Core 1: Faith & Fanaticism

Steven G. Smith (smithsg)
Office: Christian Center 11, 601-974-1334
Office hours posted
Home: 1611 Edgewood St, 601-354-2290

Core 1/IDST 1000-07 Introduction to Thinking and Writing
Fall 2008

Some (not all) religious communities claim that faith is the greatest thing in this world for human beings. Outside of religious communities, many say that faith is a big problem, an obstacle to clear thinking and social progress. In the more thoughtful discussions on both sides of that divide, however, religious people distinguish between authentic faith and counterfeit or distorted or immature faith, while critics of religion are willing to distinguish between relatively “healthy” versions of faith and harmful versions. What standards are being used here? Do the different ways of evaluating faith agree in any of their conclusions? Is a “mature” and “healthy” faith consistent with some religious beliefs but not others? We’ll explore possible definitions of “mature,” “healthy,” “responsible” etc. religious attitudes and their opposites, drawing on our own experiences of religion in the contemporary world and on some of the most relevant theories offered by religious thinkers in various traditions and students of religion in various disciplines.
This course is not designed to change anyone’s faith, but it does require that diverse perspectives on faith be taken seriously so that our understanding of faith issues may be enriched. Grasping that part of the truth that is offered by people with whom you disagree is worth a hundred times as much as neatly expressing your own pre-existing views.


A Core 1 course is designed as an exercise machine to strengthen your thinking, speaking, and writing powers so that you can enter more fully into the life and fellowship of the mind. Like other Millsaps core courses, this one promotes certain broadly relevant liberal arts abilities:

Reasoning: the ability to analyze and synthesize arguments, to question assumptions, to evaluate evidence, to argue positions, to draw conclusions, and to raise new questions; varieties of reasoning include quantitative, scientific, ethical, and aesthetic.
In this course we’ll look at diverse ways of judging and saying what is true and right. We’ll have to pay attention to how religious positions are themselves reasoned out and we’ll have to appreciate the reasoning involved in different humanistic and scientific ways of understanding those positions. Of particular importance in this inquiry will be the use of empirical evidence that is required by scientific reasoning and the appeal to generally binding standards of conduct that is required by ethical reasoning.

Communication: the ability to express ideas, arguments, and information coherently and persuasively orally and in writing.
You’ll find it helpful to bear in mind always that the point of our activities is to maximize the articulation and sharing of thought. This is what “gets us somewhere.”

Historical Consciousness: the ability to understand the achievements, problems, and perspectives of the past and to recognize their influence upon the course of events.
Religious attitudes have a history. So does the evaluation of religious attitudes. The available choices and standards have developed through time. We’ll have to figure out where we are in that history in order to understand the positions we can take now on the nature of faith and fanaticism. Some key historical points of reference will be examined in the course.

Social & Cultural Awareness: the ability to engage perspectives other than one’s own.
We’ll have extensive practice in interpreting religious views of diverse cultures.


Available in the Millsaps College Bookstore
Diana Hacker, A Writer’s Reference, 6th ed.
The Promenade (selected papers by last year’s Core 1 students)
Daniel Dennett, Breaking the Spell
James Fowler, Stages of Faith
Flannery O’Connor, The Violent Bear It Away

Delivered in class
Faith and Fanaticism Reader


In-class work 15%
Short writings 15%
Paper #1, revised 15%
Paper #2, revised 20%
Paper #3, revised 20%
In-class essay exam 15%


1. Seminar discussion; preparation
You are assigned to participate in 40 Seminar Meetings (those are the classes listed in the schedule minus an allowance of four for being sick, on a sports trip, etc.) If you fall short of meeting this assignment due to unforeseeable and uncontrollable circumstances, I’ll give you substitute work in the form of writing assignments, but not to offset more than 3 excess absences. Past that point you would not meaningfully be a member of this seminar any more.
Seminar work advances your own learning and that of your colleagues as well, in this unique group dealing at this time in history with these matters of concern. You won’t be regarded as a passive recipient of information. You’ll be expected to engage the material actively: questioning, debating, empathizing, and counter-proposing. You’ll be given ample opportunity in classroom discussion, formal and informal written exercises, and oral reports to articulate religious attitude issues for yourself and expand your own view systematically.
As a seminar member, it’s your responsibility to prepare ahead of time by reading the appropriate material and thinking and writing about it so as to be able to participate fully in each day’s discussion. Some of our reading will be very challenging, but I assure you it is measured out in manageable doses. We will work together on improving reading skills, with attention to effective marking and annotating of texts.
It is also your responsibility to respect the views of others, even when you are in disagreement. The purpose of discussion is not to score points but to find new understanding. One product of fruitful discussion is new questions. Good discussions are among the most enlightening, energizing, and enjoyable things that ever happen in human life. Let’s have some.
There are numerous roles which individuals can play in discussion, some beneficial and some detrimental. Among the beneficial roles are: initiating the discussion, asking for and giving information and reactions, sponsoring and encouraging others to speak, comparing or synthesizing the comments of others, and relieving group tension if the discussion becomes frustrating. Among the detrimental roles are: sidetracking the group to strictly personal concerns, interrupting others, monopolizing the discussion, putting others down, failing to listen, and failing to speak.

2. Oral presentations
From time to time students will be asked to make brief discussion-starter presentations based on assigned readings. In the last week of the semester, each student will make an oral presentation of the main findings of his or her Paper #3 (see below).
The benefit of these exercises is to gain comfort and fluency in public speaking—a major challenge for many of us, don’t underestimate it!—but, more fundamentally, to practice using judgment in choosing and organizing points to present.

3. Writing
In this course you’ll create a Faith and Fanaticism course book consisting of your own writing in various formats. The most important part of it might turn out to be your personal journal which no one else directly sees. Even if you’re not the journaling type, I urge you to make a constant practice of writing down your thoughts and indicating your reactions (yuck! phooey! yay!) to matters that come up in our course, since this will give you resources you need for oral participation and can help you with formal papers too. In addition, I’ll give you short out-of-class and in-class writing assignments from time to time to give you more practice in thinking and writing and to rev everyone up for a discussion with a certain focus. Because of the nature of this course, you should have a significant reaction to every piece of material we look at. You may hear the sound of nails being hit on the head. You may hear warning bells. Keep track of these significant moments and build your insights. Don’t let the learning experience dissolve on you.
You’ll also write three longer, more formal papers, two of which will end up in your Millsaps Writing Portfolio as credentials of writing proficiency.
Paper #1 – In this 1,000-word paper you’ll present an analytically refined view of your main positive and negative standards relating to religious attitudes. The first few weeks of the course will introduce many categories of religious attitude and arguments about them; you’ll be taking your own place (provisionally!) in the great conversation about religious attitude with this paper. Citing outside sources is not a requirement for this paper, but you are expected to engage some of the complexities of the question as these have come to light in our readings and discussions in class. The emphasis here is on analysis and organization of ideas.
Paper #2 – In this 1,000-word paper you’ll research a suitably limited topic relating to religious attitudes. The emphasis of this assignment is on locating, using, and documenting sources appropriately. You’ll in some way inform your readers of multiple aspects of a topic—for example, how different texts or interpreters have different understandings of a “faith” or “devotion” ideal.
Paper #3 – This 2,000-word paper will be on a religious attitude-related topic of your own choice that I have approved. You’ll combine research (with appropriate use of sources and documentation) with developed analysis and argumentation of your own. You’ll get comments on the first draft of this paper from peer reviewers as well as from me.
An in-class essay exam will also go into your Writing Portfolio as a specimen of timed writing. This exam will be on assigned questions relating to course readings. You’ll know in advance what you’ll be writing about.

Due dates: Sept. 22 Draft of Paper #1
Sept. 29 Final copy of Paper #1
Oct. 17 Draft of Paper #2 (copies for me and your peers)
Oct. 24 Peer reviews of Paper #2
Oct. 27 Final copy of Paper #2
Oct. 29 Topic for Paper #3
Nov. 3 Preliminary bibliography for Paper #3
Nov. 14 Draft of Paper #3 (copies for me and your peers)
Nov. 21 Peer reviews of Paper #3
Nov. 26 In-class exam
Dec. 3 Final copy of Paper #3

In common with other Core 1 classes, we’ll be working on four major skills throughout the semester: analysis, organization, documentation, and revision. All of your formal writing must demonstrate your ability to analyze an issue and organize your thoughts effectively. You’ll also practice the important skill of finding and working effectively with sources as you join the fellowship of scholars. Your essays will be revised based on feedback from me and your peers, which will enable you to become increasingly confident expressing your ideas clearly, logically, and persuasively.
In evaluating a paper I’ll focus on how you present your main idea, how you organize the paper, the style and voice of your presentation, how you use evidence and documentation to support your ideas (when appropriate), how thoroughly you interpret and analyze, and how carefully you handle punctuation, spelling and proofreading. The complexity of your thinking is of prime importance. Complex thinking is often termed “critical thinking,” which in this context does not mean rejecting something but rather that opportunities for thought are being fully taken advantage of. Critical thinking incorporates multiple points of view, addresses problems which may have no neat and simple answers, recognizes ambiguity, and traces connections that may not have been obvious. Critical thinkers can question their own assumptions and are able to be self-assessors.
Good writing which incorporates critical thinking usually requires a lot of re-writing. This course is as much about re-writing as writing, and you’ll learn how to manage your whole writing process for better results. “Revision” means much more than just correcting errors in spelling, punctuation, grammar, vocabulary and documentation. Your revised paper should show enhanced clarity and deeper insight. You’ll always be asked to keep, and turn in, all drafts of the formal papers you write for this course.
“Draft,” by the way, does not mean “fragment”: any draft that you submit to fulfill an assignment must be a complete paper. Any draft should be carefully proofread. One of the most unpopular things you can do in this life is to make people read sloppy writing.
Your papers should be typed on a word-processing system (if you don’t have a computer or word-processor of your own, you should use the campus computer labs), double-spaced, in Times New Roman with a font size of 12, one inch margins, and numbered pages (beginning with the first page of the text). Each paper should have a separate title page, unnumbered, that includes the title of the paper, your name, the name and section of the class, the date of submission, and your honor pledge: “I hereby certify that I have neither given nor received unauthorized aid on this assignment [Signature].” The abbreviation “Pledged” followed by your signature has the same meaning and is acceptable on written assignments for this course.
Make sure now that you have a reliable means of backing up your work electronically and printing it out for timely submission. Do back up your work, and do get it in by deadlines. Don’t tell me or anyone else who has given you an assignment that the computer ate your homework. You are graded by your work, not by your intentions.
Any specific ideas or phrases that you take from a published source should be documented with parenthetical notes and a Works Cited page (consult Hacker and the Honor Code). Citations and bibliographies should be in the MLA (Modern Language Association) format.
Since you’ll be compiling a Writing Portfolio at the end of the semester, remember to keep a computer file of each of the major papers as well as a clean paper copy.


Here is what letter grades generally mean at Millsaps:
A means you have produced a paper exemplary in almost every way. You have presented your thesis coherently, you have organized your thoughts effectively, and you have supported your interpretations meticulously. An A paper is also one that is excellent in style and voice or tone. And in an A paper, attention to form (spelling, punctuation, grammar, documentation) is as rigorous as it is to the content. Your work on that paper is superior.
B means you have gone beyond the minimum requirements of the assignment and have successfully balanced description with analysis. And you express yourself more clearly, meaningfully, and imaginatively than in a C paper. Your work on that paper is good.
C means you have successfully completed the minimum requirements of an assignment. Your paper has no major problems of any kind, but there is still much for you to do to better your grade. Your work on that paper is mediocre.
D means your work is seriously deficient in some way.
F means your work has failed to meet the most basic requirements of the assignment.
Anyone receiving an F as the semester grade in Core 1 will be required to take IDST 1020 in the spring.


Millsaps College requires all students to demonstrate proficiency in writing by the end of their sophomore year. To do so, students compile a Writing Portfolio of assignments assessed by instructors and rated on a scale of 1 (low) to 5 (high), with 3 being “proficient.” Five specific areas are assessed: content (command of material, supporting evidence, complexity of thought); organization (logical presentation, sequencing, transitions); style (diction, suitability for intended audience); documentation (bibliography, notes, complete and accurate citations); and mechanics (syntax, grammar, punctuation, spelling). The two revised papers and the in-class exam of your Core 1 course will become the first three elements of your Writing Portfolio. The remaining elements of your portfolio will be drawn from other Core courses as indicated by your instructors.


Students are required to have two contacts this semester with the Writing Center on the first floor of John Stone Hall. 1) You may attend two workshops at the Writing Center; 2) you may attend one workshop and one personal tutoring session; or 3) you may attend two personal tutoring sessions. The Writing Center sends a note to professors to let them know when a student has visited. The Writing Center tutors are good at discussing with you your goals and strategy for a paper and giving you feedback on what you are and aren’t communicating. They are not going to give you a last-minute grammar check or spell check. To get the full benefit of this great resource, visit early in the process of writing a paper and return several times as the paper is nearing completion.
The hours of the Writing Center are posted at John Stone Hall, on the Millsaps web page, and on posters around campus.


Every student must have at least one contact with the library staff in Core 1, either by attending one of the library’s regularly scheduled workshops or by setting up an individualized session with one of the library staff. What you’ll probably find most helpful for this course is learning to search for and evaluate scholarly resources in print and online.

I’ll assume you monitor your e-mail daily throughout the semester and get my messages relating to our seminar in a timely manner. Faculty at Millsaps frequently use e-mail to send important announcements, guidelines, and learning resources to students in their classes.

Millsaps College is an academic community where men and women pursue a life of scholarly inquiry and intellectual growth. The foundation of this community is a spirit of personal honesty and mutual trust. In order to maintain trust among members of the College, faculty and students must adhere to these basic ethical principles. Honor within an academic community is not simply a matter of rules and procedures; it is an opportunity to put personal responsibility and integrity into action. When students accept the implicit bond of honor in an academic community, they liberate themselves to pursue their academic goals in an atmosphere of mutual confidence and respect. By choosing to come to Millsaps College, you have indicated your willingness to abide by its Honor Code. The success of the Code depends on the support of each member of the community. Students and faculty alike commit themselves in their work to the principles of academic honesty. When they become aware of infractions, both students and faculty are obligated to report them in the form of a written report to the Honor Council, which is responsible for enforcement. This account must be signed, the accusation explained in as much detail as possible, and submitted to the Dean of the College.

Plagiarism, the use of someone else’s ideas or words without proper acknowledgment (even in short writing exercises and take-home exams), is not always intentional but is always reprehensible. Plagiarism and auto-plagiarism, which is the presentation of your own work done in high school or in another college course, are violations of academic honor and disqualify any work for academic credit. Three of the most common forms of plagiarism are defined by Diana Hacker in A Writer’s Reference (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2007) as “(1) failing to cite quotations and borrowed ideas, (2) failing to enclose borrowed language in quotation marks, and (3) failing to put summaries and paraphrases in your own words” (359).

Pledge all written work that is to be graded as a sign of your commitment to the ideals of personal responsibility and rigorous scholarship. You can either write the full pledge (“I hereby certify that I have neither given nor received unauthorized aid on this assignment”) or the abbreviation “Pledged,” followed by your signature. As a reminder, the pledge signed by all students upon entering the College is as follows: As a Millsaps College student, I hereby affirm that I understand the Honor Code and am aware of its implications and of my responsibility to the Code. In the interests of expanding the atmosphere of respect and trust in the College, I promise to uphold the Honor Code and I will not tolerate dishonest behavior in myself or in others.


If you’re having problems of any sort that are affecting your work in this course or as a student at Millsaps, please feel free to come talk to me about it, or write me an e-mail. I like being in touch.

Subject to change by announcement (in class or by e-mail)
READ and WRITE assignments mean “have read by” and “have written by” class time
that day, except when indicated otherwise

Week 1
W, 8/27 Introduction

Th, 8/28 Introduction, cont. What do we mean by “faith” and “fanaticism”?
READ: Syllabus

F, 8/29 Human religious aptitude.
WRITE: Religious attitude ideal (300 words)
READ: Dennett, Breaking the Spell, 97-104

Week 2
M, 9/1 A different world of religious attitude.
READ: Plato, Euthyphro (in Reader)
WRITE: Analysis of key passage (300 words)

W, 9/3 A different world, cont.
READ: Plato, Apology (in Reader)

F, 9/5 A different world, cont.
READ: Lucretius and Plutarch on superstition (in Reader)

Week 3
M, 9/8 What does cultural anthropology suggest about possible religious attitudes?
READ: Malinowski, “The Role of Magic and Religion” (in Reader)

W, 9/10 What does the history of religions suggest about the development of religious attitudes?
READ: Ellwood, “Religion and the Discovery of History” (in Reader)

F, 9/12 What do classical religious statements suggest about the development of religious attitudes?
WRITE: Comparative analysis of two classical religious attitude ideal statements (300 words)

Week 4
M, 9/15 Writing workshop
READ: Promenade selections TBA

W, 9/17 Classic modern critiques
READ: Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity (in Reader)

F, 9/19 Classic modern critiques, cont.
READ: Freud, from The Future of an Illusion (in Reader)
Dewey, from A Common Faith (in Reader)

Week 5
M, 9/22 Writing Workshop
DUE: Paper 1

W, 9/24 The “ethics of belief” debate.
READ: Clifford, “The Ethics of Belief” (in Reader)

F, 9/26 Ethics of belief, cont.
READ: James, “The Will to Believe” (in Reader)
WRITE: Evaluation of James (300 words)

Week 6
M, 9/29 Dennett’s critique of faith.
READ: Dennett, Breaking the Spell, 69-93

DUE TUESDAY ANYTIME: Revision of Paper 1

W, 10/1 Dennett’s critique, cont.
READ: Dennett, 104-141

F, 10/3 Writing Workshop: Finding and Evaluating Sources
READ: A variety of online sources in a Reconnaisance exercise (guidelines to be given)

Week 7
M, 10/6 Dennett, cont.
READ: Dennett, 200-217, 222-234, 240-245

W, 10/8 Dennett, cont.
READ: Dennett, chap. 10

Th, 10/9 Writing Workshop: Plagiarism

F, 10/10 Dennett, cont.
READ: Dennett, chap. 11
WRITE: Evaluation of Dennett (300 words)

Week 8
M, 10/13 Martyr-heroism, exhibit A: early Christian martyrs.
READ: The Martyrdom of Felicitas and Perpetua (in Reader)

W, 10/15 Martyr-heroism, exhibit B: suicide bombers.
VIEW: Paradise Now

F, 10/17 Writing workshop.
DUE: Paper #2 (copies for me and your peer readers)

Week 9

W, 10/22 Representation of religious attitudes in fiction.
READ: O’Connor, The Violent Bear It Away

F, 10/24 Fiction, cont.
DUE: Peer reviews of Paper #2

Week 10
M, 10/27 Representations of religious attitudes in visual art: faith.
READ: Genesis 22:1-19
DUE ANYTIME: Revision of Paper #2, along with the copies of your draft that have my comments and your peers’ reviews (and please make sure that your peer reader’s name is written in the top right corner of the cover page)

W, 10/29 Visual art, cont.: mysticism
DUE: Topic for Paper #3

F, 10/31 Fowler’s “stages of faith” project.
READ: Fowler, chaps. 1-5
WRITE: Initial assessment of Fowler’s conception of faith (300 words)

Week 11
M, 11/3 NO CLASS (Instructor at AAR conference)
DUE: Preliminary bibliography for Paper #3 in MLA format

W, 11/5 The triad of faith; Stage 1.
READ: Fowler, chaps. 12, 15-16

F, 11/7 Stages 2 and 3.
READ: Fowler, chaps. 17-18

Week 12
M, 11/10 Stages 4 and 5.
READ: Fowler, chaps. 19-20

W, 11/12 Stage 6.
READ: Fowler, chap. 21
WRITE: Closing assessment of Fowler’s project (300 words)

F, 11/14 Writing Workshop
DUE: Draft of Paper #3 (copies for me and your peers)

Week 13
M, 11/17 Theological issues with attitude.
READ: Buber on two types of faith

W, 11/19 Theological issues with attitude, cont.
READ: Moltmann, “Theology of Hope” (in Reader)

F, 11/21 Theological issues with attitude, cont.
READ: Gustafson, “Piety vs. Faith” (in Reader)
DUE: Peer reviews of Paper #3

Week 14
M, 11/24 Issues in religious education.
VIEW: Jesus Camp

W, 11/26 In-Class Essay Exam (for Writing Portfolio)


Week 15
M, 12/1 Student presentations

W, 12/3 Presentations, cont.
DUE: TWO COPIES of Revised Essay #3 (in my office by 5:00 pm), along with the copies of your draft that have my comments and your peers’ reviews (and please make sure that your reader’s name is written in the top right corner of the cover page). Also turn in copies of pages from your source material from which you paraphrased.

Th, 12/4 Presentations, cont.

F, 12/5 Presentations, cont.

Consult with your instructor about how to pursue

Handling of religious attitude ideals (faith, love, reverence, serenity, etc.) or attitudes about religious belief (e.g. fundamentalism, traditionalism, literalism, liberalism; exclusivism, inclusivism, pluralism, Panikkar’s “interpenetration”) in religious or philosophical writing
Handling of religious attitudes in literature, performing arts, visual arts
Social-scientific or biological research on religious attitudes
Fundamentalism in a certain context (religious or political)
Popular apocalypticism (e.g. in the Left Behind phenomenon)
Faith and intellectual freedom (e.g. in a public or religious education program)
Faith and public policy (e.g. in setting standards for stem-cell research)


1. Class attendance. Being in class, being engaged with the work of the class, and behaving courteously are all expected. One discourtesy to avoid is coming into class late. Better late than never, definitely; but lateness counts as half an absence—that is, the assignment of sharing in the class’s work that day will be counted as only half done.

2. Electronic communication devices (cell phones, laptops, etc.). Electronic devices have become harmful Interrupters and Distracters in the current state of our social evolution. Their use is banned in our seminar. If you have special needs, discuss with me.

3. Late papers. Written assignments turned in late will lose a letter grade or equivalent. Homework may not be turned in more than one week after its due date. No work of any kind will be accepted after the last day of final examinations. Exceptions to this policy will only be granted to the victims of unforeseeable and uncontrollable circumstances.

4. As a general rule, no e-mail submissions. Unless the instructor allows it under specified circumstances, e-mail submissions of assigned writing are not accepted.

5. Incompletes. An “Incomplete” grade for the course will only be given to students who, due to unforeseen and uncontrollable circumstances, find themselves unable to complete course requirements during the term and can reasonably be expected to complete them within a few weeks after the term’s end. The “Incomplete” must be requested and appropriately justified before the end of final examinations.

6. Disabilities. Students with documented disabilities should discuss their needs with the instructor at the beginning of the semester.