METAPHILOSOPHY and RELIGIOUS STUDIES CAPSTONE                             Spring 2012

Dr. Christine A. James


20898 PHIL 4920 A Metaphilosophy   MWF 12:00-12:50pm  WH 104 

20912 REL 4920 A Religious Studies Capstone MWF 12:00-12:50pm  WH 104 


This syllabus is available online, and may be updated, at


Office: 102 Georgia Avenue, the white house two doors down from the corner of Georgia and Patterson

Office Hours: MTWR 3:30pm-4:45pm and after classes and by appointment as needed.

Telephone:  259-7609 

Mailbox:  Philosophy Department Office

Fax:  259-5011

E-mail address:


Course content: A capstone course taught in a seminar setting, emphasizing individual research projects on selected themes, presented by students to their peers and to the philosophy and religious studies faculty.  This is a reading, research and writing intensive course, so it will require you to read, think about, and write about a considerable amount of material. The most important aspect of the course is that it involves independent research leading up to a publishable quality research paper and a set of presentations during the semester.  The class does not involve lecture, rather we will engage in seminar style critique of everyone’s oral and written work as you would in a graduate program.


Requirements:  Class participation; a listing of journals you will research; summary précis of three articles you will use; a written report of secondary literature cited in those articles; a long presentation in class; a short presentation to the faculty; attendance at all presentations; and the final paper.


Recommended Texts:


Sample articles from Dialogue, by undergraduates, from the Phi Sigma Tau honor society.


Listing of academic journals to which our library provides full text access. Secondary source material from academic journal articles is always a good idea in any paper.  Here are two links where you can begin to look for interesting journal articles:  (click on “Full Text Journal Title List”) and

The direct link for the database (Academic Search Complete)  (Click on Academic Search Complete to open the first page with the search box.)


Required Texts:

Philosophy Student Writer's Manual, by Anthony J. Graybosch, Gregory M. Scott, Stephen M. Garrison, Prentice Hall, 013099166X

A Guide To Writing Academic Essays in Religious Studies, by Scott G. Brown, Continuum International Publishing Group, 0826498876


Merely Recommended Texts:


Getting What You Came For by Robert Peters, Noonday Press, 0374524777, a text which includes chapters on writing major research papers, and on how to succeed in graduate school.


The University Gets Religion: Religious Studies in American Higher Education, D. G. Hart, Johns Hopkins University Press, 080187100X


History of Philosophy (Harper Collins College Outline Series), or The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy by Robert Audi (Editor), 0521637228


Imag(in)ing Otherness: Filmic Visions of Living Together, by S. Brent Plate (Editor), David Jasper (Editor), American Academy of Religion Press, 0788505939


Philosophy Made Simple by Richard H. Popkin, Avrum Stroll, Paperback: 336 pages, Publisher: Made Simple; 2nd Rev edition (July 1, 1993), ISBN: 0385425333, or


The Craft of Religious Studies by Jon R. Stone (Editor), Palgrave Macmillan, 0312238878           



In accordance with the revised learning outcomes for the Core Curriculum of the Georgia State System, and the VSU Core Curriculum, our course follows the Area C Learning Outcome:

"Students will analyze, evaluate, and interpret diverse forms of human communication."

We are also following the learning outcomes of the major, which are:

PHIL concentration:

1. Explain and analyze central issues, topics, and philosophers in the history of philosophy, from the ancient to the modern periods.
2. Write and speak critically and logically, applying various theories to specific cases and examples.
3. Explain their own value system, evaluating their values in the context of a diverse range of ideas that inform contemporary controversies and social conflict.
4. Create independent philosophical research, synthesizing a variety of sources, including traditional primary philosophical texts and secondary source commentaries.
5. Demonstrate a working familiarity with current research methods, citation styles, and presentation techniques.

REL concentration:

1. Explain and interpret the world’s religious traditions and their influence on values, norms, and public policies.
2. Apply critical and analytical skills in analyzing multiple religious perspectives.
3. Identify and evaluate their self-understanding in the context of diverse ideas that inform contemporary controversies and social conflict.
4. Create independent research, synthesizing sources including sacred texts, religious autobiographies, and other secondary sources.
5. Demonstrate a working familiarity with current research methods, citation styles, and presentation techniques.

Be sure to do work before the class for which it is assigned in the schedule below, be sure to turn in copies of your work via Blazeview at least one week before your assigned dates so that all the other students in the class for critique and comments. The course is a writing practicum, so you are all being graded on your own work as well as your comments to your fellow students on their work. Please bring the relevant book(s) and/or article(s) with you to class, along with a designated notebook and some pens.


In addition, Philosophy and Religious Studies faculty encourage you to use Andrea A. Lunsford, St. Martin’s Handbook, 5th ed. (required in ENGL 1101 and 1102). These books are available for purchase at the VSU Bookstore. The St. Martin’s Handbook is shelved under ENLG 1101 and 1102.


How grades will be calculated:


A          = 100 - 90%                              Class participation, attendance = 15%

B          = 89 - 80%                                Undergraduate Paper Analysis = 5%

C          = 79 - 70%                                2 Research Assignments (Academic Journals and Précis) at 10% each = 20%

D          = 69 - 60%                                2 Presentations (Long, then Short with PowerPoint) at 20% each = 40%

F          = 59 - 0%                                  1 Final Paper Presentation with PPT = 20%

                                                            Total = 100%


Please note that I am not obligated to accept late work or to allow “make up” work after the date an assignment or exam or paper is completed by the other members of the class.

I also make no promises about extra credit items, although I will routinely announce events on campus that can result in some extra credit points for you.


Exams and Papers: The research paper will have a short and long version, double spaced, in a standard 12 point font like Times/ Times New Roman.  Expect to use primary and secondary texts and cite with a consistent citation scheme (refer to the St. Martin’s Handbook you use in your English classes).  “Use direct quotes!” (James 2011) Don’t use plastic paper covers, just a staple is fine.  The ability to write and edit well-constructed academic essays is an important skill that will come in handy throughout your college career and beyond. Again, these papers must be typed, double-spaced, in a standard 12-point font (e.g., Times) with one-inch margins at the top and bottom of each page and 1.25-inch margins on either side (the default settings in Microsoft Word). More specific topics are given out as we do the readings, and I always mention things that would make a good paper topic during our class meetings and discussions.


Attendance Policy: I do care that you attend class regularly.  As you know, VSU policy is that missing 20% of class meetings results in an automatic grade of “F”.  Faculty can also institute added attendance policies in their syllabi. Our class will have a 10% rule for absences.  You can miss up to 10% of the class meetings with no grade penalty.  10% of our 30 class meetings is 3.  On absence number 4, your final grade for the course will be reduced by one whole letter grade; on absence number 5, your final grade for the course will be reduced by two whole letter grades; on absence number 6, you will automatically fail the course.  Be considerate of your fellow students – don’t be late, and don’t leave your cell phones and pagers on.  Note that if you are regularly late to class, or leave class early, I will begin to count each as an absence.  Please note that this policy makes no distinction between excused and unexcused absences.


Special Needs:

Students requiring classroom accommodations or modification because of a documented disability should discuss this need with me at the beginning of the semester.  Students requesting classroom accommodations or modifications because of a documented disability must contact the Access Office for Students with Disabilities located in Farber Hall. The phone numbers are 245-2498 (voice) and 219-1348 (tty).

LEARNING OUTCOMES: By the end of the semester,

1. You will be able to understand the distinctions among the various sub-fields of philosophy and religious studies, including epistemology, metaphysics, and ethics as comprising basic branches of the discipline.

2. You will be able to recognize how philosophical inquiry and religious studies scholarship applies to ‘real-world’ circumstances and to individual reflection on the meaning of life.

3. You will become conversant with the history of philosophy and religious studies as academic disciplines. 

4. You will be able to recognize and define different world views, adopting a reasonably viable one and justifying it in a philosophically informed way that emphasizes critical reasoning and argument.

5.  You will be able to demonstrate the ability to discuss, in both oral and written discourse, the philosophical and religious issues explored in the course.

6.  You will be familiar with what academic philosophy and religious studies is, and you will understand how it can be applied to daily life as well as specific careers.

Members of the faculty in Philosophy and Religious Studies have verified that these outcomes are in line with the outcomes of the course as it is taught at peer institutions in the State System of Georgia.



Once you arrive at class, make an effort to get involved in the conversation. Don’t hesitate to ask questions if you need clarification or would like more information: if you are confused, it is likely that others are too! The participation percentage you receive will depend on a variety of factors, including (but not limited to) the frequency and helpfulness of your contributions to class discussions and the care you take when peer editing.


Pop Reading Quizzes:

If there are many students who are not participating, I may periodically administer reading quizzes in class. These will not be announced in advance. No “make-up” quizzes will be given, and a missed quiz will result in a grade of zero.  These quizzes are a solid reward for attending class, participating, and keeping up with the readings.


Online Discussions:

During certain weeks of the semester, you also will be expected to participate regularly in on-line discussions using WebCT Vista. Use this opportunity to comment on the week’s readings, ask questions, raise objections, and respond to what others have written or said in class.


To use Vista, you will need access to a computer with an internet connection. Your computer and its software will also need to meet certain technical specifications. You are solely responsible for all technical matters. Although you do not need to be on campus in order to access Vista, it is worth remembering that computer labs are available at VSU. For technical help, please contact the VSU Help Desk (located in Odum Library, to the left of the Circulation Desk) at 229-245-4357 or by e-mail at


To log in to Vista and the course “shell,” go to the VSU homepage and click on the words WebCT Vista in the upper right-hand corner. Your username and password are the same as for your BlazeNet e-mail account. For instructions on getting started, go to: and the help pages at


When posting in an online bulletin board, like those in the Discussion area of WebCT Vista, you must (1) post at least one original message of your own, (2) read all the messages posted by others, and (3) respond substantively to at least one message from another student. Your postings are due the same day as the readings are listed in the schedule below (i.e., no later than 11:59 p.m. on the relevant dates.)


Your first message on a given topic should be about 200 words in length. That is roughly the length of two medium-sized paragraphs (e.g., this one and the next). Your second (response) posting can be about half that length, but it should be substantive (i.e., involving serious content). Try not to simply repeat what others have said already. Additional postings can be as long or as short as you desire. Be sure to give the first message an interesting title in the “Subject” line. This will help alert the rest of us as to what it will be about.


When you are ready to respond to someone else, do so by opening their message and hitting the “Reply” button. This will create a “thread” that others can add on to. Keep in mind that although it is fine to disagree with what someone else has said, it is important to do so in a way that is polite and constructive. If someone says something that makes you angry, pause and take a breath before firing off a reply! You can preview your message before you send it, but once you have hit “Post,” your message will no longer be editable.


Vista allows me to keep track of how many messages you have read and posted. I will monitor student activity and may from time to time add a message of my own.


Academic Honesty:

Members of the Valdosta State University faculty value honesty and integrity extremely highly and do not tolerate cheating of any kind. Anyone caught cheating will automatically fail the course. Cheating includes – but is not limited to – plagiarism, giving or receiving assistance on a quiz, having someone else do work on your behalf, doing work on someone else’s behalf, and working with a partner or in a group on an individual assignment. By enrolling in this course, you are in effect promising to maintain the bond of trust on which the professor-student relationship is based.                                                             



VSU policy mandates that all official communication by e-mail take place through VSU e-mail accounts or through the WebCT Vista Mail tool.  Please check your VSU ( e-mail account regularly.


Note: This syllabus is not a legal contract; the content of this course is subject to revision by the professor.





1/9 M

Introduction to the class                                                

What is Philosophy and Religious Studies?  Do Philosophy and Religious Studies majors get jobs related to that major?  Here are two pages to answer that:

1/11 W

Discuss the sections of A Guide To Writing Academic Essays in Religious Studies, Philosophy Student Writer's Manual, and Getting What You Came For on doing literature reviews before writing research papers.

1/13 F

Review papers from previous Capstones, and the Phi Sigma Tau journal Dialogue

Tips for Writing a Précis

(Michael Holt from the VSU library will visit either today or 1/18)

1/16 M

No Classes, MLK Jr Day!

1/18 W

Papers by other undergraduates, and the Phi Sigma Tau journal Dialogue

1/20 F

Undergraduate Paper Analysis (short presentations giving synopsis by every class member.)

In your report, you must answer the following:

Summarize the argument of the author.

How do they discuss positions other than their own?

What sources were used?

Consider the journal articles they found and cited.

What search terms might have helped them to find these articles?

Did you find these articles as well by searching in Academic Search Complete/JStor?

REMEMBER: All students presenting on a given date must have turned in their work via Blazeview at least one week ahead of their scheduled presentation date. Students listed below must have turned in work by Friday, January 13.

Students 1. Miriam Watkins , 2. Angelique Witmer , 3. Joseph Colson, 4. Matthew Stephenson , 5. Drew Leamon A. Smith

1/23 M Undergraduate Paper Analysis second set of students:
6. Cole Singletary , 7. Alex Lawhorne , 8. Chelsea Musk , 9. Dave Durden , 10. James Shiflett

1/25 W

Undergraduate Paper Analysis third set of students:

11. Pamela Johnson , 12. Sharonda James , 13.  Charles Pavey, 14.  Holli Wadsworth, 15. Matthew Chapman 

1/27 F Undergraduate Paper Analysis fourth set of students:
16.  David Auguste, 17. Ronnie Averett , 18. Stephanie Barron, 19.  Josh Grubb, 20. 
William Jack Fulford , 21. Dustin Tyrell Daniel , 22.  Kelly Strickland, 23. Derrick Henderson

1/30 M

Due today: Academic Journals (Please note that an academic journal is not a “journal” you might write in a class – it’s like a magazine, with multiple volumes, ie., the Journal of Philosophy, Journal of Religious Studies, Lingua Franca, etc.)  Remember to post your work in the Discussion area of Blazeview a week before your name  appears. On the date with your name, present the class with a written account of three academic journals from the links above that you believe you will use for your general topic.  Provide a short summary of the journal’s emphasis or political focus (this means who is on the editorial board, what universities are they from, is the journal religiously affiliated or from a major university press, and so on) and whether you agree or disagree with the journal’s perspective.  Note, this is about the journal itself, in multiple volumes, not the particular article in the journal you want to use. (However, it is a good idea to just mention your general topic that you have been searching, and the title of the article that you found in each journal.)  The presentation of articles will begin on 2/8. 

Students 1. Miriam Watkins , 2. Angelique Witmer , 3. Joseph Colson , 4. Matthew Stephenson, 5. Drew Leamon A. Smith  

2/1 W

Journals –second set of students

 6. Cole Singletary , 7. Alex Lawhorne , 8. Chelsea Musk  , 9. Dave Durden , 10.  James Shiflett

2/3 F Journals –third set of students:
11. Pamela Johnson , 12. Sharonda James , 13.  Charles Pavey, 14. Holli Wadsworth , 15. Matthew Chapman
2/6 M Journals –fourth set of students:
16. David Auguste , 17. Ronnie Averett , 18. Stephanie Barron, 19.  Josh Grubb, 20. 
William Jack Fulford , 21. Dustin Tyrell Daniel , 22. Kelly Strickland, 23. Derrick Henderson

2/8 W

Due today: Articles Remember, articles are the items that appear in each issue of a journal.  You need to find three articles that you can use for your research paper and present them to the class. Remember to post your work in the Discussion area of Blazeview a week before your name appears. On your name day, present a summary précis of three articles that you believe you can use. Give full bibliographic information and the central issue debated and the position the author took on the debate.  All total, this should only take two sides of a sheet of paper, or two pages per article at most.  Include discussion of the secondary sources cited at the end of the journal articles you have chosen, because locating your own opinion within the academic debate is VERY important for your long paper.  Discuss potential debates between the authors, and where you see your own work located in that debate. 





Former student Shaun Galloway suggests this page for help with writing précis:  


1. Miriam Watkins , 2. Angelique Witmer ,

2/10 F

3. Joseph Colson , 4.  Matthew Stephenson,

2/13 M

5. Drew Leamon A. Smith  , 6.  Cole Singletary,

2/15 W

7. Alex Lawhorne , 8.  Chelsea Musk ,

2/17 F

9.  Dave Durden, 10.  James Shiflett

2/20 M

11. Pamela Johnson , 12. Sharonda James ,

2/22 W

13.  Charles Pavey, 14. Holli Wadsworth ,

2/24 F

15. Matthew Chapman , 16. David Auguste, 17. Ronnie Averett ,

2/27 M

18. Stephanie Barron, 19. Josh Grubb , 20.William Jack Fulford ,

2/29 W  21. Dustin Tyrell Daniel , 22. Kelly Strickland, 23. Derrick Henderson
3/2 F

Today, the first two students will read their long paper version in front of the class.  The paper should be read in approximately 20 minutes, and should be approximately 18 pages long.  REMEMBER you must have posted the paper in the Discussion area of Blazeview at least one week before your reading date listed below.


It is strongly recommended that everyone have a long paper draft completed by this date. If you would like Dr. James to read over your rough draft, you MUST bring it to her by 3/2.


******You can also choose to invite faculty members to these longer in-class presentations.  If you would like to have faculty present at the longer presentation, I recommend that you have all powerpoints, handouts and everything including the paper itself completed well before your long presentation date.******


1. Miriam Watkins , 2. Angelique Witmer ,


Note Again Please: Whether your long paper reading date is early or late, 3/2 is the due date for Rough Drafts of your long paper to be given to Dr. James, if you want her assistance with your draft before you present it in its final form.

3/5 M 3. Joseph Colson , 4. Matthew Stephenson ,
3/7 W 5. Drew Leamon A. Smith  , 6. Cole Singletary ,
3/9 F 7. Alex Lawhorne , 8.  Chelsea Musk ,


No class, Spring Break Week!

3/19 M

9.  Dave Durden, 10.  James Shiflett

3/21 W

11. Pamela Johnson , 12.  Sharonda James,

3/23 F

13. Charles Pavey , 14.  Holli Wadsworth,

3/26 M 15. Matthew Chapman , 16. David Auguste , 

3/28 W

17. Ronnie Averett , 18. Stephanie Barron ,

3/30 F

19. Josh Grubb , 20. William Jack Fulford,

4/2 M 21. Dustin Tyrell Daniel  , 22. Kelly Strickland

4/4 W

23. Derrick Henderson

4/6 F

Practice readings of short versions of the paper with PowerPoints (the edited version you will present to the faculty). Get ready for the faculty presentations! 

1. Miriam Watkins  , 2. Angelique Witmer ,

4/9 M

3. Joseph Colson , 4. Matthew Stephenson ,

4/11 W

5. Drew Leamon A. Smith  , 6. Cole Singletary ,
4/13 F 7. Alex Lawhorne (out of town presenting paper at Poli Sci conference) , 8. Chelsea Musk,

4/16 M

9. Dave Durden, 12. Sharonda James,

4/18 W

11.  Pamela Johnson, 13. Charles Pavey, 14. Holli Wadsworth,

4/20 F

15. Matthew Chapman, 16. David Auguste,

4/23 M 17. Ronnie Averett, 18. Stephanie Barron,
4/25 W 19. Josh Grubb, 20. William Jack Fulford

4/27 F

21.Dustin Tyrell Daniel  , 22. Kelly Strickland,  23. Derrick Henderson


4/30 Last Day Monday and 5/1 Dead Day Tuesday

On these dates we will have our formal Metaphilosophy and Religious Studies Capstone Colloquium, where you will present the shortened version of your long paper (15 minutes length, with powerpoint) in the New Student Union Meeting Room 1AandB on the third floor (above the Loop).  Your attendance is required for ALL sessions.






If you are not sure about how the final exam times are assigned for your other courses, use this link, and check the Final Exam Schedule on the Registration website:


Online Course Evaluations

Student evaluations are extremely important in helping faculty members plan and revise their courses.  Rather than completing these evaluations during class time, students will need to access evaluation forms via BANNER and complete them in a period during the last few weeks of class.  Please take the time to complete this important evaluation (or opt out of providing an evaluation) during the designated period.  If you do not do so, you will not be able to access the grade for this class, scheduled to be posted on the Monday after the final examination days. They will be in Banner under Answer a Survey.

At the end of the term, all students will be expected to complete an online Student Opinion of Instruction survey (SOI) that will be available on Banner (where you registered for classes). Students will receive an email notification through their VSU ( email address when the SOI is available (generally at least one week before the end of term.) SOI responses are anonymous to instructors/administrators. Instructors will be able to view only a summary of all responses two weeks after they have submitted final grades. While instructors will not be able to view individual responses or access any of the responses until after final grade submission, they will be able to see which students have or have not completed their SOIs, and student compliance may be considered in the determination of the final course grade. Some professors give extra credit for completing the SOI and some do not, please do not pressure any faculty member about giving extra credit - it's an individual instructor choice. These compliance and non-compliance reports will not be available once instructors are able to access the survey and a timetable for this term is available at



Tips for doing well in Philosophy classes, adapted from a handout by Robert Scott


1.  Read text with a pencil, underline the important ideas and key concepts. Write down technical ideas, key terms, key distinctions between two terms, definitions, diagrams, etc. to help you remember them.


2.  Write questions or reactions you have to the text in the margin of the book.  Ask about these questions in class, and keep them in mind, since they may provide good points to make about that author in papers you will write for class.


3.  Read ahead to see the ultimate objectives of the chapter and of the individual readings.  Keep in mind the overall picture of the chapters given in the introductory sections to each chapter in the book.


4.  Work with the new terminology frequently, and try to apply it to situations outside of class.  I would recommend flash cards to help you memorize the meanings of new terms quickly.


5.  For longer readings, be sure to review the reading as a whole after you have read it section-by-section.  What was the main question the author wanted to address? What were the answers? What concepts were used to make the points?


6.  When confronted with a difficult reading or question, break it down into parts, and into individual ideas.  This will at least help to clarify the question, even if it might not give the answer.  And for philosophy, clarifying the question is really half the battle!


7.  Ponder an unsolved problem and return to it every so often to see if it will give.  Inspiration may happen at an unexpected time, and the subconscious mind does work on problems even when we aren't consciously aware of it.


8.  Begin work on all the class tasks early, and spread out your work over time so as to maximize your chances for comprehending the readings accurately, memorizing the information, and grappling with the questions for papers.


9.  If you do need to meet with an instructor outside of class, be sure to have your questions for the instructor planned out ahead of time, to make the meeting as productive as possible.


10.  Always think about the philosophical issues for yourself, rather than waiting to be told what to think or believe.


11.  Study for all exams on a daily basis, for at least a week before the exam date. You will need to know who said what, from memory.


12.  Try to anticipate the questions that will be asked on an examination beforehand.  Questions may come from the readings or from lectures and class discussions, but in either case, certain terms and concepts will be emphasized more than others.


13.  Listen carefully to different points of view, and actively respond (when you read, when you are in class, and when you write your philosophy papers)!


14.  Philosophy involves skills, like learning to appreciate a good debate, learning to imagine the world differently than we assume it to be, and appreciating the world with a sense of wonder.


15. A really great website for students about how to write academic papers is maintained by the Dartmouth Writing Program:

It has special pages on "Writing the Religion Paper" and "Writing the Philosophy Paper."


16. A great website that explains the importance of critically evaluating web resources is maintained by Robert Harris: