Thursday, April 14, 2016

Stephen Law on The Evil God Challenge

Why should an all-good God be more likely than an all-evil God?  Does the world
provide us with evidence of good so as to make it impossible for the notion of an all-evil, omnipotent God?  Dr Stephen Law has debated this Challenge in numerous forums and we are pleased to have him at the University of Gloucestershire to discuss this topic with us.

Stephen Law is senior lecturer at Heythrop College, University of London and editor of the philosophical journal Think.  He is also the author of numerous accessible philosophical books including The Philosophy Gym and Humanism: A Very Short Introduction.
When:           12.15 – 2.15pm, Wednesday 20 April 2016
Where:          FCHC201
What:            Lecture, followed by light lunch
Book your place by emailing humanities@glos.ac.uk  by 9.00am, Monday 18 April 2016.
    

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Is Evil really Good or is Good really Evil? How DreamWorks tackles this issue in Megamind - by Alex Griffiths

Animation:  Is this a modern medium of philosophical thought? Within Plato’s Symposium, Apollodorus expresses that philosophy is the only enjoyable subject; is this so the case, that even within children’s entertainment there is this requirement for philosophy to encroach?
Children’s film and literature (I’m sure most mediums) are filled with extremely powerful messages and moral guidelines. The lists are endless from Dr Seuss raising questions about the theory and nature of knowledge to Jacqueline Wilson embedding deep moral issues and guidance. Even big friendly authors such as Roald Dahl are at it!  But to return to film, DreamWorks, Pixar and Disney all fill their movies with powerful thoughts; Look at Wall-e as an example, a robot who’s function it is to clean up the planet due to human consumption providing huge topical environmental issues regarding the destruction we are causing to this planet, thus allowing insight to the instability and the fragility of our world. Not to mention the connection and empathy that is created within the robot, leading to such questions as what is it to be human and what sets this robot apart from humankind.
These large film industries are providing deep philosophical questions to become digested, disguised under comical scripts and loveable characters. Entertainment aimed at children provides vital education. This returns me to Apollodorus’ immense delight in philosophic discourse and his belief that other sorts of talk, especially that of wealth and "money-bag friends", not only annoys him but creates a sense of sorrow within him because others believe that this type of talk is of value.[1] I have to agree with him, and so does the entertainment industry. Within morality, a base guideline can be seen throughout history. Look at religious texts as a whole.  Does it not provide guidelines to a prosperous way of life - if not in this one, then in ones to follow? To tie this together, evidence of this thirst for moral codes can be seen throughout all children’s literature over the years from Grimms' nursery tales to Aesop’s fables.  This thirst provides evidence that morality is needed within society and human nature as we always are striving towards it. Without it the world would become pure anarchy, and society as we know it will break down, thus the importance of teaching children basic principles from a young age is important.
As titled, this is a review of Megamind, so I will look into the philosophical nature of the film, thus contextualising the idea that the industry provides deep thought and insight into what could be argued as higher thought into a relatable medium. So let’s start with the beginning…the very beginning:
The opening scene is of two planets at the brink of destruction, when baby Megamind and MetroMan are seen flying to earth. MetroMan begins his life in luxury and Megamind finds himself in prison. The two main characters grow up together, yet despite MegaMind’s efforts to fit in, he only gets more secluded, until he ‘learned a very hard lesson: good receives all the praise and adulation while evil is sent to quiet time in the corner. So fitting in wasn't really an option.[2]
The comical nature of the film allows for the depth to be the underbelly of the scene. What is, on first glance, portraying comedy and a base for the story line, actually in fact is asking and providing a springboard to deep abstract thought. The above quote is part of the opening spiel and provides an introduction of the two leading roles of the film. But what is so powerful is that it is playing on the notion of destiny. It sets forward the question of whether we can choose the lives that we lead, and if this choice can be changed or whether such matters are predestined. The film continues to look upon this paradigm of destiny, yet always relates it to the juxtaposition of good and evil. Other issues are raised within the film, such as the notion of what happens to the balance when evil beats good. Megamind (Will Ferrell) in this instance becomes bored. Could we take this notion to a present reality away from the abstract of animation as a thought process; what would it be like if good conquered evil? Looking briefly at Christianity, with heaven described as a place of eternal bliss and happiness, void of evil, would this be as Megamind describes…boring? Another issue that I find problematic when trying to identify what is evil, is that if there is no such thing as evil than surely there can be no concept of good. Existence would just become existence and therefore extremely mundane with potentially no purpose. Megamind brings light to this issue by showing that from the super hero to the super villain there is a mixture of characteristics showing that no one is wholly good or evil.
The notion of good and evil that I find particularly problematic is defining what it actually means to be evil. If arguing it is people’s actions, surely this is subjective; not only just within opinion yet also culture and time have a great impact. Throughout the film, Metro Man (Brad Pitt) plays the super ‘hero’.  Within the eyes of the citizens, he is a treasure; the man of the city.  But when looking through the introduction of the film and watching the two characters grow up together, he can be seen to be supressing Megamind and forcing him to become evil. Can it not be interpreted that Megamind was just trying to gain the same respect that the arrogant Metro Man was receiving.  Therefore could it not be that through Metro Man’s actions of always trying to one up and revel in his own glory that he forced Megamind to become evil? So even from the onset of the film it provides insight that ‘good’ has the capacity to create evil. The playing on the ideas of good and evil throughout the film show the lack of clarity and contrast defining what it is to be good. It shows that perhaps one cannot just be evil, only certain actions or perhaps characteristics can be. There is a real emphasis on the problematic idea of labelling something either way. 

Alex Griffiths is a second-year History and RPE student. He has his own blog at: https://alexlgriffiths.wordpress.com





[1] Plato. Plato in Twelve Volumes, Symposium 173c, Vol. 9 translated by Harold N. Fowler. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1925
[2] Megamind, dir. Tom McGrath, DreamWorks, 2010

Friday, February 12, 2016

Applicant Day - February 18th for Religion, Philosophy & Ethics applicants.

This coming week, on Thursday 18th February, we'll be holding the first of this year's Applicant Visit Days. If you've applied to start RPE in September 2016 - these events are for you!

 If you haven't booked for this (or the the 10th March applicant day) - you can do this at: http://www.glos.ac.uk/visit/pages/applicant-days.aspx


There will be a 'taster' session with Dr William Large, Course Leader for RPE:

The Examined Life – Plato famously said that an unexamined life was not worth living. But what is an unexamined life? How would you live a life that had no Religion, Philosophy and Ethics in it, and if you did would that really be a problem?

There will also be lots of opportunity to find out more about the RPE course and community here at facebook.com/groups/RPEglos  or on Twitter at @RPEatGlos. As well as the academic side of being a student, there will also be the chance to ask about finance, accommodation and the social aspects of student life! 
Gloucestershire. You can also see our Facebook group at

See you there..
Dave.
Students on the Spain field trip module..

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

On the road with Dr Peter Vardy

For the last week and a half, I've been off campus as part of Dr Peter Vardy's Candle Conferences Ethics tour..

My wonderful colleagues Dr Ben Trubody and Professor Melissa Raphael have been covering my teaching at the University (lucky students!), and I've been using Skype as much as train/hotel wi-fi will allow!


By the end of this week I'll have given my 'I ❤️ Kant' talk to nearly 4000 A-level students from around 200 Schools / Colleges. I apologise for the meme-filled slides (you can find a copy via twitter, where I am @davidwebster, if you really want to see them).

It's been really interesting talking with students and teachers - and I hope some of you are excited by what we do on the RPE course here. While I have found all the travel, and big audiences exciting, but slightly tiring - but Peter has enough energy for the whole audience- and has always made sure the debates have been very lively!



Dr Peter Vardy - in London.
You can also see me in conservation with Dr Vardy at http://wp.me/p2xWwL-ew 

Friday, January 29, 2016

The Third Degree - RPE staff versus student on Radio 4 quiz..

Last week, Radio 4's The Third Degree recorded an episode of the quiz show (that pits University staff agains their students) at Gloucestershire.

The teams included an RPE student (Rob Alexander) and RPE staff member (David Webster - me). The show won't be broadcast till April - so I will keep the result a secret - but here are a few photos from the event..

Rob and Dave either side of the host, Steve Punt.

Dave 'thinking'...


Before the hostilities..

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Death! (Exhibition and visit, and a cat pub too..)

A week or so ago, RPE students (with a few from other courses joining us too) popped down to Bristol to visit the Death: The Human Experience exhibition, at the city museum. We then popped down to the Bag of Nails  pub - famous in Bristol for the free range cats wandering (mostly, to be honest, sleeping) around the pub..

There are some pictures below (click them to enlarge) - but the exhibition blurb is worth reading:

death: the human experience is about the most universal of experiences that we
will encounter.
Hundreds of incredibly diverse objects – from a Ghanaian fantasy coffin to a Victorian mourning dress – reveal captivating stories from cultures across the world, from the earliest human societies to the modern day.
The exhibition encourages you to consider ethical issues, different attitudes to death and how different cultures have dealt with the end of life.
As a society we are reluctant to talk about death and dying. death: the human experience is about helping to start that conversation.
Our HM6502 Love, Sex and Death module deals with these issues - and it was fascinating to learn more, and see examples of some of the material we discuss in class.



only a matter of time..

Sunset in Bristol
Student plus cats..








Monday, December 07, 2015

RPE 2015 Essay Competition Results: The winners..

Well - that was tough!

Over 80 essays - and many of them excellent!

However, after much fighting, many biscuits, and extended soul-searching: we have a result.

The winner of the iPad is Elizabeth Huang, of Magdalen College School (upper sixth), for an essay on Artificial Intelligence and Love - which we hope to publish on this blog soon.

4 Essays were awarded runners-up prizes of an Amazon Voucher - for some really fantastic work. These are:
Phineas Humphris, Thetford Grammar School.
Cameron Newton-Grain, The Cotswold School.
Francesca Lutje-Wilkes, Bearsden Academy.
Jessica Wooff, Cranbrook School.

Thanks to everyone who took part -we really appreciated the work that went into every piece of writing we saw!

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

RPE Essay competition - results soon!

FCH Campus - home of RPE.
Well - the RPE essay competition had over 80 entries this year: and we are still reading them!

The standard is very high - but we hope to come to a decision by the end of this week - and will announce the winner on this blog!

Thanks to all those who took part - and watch this space!


Friday, November 13, 2015

Diwali trip 2015.. Pictures, Students, and a mention of 'black Diwali'

This Wednesday saw students from Religion, Philosophy & Ethics at the University of Gloucestershire (along with some welcome guests from Creative Writing, History, and English Literature along too) head up to Leicester for the 2015 Diwali celebrations.

The BBC report that 41000 people attended, a coach-load of them were our students..  We will be back next year for more fireworks, sweets, street food and to witness the celebrations.

Want to know more about Diwali? There is this Pictures and Guide page, and lots more on the web.

This year's celebrations were not without controversy though - as some British Sikhs called for a 'black Diwali' in protest at the visit to the UK by BJP President of India Nanendra Modi. At http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-34793443 a Sikh is quoted as saying:

"Whereas previously the parties were more secular and appealing on economic policies or the general policies you might get here, now it's more Hindu nationalism, that's the agenda," he said.
"The other minorities in India are getting a rough ride."

 Nonetheless, many Hindu communities are delighted at his visit - as the http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-34793443 article describes.

Click to see more from RPE's Flickr site of trips, speakers, and events.




Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Class of 2015 Graduation Tea







Please join staff and fellow graduates and their families in the FCH Chapel for tea, cakes and the presentation of prizes, from 2.00pm-3.00pm.

RSVP to the School of Humanities by Friday 6 November 2015








Friday, October 16, 2015

Welcome from Professor Melissa Raphael

Hello, I'm Melissa Raphael, Professor of Jewish Theology here at the University of Gloucestershire.  I also teach Modern Jewish Thought to rabbinical ordinands in London and am an editor of the Oxford Encyclopedia for Religion and the Arts, with responsibility for Jewish visual art.

My main areas of research and teaching are modern and contemporary Jewish theology, feminist perspectives on theology and religion; art and religion, and the sacred/profane distinction in Western religion.
When I’m not teaching, I write the articles and books that inform many of the modules I’m responsible for here at the University and which contribute to international academic debate:
These are some of my publications: Rudolf Otto and the Concept of Holiness (Oxford University Press, 1997); Thealogy and Embodiment: The Post-Patriarchal Reconstruction of Female Sacrality(Sheffield Academic Press, 1996); Introducing Thealogy: Discourse on the Goddess (Sheffield Academic Press: 1999); The Female Face of God in Auschwitz:A Jewish Feminist Theology of the Holocaust(Routledge, 2003), shortlisted for the Koret Jewish Book Award in 2004 and the subject of an American Academy of Religion panel session in 2009, and Judaism and the Visual Image: A Jewish Theology of Art (Continuum, 2009). I’m currently working on a new book on gender and idolatry
I don’t only lecture at the University of Gloucestershire.  One of the things I enjoy most about my job is that guest lecturing has taken me all over the world, from Seoul to Wisconsin…Some of these guest lectures have included the 2008 Sherman Lectures in Jewish Studies at the University of Manchester, and the 2008 Granville-Goodspeed Lecture in Theology at Denison University, Ohio.  In 2011 I was the Hussey Lecturer in the Church and the Arts at the University of Oxford and in October 2012 I contributed to the celebration of the fifth anniversary of the issuing of A Common Word, a historic interfaith initiative of Prince Ghazi Bin Muhammad of Jordan, with a lecture on the nature of love in Judaism, at Regent’s Park College, Oxford.
I’m also Honorary Research Scholar at the University of Wales, Lampeter and sit on the International Board of The Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion and The Journal of Religion and Gender. I’m Visiting Professor in Theology at the University of Chichester and Honorary Visiting Professor at the University of York, St John. I regularly broadcast on Radio 4 and television and have been the academic representative for the British Government on the International Task Force for Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research.
Outside my life at the University of Gloucestershire, I like to paint, garden, read, draw and hike (especially on coastal paths).

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

The Hallowe’en Lecture: Re-enchanting culture in a cynical world: Pagans, Satanists, Atheists, Fictional Religions and more. October 28th.


One of the RPE staff, Dr David Webster, will be giving a (free) public lecture on October 28th at the Park Campus of the University of Gloucestershire.

The title is:

The Hallowe’en Lecture: Re-enchanting culture in a cynical world: Pagans, Satanists, Atheists, Fictional Religions and more.


Dr Webster said: “The lecture will consider whether these emerging trends can be seen as the means by which our cynical, suspicious and complex culture expresses its need for life to be something more than a drab series of repeated commercial transactions, culminating in pre-paid funeral plans.”

The event starts with registration and refreshments from 5pm. The lecture is from 6pm until 7pm. Please visit http://bit.ly/1Kx7y4f to book a place.

This is a public event - all are welcome - but you do need to use the link above to book a place..


Monday, October 05, 2015

Hello to the Second Year, from Martin Wood.


I am extremely happy to be joining the RPE team for this semester. I will be guiding students through the often complex subject of Hinduism and hopefully encouraging them to engage with the subject with as much enthusiasm and interest as I have done. Over the last ten years I have been working in the field with various Gujarati Hindu communities in India, the U.K. and New Zealand. Much of my research has focused on issues of authority, identity and vernacular traditions, areas that I will no doubt expand upon in the lectures and seminars. I was out in Gujarat earlier this year, which was an astonishing trip, so I intend to lard my lectures with numerous anecdotes from the field (some of which I hope will be received with interest). In the meantime I hope that all the students whom I encounter in the lecture room will find their journey through university greatly enriched by their encounter with the vibrant and dynamic set of religious traditions that we call Hinduism.  

Martin Wood.

Friday, October 02, 2015

A Welcome to new students from Dave

Hi.

This year marks 10 years of taking students onto the RPE degree. That makes me feel old, as I was there when it all began - as were some students who you can find over on the RPE Facebook group. A lot has happened since then, but the RPE course has become stronger and more successful as time has gone by. As you can see on this post - the recently released National Student Survey gave us 100% overall satisfaction (as it did last year too) - and this was a survey done by final year students.

We also came 3rd in the Guardian 2016 guide to the best courses in the country for this subject area.

As you can tell - I am incredibly proud to part of the team that delivers this amazing course. I can be found contributing sessions in philosophy modules with Course Leader Dr William Large, and I teach the Love, Sex and Death module in the third year. I also teach on some of the interesting things happening in the modern world - so that includes the New Religious Movements course for the first year (semester 2) and the new course which ran for the first time last year - Emergent Spiritualities: you can see some of the video content for this module at: https://philosvids.wordpress.com/tag/hm6502/ . For the last 7 years (and forever I hope) I have led the Spain Field trip - and love the various coach trips we'll also be taking as part of the course (I think the first one this year will be a Diwali trip to Leicester in November)

I also write and publish - and you'll no doubt be hearing about that in class: but what I hope you're looking forward to most is getting involved in learning with us, arguing with us, and becoming part of the growing community of RPE graduates.

Dave.


A Welcome to new students from Pekka


I would on my part like to welcome all new students. The study of religion is an exciting enterprise that involves many areas in Humanities and beyond. I myself focus on the study of Christianity, and the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible within its sacred scriptures in particular and currently teach the Christianity module for the RPE course. Otherwise, my interests include natural sciences (my “first love”, with engineering), social scientific, anthropological, postmodern and postcolonial approaches, but I’m always trying to be open to learning something new from any other perspectives. I hope to do my bit to assist you in your journey through the RPE degree. If I can try and pass one bit of my experience at this point, I would say that persistence and raw effort is really a main key to success, at the same time, it is also good to follow one’s interests and impulses in the study (e.g. with reading, assessments and study projects), as everything is better when one can enjoy what one does.

Pekka Pitkanen