Society, Culture & Religion 2LL3 (Fall 2021) - God and Philosophy

This syllabus is located at It can also be accessed by way of my home page (see below, or google "Dana Hollander" to find it) or by way of the Department of Religious Studies website ( In case there are changes to our schedule or to other aspects of the course, this web syllabus will be updated and students will be notified by email.

Course content will be delivered online (see the Avenue to Learn site for this course). Optional (but recommended) tutorial sessions will take place virtually (by Zoom).

Communication will be over email, so please make sure to keep me up to date on your email addresses.

Optional (recommended) Tutorial Sessions: Thursdays, beginning 6 p.m., 1-2 hours by Zoom

INSTRUCTOR:  Professor Dana Hollander, Department of Religious Studies,*,

*in your email messages, please let me know how I can reach you by phone.  Tips for good emailing practices
Office Hours: Thursdays, 8-9 p.m. (Zoom/Skype/phone)

Course Description / Course Materials / Course Evaluation / Course Policies  |   JUMP TO SCHEDULE: September / October / November / December


In this course, we will read some key works in modern Western philosophy and religious thought that propose different ways of conceiving God and approaching religion.  We will begin with René Descartes (1596-1650) whose philosophy helped establish a tradition in which the task of thinking about God is directly related to the question of what can we know in general - and thus to the problem of "skepticism."

"I will suppose," Descartes wrote, that "some malicious demon . . . has employed all his energies in order to deceive me."

by Joost Swarte, from the New Yorker (Nov. 20, 2006), used with permission

updated September 6, 2021

Next we will look at three important challenges to the tradition of seeing God as something we can "know":

By engaging with the ideas conveyed in these works, and in the work we do on them together in tutorial, in this course you will learn skills of textual analysis, conceptual argumentation, and effective writing.


All course materials are available for purchase at the McMaster Campus Store (direct order link):

While the Hacker and Harvey writing guides may be consulted in electronic form, you must use your own paper copy of all the primary works we are studying--in the same edition selected for the class (whether in book form or as a photocopy or printout). This will allow you to mark your text as you read and to be prepared to refer to specific passages during course discussions. The midterm and final exams will also require you to consult those personal (marked up by you) printed copies. Primary works, to which this requirement applies, are identified with this icon:

The optional supplementary readings mentioned in the schedule below will be placed on eReserves (see link from Avenue course page) at McMaster Library.


You can choose between two options for how you want to be graded in this course. While attending and actively participating in the weekly 1-2-hour Zoom tutorials will contribute to your success in the course, Option A is being offered in case you would like your grade to be based on your written work only (or in case attendance of tutorials is not possible for you).

OPTION A (default): Text Summary (10%), Text Preparation (20%), Midterm Exam (30%), Final Exam (40%).

OPTION B: Text Summary (7%), Text Preparation (13%), Participation* (15%), Midterm Exam (30%), Final Exam (35%).

I will contact students after the start of the semester to ask them to select Option A or Option B by October 1 (feel free to speak to me about this anytime before that date). There will be no possibility to change your choice after October 1. If for whatever reason I don't hear from you by that date about which option you are choosing, the default option will be Option A.

  • *Participation: This portion of the grade is based primarily on regular attendance (with cameras on, unless there are mitigating circumstances) of the weekly 1-2-hour Zoom tutorial sessions, and actively participating in the work of those sessions, including contributing to spoken discussion, being ready to refer to text passages during discussion, participating in in-class (individual and/or interactive) exercises, and asking substantive questions. Meeting with the instructor outside of class for substantive discussion of course matters also will contribute to the participation grade.

    Please speak to me at any point during the semester if there is something you would like to share about yourself that would be helpful to me in assessing your participation, or if you would like to discuss how you are participating in the class.

  • One Text Summary: Please complete either Text Summary 1 for September 22 or Text Summary 2 for September 29, which will be on the readings you are preparing for that week. See the detailed assignments posted under those dates in the schedule below.
    Please allow ample time to acquaint yourself with the specific instructions for this assignment (and to contact the instructor for clarification as needed) before beginning your work on it!

  • One Text Preparation: Once the marked Text Summary assignment has been returned to you, please complete one of the following: Text Preparation 1 (for Oct. 20), Text Preparation 2 (for Nov. 3), Text Preparation 3 (for Nov. 10), Text Preparation 4 (for Nov. 17), Text Preparation 5 (for Nov. 24), which will be on the readings you are preparing for that week. A detailed assignment for each week will be posted to this syllabus one week before it is due − see under the due dates below.

Note: Text Summary/Text Preparation assignments are designed to help you prepare the reading assignment for a particular week, in advance of hearing the lecture on that material and discussion in that week's tutorial meeting. Therefore, they must be handed in by 12 p.m. on Wednesday, and no late submissions will be accepted. If you run out of time, preparation of an alternate assignment for a future week will always be an option (until we run out of weeks).
  • Midterm Exam and Final Exam will consist of essay questions involving textual analysis.  The essay questions will be made known in advance, and answering them will involve consulting your personal print copies of the primary readings they are about. Writing Time: 90 minutes

In your writing for this course, you are encouraged to make use of the resources of the Writing Centre:


You are advised to retain copies of any written work you submit for this class, and all your research notes, until you have received an official grade.

At certain points in the course it may make good sense to modify the schedule outlined below. The instructor reserves the right to modify elements of the course and will notify students accordingly (by email to participants, in Announcements on Avenue, and by updating this online syllabus).


Information about reading assignments and written assignments appears below. For posted lectures and other details of what to do each week, please log onto the Avenue site for this course, and make sure you are receiving course emails.

Week 1 (September 7-9)


Week 2 (September 10-16)

DESCARTES: Skepticism and the Existence of God

Both works are included in René Descartes, Discourse on Method and Meditations on First Philosophy (Hackett) [purchase book]

Week 3 (September 17-23)

Descartes, Meditations 1 and 2

Text Summary 1 due by Wednesday, 12 p.m. (Toronto time) from students with last names beginning in A-L.

Week 4 (September 24-30)

Descartes, Meditations 3 and 5

Text Summary 2 due by Wednesday, 12 p.m. (Toronto time) from students who did not complete Text Summary 1.

Optional Supplementary Reading: Bernard Williams, chap. 5 ("God") of Descartes: The Project of Pure Enquiry (1978) [eReserve - follow link from Avenue page for this course]

Week 5 (October 1-7)

KANT: Religion and Morality

Immanuel Kant, selection from Critique of Practical Reason (1788), trans. Mary Gregor, from: Immanuel Kant, Practical Philosophy (Cambridge University Press, 1996) [selection in coursepack]:

  • Read closely Part III ("On the Primacy of Pure Practical Reason") and Part IV ("The Immortality of the Soul as a Postulate of Pure Practical Reason")
  • begin reading Part V ("The Existence of God as a Postulate of Pure Practical Reason")
Additional resources:

Emil Fackenheim, "Kant's Philosophy of Religion" (1985) in The God Within [eReserve - follow link from Avenue page for this course]

German edition of Critique of Practical Reason


Week 6 (October 8, 18-21)

finish Kant: read closely Part V ("The Existence of God as a Postulate of Pure Practical Reason")

Text Preparation 1 due by Wednesday, 12 p.m. (Toronto time), from some students.

Midterm Exam information/instructions will be posted this week.

October 28


The midterm exam can be taken during any 90 continuous minutes between 8:00 a.m. and 11:59 p.m., Toronto time.

Week 7 (October 29-November 4)

FREUD: The Value of Religious Ideas

Sigmund Freud, The Future of an Illusion (1927), trans. Gregory C. Richter (Broadview Editions, 2012): I, II, III, VI, VII, VIII  [purchase book]

Supplementary: Peter Gay, "Sigmund Freud: A Brief Life," in Freud, The Future of an Illusion, trans. James Strachey (Norton) [eReserve - follow link from Avenue page for this course]

Text Preparation 2 due by Wednesday, 12 p.m. (Toronto time), from some students.

Week 8 (November 5-11)

conclude work on Freud

Text Preparation 3 due by Wednesday, 12 p.m. (Toronto time), from some students.

Week 9 (November 12-18)

BUBER: Religion and Dialogue

Martin Buber, selections from I and Thou (1923), pp. 53-64, 68-69, 82-85, 123-31, 148-50 [purchase book]

Supplementary: Tamra Wright, "Buber, Martin," in Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy (1998). To read the online article, click on the headings in the table of contents on the left panel.

Text Preparation 4 due by Wednesday, 12 p.m. (Toronto time), from some students.

Week 10 (November 19-25)

Buber, "Religion and Philosophy" from Eclipse of God (1952) + Dana Hollander's "Errata" on the translation [both in coursepack].

Text Preparation 5 due by Wednesday, 12 p.m. (Toronto time), from whoever has not submitted a Text Preparation.

Week 11 (Nov. 26-Dec. 2)


Final Exam information/instructions will be posted this week.

FINAL EXAM, December 9-11

The final exam can be taken during any 90 continuous minutes between December 9, 8:00 a.m., and December 11, 11:59 p.m.


Submission of Assignments and Exams will be in PDF format to the designated folder on Avenue to Learn. Please take the same care in producing the PDF document as you would in producing a paper document. Please follow the specific instructions included on each assignment and exam sheet.

Grading System. This course uses McMaster's 12-point grading system as follows: A+ = 12, A = 11, A−  = 10, B+ = 9, B = 8, B− = 7, C+ = 6, C = 5, C− = 4, D+ = 3, D = 2, D− = 1, F = 0.

Accessibility. The instructor is committed to creating a learning environment that is equitable and as accessible as possible. To arrange an academic accommodation for a disability, please contact Student Accessibility Services (SAS), Tel. 905-525-9140 ext. 28652; While every effort will be made to support students, it is the student's responsibility to arrange these accommodations by contacting SAS at the beginning of each term, and to contact the instructor to discuss how the accommodations will be implemented in this particular course. For further information, consult McMaster's Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities policy


Academic Integrity. You are expected to exhibit honesty and use ethical behaviour in all aspects of the learning process.  Academic credentials you earn are rooted in principles of honesty and academic integrity. It is your responsibility to understand what constitutes academic dishonesty.

Academic dishonesty is to knowingly act or fail to act in a way that results or could result in unearned academic credit or advantage. This behaviour can result in serious consequences, e.g., the grade of zero on an assignment, loss of credit with a notation on the transcript (notation reads: "Grade of F assigned for academic dishonesty"), and/or suspension or expulsion from the university.

The following illustrates only three forms of academic dishonesty: 1. Plagiarism, e.g., the submission of work that is not one's own or for which credit has been obtained. 2. Improper collaboration in group work. 3. Copying or using unauthorized aids in tests and examinations. For information on the various types of academic dishonesty please refer to the Academic Integrity Policy.

Please let the course instructor know if you have any questions on how this policy applies to your work for this course.

All submitted work is subject to normal verification that standards of academic integrity have been upheld (e.g., on-line search). This course will not be using or any other plagiarism detection software.

Conduct Expectations. As a McMaster student, you have the right to experience, and the responsibility to demonstrate, respectful and dignified interactions within all of our living, learning and working communities. These expectations are described in the Code of Student Rights & Responsibilities (the "Code"). All students share the responsibility of maintaining a positive environment for the academic and personal growth of all McMaster community members, whether in person or online.

It is essential that students be mindful of their interactions online, as the Code remains in effect in virtual learning environments. The Code applies to any interactions that adversely affect, disrupt, or interfere with reasonable participation in University activities. Student disruptions or behaviours that interfere with university functions on online platforms (e.g., use of Avenue to Learn, WebEx or Zoom for delivery) will be taken very seriously and will be investigated. Outcomes may include restriction or removal of the involved students' access to these platforms.

Requests for Relief for Missed Academic Term Work (McMaster Student Absence Form [MSAF]). In the event of an absence for medical or other reasons, students should review and follow the Academic Regulation in the Undergraduate Calendar "Requests for Relief for Missed Academic Term Work."

Courses with an Online Element. This course will use online elements, e.g., Avenue to Learn and Zoom; and communications among the instructor, TA and students in this course will be over email. Students should be aware that, when they access the electronic components of this course (depending on which technology is used), private information such as first and last names, program affiliation, user names for the McMaster email accounts and/or other email addresses used by course participants may become apparent to other students in the same course. Continuation in this course will be deemed consent to this disclosure. If you have any questions or concerns about such disclosure please discuss this with the course instructor.

Online Proctoring. This course will not use online proctoring for any tests or exams.

Academic Accommodation for Religious, Indigenous, or Spiritual Observances (RISO). Students requiring academic accommodation based on religious, indigenous, or spiritual observances should follow the procedures set out in the RISO policy. Students requiring a RISO accommodation should submit their request to their Faculty Office normally within 10 working days of the beginning of the term in which they anticipate a need for accommodation or to the Registrar's Office prior to their examinations. Students should also contact their instructors as soon as possible to make alternative arrangements for classes, assignments, and tests.

Copyright and Recording. Students are advised that lectures, demonstrations, performances, and any other course material provided by an instructor include copyright protected works. The Copyright Act and copyright law protect every original literary, dramatic, musical and artistic work, including lectures by University instructors.

The recording of lectures, tutorials, or other methods of instruction may occur during a course. Recording may be done by either the instructor for the purpose of authorized distribution, or by a student for the purpose of personal study. Students should be aware that their voice and/or image may be recorded by others during the class. Please speak with the instructor if this is a concern for you.

Extreme Circumstances. The University reserves the right to change the dates and deadlines for any or all courses in extreme circumstances (e.g., severe weather, labour disruptions, etc.). Changes will be communicated through regular McMaster communication channels, such as McMaster Daily News, A2L and/or McMaster email.

Copyright © Dana Hollander