Sunday, May 30, 2010

Monday Guest Speaker

This upcoming Monday lecture we will have a visiting speaker from the SFU Sceptics Club. The subject of the talk will be (to use the language of The Da Vinci Code) the anti-God propaganda campaign the Club is currently running on campus. There will some time for question & answer as well.

The Club website is at

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Example of Dialectical Attitude to Religion

I came across this delightful example of the dialectical spirit in action vis-à-vis religion. Magician Penn Jillette, an Atheist, describes in the clip (from his blog) an encounter he had with a Christian at a 'Penn & Teller' show.

The dialectical result presented in the clip is not agreement, or conversion, but respect & understanding--and these are glory enough compared to the malevolence and antogonism common in polemics.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Five Per-Cent Punctuality Bonus

"Punctuality is the stern virtue of men of business, and the graceful courtesy of princes."
Edward G. Bulwer-Lytton

Punctuality is that nearly-unique quality which is both an essential attribute of a moral being and a do-or-die necessity in professional life. To help develop, and emphasise the importance of, punctuality, a five percent grade bonus will be given for punctuality and attendance at lecture, as measured by the Lecturer.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Lecture Slides

UPDATE: terminally easy-going, the Lecturer is now posting lecture slides periodically. Fair warning however: this is some making a rod for their own backs ....
Lecture slides are useful for review, but no substitute for faithful attendance to lecture and proper note-taking technique.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Course Website FAQ

Here are FAQ about the course website.
  • The 5 most recent posts are displayed on the main page.
  • A permanent link list, entitled "Pertinent & Impertinent" is always visible on the sidebar of the course website, containing direct links to crucial information.
  • Also on the sidebar, always visible, is the "Blog Archive" displaying direct links to all posts on the course website.
  • The "Blog Archive" has sections for years 2009 and 2007 in addition to 2010. Links for our Summer 2010 course are under the "2010" section. The 2007 and 2009 archive is for previous iterations of the course which may, or may not, be interesting for you.
  • An "Older Posts" hotlink is always visible at the bottom of the main page which displays the next 5 most recent posts.
  • Certain PowerPoint lecture slides are occasionally posted on the course website.

Course Syllabus

Course Syllabus & Information
Be up-to-date with the following reading schedule and you will be ahead of lecture.
Nb 1.] This is a schedule for student readings; not a schedule of lecture material.
Nb 2.] Lecture is not a Procrustean bed : week by week, lecture will follow the developing class interests and course dynamic; all material will, sublimely, be covered by course end.

Reading Schedule

Week 1: Brown, The da Vinci Code
Week 2: Brown, The da Vinci Code
Week 3: Assigned Essays #1: Grayling & Wilson.
Week 4: Rice, The Road to Cana
Week 5: Rice, The Road to Cana
Week 6: Coupland, Hey Nostradamus!
Week 7: Coupland, Hey Nostradamus!
Week 8: Assigned Essays #2: Wilson & Chesterton
Week 9: Waid & Ross, Kingdom Come
Week 10: Waid & Ross, Kingdom Come
Week 11: Assigned Essays #3: Dawkins & Eagleton
Week 12: Ali, Brick Lane
Week 13: Ali, Brick Lane

Assignment Deadlines.
Nb: There is a ten percent per day late penalty for all assignments, documented medical or bereavement leave excepted. For medical exemptions, provide a letter from a physician on letterhead which declares his or her medical judgement that illness or injury prevented work on the essay. The letter must cover the entire period over which the assignment was scheduled and may be verified by telephone. For any matter effecting deadlines, consult with the TA in person and before the assignment period.

Schedule of Assignment Due Dates.
(Assignments coded by colour. See separate assignment posts for details.)

May 17th or 19th, Group Project members set: in tutorial.
May 31st or June 2nd, Group Project proposal due: in tutorial.
June 9th, Mid-Term Essay topics posted.
June 23rd, Mid-Term Essay due: in lecture.
July 7th Mid-Term Essay returned graded: in lecture.
July 21st Mid Term Revision due: in lecture.
Aug 4th, Mid-Term Revision returned graded: in lecture.
Aug 9th or 11th, Group Project due: in tutorial.
August 17th, Final Examination, Tuesday 3:30-6:30 am, Room TBA.

Nb: “Participation (10% of course grade) requires participation, and punctuality in seminar and punctual attendance at lecture."

Instructor Contact:
Office Hours: AQ 6094 -- Monday 1:30-3:00. E-mail to 778-782-5820

Course Approach:

"[Neither Christianity nor Atheism but] an equally ancient faith .... rooted in the Socratic dialogues. It is the faith that human beings, reasoning together in a disciplined way, are capable of reaching shared understandings that are not merely intelligent, but also practicable and spiritually uplifting. This form of rationalism uses both rigorous scholarship and discursive analysis, i.e. dialectic, to seek out the conceptual basis for action. This rationalism was bequeathed to the world by Socrates himself, and has been reaffirmed by the greatest modern thinkers. My faith is that the deepest magic of our civilisation has arisen from Socratic rationalism, and that this can happen again now.
Socratic rationalism holds that most people are capable are capable of seeing the highest truths and of acting well when they do."
Bruce K. Alexander, The Globalisation of Addiction: A Study in Poverty of the Spirit. Oxford University Press, 2009.

Course E-Mail Netiquette

Here are the points of e-mail protocol for our course :

  1. E-mail (indeed, all communication) between Lecturer and student, and TA and student, is a formal and professional exchange. Accordingly, proper salutation and closing is essential.
  2. Business e-mail is courteous but, of professional necessity, concise and direct. It rejects roundabout or ornate language, informal diction, and any appearance of what is termed in the vernacular, 'chat.'
  3. Customary response time for student e-mail to the Course Lecturer or TAs is two to three office days. E-mail on weekends will ordinarily be read the Monday following.
  4. Use only your SFU account for e-mail to the course Lecturer. All other e-mail is blocked by whitelist.
In general, Course e-mail is for matters of Course administration solely. It is not an alternative to, nor substitute for, Office Hours or Tutorial. All questions about understanding of lecture material, course reading, assignment criteria, and deadlines are reserved for Tutorial and Office Hours.

Missed classes and deadlines are not to be reported by e-mail: if a medical or bereavement exception is being claimed, the supporting documentation is handed in, along with the completed assignment, either in person or to the Instructor's mailbox outside the Department Office.

How to Write Proposals for Creative Assignments

Proposals for Creative Assignments can be helpfully constructed as failure standards. Failure standards are a real-world use of the falsification concept from experimental science, where a theory becomes ranked as scientific only when it is capable of being falsified in a replicable experiment.

So, for your assignment proposals, if you chose to adopt this valuable format, you would list (in either essay or point form) the full set of criteria by which your project can be gauged to have failed. for example "Our project will have failed if:"
  • the project does not advance an academic thesis.
  • the project does not have [some measurable degree of] quality
  • the project does not identifiably incorporate material from relevent scholarship
  • the project fails to relate directly to some number of the primary course texts
  • the project fails to represent and demonstrate advanced understanding of the central ideas of the course
  • &c, &c.
This effectively prevents creativity from being substituted by open license.

Additionally, proposals are accompanied by a concise justification of the academic validity of the project being proposed.

An effective proposal describes (nb. look up the etymology of this word in the OED) three components of a project:
  1. Area
  2. Range
  3. Structure
The Area is the specific subject of your project: e-mail writing, for instance. Range delimits the specific aspect of your subject: courtesy and professional manner in e-mail, say. And Structure outlines the manner in which the project will formed.

Two pages is a reasonable length for a proposal of this type, four pages at most.

Group Polemical Project Criteria

The group project will consist of a polemical engagement with the topic of Religion in Culture. Use the understanding of "polemical" given in the opening lecture.

Your project will use some written or creative form (a blog, a filmed presentation, a pamphlet or squib, etc.) to make a polemical statement either for or against Religion (or, perhaps, taking both sides.)

Look through popular culture for examples: some of the recent anti-God movies; atheist publicity stunts; Christian rock groups; and much more beside are good sources of ideas.

  1. Groups of five or six will be set in tutorial on course week two.
  2. A written proposal, two pages maximum, is due in tutorial course week four: May 31st or amp; June 2nd.
  3. Information on how to write a proper proposal is available on the course website, at this address.
  4. Project grading will include the amount of effort put into the project. This is expected to be 20% of the course effort multiplied by the number of members in the group.
  5. The project is due in tutorial the August 9th or 11th.

Course Outline

[Writing Intensive]
Religion: The Prose and Cons

“Quarter of Canadians don't believe in any god, poll says” trumpets a recent headline in that vendor of popular culture, the Toronto Globe and Mail. The inverse, of course, is equally true, yet the headline was not written to show that “Three-Quarter of Canadians believe in a God, poll says!” Newspapers, rather like Mary Poppins, fly the way the wind is blowing, and the negative emphasis in the actual headline indicates that the present cultural climate is experiencing gusts of hot air in an anti-God direction. And this is indeed the case, with a canny crowd of Atheistical writers making small fortunes in the capitalist marketplace from a Being in Whom they disbelieve. Though true, irony this perverse is too implausible for fiction, as this course will demonstrate, using a selection of contemporary novels which have, each in their different way, effected a change in the cultural configuration of religion. At the level of mass fiction, books by two bestselling authors, The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown and The Road to Cana by Anne Rice, represent opposing stances on Christianity. At a higher literary level, Douglas Coupland’s Hey Nostradamus! revisions evangelical Protestantism using the Lower Mainland as its setting, while Monica Ali’s transgressive Brick Lane bravely and beautifully portrays matriarchy and a Muslim immigrant community in present-day London. And the extended comic book, or graphic novel, Kingdom Come frames modern culture and the superhero cultus within the Biblical Apocrypha. A selection of short online essays dealing with religion -for and against - at the cultural level will be made available both to contextualise the course novels and improve your own religious arguments and understanding.

Coupland, Douglas: Hey Nostradamus!
Rice, Anne: Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana
Waid, Mark: Kingdom Come
Brown, Dan: The Da Vinci Code
Ali, Monica: Brick Lane
Prose Essays: Online and reserved selection.

10% Productive participation
20% Mid-term essay (2000 words)
15% Mid-term essay revision
20% Group polemical project
35% Final examination

To receive credit for this course you must complete all requirements.

Assigned Essays

Here are the three pairs of polemical essays on the reading list scheduled on the course Syllabus.
  1. A.C. Grayling: "The Empty Name of God" —vs— A.N. Wilson: "Why I Believe Again."
  2. Edward O. Wilson: "Intelligent Evolution" —vs— G.K. Chesterton: "The Man in the Cave."
  3. Richard Dawkins: "Atheists for Jesus" —vs— Terry Eagleton: "Lunging, Flailing, Mispunching."

Background articles for "The da Vinci Code"

  • Ron Howard: Vatican obstructed 'Angels & Demons'. [] "Director Ron Howard claimed Sunday that the Vatican interfered with efforts to get permits to shoot certain scenes of his "Angels & Demons" religious thriller in Rome — a charge the Vatican said was purely a publicity stunt."
  • Catholics attack Dan Brown film Angels and Demons. [Telegraph] "Catholic leaders have attacked the film sequel to The Da Vinci Code for its "gratuitously outlandish" portrayal of the Church."
  • Christopher Hitchens. "Mommie Dearest: The pope beatifies Mother Teresa, a fanatic, a fundamentalist, and a fraud."
  • The Da Vinci Code, the Catholic Church and Opus Dei. "Many people are intrigued by the claims about Christian history and theology presented in The Da Vinci Code. We would like to remind them that The Da Vinci Code is a work of fiction, and it is not a reliable source of information on these matters. "

Monday, May 10, 2010

Course Years Divider

Posts above this are for English 101W in Summer 2010.

Post below this point are from previous iterations of this course. They may, or may not, be useful to you.