some degree in production through the use of logarithmic audio compression.
Date published: 2011-03-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Pleasure to Listen To I really enjoyed Professor Roberts' delivery... he came across as an actual person really talking to his students, not just reading a canned presentation. The intellectual level was perfect for listening while driving, and I learned a lot about traditions I had studied before and some that I knew nothing about. I will definitely buy the next Tyler Roberts course.
Date published: 2011-02-27
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