SF State News {University Communications}

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Professor and students examine approaches to God

March 15, 2010 -- Challenging negative and vaguely conceived notions about religion is of paramount importance in Jacob Needleman's "Concept of God" course. The philosophy professor recounts his personal struggle with the challenge in his new book, "What is God?"

The book jacket cover to Professor Needleman's new book.

The jacket cover to Professor Needleman's latest book.

When he joined the SF State faculty in 1962, Needleman was immediately assigned to teach the "History of Western Religious Thought" class.  Leaning toward existentialism and atheism at the time, the assignment challenged his notion that the subject was steeped in irrational thought and beliefs.

"I had to do a great deal of research in the writings within the Judaic and Christian traditions and I was astonished to find in those writings philosophical thought of great power and sophistication," said Needleman. "What I began to teach were writings that completely blew away all of my opinions on the topic." 

Students from many disciplines and a broad range of religious backgrounds make up Needleman's class this semester, and he senses that many have come not simply to fulfill academic requirements but to begin their own personal searches.  He hopes to do justice to both pursuits.

In addition to standard texts on religion, Needleman is sharing his newest book with his students. "What is God?" is a memoir of Needleman's personal journey from atheist to spiritual seeker. He hopes that his students will embrace the intellectual and spiritual opportunities the class offers.

"I don't do answers, I do questions," Needleman said. "My job is to help the students deepen the questions they bring to this class." He maintains that any student with an open mind will benefit.  But, like him, they must first be willing to step back from the negative opinions about Western religion that are still fashionable in many intellectual and literary circles today.

For more information about "What is God?" and any of Needleman's other books, including "The American Soul" and "Why Can't We Be Good?" visit his Web site.

-- Denize Springer


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