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Philosophy and Religious Studies

Department Newsletter



Fall 2017

From the Chair - Dr. Matt Altman

This fall marks the appearance of something that has been twenty years in the making: the Religious Studies major! Some of you may be thinking, “We already had a Religious Studies major, you idiot.” Actually, that’s not true. For nearly forty years, the department only offered a Philosophy major. In the late 1990s, however, as a result primarily of efforts by Rae Heimbeck, the department formed a Philosophy major with a Religious Studies specialization. There were reasons why they didn’t propose a Religious Studies major then, having to do with the size of the department and the resulting need for a shared core, and related issues having to do with the need for approval by the Higher Education Coordinating (HEC) Board.
Last year, the department proposed a standalone major. Proposing it as a specialization may have been the only viable option in the 1990s, but the fact is that Religious Studies is not a focus within philosophy. It is its own discipline with its own history, subject matter, and methodologies. To have a shared core for the two majors required some contortions on our part, with expected options for students in Philosophy and different options for students in Religious Studies. The Registrar always got confused when students tried to specialize in Religious Studies and minor in Philosophy. After all, how could someone major in Philosophy and minor in Philosophy? You should have seen their heads spin when someone actually sought to major in both.
Together we constructed a Religious Studies major that reflects the discipline more accurately and is not tied to the Philosophy requirements. Making that change gave us the flexibility to make some changes to the Philosophy major, too. We have dedicated Religious Studies faculty – two tenured/tenure-track (Dippmann and Vuong), and two non-tenure-track (Turcotte and Hundley) – who can support the major with a broad range of courses. This is an exciting year for the department and for our students. Starting this quarter, students at Central are finally able to major in Religious Studies. Hooray!


Surviving Death Row: Exonerees Tell Their Story

If you didn’t get a chance to attend our event on October 3, it was a rousing success! “Surviving Death Row: Exonerees Tell Their Story” was an opportunity for us to invite two death row exonerees to talk about their experiences being sentenced to death row, waiting in prison for execution, being exonerated years later, and how they moved on from this upheaving event. Both stories from Sabrina Butler-Smith and Randal Padgett were deeply moving and revealed personal tragedy in a system most of us never have the need to question.
Our event took place in the SURC Theater, as the department colloquium for the fall quarter. We were very fortunate to have an outstanding turnout, and shortly before starting, SURC staff had to lock the doors because we had met the maximum occupancy of 315 people. Wow!
Stefanie Anderson, communications director at Witness to Innocence, introduced the two guest speakers by explaining about what Witness to Innocence does and showing a short clip (below). Witness to Innocence is a national organization which works to eliminate the death penalty in America and to empower death row exonerees, who may not qualify for reentry services or compensation.
A fantastic write-up of Butler-Smith and Padgett’s stories can be found over at the Daily Record, at this link:





Hey, Faculty...

Tell us about your research!

Dr. Lily Vuong
I’m completing a new translation and commentary of the Greek Protevangelium of James with Polebridge Press (Early Christian Apocrypha Series). This text dates to the second century CE and offers important insights into the role of the Virgin Mary and the development of early Christianity.

Dr. Michael Hundley
I am currently working on a book that explores conceptions of the divine and the interaction between human and divine outside of the normal temple channels in the Bible and the ancient Near East (ANE). Part 1 asks: what is a god in the various ANE regions, what is the relationship between divine beings, and how do they interact with humanity outside of the temple context? Part 2 turns to the Bible (particularly the non-Priestly Pentateuch), asking: what is a god; what is the relationship between Yahweh and lesser supernatural beings like angels, sons of God, and cherubim; and how does the divine world communicate with humanity?

Dr. Cynthia Coe
My current research concerns how our sense of who is morally considerable is shaped, and how it can be re-shaped.  I’m presenting a paper on James Baldwin and Emmanuel Levinas at the Society for Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy (the largest conference for Continental philosophy in North America) in October, and I will be giving a separate talk on this topic as part of the CAH Speakers Series in January.


Winter 2017 Course Schedule



PHIL 101 - Philosophical Inquiry
PHIL 104 - Moral Controversies
PHIL 150 - Critical Thinking
PHIL 302 - Ethical Theory
PHIL 325 - Women and Philosophy
PHIL 347 - Philosophy of Law
PHIL 353 - Early Modern Philosophy


RELS 101 - World Religions
RELS 352 - Religions of India
RELS 410 - Legacy of the Hebrew Bible



Dr. Jeffrey Dippmann
I am currently exploring an in-depth analysis of Soul Mountain {Lingshan} (1990) by Nobel Prize winner Gao Xingjian in which I argue that the external “soul mountain” may represent the interior journey of Gao to discover his true immortal self, often depicted as a mountain in Daoist iconography and imagery. Drawing upon both internal evidence and Gao’s artwork, I trace the ways in which the Chinese word routinely translated as “soul” is best understood as “spirit” or “authentic self.” A secondary analysis compares Soul Mountain to the American classic Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (1974).

Dr. Michael Fletcher
I’ve been working on a Buddhism paper during the summer. I’m generally interested in the metaphysics of persons, and in investigating theoretical and practical coherence issues between Buddhist No-Self reductionism on the one hand and Buddhist ethics on the other.

Dr. Michael Goerger
My current research project examines the interaction between digital game narratives and elements of game design in order to discern how this interaction impacts and shapes the values expressed by a digital game. This project seeks to bring into contact two opposing camps in game studies (narratology and ludology) and to provide a better analysis of the morality of violent and/or sexually explicit digital content.

Dr. Matthew Altman
Right now I am finalizing a chapter for the Bloomsbury Companion to Fichte on Fichte’s Vocation of Man. The book is unusual because it seems to reject idealism and propose realism as an alternative, a claim that is directly contrary to Fichte’s earlier work. I argue that Fichte is establishing the existence of the real world on practical grounds. For our moral vocation to make sense, we must not only freely determine our actions, but those actions must also be causally effective. Thus the mind-independent world functions as a practical postulate, not as an object of theoretical cognition. This is consistent with Fichte’s early work and the spirit of Kant’s critical philosophy.

Dr. Gary Bartlett
This summer I began a new line of research concerning children and epistemic injustice. This is the injustice of systematically not having one’s assertions believed, due to a prejudice against a group of which one is a member. Recently, several philosophers have argued that there is epistemic injustice against children. I presented some of my initial work on this topic at a conference in Chicago in June.


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