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Unit information: Atheism in 2014/15

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Unit name Atheism
Unit code THRSM0107
Credit points 20
Level of study M/7
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Dr. David Leech
Open unit status Open




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


Today atheism is a major option for interpreting the world. How did modern philosophical atheism arise? What were its first arguments, and what relationship did it have to the (Christian) culture it rejected? This unit explores key issues in early modern and contemporary philosophy of religion through the lens of the historical development of modern unbelief. It focuses on the emergence of modern atheism as a rejection of forms of early modern philosophical theology, and examines contemporary religious claims that atheism merely rejects an idolatrous concept of God and therefore fails to undermine the justification of religious beliefs. The unit will also examine contemporary atheist arguments proposed by atheist philosophers of religion, as well as some arguments of popular atheism (e.g., ‘New Atheism’). Topics addressed will include the coherence of concepts of God, the relationship between ethics and religion, and whether it makes sense to talk about God at all.

Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this unit students will have

(1) developed a thorough understanding of the historical development of modern philosophical atheism;

(2) demonstrated an ability to articulate and criticise contemporary atheist positions in philosophy of religion and their theist and non-theist alternatives;

(3) gained the ability to think critically about whether the historical development of atheism might have a bearing on the validity of some contemporary atheist critiques of religion;

(4) demonstrated the ability to identify and evaluate pertinent evidence/data in order to illustrate/demonstrate a cogent argument.

Additionally (specific to level M), students will be expected to

(5) display high level skills in evaluating, analysing, synthesising and (where apt) critiquing images and ideas.

(6) apply existing analytical strategies to new evidence with flexibility and creativity

(7) demonstrate the capacity for independent research

Teaching details

20 hour seminars

Assessment Details

One summative essay of ca. 5000 words Measures outcomes 1-7

Reading and References

Taylor, Charles A Secular Age. (Cambridge, Mass. ; London: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2007). BL2747.8 TAY

Buckley, Michael J Denying and disclosing God :the ambiguous progress of modern Atheism. (New Haven, Conn. ; London : Yale University Press, 2004). BL2747.3 BUC The Cambridge Companion to Atheism (ed.) Michael Martin (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007). Electronic Version

De Lubac, Henri The Drama of Atheist Humanism (London : Sheed & Ward, 1949). BT1210 LUB

Turner, Denys How to be an Atheist New Blackfriars, Volume 83, Issue 977-978, pages 317–335, July 2002. Serial BX3501.N4