God and the Human Experience

Course Syllabus (PDF)

Can human beings experience God? What is it like when God enters human experience? How is that person changed? How could a person begin to think or talk about such an experience? How can she possibly communicate her experience to others?

This course will explore the limits of human experience and the luminous points at which God seems to enter in. We will pay attention to the finite structures of human language, culture, and consciousness as they strain to encompass the experience of the infinite. People in the mystical and contemplative traditions have explored these limits for millennia, and so we will draw on some of their wisdom.

Human experience, however, is not a single and simple thing. Different people have different experiences—even of God. This course, will also explore human difference as it affects people’s experience of God. This attention to human difference is a task that mainstream theological traditions have not taken seriously until quite recently, so there is much to learn and much to explore.

Students in this course will (1) gain facility with interdisciplinary methods for analyzing the structures of human experience by (2) becoming familiar with a variety of theorizations of the limits of human experience from the Christian theological tradition. These methods are grounded in theological studies, but draw on philosophy, psychology, and critical theories of race, sexuality, and gender. Students will (3) refine their ability to use intellectual and critical inquiry as a means of fostering empathy and greater understanding of human difference. They will do so by laboring to understand (at an empathetic, intuitive level) experiences of the world structured very differently than their own. Students will (4) gain experience and confidence articulating their own religious experience and the religious experiences of others in both speech and writing—valuable skills in a world where encounters with cultural and religious diversity are everyday experiences. Students who accomplish these learning objectives (5) will be equipped to labor toward shaping a world that deals with the diversity of human experience in a more just and generous manner.