fbpx Criticizing Religion | Phillips Exeter Academy

REL475: Criticizing Religion

Critics of religion have traditionally been silenced, but is there a destructive side to religion?

Critics of religion have traditionally been silenced, but is there a destructive side to religion? Religion and religions have undoubtedly shaped the lives of individuals and communities around the globe for millennia for the better, but would the world be a better place if we imagined, with John Lennon, a world with no religion? Anyone watching the news (or with a basic understanding of history) could reasonably argue that religious devotion can be all-consuming, violent or even harmful to self or others. Contemporary examples of the destructive side of religion fill the news on a daily basis. On the other hand, religions around the world have been a driving force for peace, for justice, for compassion, for leading a purposeful life. Many people turn to religion to find resources that provide them with community, values and meaning in their lives. Will religion's checkered past and present, however, lead to increased secularism? Will science ultimately replace religion? How can we sort out the complicated relationship between religion and its destructive side that shapes the past and present without resorting to reductionist caricatures of either religion (in its manifold forms) or secularism? The course will explore scientific, economic, political, feminist and queer critiques of religion - and their responses - from thinkers such as Friedrich Nietzsche, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Karl Marx, Mikhail Bakunin, Sigmund Freud, Ayn Rand, Mary Daly, Anthony Pinn, Dan Brown, Ursula LeGuin, A.C. Grayling, and the new atheists (Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens or, from Exeter's class of 1959, Daniel Dennett), as well as films such as "Spotlight" and "Jesus Camp."