Problem of God Class Resonates with Students
December 7, 2010 –Few required courses in Georgetown’s core curriculum are more popular than The Problem of God, one of the university’s two mandatory theology requisites.
Thousands of alumni have now taken the course, which the theology department created in the 1960s.
Covering a variety of faith traditions, the course is now taught by no fewer than 10 professors a semester.
“The Problem of God is important because it teaches students to think critically, perhaps for the first time, about religious thought and practice,” says Terrence Reynolds, theology department chair. “In particular, it challenges students, whatever their religious or non-religious perspective, to think about questions of meaning, convictions and the religious dimension of human experience.”
Ksenya Belooussova (SFS’ 12) says she was skeptical about the course at first.
“But The Problem of God has been one of my favorite classes at Georgetown so far,” she says. “Being challenged by a subject I’d never really given much thought to changed my attitude toward the whole objective of a college education. I’m really glad I was pushed out of my comfort zone during freshman year.”
Students in the class taught by theology professor Otto Hentz, S.J., read and write essays on everything from Sigmund Freud’s The Future of An Illusion to Auschwitz as Revelation by Michael Buser to Problem of God, Yesterday and Today by the late John Courtney Murray, S.J.
The course covers atheists authors such as Jean-Paul Sartre.
“My approach,” writes Hentz in his syllabus, “is to map fundamental dimensions of the problem and their connection, and then to consider alternately configurations of the map, now from the perspective of religious belief, now from the perspective of atheism.”
He says his course covers “ ‘basement issues’ – fundamental questions about what it means to be a human being in a shared history shaped by choice.”
“No issue is more fundamental than the question of God’s existence and the kinds of experience and knowing that yield different responses to the question,” Hentz says.
A Course With Personality
Students and alumni see Problem of God as a classic Georgetown course.
“It adds so much personality to Georgetown,” says Ryan Merlini (C’14). “When I went home over Thanksgiving break and talked college stuff with my friends, Problem of God was always the class that made them raise their eyebrows.”
Merlini appreciates that students aren’t told to take up a position and defend it.
“Instead, [we are] questioning the arguments we are analyzing,” he says. “This to me exemplifies the Jesuit theory of education – questioning and dialogue. In questioning belief in God, we are better able to open doors into new rooms of thought we hadn't considered before.”
Aside from offering an avenue for intellectual discourse, the course provides a link across diverse fields of study. A Problem of God class brings together students from all of the undergraduate schools.
“It's something that everyone has in common,” Merlini says. “In any community, what binds people together is commonality, and sure enough I’ve talked to people 10 years older than me about what Problem of God professor they've had.”