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Unit information: The True, the Good, and the Beautiful: Neoplatonism in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam in 2014/15

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Unit name The True, the Good, and the Beautiful: Neoplatonism in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam
Unit code THRS30078
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
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 and finishing with some contemporary defences. 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 in the contemporary intellectual context.


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 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. Students will also be expected to show:

(4) skills in critical thinking and in written communication appropriate to level H.

Teaching Information

2 hours per week (seminar)

Assessment Information

One summative coursework essay of 3000 words (50%) and one unseen examination of two hours comprising 2 questions out of 6 (50%). Both elements will assess ILOs (1) and (2). The coursework essay in particular will offer students the opportunity to demonstrate ILOs (3) and (4).

Reading and References

Gill, Christopher (ed. and trans.) Plato. The Symposium. London: Penguin, 1999.

Lloyd P. Gerson (ed.) The Cambridge Companion to Plotinus, 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.