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Unit information: Atheism in 2020/21

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Unit name Atheism
Unit code THRS30050
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Dr. David Leech
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of Religion and Theology
Faculty Faculty of Arts


This unit explores key issues in philosophy of religion through the lens of philosophical atheism, agnosticism and other non-theistic worldview positions including religious naturalism and Schellenberg’s ultimism. It examines some core philosophical issue as they arise within these positions including atheist appraisals of religious experience, meaning/non-futility, and the prospects for secular spirituality. Through an in-depth focus on atheistic approaches to a range of key topics in the philosophy of religion, it develops student skills in philosophical reading, writing and argumentation.


To familiarise students with some central issues within philosophical atheism, agnosticism and other non-theistic worldview positions to a degree which is more specialised than what is possible within a general unit on philosophy of religion.

To develop students’ ability to form their own views and provide argumentative justification for their positions with respect to these issues

To develop skills in philosophical reading, writing and argumentation.

Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this unit students will be able to:

  1. Articulate a sophisticated understanding of some of the core philosophical issues within the topics discussed in the unit;
  2. Assess some of the central contemporary literature on these issues;
  3. Identify and present pertinent evidence to develop a cogent argument;
  4. Demonstrate skills in research, philosophical writing and argumentation appropriate to level H/6.

Teaching details

Classes will involve a combination of long- and short-form lectures, class discussion, investigative activities, and practical activities. Students will be expected to engage with readings and participate on a weekly basis. This will be further supported with drop-in sessions and self-directed exercises with tutor and peer feedback.

Assessment Details

1 x 2000 words portfolio (formative) [ILOs 1-4] 1 x 3000-word summative essay (100%) [ILOs 1-4]

Reading and References

  • Kimberly A. Blessing. "Atheism and the Meaningfulness of Life." In Bullivant, Stephen, Michael Ruse, eds. The Oxford Handbook of Atheism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013
  • Adams, Sarah, and Jon Robson. Does absence make atheistic belief grow stronger?. International Journal of Philosophy of Religion 79, 49–68 (2016) doi:10.1007/s11153-015-9532-3
  • Bishop, John. Secular Spirituality and the Logic of Giving Thanks. SOPHIA 49, 523–534 (2010) doi:10.1007/s11841-010-0216-2
  • Draper, P. (2001). Seeking But Not Believing: Confessions of a Practicing Agnostic. In D. Howard-Snyder & P. Moser (Eds.), Divine Hiddenness: New Essays (pp. 197-214). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/CBO9780511606090.011