Introductory Seminars for First-Year Students

The Meaning of Life: Philosophical, Aesthetic, and Religious Perspectives

Please note: RELIGST 11N will meet Online Synchronously in Autumn Quarter.

The goal of the course is to challenge the students and the professor through readings and discussions that raise ultimate questions that can get lost in the details of a liberal arts education: Is there such a thing as "the" meaning of life? What is involved in making personal/existential sense of one's own life? What constitutes the good life, lived in society? How can a university education bear upon the search for a meaningful life? What "methods" for, or approaches to, life can one learn from studies in the humanities? This class will be successful if the students and professor decide to examine their own lives. After introductory lectures, we will study a series of paintings and texts drawn from fiction, philosophy, poetry, and politics, all of which bear on our core questions. Possible works include: Monet's Still Life (1862); van Gogh's late Irises (1889); Manet's A Bar at the Folies-Bergère; T.S. Eliot's The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, The Waste Land, and East Coker; Edwin Muir's The Heart Could Never Speak; Philip Larkin's Days; The Allegory of the Cave from Plato's Republic; and Martin Heidegger's What is Metaphysics; Jean Paul Sartre's Nausea; Karl Marx's Paris Manuscripts of 1844; and Ingmar Bergman's classic film, The Seventh Seal.

Students should be interested in unanswered, perhaps unanswerable, questions about oneself, about social life, and about the world at large. In addition, students should have a willingness to investigate, challenge, change, and/or accept the major paradigms that govern one's life; a desire to search for the "radical," i.e., the roots of one's personal and social institutions; and finally, good will and a sense of humor. 


Meet the Instructor(s)

Thomas Sheehan

Thomas Sheehan, professor of religious studies at Stanford and professor emeritus of philosophy (Loyola University Chicago), specializes in modern and post-modern European philosophy and its relation to religious questions. Before joining the Stanford faculty in 1999, he taught in New York, Rome, and Chicago. His publications include: Heidegger: Logic, the Question of Truth (2010, ed. and trans.); Becoming Heidegger (2007), Edmund Husserl: Psychological and Transcendental Phenomenology and the Confrontation with Heidegger (1997); Karl Rahner: The Philosophical Foundations (1987); The First Coming: How the Kingdom of God Became Christianity (1986); Heidegger, the Man and the Thinker(1981); and many articles on philosophy and religion.