Libs 201, Fall 2014

Exploring the Unknown

DRAFT ---- Subject to Change

Professor: Dr. Thomas Shaw, CH 54, 664-3181,
Other 201 cadre members: Wendy Ostroff, Debora Hammond, Janet Hess, and Eric McGuckin
Class Hours:  M 9:00-11:00; W9:00-12:00; F9:00-12:00 (and some Fridays, all day)
Office Hours:  Tuesdays, 10:45am-12:00pm

Course Description

This course is basically a course in epistemology.  Epistemological questions ask “How do we know what we know?" In other words, this class is an investigation of the meaning and limits of knowledge with respect to the nature of mind and reality.  These issues are pursued through several different but interrelated fields of study, including literature, art, philosophy, comparative religions and science.  This interdisciplinary,12-unit course considers the human "need to know" as fundamental, evolutionarily successful, and the basis of all human learning (including all Hutchins classes).

Course Objectives

1)  To explore the boundaries of knowledge, and experience unfamiliar worldviews directly.
2)  To understand the role of science in shaping the modern worldview; to explore the relationship between science and religion; to confront the limits of human knowledge.
3) To examine the historical, political, and psychological aspect of religion, within the context of an effort to understand that which we only know through faith.
4)To understand the significance of the spiritual impulse in changing personal perspectives, producing insight and meaning, and illuminating human endeavors. To consider human nature itself as something that is never completely defined, as part of the unknown.
5) To investigate the human impulse to create meaning and knowledge through narrative.
6) To explore our creativity through art, ritual, and myth in an attempt to reach into the unknown.
7) To develop greater critical skills in the seminar process through identifying and wrestling with key ideas, concepts and issues in the assigned readings, raising relevant questions, articulating complex connections, and building on the ideas of others.
8) To write with coherence, depth, style, and passion.
9) To take risks, be creative, and have fun.

Grading Policy

You must choose your assessment mode (Letter Grade or Credit/No Credit) when you register, and if you wish to change it you must do so before the deadline (check with Admissions and Records). At the end of the semester there are five possible assessment marks.

•   A letter grade  A-F. Although you will be graded somewhat “holistically” (taking into account your overall performance and your specific strengths and weaknesses that may not be easily quantified) a rough guide to the value of each component of your overall total is:

- Written Work (Essays/Prep/Response Papers) = 30%
- Seminar Participation = 20%
- Research Paper = 20%
- Creative Project = 20%
- Portfolio = 10%


 > 93 %














70 -72.5%


60- 69.5%


< 60%

•         Pass (CR) – this means that you have completed the course requirements in good faith,will receive credit for the course, and will be continuing in the program.
•         Pass on Probation—this means that you will receive credit, but will need to work on one or more aspects of your performance in order to remain.  If you receive two probationary passes in a row, you must leave the Hutchins program.
•        Terminal Pass – this means that you will receive credit for the course, but must leave the Hutchins program and continue in the Sonoma State GE program.
•         Fail (NC) – this means that you did not complete the course requirements, cannot receive credit for the course, and must leave the program and continue in the Sonoma State GE program.
In addition to the remarks on your transcript, no matter what your grade mode is, your professor will briefly meet with you at mid-term and you will receive a written evaluation and numerical evaluation at that time and at the end of the semester.

The Unknown and the Unexpected:
This syllabus is subject to change, sometimes on very short notice.

Attendance: It is important that you attend all classes punctually and remain throughout. Late arrivals, early or frequent departures, and absences will always impact your status in the program, and more than six absences (seminar or symposium) for any reason may result in you receiving “no credit” for the course. Arriving over ten minutes late and/or leaving early, without prior permission, will count as one-half of an absence. Furthermore, using electronic devices during class time (seminar or symposium) is disallowed and will count as an absence. If there are difficulties or concerns, please bring them immediately to the attention of your instructor.

Participation: The quality of the seminar is primarily the responsibility of the students. Appropriate participation includes doing the assigned readings and taking notes, coming to class prepared to discuss the material, being respectful of your colleagues’ feelings and ideas, listening carefully at all times, contributing to the dialogue without excessive dominance or pervasive silence, engaging critically with the material and the world around you, having fun and learning to learn. Participation during film screenings is equally crucial. Specifically, this entails paying close attention and taking notes during film screenings. This will also allow you to reengage with your thoughts and impressions from the original screening when considering the film later on, either in your writing or in seminar discussion.

Portfolio: You need to collect, in a three-ring binder, all the writing you will do in this course (your notes, response papers, essay drafts, etc.) and the reflection/ assessment forms, available for download on the Hutchins web page. You will be asked to assess this Portfolio on an ongoing basis, as well as those of the preceding three semesters in your final paper, an intellectual autobiography tracing the development of your thinking in the Lower Division. At the end of the semester, you will turn in your portfolio with all of your written work for the entire semester.

Writing Assignments: All assignments must be completed in a timely fashion and be word- processed, double-spaced, with 1-inch margins and borders, and in a standard 12 pt. font. You may be asked to rewrite essays that the instructor feels have not met minimal requirements. You should have in your possession Diana Hacker’s Pocket Style Manual (also available on-line) for reference, as well as the class generated writing criteria for assessing your essays and those of your peers. You are responsible for correct grammar, spelling, punctuation, and formatting in all of your work. All assignments are due at the beginning of class. Late work will not be accepted except under extraordinary circumstances, in which case be sure to contact your instructor (either in person, by phone, or by email) before the assignment is due. (Note: last-minute printer problems do not constitute “extraordinary circumstances.”) Consistently late work will affect your final grade. 

The writing assignments for this class consist of: 1) Daily Connection Papers and 2) Essay Drafts.  Daily Connection Papers should include your thoughts, your questions, your reflections and your associations (your “connections”)  – essentially all ruminations regarding the assigned reading.  You should make specific reference to the assigned texts, and include relevant page numbers and quotations. They need to be at least one page in length. You need to have a Daily Connection Paper for each class. These will not be collected, but your professor will check to make sure you’ve brought one to class.  They must be saved, however, and included in your portfolio at the end of the semester. 

Essay Drafts should focus on one or more of the course themes and texts. Essays will go through at least two revisions. You may be asked to complete additional drafts if the instructor feels your writing still needs improvement. While there is no set page length for these essays, the second draft of each essay should be at least three full pages in length. In composing these essays, you need to adhere to the MLA Format and include a Works Cited page. Specific due dates for Essay Drafts are listed below.

Collegiality: Collegial and respectful behavior toward the professor and toward your student peers is vital to the success of each seminar and is required. As students will be leading seminar discussions in this course, it is especially important to show respect to the facilitator and to be a respectful participant in each seminar discussion.  The instructor has the right to determine if and when a student is being disruptive and to ask that student to leave the seminar for that day. If the student refuses, it is appropriate to refer the student to campus authorities. Repeated incidents may result in permanent removal from the course.

Disability Services: If you are a student with a disability and you think that you may require accommodations, you must register with the campus office of Disabled Student Services, located in Salazar Hall 1049, phone 664-2677. DSS will provide you with written confirmation of you verified disability and authorize recommended accommodations. This authorization must be presented to your instructor before any accommodations can be made.
Plagiarism: Students are expected to be honest in meeting the requirements of courses in which they are enrolled. Cheating or plagiarism is dishonest, undermines the necessary trust upon which relations between students and faculty are based, and is unacceptable conduct. Students who engage in cheating or plagiarism will be subject to academic sanctions, including a lowered or failing grade in a course; and the possibility of an additional administrative sanction, including probation, suspension, or expulsion.

Visit a place of worship

You are required to visit one place of worship that is "very different" from anything you have ever before experienced, or were previously socialized to accept as a child.  You may, for example, choose a Mosque (Islamic service), a Native American experience (such as a sweat lodge or a vision quest), a synagogue, a Greek Orthodox Church, a pagan ritual (Earth Goddess, for example), or even an atheist gathering.... assuming you do not have prior experience.  You will be asked to submit a 3 page description of your experience, including a reflection on how it impacted you and what you learned.  You will also be asked to summarize orally for your classmates just how you were impacted, and these presentations will occur three times over the course of the semester:  Sep. 17, Nov. 5, and Dec. 1.  All papers are due no later than December 1st.

Research Paper (6 pages):

One purpose of doing a research paper is to help you increase your research skills by doing further investigation on any of the topics covered by this syllabus including the authors of your texts, films, guest speakers, etc. A second purpose is to help you gather information that supports your creative project. Sometimes the research and the creative project cannot be correlated and that is acceptable.  Keep in mind that a research paper is not an opinion piece, or editorial.  It is your best attempt to answer, as objectively as possible, a question you pose.  It has to be an answerable question.  (Does God exist is not an answerable question.)  You may start with a hunch, but your question should be about something you are curious about, that is, a question whose answer might actually surprise you.

You may choose a topic that has not been covered up to the point the Research Paper is due. Your research paper must be six pages including the bibliography, and have a balanced variety of sources, books, journals, periodicals, and web sites.  There are many sites in the Internet to guide you through a research paper and we will be discussing the process during tutorials. These are two usefule websites: Introduction to Research Guide for your research:, and How to Evaluate Web Sources:

Creative Project: Parts I and II

Your creative project will be an original “representation” of your understanding or experience of the unknown as mediated through some scientific principle which you either display (as in an Exploratorium exhibit) or express in some artistic medium. NOTE: no collages of cut up magazine or Internet images will be credited as completing this assignment. You will present your project during the Science Fair on Monday, December 9. It should be accompanied by a small card stating your name and your title, along with a brief explanatory text. We will be discussing this further throughout the course.

LIBS 201 Text List (in order of appearance)

Available at Northlight Books (now across from campus)

TEXTS (In Order of Appearance -- available at Northlight Books):

  1. Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist (Harper) ISBN: 978-0061122415
  2. Christopher Frith, Making Up the Mind (Wiley/Blackwell) ISBN: 978-1405136945
  3. John G. Neihardt, Black Elk Speaks: Being the Life Story of a Holy Man of the Ogalala Sioux (University of Nebraska Press) ISBN: 978-0803283596 (FIRST EDITION)
  4. Greg Sarris, Mabel McKay (UC Press) ISBN: 978-0520275881
  5. Michael Shermer, The Believing Brain (Robinson Publishing) ISBN: 978-1780335292
  6. Solomon and Higgins, A Passion for Wisdom: A Very Brief History of Philosophy (Oxford University Press) ISBN: 978-0195112092
  7. Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog (Europa Editions) ISBH: 978-1933372600
  8. Stephen Hawking, The Grand Design (Bantam) ISBN: 978-0553384666
  9. The Upanishads - need translation
  10. Bhagavad Gita - Mitchell, trans.?
  11. Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching (Simon and Brown) ISBN: 978-1613822890
  12. Huston Smith, Buddhism: A Concise Introduction (Harper One) ISBN: 978-006073067
  13. Paul Reps, Zen Flesh, Zen Bones (Tuttle) ISBN: 978-0804831864
  14. Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment  ISBN-13: 978-1577314806
  15. Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning (Mass Market Paper) ISBN: 978-0671023379
  16. Reza Aslan: Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth (Random House) ISBN 978-1400069224
  17. Geraldine Brooks, Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Women (Anchor) ISBN: 978-0385475778
  18. Elif Shafak, The Forty Rules of Love (Penguin) ISBN: 0143118528
  19. Sam Harris, The End of Faith (WW Norton) ISBN: 978-0393327656


  1. Walter Truett Anderson, "The Truth About the Truth"
  2. Reading on Astronomy
  3. Excerpts from the Torah, Genesis 1-2; Book of Job
  4. Excerpts from the New Testament, Book of Matthew
  5. Excerpts from the Qu'ran, The Cow/The Family of Imraan/Women



Week 1 – The Personal Quest

W  8/20     Introduction to the Course

F    8/22     Coelho, The Alchemist

Assign "place of worship" reports due
Symposium (TBA):  Introductions 9-10am CH 68

Week 2 – Primitive Religion

M  8/25     Durkheim, Emile  Leading Conceptions in Elementary Forms of the Religious Life)

W 8/27     Keesing and Keesing  World View:  Knowledge and Belief  (pgs. 301-330 in New Perspectives)

                 Tutorial: Seminar and Writing Criteria

F   8/29     Frith, Making Up the Mind  Preface (p. x), Prologue (pp. 1-17)  Also: (pp. 132-193)

Symposium (TBA): Perception Slides (DH)   10:30-noon  CH 68

Week 3 – Encounters with Spirit

M   9/1       LABOR DAY - NO CLASS

W 9/3        Neihardt, Black Elk Speaks

Tutorial: Brainstorm Essay 1

F    9/5       Pomo History and Pomo Cosmology and Aztec Cosmology  Maybe also Sarris, Mabel McKay
                  Symposium (9:00 – 10:30/CH 68): Pbonchai Tallman (medicine man)     (First Friday)         

Week 4 – Would You Believe?

M   9/8       Shermer: The Believing Brain 

DUE: Draft of Essay 1 (2 copies)

W   9/10     Shermer: The Believing Brain

F    9/12     Walter Truett Anderson, "The Truth About the Truth" (reader)

                  Symposium (10:30-12:00, CH 68): The X Files: Jose Chung's From Outer Space (WO) 

Week 5 – Wisdom and Philosophy

M 9/15     Solomon and Higgins, A Passion for Wisdom

DUE: Essay 1 (2nd  Draft)

W 9/17     Solomon and Higgins, A Passion for Wisdom

First set of religious visits reported

Tutorial: Brainstorm Research Project

F   9/19     Work on Research Projects




F  9/26     Film: Buying the Spirit:  Voodoo in Haiti  (JH)

                Symposium: Candomblé (CH 68 10:00 -12)

Week 7 –   The Scientific Worldview

M   9/29    Hawking, The Grand Design, Ch. 1-5

W 10/1      Hawking, The Grand Design, Ch. 6-8

F    10/3     Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog

Week 8   Research Presentations

M  10/6    Research Presentations

W 10/8     Research Presentations

                 Hawking Film (10:30 - 12:00 Schultz 3001)

F  10/10   Reading on Astronomy (reader)

                  Field Trip (9:30-12): SRJC Planetarium (TS)

Week 9 – Journey to the East:  Buddhism and Taoism

M 10/13   Smith, Buddhism: A Concise Introduction:  Ch.1-7

W 10/15   Field Trip to Zen Center   (Wendy, Tom)  10am-12pm
                  On day of trip to Zen Center:  Zen Flesh, Zen Bones 

F   10/17  Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching  (Eric, Janet go to Zen Center)

                 Second set of religious visits reported

Week 10 – Hinduism

M  10/20   Upanishads 

W 10/22    Bhagavad Gita

F    10/24   Symposium (10:30-12:00; CH 68): Craig Olson - "22 Years as a Buddhist Monk"
                  On day in classE. Tolle, Power of Now

Week 11 – On Judaism

M   10/27   Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning Parts 1 & 2 (pp. 21-157)

W   10/29   Selections from The Torah (Genesis, Book of Job/reader)
                   Symposium (9-10) Rabbi Gittleman

F    10/31   Symposium (9am; Schultz 3001): Film - God on Trial                                   

Week 12 – Perspectives on Christianity

M   11/3    Aslan, Zealot

W   11/5     The Gospel of St Matthew (reader)
                  2nd set of religious visits reported
* Donna orientation for next semester:  9:15-10am  CH68

Tutorial:   Brainstorm Essay Two

F    11/7     Symposium (9-11am; CH 68): Film - Islam                                   (First Friday)

Week 13 – Islam

M   11/10   Selections from the Qu’ran - The Cow/The Family of Imraan/Women (reader)

W   11/12   Geraldine Brooks, Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Women

F    11/14    Field Trip (9-4) The Exploratorium  

Week 14 – Mysticism, Rationality, Faith

M   11/17   Sam Harris, The End of Faith, pp. 11-79      

W   11/19   Sam Harris, The End of Faith, pp. 80-152

                  Tutorial: Work on Creative Project

F    11/21    Elif Shafak, The Forty Rules of Love: A Novel of Rumi 

Week 15 – Gratitude

M   11/24    Work on Science Project



Week 16 – Final Reflections

M   12/1    DUE:  All Religious Observation Paper/Discussion; Readings on meditation

W  12/3     Readings on meditation:  PC, PM.  Listen to audio recording of PM
F   12/5      DAY OFF TO WORK ON FINAL PROJECT AND PAPER                (First Friday)

Week 17 - Science Fair

M 12/8       Creativity/Science Fair, 9:00 – 12:00, Location TBA

                  DUE: Creative/Science Project, Final Synthesis Paper, and Portfolio