Joining the Conversation syllabus

For the past couple of years I’ve been teaching a first year introductory module called “Joining the Conversation”. The module exists to introduce students to key themes and concepts in Christian theology (hopefully in a way that engages both our philosophy and our theology students), to a key Christian thinker – St Augustine – and to a key set of study skills relating to reading texts, critically engaging with them, and writing essays. The module is organised around the theme of suffering, and the question of whether suffering is “What Matters Most”. Here’s the module descriptor I use:

One of the most complete definitions of philosophy was given by Plotinus: philosophy, he said, is ‘what matters most’. For much of Western history, the question of what matters most has been answered in relation to the key concepts and claims of the Christian tradition. This module will consider the question of what matters most through the work of St Augustine, one of the West’s great Christian thinkers. Over the course of the semester we will focus on the acquisition of textual analysis and academic writing skills. To gain these skills, we will collectively work on responding to a single question: the question of why and how suffering matters in the work of St Augustine of Hippo. The academic skills developed in this first semester will form the central set of skills that you utilise across all of your future modules.

The class overview is as follows:

WEEK 1: What Matters Most
WEEK 2: The Matter of Suffering
WEEK 3: Introducing Augustine
WEEK 4: Suffering and the Ethics of Sacrifice
WEEK 5: The Fall
WEEK 6: The Devil
WEEK 7: Political Suffering: A Tale of Two Cities
WEEK 8: ENRICHMENT WEEK
WEEK 9: Political Suffering: War
WEEK 10: Free to Suffer?
WEEK 11: Suffering Desire, Desiring Suffering
WEEK 12: What Matters Most?

It’s definitely not perfect (yet!), and I think I’m going to switch out the week one readings for something more straightforwardly theological/philosophical as the students were really thrown by being asked to engage with fiction (such a shame!) but it’s mostly been pretty fun to teach and I think I’ve managed to find some satisfying ways to build study skills in without it feeling too forced. The full module handbook is available here.

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