Philosophy 240 (second term) - Philosophy of Religion – 2012-13


Professor: William Sweet
Office: 707 Nicholson Tower
Telephone: 867-2341 / E-mail:
Office Hours: M 1.15-3.30; Tu 9.45-11.15; F 9.15-11.15; and by arrangement

Information on the course, on assignments and examinations, etc., will be periodically posted on the course web page:

This course aims at providing the student with a philosophical basis for reasoned reflection on religion and religious belief. In the second term, we examine a number of modern and contemporary discussions in order to help us answer such questions as “Do religion and science contradict?” “What does religious experience prove?” “What is the relation between reason and faith?” “What is the function and purpose of religious language?” and “What is religious belief?”.

Course Outline (subject to minor modification):

I. Introduction: Can religion be discussed?

II. Do religion and science contradict?


III. What is the relation between reason and faith?
            A. Aquinas on faith and reason [review]
            B. Pascal and 'the wager'

            C. William Clifford and evidentialism
            D. William James and the 'will to believe' 
            E. J.H. Newman and ‘real assent’
            F. Alvin Plantinga and ‘Reformed epistemology’

IV. What does religious experience prove?

            A. William James on the nature of religious experience and mysticism

            B. William Alston on religious experience as a ground for belief

V. What is the function and purpose of religious language?

A. A. Flew, R.M. Hare and B. Mitchell: falsifiability and meaning
B. John Hick and eschatological verification
C. Eric Mascall and analogy 
D. D.Z. Phillips, Kai Nielsen, and Wittgensteinian fideism
E. Summary

VI. Summary and Conclusion: What is religious belief?
            What is it to have a religious belief? What does it mean to "believe in" God? 

Method of the course and the role of the student:
The class will have a 'lecture and discussion' format. The professor will introduce a topic with a summary of the relevant arguments or a commentary on a text. This will be followed by questions and discussion of the material by the class as a whole (e.g., points of clarification or criticism and of comparison; comments on the relations between or among different issues).
            Students are expected to have prepared the readings before class, to attend all of the classes and to participate in discussion. In conformity with University regulations, students who have more than 3 unjustified absences in a term may be reported to their Dean.
            It is essential in studying philosophy that students be prepared to ask and answer questions in class. 
Laptops and other technologies

Laptops and similar technologies are not permitted unless you have my prior, explicit permission. Unauthorized use or related activities will result in being asked to leave the classroom.


Students with disabilities

Students who believe they may need accommodations in this class are encouraged to contact the Centre for Accessible Learning [Bloomfield Centre room 421; (902) 867-5349] as soon as possible to ensure that accommodations are implemented in a timely fashion.


Email and office policy

I can respond to short messages through email, and I try to check e-mail once a day. I do not, however, provide grades or answers about course content by email. Students should make use of my office hours and ask questions in class. Urgent requests (e.g., to meet) are best made by telephone.

            If I am not in when you call, please call later or drop by.

            Writing to a course instructor is not the same as writing to a friend. For example, if you

send me an e-mail message, please mention the course number and the specific topic of your message in the "subject" line. Use proper English. Begin the communication with an appropriate salutation, e.g., "Dear Dr. Sweet" Remember, a poorly written and misspelled message reflects badly on the author. Sign the communication with your name and that of the course.


Policy on plagiarism and academic dishonesty

St. Francis Xavier University values academic integrity. All forms of academic dishonesty (including plagiarism) are unacceptable. For the university policy on plagiarism, please visit

Method of evaluation:
Attendance / class notes / quizzes on readings 10 % 
Written assignment 40 %
Final examination 50 %

Textbooks (available at the University “Campus Store”):

Coursepack for Philosophy 240 
Religion, Science, and Non-Science, by William Sweet, Bangalore: Dharmaram Publishers, 2003.

Supplementary texts: (not required, but useful as reference works)
Philosophy of Religion, 4th. ed., by John Hick, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall Publ.
Responses to the Enlightenment: An Exchange on Foundations, Faith, and Community, Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2012 [with Hendrik Hart]. 
Religious Belief: The Contemporary Debate, Bangalore: Dharmaram Publishers, 2003.
Religion and the Challenges of Science, ed. William Sweet, Aldershot, UK: Ashgate Publishers, 2007.
God and Argument / Dieu et l’argumentation philosophique, ed. William Sweet, Ottawa, ON: University of Ottawa Press, 1999.