Religious Studies 420.



Prerequisite: 3 credits in religious studies.


Please note: I check my e-mail regularly (obsessively?) and this is an excellent way to get in touch with me if you have a quick question or if you want to make an appointment for a more substantial discussion.


The Course


This course examines the religious thought of several leading British Christian thinkers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, who collectively have had a vast influence on the modern churches. We will concentrate on the life and works of four key individuals, namely G. K. Chesterton; C. S. Lewis; Charles Williams; and Dorothy Sayers, though we will also touch on related figures such as J. R. R. Tolkien.


These individuals are often known for writing apologetics, a word that these days might need some explanation. It does not of course mean that they thought Christians had anything to apologize for in their faith. Rather, they wanted to put the best case for Christianity in an age when the basic doctrines of the religion were under attack by a variety of secular, political, philosophical and scientific ideas. By common consent, they succeeded remarkably in stating a case for Christianity that was intellectually credible, and which constituted a major literary achievement in its own right. In their various ways, Tolkien, Lewis and Chesterton are all celebrated for some of the greatest works of fantasy fiction of the twentieth century




During the course of the semester, you will be expected to write a research paper (to be described). The paper should be at least fifteen pages in length, fully referenced. I will expect you to submit a preliminary draft, which I will then discuss with you on an individual basis during office hours. This draft should then be revised to create a final version due for presentation in the final examination period. Needless to say, grading will take account of issues such as grammar and punctuation. There will also be two examinations, both of essay format, and both take-home. Neither will be comprehensive.


Grading for the course will therefore be based on these components:

a. Research paper                                                                                            = 40%

b. Two essay examinations, each 20% of the total grade                               = 40%

c. Class participation                                                                                      = 20%


Note about Participation

"Participation" carries a substantial 20 percent of the grade. What this means in practice is that I expect you to do the readings for every class, and I will be calling on people individually through the term to comment or respond on particular texts, or issues arising from them. If you do the readings, and take a full and regular part in class discussions, then that will have a major positive impact on your grade. On the other hand, consistently not participating, not doing the readings - or repeatedly being absent from discussions - is equivalent to missing an exam or failing to do the term paper. I donŐt expect perfect, 100 percent, attendance, but consistent non-participation will have serious consequences. It does NOT just mean that you will receive a slightly lower grade: just like refusing to do a paper or an exam, it means that you would simply have not completed the class, and would therefore receive a grade of F for the entire course. I think it's important to spell out that expectation from the outset. If you are not prepared to do the readings and participate fully, then please drop the class now.


Class Policies

Deadlines matter, and I intend to enforce them strictly. If you miss a deadline without getting an extension in advance, you get a non-negotiable grade of F on that particular exam, paper or project. Do not get in touch with me after the fact to explain why you missed an exam, unless you produce a proper medical note. Excuses must always be supported by documentation. Valid reasons include medical problems and the like. This point about enforcing deadlines also applies fully to the various stages of the term paper project, which I view as a single process spread over most of the term. This project includes several stages, including letting me know the topic, handing in the synopsis, and completing the final draft, even though these elements do not individually carry specific grades. If you miss any one of these deadlines (without a legitimate excuse), then you receive an F on the entire term paper, which is 40 percent of the grade.



(all are in paperback; all are required)


Humphrey Carpenter, THE INKLINGS

G. K. Chesterton, ORTHODOXY





Dorothy Sayers, CREED OR CHAOS

Charles Williams, DESCENT INTO HELL



1.Introduction. The tradition of apologetics

2. The intellectual and cultural revolutions in the West, 1840-1940, and its impact on Christianity. The challengers: Darwin, Marx, Freud

3. The state of the churches; the Anglican tradition. The appeal of the medieval and the Gothic; the Anglo-Catholic tradition

4. The life of G. K. Chesterton

5. Discussion of ORTHODOXY

6. Reading ChestertonŐs poetry

7. Chesterton and the Catholic Church

8. Chesterton, the Progressives, and the Secular Utopians

9. Chesterton and the fantastic

10. Discussion of THE MAN WHO WAS THURSDAY

11. Critiquing Chesterton; the Jewish issue

12. The influence of the world wars on European Christianity

13. Tolkien and Christianity; Discussion of THE INKLINGS


15.The life of C. S. Lewis

16. Discussion of MERE CHRISTIANITY

17.Sacraments and sacramentalism

18.Charles Williams and Christianity

19.Discussion of DESCENT INTO HELL

20.Lewis, the fantastic and the occult; the importance of myth


22.The problem of evil: Hell and the Devil


24.Discussion of THE GREAT DIVORCE

25.Critiquing Lewis and the other Inklings

26.The world of Dorothy Sayers

27.Discussion of CREED OR CHAOS


29.How the British apologists came to be such a powerful force in American Christianity

30.Conclusion and summary





Academic Integrity Policy

Academic integrity is the pursuit of scholarly activity free from fraud and deception and is an educational objective of this institution. Academic dishonesty includes (but is not limited to) cheating, plagiarism, fabrication of information or citations, facilitating acts of academic dishonesty by others, unauthorized prior possession of examinations, submitting work of another person or work previously used without informing the instructor, and tampering with the academic work of other students (see Policies and Rules for Students, Section 49-20). Academically dishonest students may be punished with a minor penalty, typically a zero on a quiz or test, or with a major penalty such as a grade of "F" in a course. Please note that a student may not be forced to withdraw from a course for an academic integrity violation by the teacher alone.  Students who are punished with major penalties may appeal the decision. Cases that are sufficiently serious to warrant disciplinary actions beyond academic sanctions may be referred by the faculty member to the Office of Judicial Affairs for further review.


Disability Access Statement

The Pennsylvania State University encourages qualified persons with disabilities to participate in this programs and activities and is committed to the policy that all people shall have equal access to programs, facilities, and admissions without regard to personal characteristics not related to ability, performance, or qualifications as determined by University policy or by state or federal authorities. If you anticipate needing any type of accommodation in this course or have questions about physical access, please tell the instructor as soon as possible.