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Unit information: The True, the Good, and the Beautiful: Neoplatonism in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam in 2016/17

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Unit name The True, the Good, and the Beautiful: Neoplatonism in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam
Unit code THRSM0108
Credit points 20
Level of study M/7
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Dr. David Leech
Open unit status Open




School/department Department of Religion and Theology
Faculty Faculty of Arts

Description including Unit Aims

In this unit students are introduced to Neoplatonism, a major philosophical influence on the Christian, Jewish, and Islamic traditions. The unit will focus on the historical development of the tradition, drawing on Jewish, Christian, and Islamic texts. Focuses will include: love; the reality of the Good; religious experience; and the articulation of God’s nature as absolutely simple (‘the One’). Through a study of Neoplatonic motifs in a range of figures across the Christian, Jewish, and Islamic traditions, students will develop an appreciation of the pervasiveness of this philosophical tradition in the Abrahamic faiths and its continued vitality.


To introduce students to a number of key issues in classical and contemporary metaphysics/ethics through the lens of a major philosophical tradition.

To provide an overview of a major philosophical tradition which has deeply shaped the philosophical theologies of the Abrahamic faiths.

To develop critical interaction with primary and secondary materials.

To develop written presentation skills through the course assessment.

Intended Learning Outcomes

By the end of the unit students will be expected to have:

(1)Acquired a knowledge of the historical development of the Neoplatonic tradition.

(2)Acquired the skill to engage critically with the basic metaphysical and ethical claims of this tradition, and the counter claims of anti-Platonic critics.

(3)Acquired knowledge and skill to articulate arguments regarding the above in a well-structured and clear manner.

(4) developed high levels of skills in critical thinking and in written and oral communication.

Additionally (specific to level M), students will be expected to:

(5) display high level skills in evaluating, analysing, synthesising and (where apt) critiquing images and ideas.

(6) apply existing analytical strategies to new evidence with flexibility and creativity

(7) demonstrate the capacity for independent research

Teaching Information

1 x 3 hour seminar per week

Assessment Information

One summative essay of 5000 words (100%). Measures ILOs 1-7

Reading and References

Plato. The Symposium; translated with an introduction and notes by Christopher Gill. London: Penguin, 1999.

The Cambridge Companion to Plotinus, edited by Lloyd P. Gerson. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

Hadot, Pierre. Philosophy as a way of life: spiritual exercises from Socrates to Foucault; edited, with an introduction, by Arnold Davidson; translated by Michael Chase. Oxford; New York: Blackwell, 1995.

Corbin, Henry. History of Islamic philosophy; translated by Liadain Sherard with the assistance of Philip Sherard. London: Kegan Paul International, 1993.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. Twilight of the idols, and, The Anti-Christ; translated, with an introduction and commentary, by R.J. Hollingdale. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1968.

Pieper, Josef. Faith, hope, love. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1997.

Charles Taliaferro. The Golden Cord: A Short Book on the Secular and the Sacred. University of Notre Dame Press, 2013.