Libs 201, Fall 2015

Exploring the Unknown

Professor: Dr. Thomas Shaw, CH 54, 664-3181,
Other 201 cadre members: Janet Hess, Mutombo M’Panya, Wendy Ostroff, Eric McGuckin

Class Hours:  M 10:00-12:00; W9:00-12:00; F9:00-12:00 (and some Fridays, all day)
Office Hours:  TBA
(Sylly is subject to Change)

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.  It should also be a place that you hope will "speak" to you, "fill your cup" so to speak, enable you to "know" more either religiously, spiritually, or simply "wisely." Other than that, you're free to choose. 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 a psychological or artistic event.... 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: 

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 topics addressed by 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.

Your research project will examine one of the following epistemological methods, that is, one of these "ways of knowing": a. science (scientific method), b. theistic prayer, c. spiritual (mystical) transcendence, and d. intuition (and other forms of extra-sensory perception).

Your research paper must be six pages not including the bibliography, and have a balanced variety of sources, books, journals, periodicals, and web sites.  The important thing is that you examine the question of how efficacious this method or epistemological strategy is, according to the corpus of existing evidence.

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

Your creative project will be an extension of your research project, expressed in some artistic medium. For example, if your research results in the finding that human intuition, when tested, only seems to be accurate 50% of the time, or even less, you would create a project that illustrated the ambiguity of this way of knowing, and the uncertainty of its efficacy.

NOTE: no collages of cut up magazine or Internet images will be credited as completing this assignment. You will present your project during the Creative Fair on Monday, December 11. It should be accompanied by a one page description with your name and your title, along with a brief explanation of the significance of the display. We will be discussing this further throughout the course.

LIBS 201 Text List (in order of appearance)

Available at Northlight Books (across from campus)

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

Required Purchases:
* 201 COURSE READER at 1460 E Cotati Ave; 707-792-0995

TEXTS (In Order of Appearance) – All sections (73 students)

    1. Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist (Harper) ISBN: 978-0061122415
    2. Carlos Castañeda Journey to Ixtlan (Washington Square) ISBN: 978-0671732462
    3. Christopher Frith, Making Up the Mind (Wiley/Blackwell) ISBN: 978-1405136945
    4. John G. Neihardt, Black Elk Speaks (University of Nebraska Press) ISBN: 978-0803283596 (FIRST EDITION)
    5. Michael Shermer, The Believing Brain (Robinson Publishing) ISBN: 978-1780335292
    6. Milan Kundera, Identity. (1999) New York: Harper. ISBH: 978-0060930318
    7. Kurt Snyder, Linda Andrews, Raquel Gur, Me, Myself, and Them: A Firsthand Account of One Young Person's Experience with Schizophrenia. (2007) Oxford Univ. Press. ISBN: 978-0195311228
    8. Stephen Hawking, The Grand Design (Bantam) ISBN: 978-0553384666
    9. Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha (Bantam) ISBN: 978-0553208849
    10. Bhagavad Gita (Penguin) ISBN:978-0140447903
    11. Pema Chodron: When Things Fall Apart (Shambala) ISBN: 978-1570623448
    12. Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning (Mass Market Paper) ISBN: 978-0671023379
    13. Jean-Paul Sartre, No Exit (Samuel French) ISBN: 978-0573613050
    14. Reza Aslan, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth (Random House) ISBN: 978-1400069224
    15. Elaine Pagals, The Gnostic Gospels (Vintage) ISBN: 978-0679724537
    16. Sumbul Ali-Kamari, The Muslim Next Door (White Cloud Press) 978-0974524566
    17. Sam Harris, The End of Faith (WW Norton) ISBN: 978-0393327656
    18. William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience (Random House) ISBN: 978-0679640110
    19. Scott Samuelson, The Deepest Human Life (U. of Chicago Press) ISBN: 978-0226272771
    20. Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching (Simon and Brown) ISBN: 978-1613822890


  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  8/26     Introduction to the Course

F    8/28     Introductions @ Symposium 9-10:00 CH 68; Read and seminar on Coelho, The Alchemist

Week 2 – Primitive Religion

M  8/31   Durkheim, Emile  Leading Conceptions in Elementary Forms of the Religious Life)

W 9/2     Keesing and Keesing  World View:  Knowledge and Belief  (pgs. 301-330 in New Perspectives)

                 Tutorial: Seminar and Writing Criteria

F 9/4     Castañeda: Journey to Ixtlan ; Required: Introduction, Ch. 1-9 (pp. 1-88) and Ch. 18, 19, 20 (pp. 231-268)

Symposium (TBA): Perception Slides (DH)   11-noon  CH 68  (First Friday)  

Week 3 – Encounters with Spirit


W 9/9      Frith, Making Up the Mind  Preface (p. x), Prologue (pp. 1-17)  Also: (pp. 132-193)

Tutorial: Brainstorm Essay 1

F  9/11       Neihardt, Black Elk Speaks, Chaps. 1-9, 21-26.
                  Symposium (10:30 – 12:00/CH 68): Pbonchai Tallman (medicine man)          

Week 4 – Would You Believe?

M   9/14     Shermer: The Believing Brain 

DUE: Draft of Essay 1 (2 copies)

W   9/16     Shermer: The Believing Brain

F    9/18     Walter Truett Anderson, "The Truth About the Truth" (reader)

Week 5 – The line between rationality and madness

M 9/21     Discuss event participation: choose venue/event. Discuss the experience of mysticism.
Read: The Head and the Heart.

DUE: Essay 1 (2nd  Draft)

W 9/23     Film: Buying the Spirit:  Voodoo in Haiti  (JH)

Tutorial: Brainstorm Research Project

F   9/25    Read: Me, Myself, and Them: A Firsthand Account of One Young Person's Experience with Schizophrenia by , ,




F  10/02    Milan Kundera, Identity

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

Week 7 –  Research

M  10/05   Research Presentations

W 10/07     Research Presentations

F  10/09     Symposium: 10-12 Condomble –Drumming and African Dance

Week 8   Research Presentations

M  10/12    Hawking, The Grand Design, Ch. 1-5

W 10/14     Hawking, The Grand Design, Ch. 6-8

                 Symposium 10-12 LIBRARY 3001 Stephen Hawking’s Grand Design  

F  10/16   Reading on Astronomy (reader)

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

Week 9 – Hinduism

M 10/19   READER: Morgan from: The Best Guide to Eastern Philosophy

W 10/21  Bhagavad Gita

F   10/23  Field Trip: Asian Art Museum (bring a lunch or buy one there)

Week 10 – Journey to the East:  Buddhism and Taoism

M  10/26   READER: from Smith: Buddhism: A Concise Introduction

W 10/28   Hesse, Siddhartha; Chodron: When Things Fall Apart. (Chaps 1-6)

F   10/30  Field Trip: Green Gulch Zen Center

Week 11 – On Judaism

M   11/02  READER: Selections from The Torah (Genesis 1-3; Book of Job)

W   11/04   Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning

Tutorial:   Brainstorm Essay Two

F    11/06  Symposium: God on Trial    9-10 Advising Session. 10-12 film. Library 3001

FIRST FRIDAY                                 

Week 12 – Perspectives on Christianity

M  11/09    Pagels: The Gnostic Gospels (Chs. 1,3,5,6); READER:  The Gospel of St Matthew
Essay 2 First Draft Due


F    11/13  Aslan, Zealot; Essay 2 Students give feedback to peers

Week 13 – Islam

M   11/16    READER: Selections from the Qu’ran - The Cow/The Family of Imraan/Women
Essay 2 Second Draft due to professor, with student edits

W   11/18   Ali-Karamali: The Muslim Next Door

F    11/20    Harris: The End of Faith

Symposium, 11-12 CH 68 Film: The Haj





Week 15 – Existentialism and Phenomenology

M    11/30    Sartre: No Exit

Essay 2 Final Draft Due

W   12/02   James: The Varieties of Religious Experience (Chs. TBA)

DUE: Religious Observation Paper

F    12/4     Class Work on Creative Project

Week 16 – Final Reflections

M  12/7  Samuelson: The Deepest Human Life
W  12/9 Tao Te Ching

F  12/11 Creative Fair 1-3:40 CH 68   

Week 17 -- Finals Weeks

M 12/14 Wrap-Up