Libs 201, Fall 2013

Exploring the Unknown

Professor: Dr. Thomas Shaw, CH 54, 664-3181,
Other 201 cadre members: Francisco H.Vázquez, Mutombo Mpanya, 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:  Wednesdays, 1:30-2:30pm

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 will count as one-third 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.

Research Paper (7 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.

You may choose a topic that has not been covered up to the point the Research Paper is due. Your research paper must be seven 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

Part I: One 4-Page Essay to Prepare for Project: Begin by reviewing the texts you read, the papers you wrote and projects you made, the symposia and the field trips. Your essay should refer to at least ten (10) texts or activities we have covered. Then ask your self: “Self, from all this intellectual labor on the Unknown, which outstanding feeling, idea, or concept has impacted me the most?” or “How do I explore the unknown?” This then should become the topic or thesis of your essay and the third step is to ask your self: “Self, what kind of project would illustrate this one major feeling, idea, concept I have defined?” Now you are ready to do your project.

TIP on how to prepare for this essay throughout the semester: As you go through the various reading and writing assignment and other activities, write yourself a note on or about those particular experiences in the course that resonate with you, that have relevance, a special meaning. Write: “This is something I might want to explore further.”

Part II: The Creative Project Now that you have distilled the ideas or concepts, issues or problems that are important to you, pick one and give it material, artistic, or practical representation. Going beyond the physical world, beyond empirical reality, your creative project should be a MATERIAL REPRESENTATION of your understanding or experience or concept of the ineffable (look it up!). Here are some possibilities.

There are also many suggestions in the second half of How God Changes Your Brain on how to, literally, change your self.  So remaking your self can be a work of art too. What you need in this case is to document all your exercises, activities and write a Before and After description of your self and a discussion of the changes.  This may include keeping a semester-long journal of spiritual acts and experiences. In other words, test Newberg and Waldman’s theory using your self as a subject.

In terms of art and creativity there is a variety of media: assemblage, painting, sculpture, photography, music, dance, video.  In LIBS 102 Rebeca Treviño demonstrated how to do assemblage art out of discarded materials or personal objects to represent ideas, concepts, and feelings. You can refresh your memory by going to

Other ideas (courtesy of Dr. Hess) are: write a play, compose original music (burning a cd of other people’s music does not count), make a quilt of sacred moments and feelings, compose an atheist/secular humanist manifesto, or create your own religion, make a sculpture expressing existential courage/religious faith, engage in performance art and recording bystanders and your own responses, assembling a cookbook of religious/ritual foods and explaining the connection between them, assembling a video collection of dance performances that represent the unknown, making a puppet show. 

No collages, please.  You will make an oral presentation of your Creative Project in seminar and exhibit it at the Creativity Fair on Monday, December 10.

LIBS 202 Text List (in order of appearance)

Available at Northlight Books (now across from campus)


(In Order of Appearance -- available at Northlight Books now located across campus). NOTE: each 201 instructor has a slightly different list. Make sure you follow this list.

  1. Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist (Harper) ISBN: 978-0061122415
  2. Christopher Frith, Making Up the Mind (Wiley/Blackwell) ISBN: 978-1405136945
  3. William Harmless, Mystics, (Oxford) ISBN: 978-0-19-530039-0
  4. Greg Sarris, Mabel McKay (UC Press) ISBN: 978-0520209688
  5. Black Elk Speaks (U of Nebraska Press, 1979) ISBN: 0803283598
  6. Joseph M. Murphy Working the spirit, Beacon Press, ISBN-10: 0807012211  ISBN-13: 978-0807012215
  7. Achebe, Chinua.  Things Fall Apart.  Anchor.  ISBN:  978-0385474542
  8. Yoko Ogawa, The Housekeeper and the Professor (Picador) ISBN: 978-0312427801
  9. Frederick Nietzsche, The Genealogy of Morals Cambridge University Press, 2nd edition, 2006) ISBN-10: 052169163X/ ISBN-13: 978-0521691635
  10. Stephen Hawking, et al. The Grand Design (Bantam) ISBN: 978-0553384666
  11. Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha (Bantam) ISBN: 978-0553208849
  12. Thich Nhat Hanh, The Heart of Understanding (Parallax Press, Berkeley) ISBN 0-938077-11-2
  13. The Upanishads (Penguin) ISBN: 0-140-44163-8.
  14. Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu Simon and Brown (2012) ISBN-10: 1613822898 ISBN-13: 978-1613822890
  15. Daniel C. Matt, The Essential Kabbalah (Quality Paperback Book Club; Mystical Classics of the World edition, 1998) ISBN-10: 096506476X  ISBN-13: 978-0965064767
  16. Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning (Mass Market Paper) ISBN: 978-0671023379
  17. Kamran Pasha. The Mother of the Believers. Simon and Schuster ASIN: B00224WTGU*
  18. Cleary, Thomas  The Essential Koran (Harper) ISBN-10: 0062501984 ISBN-13: 978-0062501981 
  19. Shafak, Eli  Forty Rules of Love (Viking) ISBN-10: 0141047186 ISBN-13: 978-0141047188
  20. Sam Harris, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason (W.W. Norton) ISBN-10: 0393327655 ISBN-13: 978-0393327656
  21. Tolle, Eckhart, The Power of Now  New World Library. ISBN-10: 1577314808 ISBN-13: 978-1577314806


Week 1 – The Personal Quest

W  8/21    Introduction to the course and to the seminar members.

F    8/23    Coelho, The Alchemist

Symposium (9:00 – 10:00/CH 68):  Introductions and Meditation

Week 2 – Primitive Religion

M  8/26     Durkheim, Emile  Leading Conceptions in Elementary Forms of the Religious Life)

W 8/28     Keesing and Keesing  World View:  Knowledge and Belief  (pgs. 301-330 in New Perspectives)

                 Tutorial: Seminar and Writing Criteria

F   8/30     Frith, Making Up the Mind  Preface (p. x), Prologue (pp. 1-17)  Also: (pp. 132-193)

Symposium (10:30 – 12:00/ST 1002): Dr. Hess’s Lecture on Amerindian Art, or, Native American speaker

Week 3 – Encounters with Spirit

M  9/2       LABOR DAY - NO CLASS

W 9/4       Mystical poetry reading -- Students choose
                 Tutorial: Brainstorm Essay 1

F   9/6       read Pomo History & Sarris, Mabel McKay 
                 Symposium (10:30 – 12:00/CH 68): Pbanchai Tallman (medicine man)     (First Friday)

Week 4 – Native American Religion

M  9/9     Black Elk Speaks, Introduction - 139.
                DUE: Draft of Essay 1 (2 copies)

W 9/11    Black Elk Speaks, 140-296.
                Tutorial: Workshop Essay 1

F  9/13     Field Trip:  Native American Museum.  Read Pomo Cosmology and Aztec Cosmology 
                Seminar 9-10am; Students drive themselves to SRJC Museum 10:15 - noon.

Week 5 – African Diaspora

M  9/16    Joseph M. Murphy, Working the spirit,  Preface-113
                 DUE: Essay 1 (2nd  Draft)

W 9/18     Murphy, Working the Spirit pp. 114– 200.
                 Tutorial: Self-Evaluation Portfolio plus Guide to Critical Thinking pp. 14-16, 20.
                 Writing Issues/Brainstorm Research Paper
F    9/20    Film: Buying the Spirit:  Voodoo in Haiti  (if time permits)
                  Symposium 10-12 CH 68: Candomblé

Week 6 – Early Modernism

M  9/23    Achebe, Things Fall Apart  (1st half)   

W 9/25     Achebe, Things Fall Apart  (2nd half)
                  Tutorial: Research Paper Topics

F    9/27    Cleansing Mexican Antiquity
                  Symposium 10:30-12 CH 68 Film The Other Conquest

Week 7 – Scientific Worldview

M  9/30     MIDTERM EVALUATIONS  -- individual meetings

W 10/2    Ogawa, The Housekeeper and the Professor
                   *Note: To enhance your reading of it, first read Discussion Questions at the end.
                Tutorial: Review Research Process

F    10/4    Foucault, What is Enlightenment

Week 8 The Scientific Worldview

M  10/7     Nietzsche, The Genealogy of Morals, pp. 25-120
                  Refer to Introduction (pp. xiii–­xxix); Biographical synopses (pp. xxxvii-xl), Supplementary Material (pp. 123–181) as needed.

W 10/9     Hawking, The Grand Design, pp. 5-83.
                 DUE: Preliminary Bibliography for Research Paper

F    10/11  Hawking, The Grand Design, pp. 87-183
                 Symposium (9:00 – 11:30/CH 68): Astrolomy Lab (Debora Hammond)

Week 9 – Buddhism

M  10/14   Hesse, Siddhartha

W 10/16   Field Trip to Zen Center - Shaw's class
                 Harmless, Ch. 9, “Mysticism and Zen Buddhism: Dögen”

F   10/18    Thich Nhat Hanh, The Heart of Understanding
                  Tutorial: Tips for Research Project Presentation

Week 10 – Ancient texts, modern  practices 

M  10/21     The Upanishads (Read aloud orally or mentally)

W 10/23      Tao Te Ching  (Read aloud orally or mentally)
                    Tutorial: Research Project Review questions

F   10/25      Newberg & Waldman, How God Changes Your Brain, Authors Note, chapters 8-10 and Epilogue.

Week 11 – On Judaism

M  10/28    Daniel C. Matt, The Essential Kabbalah, pp. ix-72.
                  Tutorial: Present Research Papers

W 10/30     Matt, The Essential Kabbalah, pp. 74–161
                  Tutorial: Present Research Papers

F    11/1    Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning, all
                 Symposium (9:00 - 10:30/ St 1002): God on Trial                                          (First Friday)

Week 12 – Perspectives on Christianity

M   11/4    Harmless, Mystics, Chps. 2 & 3
                  DUE: Research Papers

W   11/6   Harmless, Mystics, Chps. 4 & 5
                Tutorial: Brainstorm Essay Two

F    11/8    Harmless, Mystics 7, 10.
                  Symposium (10:30 - 12:00 CH 68): Ms. Emily Shram

Week 13 – Islam

M   11/11  Veteran's Day - NO CLASS   Read Kamran Pasha, The Mother of the Believers:
                  Author’s Note, Prologue and Book One Birth of a Faith, pp. xi-164..

W   11/13   Kamran Pasha, The Mother of the Believers, Book Three, pp. 165-264.
                    Tutorial: Workshop Essay 2     DUE: Essay 2 Draft 1 (2 copies)

F    11/15   Cleary, ed., The Essential Koran
                   Symposium (9:00 – 10:30/CH 68): Film: Islam (first 45 minutes only)

Week 14 – Mysticism, Rationality, Faith

M   11/18   Sam Harris, The End of Faith, pp. 11-79.
                  DUE: Essay 2
                  Due:  Religious/Spiritual/Ritual Activity Response

W   11/20   Sam Harris, The End of Faith, pp. 80-152
Work on Creative Project

F    11/22    Field Trip to Exploratorium

Week 15 – Gratitude

M  11/25    no class (but finish End of Faith)                  

W 11/27 - F 11/29        THANKSGIVING - NO CLASS

Week 16 – Final Reflections

M  12/2    Read Shafak, Forty Rules of Love

W  12/4     Tolle, The Power of Now
                  Creative Project Seminar Presentations.

F   12/6     Creative Project Seminar Presentations.                                 (First Friday)
                  Creativity Fair, 9:00 – 12:00, Location TBA