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COURSE NUMBER: PSYC 494
COURSE TITLE: Special Topics: Neuroscience, the Person, and Christian Theology (Winter 2009)
NAME OF INSTRUCTOR: Dr. Heather Looy
CREDIT WEIGHT AND WEEKLY TIME DISTRIBUTION: credits 3(hrs lect 3 - hrs sem 0 - hrs lab 0)
CALENDAR DESCRIPTION: In-depth examination and discussion of a specific topic in psychology.  Specific topic(s) for the year will be posted prior to the spring registration period, and earlier if possible.  This course is intended for students in the third or fouth year of a four-year psychology program and will build on previous courses in the program.

What does it mean to be a “person”?  In the U.S., the 1990’s were declared “The Decade of the Brain”.  This declaration reflects a significant cultural shift, from a view of human nature and behaviour as primarily a function of culture and experience, socially-constructed, modifiable, and dynamic, to a kind of “biologizing” of our self-understanding.  We rarely turn now to community, culture, or theological traditions to explain, shape, or modify our identities and behaviours.  Instead, we look to neuroscientists, geneticists, computer scientists, and medical practitioners.  We use the languages of biology, computer science, physics; we speak of ourselves as mechanisms.  Discoveries emerging from the neurosciences and related fields have illuminated our understanding of ourselves in ways that are meaningful and contributory to flourishing, and at the same raised troubling and difficult questions about how we should view and treat one another and the non-human creation.  Gradually we are realizing that the languages of the sciences alone cannot guide us; we need other languages, including those of philosophy and theology.  In this course we will explore several topics related to human personhood on which both the neurosciences and theology have something to say.  We’ll see where they conflict, contradict, and complement one another.

Prerequisites: PSYC 250 or 251; some topics may have more specific prerequisites.

REQUIRED TEXTS:

A course pack of readings will be available through the bookstore.  Other required readings will be posted as links on the Moodle page.  Wherever possible I have posted electronic links to readings to save costs on the course pack.  You are free to print the electronic sources if you prefer to read from hard copy.

MARK DISTRIBUTION IN PERCENT:
Focus Questions on Readings 30%
Research/Reflection Paper30%
Class Participation20%
Final Exam20%
100%
COURSE OBJECTIVES:
  • to provide students with a basic knowledge of the data and perspectives from neuroscience and Christian theology on human persons;
  • for students to gain a better critical understanding of the methodologies of neuroscience and Christian theology;
  • to promote an interdisciplinary approach to the study of human persons which respects the integrity of each discipline while providing a more holistic and integrated understanding.
LECTURE OUTLINE
  • Course Introduction, Evaluation Decisions, and Overview of Perspectives on the Person From Neuroscience and Christian Theology
  • Neuroscience and Christian Theology—Methods, Interactions, Relevance to Personhood
  • Non-human Animal Personhood
  • Introduction to Transhuman and Artificially-Intelligent Systems
  • Transhuman and Artificially-Intelligent Systems
  • Birth: When Does a Human Person Begin to Exist in this World?
  • Death: When Does a Human Person Cease to Exist in this World? 
  • Altered States of Consciousness and Existence of the Person After Death
  • Brain Disorders, Mental Illness, Crime, and Personhood
  • Extraordinary Religious Experiences
  • “Ordinary” Religious Experiences
  • Human Mind/Brain, Body/Soul
  • Finishing Up, Discussion of Final Exam


Required texts, assignments, and grade distributions may vary from one offering of this course to the next. Please consult the course instructor for up to date details.

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