SPST 4586 01

Discernment and Nature:
Christian Spirituality with Science and Religion

Spring 2002
Thursdays,  9:40 am-12:30 pm
CDSP 223


Professor Elizabeth Liebert
Montgomery Hall 211,

Professor Robert Russell
Le Conte 209,

Nancy S. Wiens St. John

Office Hours:

Liebert – by arrangement
Russell – by arrangement
Wiens St. John – by arrangement

Course Purpose and Philosophy

            Christian spiritual discernment comes out of the long tradition of Christian spirituality, as illumined in the emerging academic field of Christian Spirituality.  As a lived experience, Christian spirituality attends to the experiences of a person in the ongoing covenant relationship among and between God, humans, and the rest of creation–a triadic relationship which is transformative and integrative in its intimacy.  These transforming and integrating relationships simultaneously touch every aspect of life.  The study of discernment within this academic field seeks to explore the nature of the relationships among these three sets of actors and the ways communication occurs and can be interpreted.

            Because Christian spirituality, and therefore Christian spiritual discernment, engages God, humans, and the rest of creation, rigorous study of the nature of these three in the disciplines of theology, theological anthropology, and natural science advances our understanding of the nature of discernment.  Over time, discernment has come to include increasingly larger contexts for a person's experience:  one's intrapersonal, interpersonal, and structural life as arenas of experiences of God.  Both the contemporary crisis regarding the cosmos and the increasing study of things ecological justify a further broadening to consider both human interdependence with nature and the role of nature in one's discernment of God.  The biblical and historical traditions, as well as vast accounts of  personal experience, further beckon our attentive study of the ways people experience God's presence and guidance in and through nature.

            The contemporary dialogue between natural science and religion offers crucial understandings of divine action in nature that serve to restore critical believers' confidence in how we speak about God's activity and that impact our daily living.  To operate with a theology and a theological anthropology grounded in the most recent scholarship from the natural sciences offers Christian spiritual discernment a more reliable and realistic core from which to glean and notice patterns of God's presence in and through nature, and thus to discern in nature.

            In this class, every student’s academic and personal experiences can be valuable contributions to the group’s learnings.  It is our intention for us jointly to establish a collaborative learning environment where all of us bear some responsibility for the success of this class as a communal learning experience.  You will be asked, therefore, to engage the reading, the professor and student presentations, and the discussions with an eye to integrating your critical thinking and your personal experience.  The inclusion of your personal experience in written and verbal expression is always your choice and invited with the double purpose of responsible self-care and deepening your grasp of the theoretical material.

Course Goals and Intentions

In the methodology, to explore:

     learning to name the issues in Christian Spirituality, and particularly in Christian spiritual discernment, that can enlist the insights of science

     learning the ways contemporary science and theology dialogue with one another

     returning to original questions to deploy new understandings of discernment

In the content, to explore:

      reformulating notions of Christian discernment in light of contemporary science

     the historical and contemporary roles of nature in theology

     the current conversation between science and theology and its relationship to spirituality

In the lives of the students and professors:

     to educe from each other and ourselves the roles that discernment and nature play in our communal and personal lives and/or that we would like them to play.


            Classes will include a mixture of professor presentation, group discussion about the presentations, and student-led discussion about the readings and presentations.  We encourage you to pursue the implications of our learnings in and out of class.  Keep your eyes open to how the course materials show up in and impact your other courses’ readings, your daily living, etc.

Course Requirements

            Class Participation.  Regular attendance and active participation in class activities with the intention of contributing to collaborative learning.  (15%)

            Student-led Discussions.  Each student will choose a week to lead the discussion that follows a professor’s presentation.  The discussion will center on 2-3 questions the student creates about the readings for the week and the faculty topic.  (20%)

            Personal Practices.  Several times a week, spend time alone outdoors with the intention of being present to all that you meet.  Afterward, attend to the experiences in as much detail as you can, noticing senses, feelings, and thoughts.  Journal after each one for your own reflection and as material for the writing assignments. (0%)

            Writing Assignments.  Three, one-page papers.  These will not be graded but read for understanding of how you are interpreting your personal practices.  These are meant to facilitate observation and integration of your internal processes with the personal practices. Due 2/21, 3/14, and 4/11.  (15% total)

            Final Paper.  In a 4000-5000 word research paper, consider an issue in discernment or science and discuss it in light of the course content.  You are also encouraged to speak in the closing of the paper about your personal practice of discernment and how it has changed over the term.  Please include a SASE with your paper.  Due 16 May.  (50%)

            Final Grades.  Please know that our grading philosophy reflects evaluation of the strong aptitudes and the remaing room for growth in a student’s coursework; NO judgment of the student is included or implied with the assigning of these evaluations.  That said, each assignment will receive points related to its percent value for the overall course.  The calculation of final letter grades reflects the GTU grading standards (II.A.3.f. in the doctoral handbook):

93% A 87% B+ 77% C+ 67% D+
90% A- 83% B 73% C 64% D
    80% B- 70% C- 60% D-
Pass: C or above on each assignment fail: below C

I.  Beginnings

1          2/7            Introductions and Review of Syllabus

                                    Student’s backgrounds, programs, hopes, and intentions, Big Questions

2          2/14            Interdisciplinary Issues for Discernment and Nature

                        Due:  Begley articles in reader (8)

                        Eliade, “Religious Experience,” in reader (7)

                        Guillet, first half of Discernment of Spirits in reader (66)

                        Optional:  Newberg, Aquili, and Rause

3          2/21            Discernment

                        Due:  Liebert et al, “Discernment and Strategic Decision Making” in reader (18)

                        Guillet, second half of Discernment of Spirits in reader (66)

                        Written assignment

II.  Historical Role of Nature in Theology

4          2/28            Irenaeus, Origin, Augustine

                        Due:  Santmire, cc 1-4, (73)

5          3/7            Hildegard, Ignatius, Aquinas

                        Mark Richardson’s typology in parallel with Santmire’s typology

                        Due:  Schmitt, “Hildegard of Bingen” in reader (46)

                        Liebert, “Grounding in Truth,” in reader (26)

                        Santmire, cc 5 (20)

6          3/14            Bonaventure, Dante, Francis, Luther, Calvin, Teillard, and Barth

                        Due:  Lane. “Spirituality as the Performance of Desire,” in reader (30)

                        Santmire, cc 6-8, (76)

                        Written assignment

7          3/21            Contemporary Constructive Biblical Theology

                        Due:  Tucker, "Rain on a Land Where No One Lives” in reader (14)

                        Newsom. "The Moral Sense of Nature,” in reader (18)

                        Liebert, “Singing to God in Worship,” in reader (26)

                        Santmire, cc 9, (13)

                        Optional:  Newsom and Simpkins

III.  Contemporary Role of Nature in Theology

            3/28                 Reading Week            Spring Break              Holy Week

                        Read:  Russell, Part 1 of Survey on CD-rom

                        Russell, “Contemplation:  A Scientific Context,” in reader (18)

8          4/4            Cosmology and Creation

                        Due:  Russell, Part 2B of Survey

                        Russell, “Cosmology from Alpha to Omega," in reader (20)

                        Barbour, cc 2 and 4 (42)

                        Optional:  See list

9          4/18            Divine Action

                        Due:  Russell, Part 2A of Survey,

                        Russell, “Does ‘the God Who Acts’ Really Act?” in reader (22)

                        Barbour, cc 3 and 6 (54)

                        Optional:  See list

10        4/11            Evolution and Creation

                        Due:  Russell, Part 2C and D of Survey

                        Barbour, cc 5 (30)

                        Hefner, “The Human Factor:  Created Co-Creator as Symbol,” in reader (6)

                        Peacocke, “The Sound of Sheer Silence,” in reader (32)

                        Optional:  See List

                        Written assignment

11        4/25            Eschatology

                        Due:  Russell, Part 2E and 3E of Survey

                        Russell, “Bodily Resurrection, Eschatology, and Scientific Cosmology,” in reader (75)

                        Russell, “A Fresh Exploration of the Cosmic Christ,” in reader (   )

IV.  Conclusions

12        5/2            So, what?  Discernment reformulated, faculty summary

                        Due:  no reading

13        5/9            Big Questions revisited, summary, and student presentation of papers

                        Due:  no reading

14        5/16            Summary and student presentation of papers

                         Due:  Final Papers

Have a Great Summer!!