Bachelor in International Liberal Arts: Philosophy and Religious Studies


Program Description

Bachelor in International Liberal Arts: Philosophy and Religious Studies

World History

This course is an invitation to explore faraway places and distant times from a global perspective. We will study the worldwide travel of people, goods, and ideas during the last two millennia. We will learn how global trade, migration, and intellectual exchange transformed the world. We will examine the arrival of new technologies and how they changed the global economy. We will also look at the rise and fall of powerful empires and the origins and aftermath of international armed conflicts. Our global approach will allow us to identify the major events in world history and assess their implications for the world we live in now.


At the end of this course, students should be able to:

  1. use the analytical tools of an historian and appreciate the pleasures and challenges of thinking historically
  2. identify the key themes of world history and give reasons for their importance
  3. put themselves into the position of other people in different places and times and consider their perspective on history
  4. apply the knowledge acquired in the lecture by writing an essay on a historical topic and presenting it to the class
  5. engage with the daily world news from a historical perspective, think about the historical background of present-day events, and assess their global implications

Japanese History

This course explores Japan’s eventful history from its early beginnings to the present. We begin with a survey of ancient and medieval Japan before turning to the Tokugawa shogunate and its turbulent collapse. We then study the history of modern Japan with close attention to the tensions between Westernization and "Japaneseness." We focus also on the major changes of postwar economy and politics and how transformations in these areas have affected everyday lives. The course illuminates the tight connection of Japan’s history to a global context. This is an interactive lecture-type course. Students are required to complete homework assignments prior to class and to contribute frequently to class discussions.


At the end of this course, students should:

  1. be able to identify historical patterns and recurring themes that help connect Japan’s history with that of other countries
  2. know how to access and read primary sources to adopt a historical perspective, identify the concerns and intentions of secondary sources, and develop an awareness of different approaches to make sense of the past
  3. gain an awareness of how Japan’s present situation in the world is embedded in the country’s history
  4. engage thoroughly in writing about historical events by putting forward an argument and developing it in a clear and coherent manner
  5. learn how to articulate and refine ideas in discussions and presentations

History of Technology in Japan

In this class, we will examine the role of technology in Japan’s history from the 1800s to the present. In the first part of the course, we will follow Japan’s rapid industrialization until the mid-1930s. We will explore the legacy of Tokugawa technology, the role of technology transfer and diffusion during the Meiji period, and the emergence of Japan’s large-scale industries. In the second part will look at icons of modern Japanese technology such as the Zero-sen fighter aircraft, the Shinkansen bullet train, and humanoid robots and put them into a wider context of technology and World War II, technology and Japan’s economic miracle, and technology in Japan’s changing society.


At the end of this course, students should be able to:

  1. identify the historical roots of Japan’s technological transformation
  2. put Japan’s technological development into a context of international competition and cooperation
  3. assess the role of technology in Japan’s rise to an industrial superpower
  4. connect the history of Japan’s technology to major political, economic, and social developments

Philosophy & Religious Studies

Philosophy, Culture & Civilization

This course provides an introduction to central concepts and aims of philosophy by looking at the role of philosophy in relation to some of the world’s cultures and civilizations. Special reference is made to Western civilization, but we are equally interested in the differences between civilizations. We examine the early origins of civilization in order to find points in common and to investigate what conditions make civilization possible. While making use of ideas of important philosophers of culture and civilization, such as E. Cassirer and A.N.Whitehead, the course also draws upon contemporary interdisciplinary research, including perspectives from history, archeology, anthropology, religious studies, comparative philosophy, ethics, and aesthetics. Introductory general explanations of the major concepts of civilization provide a comparative vision of the human condition, concepts of the self, social organization, and ways of understanding the sources of conflict and the hope for the resolution of conflicts. The course traces some key concepts within several world civilizations in relation to developments in philosophy from antiquity to the present. Special emphasis is placed on concepts, philosophical approaches, and ideas that have had foundational significance for Western civilization and which may help us to better understand contemporary human problems. We emphasize that Western philosophy has changed and moved through several stages of development as cultures have interacted and as civilization has been transformed by developments in science, technology, politics, religion, the arts and changing human concerns and values. We will seek to reveal stages in the development of philosophy by investigating how major works of literature and art often reflect these developments.


(i.)To examine the nature and roots of human civilization and philosophy regarded as universal creative phenomena; (ii.) To understand what philosophy is and the primary alternative approaches within philosophical studies provided by different cultures and civilizations; (iii.) To investigate the practical application of philosophy & the study of civilizations to addressing human problems: (iv.) To enhance students’ understanding of human culture, values, and history; (v.) To improve students’ analytical and critical thinking skills; (vi.)To cultivate in students creative & critical approaches to understanding how philosophy contributes to each civilization.

History of Western Philosophy

This course investigates themes and thinkers which form the core of the Western philosophical tradition from the ancient Greek philosophers to philosophy in the 20th & 21st Centuries. Attention is given to ways that Western religious traditions, as well as the arts and the sciences, have interacted with Western philosophy. Philosophers and philosophies to be discussed include: The Pre-Socratics; Socrates; Plato; Aristotle; Augustine; Descartes, Spinoza & Rationalism; J. Locke & Empiricism; Kant; Nietzsche; W. James & Pragmatism; Heidegger, Sartre & Existentialism; The rise of Analytic Philosophy and Phenomenology; Philosophy today. We aim to understand the Western culture more fully by understanding the central place of philosophy in Western culture. We ask how philosophy can contribute to understanding on a global scale and toward resolving global issues.


At the end of this course, students should be able to:

(i.)Identify and understand several central problems of philosophy and how key philosophers in the Western tradition have addressed these problems; (ii.)Express their own views on these philosophical questions and their reasons in support of their own views; (iii.)Understand more fully (as the result of refining their reading, critical and argumentative skills) the different ways in which people have disagreed about such matters as: what is the right or the wrong thing to do or what is real or what we truly know; (iv.)Understand more fully, and with a broad interdisciplinary perspective, how philosophy has developed historically from the ancient Greeks to the present, and has influenced Western thought, culture, and institutions.

History and Philosophy of Science

This course provides an introduction to key ideas and approaches proposed in philosophy as ways of understanding the aims, practices, and limits of science. We survey several approaches which have been proposed, with special attention to those from the late 19th Century to the present: positivism and Reichenbach’s logical empiricism; Popper’s critical rationalism; Kuhn’s account of scientific revolutions; van Fraassen’s constructive empiricism; Giere’s perspectivism and several approaches in the sociology of science will be included. In order to assess the adequacy of these accounts of science, we will investigate key developments in the history of science. Following the approach of DeWitt’s Worldviews. (2nd edition, 2010), we follow the path from Aristotle’s science through Galileo and Newton to Einstein, with special reference to changing theories in astronomy and cosmology. But we also follow the route in biology from Aristotle through Darwin to the discovery of the structure of DNA, as well as a host of other episodes in the history of scientific thought. We ask what strengths and weaknesses we can discover in the various alternative approaches to understanding science which are mentioned above, by reference to case studies from the history of science. We consider the role of logics (deductive and inductive) in science. And we end the term by investigating what the limits of science are, and what relevance scientific knowledge may have to ethical or social issues today.


At the end of this course, students should be able to: (i.)Show an understanding of several major questions central to philosophy of science today; (ii.)Present several of the main approaches used in the past century to interpret science and its history, and several strengths and weakness of each approach; (iii.)Give examples from the history of science which illustrate some of the strengths and weaknesses of the main approaches studied; (iv.)Coherently discuss how theories of the motion of the heavenly bodies were improved from the ancient views of Aristotle and his predecessors to Newton and also to Einstein; (v.)Coherently discuss the transition from Aristotle’s ideas in biology to Darwin’s theory of evolution and to outline several common misunderstandings of Darwinian evolution; (vi.)Show acquaintance with key concepts and terminology of formal logic; (vii.) Comment in an informed way on whether, and in what ways if any, science can be applied to ethical issues.

Creativity in the Sciences and the Arts

Creativity is the birthright of every human being. We are creative in ways which we often fail to be aware of, or to consider. But creativity is something which we value when we encounter it in others. We ask ourselves: how can I be more creative? And what is creativity, after all? In this course, we aim to investigate the key questions of what creativity is and what factors it involves. Our ideas about creativity are first shaped by our home culture and upbringing. So we begin by considering several myths and stories of creation and what they may reveal about creativity. Then we will consider several ideas developed in philosophy about creativity in the works of A.N.Whitehead, E. Cassirer, I.Kant, and M.Boden. It is commonly held today that the most successful approach to understanding the creative process is by way of interdisciplinary study. This is the approach we will use. Following the lead of works by M.Csikszentmihalyi and H.Gardiner, we explore the core factors identified for the creative process: 1.individual,, and 3.symbol system of discipline or work. Their interdisciplinary framework is then applied in a careful exploration of several case studies of creative scientists (Einstein, Darwin, Copernicus) and artists (painter P.Picasso, jazz musician J.Coltrane, and dancer Martha Graham). We attempt to see whether there is a core concept of creativity and certain creative factors which can be traced through the works of these individuals. We try to learn from Darwin by asking what evolutionary theory may reveal about the process of creation. Finally, we return to our core questions: what makes creative expression and innovation possible? In the final weeks of the term, student groups present their own case studies and conclusions.


At the end of this course, students should be able to: 1.Outline the core ideas and principles of at least two alternative theories of the creative process and to show how information from several fields have been used in developing these theories; 2.Discuss what is gained by using the interdisciplinary approach of using several fields; 3.Apply at least two theories of the creative process to account for activities of an individual scientist or artist about whom we have studied in the course; 4.Apply at least two theories of the creative process to an artist or scientist not covered in the course; 5. Display critical, inquisitive and creative (!) skills in responding to the presentations of fellow students; 6.Discuss what he/she will do next to apply ideas about creativity.

Comparative Philosophy

This course is an exploration of several key philosophical issues and concepts in the contexts of several distinct cultures, past and present, by investigating the intellectual or cultural background to the philosophers and issues studied. The course begins with a careful study of Thomas Kasulis’s Intimacy and Integrity. Philosophy and Cultural Difference (2002), in which a dynamic general framework for understanding cultural differences between philosophies and traditions is elaborated. Then we turn our attention to examples of philosophy in Europe, China, India and Japan with the aim of developing comparative perspectives by applying Kasulis’s model. Themes for the course include: knowledge and rationality; alternative understandings of what is real and the question of cultural relativism; concepts of mind and selfhood; concepts of the good and the ideal society; the role and appreciation of works of art in different cultures. Examples of themes for lectures and/or student group-presentations in the final weeks of the course: experience, self & personal identity in Descartes, Locke and Indian philosophers; the concept of the Good in Ancient Greek and Chinese philosophies; nihilism as interpreted in the work of Western philosophers such as Nietzsche, and in the philosophy of Nishitani Keiji; other themes in the Kyoto School of Philosophy (Nishida and Nishitani) in relation to key Western philosophers; alternative views about the relation of philosophy and religion to creative expression in music; differences between Japanese & Western arts; concepts used in Eastern & Western cultures about our responsibility for nature and environmental problems.


In this course, through the comparative studies, we undertake, (i.) Students will develop an appreciation and understanding of several major philosophical issues as they appear in several distinct cultural settings; (ii.) Students will become familiar with applying Kasulis’ method of cultural comparison; (iii.) Students will learn ways to uncover similarities and differences between different cultures with special reference to philosophical and religious perspectives; (iv.) Students will develop careful, thorough, and precise ways of reading works in philosophy with attention to making clear comparisons between philosophers & philosophies; (v.) Students will improve their logical and critical skills; (vi.)Students will come to see how the comparative study of philosophy can enrich their understanding of philosophies, religions and other aspects of various cultures as well.

Philosophy and Environmental Issues

This course provides an introduction to the application of philosophy in response to major contemporary issues about the environment, with special reference to environmental ethics. We will examine several ways that philosophy has been used in trying to clarify our responsibilities for the natural world and will explore a wide range of approaches used in responding to this challenge: the Land Ethic of Aldo Leopold; utilitarian analysis, including cost-benefit environmentalism; A.Naess and the philosophy of deep ecology; eco-feminism; Bookchin’s social ecology; the free-market economy vs. political responsibility for future generations. Following this overview of approaches, we will focus on two main themes for the course: sustainability of forest resources and environmental issues relating to the use of nuclear energy. We will investigate how several of the above approaches can be applied to the two issues noted above. After achieving some perspective from the study of these core cases, students will then prepare small-group or individual presentations using their own chosen approach to study problems of (for example) diminishing global water resources, climate change, GM foods, or other environmental problems which challenge us today.


At the end of this course, students should be able to: 1. Present in outline the central concepts and principles of several of the major alternative approaches available for using philosophy in the study of environmental issues; 2. Present ways of applying at least two of the approaches to environmental ethics studied within the course to address two or more major environmental issues, not limited to the themes noted above; 3. Present, clarify, criticize and improve arguments for and against various approaches to resolving environmental issues.; 4. Demonstrate improved skills in the presentation of the student’s own positions on major environmental issues. As new information about the environment is uncovered and as interpretations shift, it is extremely rare for anyone’s views on environmental issues to remain unchanged over long periods of time. Students who have completed this course should be able to explain in what ways (and especially, why) their views on environmental issues have changed over time.

Seminar (Philosophy)

The role of the seminar is to support the successful completion of the Graduation Research Project (GRP), a graduation requirement for all students. In this seminar, we will look at the theme that each student has chosen for the Writing-Across-Curriculum (WAC) program, upon which the GRP is based, through the lens of theories, paradigms, and concepts from the field of Philosophy. Students will take turns presenting their research at different stages of their thesis development. Their peers, under the supervision of the seminar instructor, will discuss and critique each presentation to give the presenters an opportunity to refine their own thesis. Through such interactions, peers will learn how to avoid problems with their own projects.


At the end of this course, students will have: (i) analyzed an important world issue from the perspective of a philosopher, (ii) conducted at a high level of proficiency their own research project, and (iii) written a high-quality graduation thesis in their own chosen area.

World Religions

This course studies the major tradition that can be called "religious" including Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and some of the Eastern Traditions. We will survey each religion in general including history, doctrine, and practices, and in particular, we will focus on the interaction of the religion and politics. We will also examine what the religion claims to believe and what they actually practice; how it seems itself and how it is seen from outside. The course will be given in an interactive-lecture style and the students are expected to be actively involved in the class discussions. Besides the attendance and participation, each student will choose a news story from the last five years in which a religion was involved in a social conflict, and write an analysis paper paying attention to both the views of the religious group and of the outsiders.


By the end of the course students should i) have broad understanding of each of the main religious traditions, ii) be able to analyse interactions and influences of religions on each other and on the society as a whole, iii) be able to relate the knowledge of religions to historical and contemporary events in the world, iv) be able to gather relevant information and synthesize it in order to state and defend their own conclusions, and v) learn how to present and argue effectively in discussions.

Comparative Religious Studies

In this course, we will examine the historical development of the comparative religion, and major contributors and theories since its emergence as a distinct discipline. We will look at the problem of developing the definition of "religion" that captures the behaviors we intuitively call "religious". We will also apply the methods of comparative religion to analyse some important aspects of religious traditions such as taboos, the view of the outsider, the role of women, and the structure of society they envision. Particular attention will be given to religions in Japan, including traditional animism, state Shinto, and some of the new religions. The study will be empirical and inductive: drawing conclusions from actual practices rather than deducing from the first principle. Students will be expected to have read assigned material each week and to be ready to argue and defend their views in class discussion.


Students will be expected to i) have a general knowledge of the development of the discipline of comparative religion, ii) understand and be able to apply the methods of comparative religion, iii) be familiar with religious traditions in Japan and what the comparative religion contribute to the study of these traditions, iv) be able to formulate and present effective argument based on knowledge gained on the course.

Spiritual Dimensions and Traditions in the Japanese Martial Arts

The Japanese martial arts, like other traditional arts in Japan, have been heavily influenced by Zen, Shinto, and Confucian traditions. One way to study these is to examine the literature and classic texts written by both spiritual and martial arts masters. Many of these have been translated into English, as well as examined by Western writers. We will take a critical look at excerpts from the writings of D.T. Suzuki, Miyamoto Musashi, Eugen Herigel, Karlfried Graf Von Durkheim, Thomas Cleary, Trevor Leggett, Nitobe Inazo, William Scott Wilson, and others. This course will also look at the stereotypes of the Samurai popularized in film, and help students develop a perspective on the image of the Samurai, as well as how it changed in various eras of Japanese history. We will also examine how some of these concepts have influenced Japanese manners and behavior (shigusa).


At the end of this course, students should become able to: (i) better understand the philosophical base behind any practical training that students might also wish to engage in the martial arts, (ii) be able to understand terms used in the martial arts such as tanden, zanshin, and maai, (iii) be able in discussions to cite references from the classic and contemporary writings on the Japanese martial arts, (iv) present a short paper on some aspect of Samurai culture or history from topics selected by the professor, and (v) write a paper on the concept of bunbu ichido, mastery of martial and liberal arts.

Workshop: Practicing Zen

Zen is well known in Japan as the way of life, which was transmitted by Dogen from China to Japan and highly developed in the Muromachi Kamakura Period. It helps students gain an appreciation of Japanese traditional culture. This course will introduce how to practice ZAZEN, which is the basis of Zen. Students will learn the basic movements of Zen in daily life, such as Sitting, Standing, Walking, and Eating. They will also learn by reading "FUKANZAZENGI" (An Instruction of Zazen, designated as a national treasure) and "SHOBOGENZO" (The essential heart of Buddha’s teaching) written by Dogen. During the winter period, students will stay in Tenryuji (an authorized ZEN DOJO in Fukui) and practice Zen for 2 days. They will also visit Eiheiji (the head Zen monastery founded by Dogen) and take part in the morning service, which is held every day for more than 700 years. Students are required to participate actively, and to contribute frequently to class discussions.


At the end of this course, students should be able to: (i) understand the basic terminology used in the practice of Zen, and be able to explain the general idea and history of Zen; (ii) sit comfortably in concentration by learning how to adjust the body in the Zen Method; (iii) adopt the "Zen Eating Method" to daily life, which will be a fundamental part of human’s life in harmony; (iv) control their posture at ease by practicing sitting, standing, and walking Methods practiced in a Zen monastery; and (v) gain insights on how to live a sustainable and creative life in unpredictable modern society.

Workshop: Experiencing Shinto

This course will provide a background in the fundamental theory and practice of Shinto, which is an important part of traditional Japanese culture. The course will show how Shinto helped define much of the Japanese culture and arts, as well as influencing the philosophy, religious sentiment, and psychology of the Japanese people. The theory section will start with a comparison of Shinto and other religions and cultures, which will include a comparison not only with religions (including shamanism) of the world, but also with other traditional Japanese cultural expressions, such as Zen, Sado, or Aikido. This section of the course will also cover the history and classics åâPj (ooharae no kotoba) of Shinto, followed by the basic philosophy of Shinto gâS, âP¢, ÕâJ (misogi, yakubarai, saishi). The object of this section is to understand Shinto as a core element of Japanese culture through a critical examination of Shinto in Japan. It will also lead to thought and discussion of the possible practical usefulness of this understanding for students, who will play an active part in international society. In the practice section, the student will learn the manners of Shinto, such as è, j, ç (hakushu, norito, rei) and then study how these movements are related to body language and behavior within the Japanese culture. This section will involve several visits to Shinto shrines and other related sites.


On completion of this course students will be able to do the following: (i) explain the fundamental concepts of Shinto, (ii) explain how Shinto has influenced the Japanese culture, arts and religious feelings of Japanese people, and became the basis of traditional Japanese culture, (iii) introduce Japanese culture to the people of his or her country or of other foreign countries, including the history of how Shinto influenced the development of Japanese culture, (iv) master the basic knowledge and manners of Shinto, and explain these to people of their own or other cultures when visiting a Shinto shrine.


Richard Dietz

Adjunct Instructors:

Jurgen Melzer

Last updated Nov 2018

About the School

Picturesquely located at the foot of Mt Fuji, in the heart of what was known in medieval times as Kai Country, the YGU Sakaori campus, home to the iCLA complex (Residential Halls and classroom buildin ... Read More

Picturesquely located at the foot of Mt Fuji, in the heart of what was known in medieval times as Kai Country, the YGU Sakaori campus, home to the iCLA complex (Residential Halls and classroom building), iCLA is only 90 minutes West of Tokyo, and offers students unique opportunities to immerse themselves in the very essence of Japan and its culture. Read less