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PHIL229 Reason, Belief and the Sacred

What is religion? How do religious people think? Where do their ideas come from? Are any of them true? These and other questions are addressed.

Philosophy of Religion courses often focus on arguments for and against the existence of God, that is to say, the God of Christianity. But Christianity is just one kind of religion; there are many others. Some have a supreme God, others have many gods, some (arguably) have no gods at all. So this course takes a wider view of religion, looking at what people regard as sacred: that which derives its authority from the "hidden realm" (te wāhi ngaro) of gods, spirits, and ancestors. It asks about the character of religious language, looks at what religious practices aim to do, and then examines the various sources of religious knowledge: divination, dreams, visions, mystical experience, spirit possession and prophecy, and (finally) arguments, including those for the existence of God.

Paper title Reason, Belief and the Sacred
Paper code PHIL229
Subject Philosophy
EFTS 0.15
Points 18 points
Teaching period Semester 2 (On campus)
Domestic Tuition Fees (NZD) $955.05
International Tuition Fees Tuition Fees for international students are elsewhere on this website.

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One PHIL paper or 72 points
PHIL 210 and PHIL 329
Schedule C
Arts and Music
Suitable for all students who have an interest in philosophical questions. No previous philosophical knowledge is required, but students will be expected to read widely and write clearly.
Teaching staff

Course co-ordinator and lecturer: Professor Greg Dawes

Paper Structure
The paper has four parts:
  • Part One: Religious Language and Thought
  • Part Two: The Aims of Religion
  • Part Three: Modes of Knowing
  • Part Four: Assessing Religious Beliefs
Teaching Arrangements

There will be three 50-minute classes each week, with one devoted to tutorial-style discussion.


  • Weekly exercises in class: 15%
  • Essay Outline 10%
  • An essay of no more than 2,000 words: 30%
  • Final examination: 45%

As well as the course outline distributed in class, a course book will be made available. Other recommended works will be accessible on Blackboard or in the Library, on Reserve.

Graduate Attributes Emphasised
Global perspective, Interdisciplinary perspective, Scholarship, Critical thinking, Cultural understanding, Ethics, Research, Self-motivation.
View more information about Otago's graduate attributes.
Learning Outcomes

Students who successfully complete the paper will:

  • Outline what is distinctive about religious language and thought
  • Describe the various aims of religion
  • Describe and evaluate the sources from which devotees draw their claims to knowledge
  • Evaluate those (assumed) sources of religious knowledge

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Semester 2

Teaching method
This paper is taught On Campus
Learning management system


Stream Days Times Weeks
A1 Monday 13:00-13:50 28-34, 36-41
Wednesday 13:00-13:50 28-34, 36-41
Friday 13:00-13:50 29-34, 36-41