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Acclaimed humanities teacher Phillip Cary explores thousands of years of deep reflection and brilliant debate over the nature of God, the human self, and the world. It’s a debate that serves as a vivid introduction to the rich and complex history shared by the West’s central religious and philosophical traditions.

Whether you’re a believer, a seeker, or both, you’ll find much to spark your deepest ponderings in these talks on the long and rich interplay between faith and reason.

>Different Systems of Thought Joined in a Search for Answers

Philosophy and religion ask many of the same questions:

  • What is the ultimate reality?
  • What can we know about it—or what should we believe about it?
  • How do our questions and thoughts, our hopes and fears, relate us to it?
  • Is this ultimate reality a person whom we meet, or an object that we contemplate?

These are questions no thoughtful person can evade.

They are enduring and perennial. And they are possessed of a history whose twists and turns have left their mark on almost every person on Earth.

To learn how these crucial issues have been discussed over the past three millennia is to enter the core of our intellectual heritage—to find the origin of some of our deepest perplexities and most cherished aspirations.

3,000 Years of Faith and Reason

A theologian who earned his doctorate in philosophy and religious studies at Yale, Professor Cary is now head of the philosophy program at Eastern University in St. David’s, Pennsylvania.

He is the author of Augustine’s Invention of the Inner Self, published by Oxford University Press, and the teacher of The Teaching Company’s course Augustine: Philosopher and Saint.

Originally trained in both philosophy and English literature, he is the ideal companion on this journey to the heart of the spiritual adventure of the West.

It is a comprehensive journey—intellectually, philosophically, and spiritually—but one which requires no special background.

All you need to bring is your own curiosity as Professor Cary weaves any background concepts you need into the fabric of his 32 lectures.

By the end of this course, those insights will belong to you—and you gain a new or sharpened fluency in issues that include:

  • The historical interaction between philosophical traditions (such as Platonism) and religious traditions (such as Judaism and Christianity)
  • The philosophical origin of certain key religious concepts, such as the immortality of the soul, the Fall, and “going to heaven”
  • The attractiveness of ancient philosophy for Judaism and Christianity
  • The synthesis of philosophy and religion that characterized the “classical theism” of the medieval period
  • The significance of modernity for the history of Western religion
  • The most prominent philosophical criticisms of religion
  • The classic proofs that have been attempted of the existence of God
  • The reasons why many religious thinkers of the 20th century are suspicious of the alliances between philosophy and religion
  • The relationship of critical rationality and religious belief.

Witness the Origins of a Debate Still Underway

Under Professor Cary’s guidance, you’ll cover thousands of years of profound reflection and debate concerning the nature of God, the human self, and the world.

You begin your journey by exploring the roots of the philosophical tradition in ancient Greece, examining how Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and the Neo-Platonist philosopher Plotinus dealt with issues concerning God, the soul, and the nature of the cosmos.

You continue along the path with the two great Western religious traditions, Judaism and Christianity, and follow its turnings to philosophers and theologians who are alive and writing today.

In keeping with his commitment to “critical objectivity,” Professor Cary urges students not to take his word as final on a topic, but to think it through independently.

Learn to Trace Common Themes and Complex Influences

In this questing spirit, you’ll probe the ideas of dozens of towering and diverse thinkers, tracing unifying themes throughout the works of writers who so often are thought to have little save brilliance in common.

These include not only Socrates and the prophets but also Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus, Origen, Augustine, Aquinas, Maimonides, Luther, Calvin, Descartes, Leibniz, Locke, Hume, Schleiermacher, Kant, Hegel, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Marx, Freud, Martin Buber, Karl Barth, and others.

And as Professor Cary takes you through their agreements and differences, you gain a precise and detailed grasp of how philosophy and religion—especially Judaism and Christianity, the leading spiritual traditions of the West—have long been intensely concerned with many of the same questions.

Surprising Interactions of Great Thinkers

This, as Professor Cary explains, has led them to interact in intricate and sometimes surprising ways:

  • You wonder along with him when he asks why the Platonic idea of the immortality of the soul has come so largely to displace the scriptural doctrine of bodily resurrection in Christian belief.
  • You ponder the remarkable but little-noted influence of Thomas Aquinas, the greatest of the medieval Catholic thinkers, on Martin Luther, the founder of Protestantism.
  • You probe the links between Kierkegaard’s call for a Christian “leap of faith” in the 19th century and the secular Existentialism of Martin Heidegger in the 20th.
  • You consider whether Jacques Derrida’s much-discussed Postmodernism has roots in the concept of the “Other” framed by the Jewish thinker Emmanuel Levinas.

Again and again, as you explore the answers offered over so many centuries, you find yourself aided and encouraged to form your own conclusions about the great unfinished story of faith and reason.

And you see that it is a story that has always been close to the heart of our civilization, whether seen in its moments of glory or its times of anguish.

No matter which of the aforementioned categories you put yourself in—believer, seeker, or some combination of the two (if Professor Cary is right, they go together quite well)—this course is sure to enrich and inform your thinking to an unexpected degree.

Visit Philosophy and Religion in the West (The Great Courses) to read more...


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