Prefrosh Preview: A field guide to the Problem of God
There’s a ton to say, so we’ve broken this up into two posts. This morning we’ll be giving you a field guide to Problem of God professors, and this afternoon we’ll come back with advice about tackling core classes for each of the four schools.
Problem of God, the one class  just about everyone is required to take, is a mixed bag because the quality of instruction varies wildly, and professors have almost no constraints on how they want to teach the class. The professor you get is the difference between loving the class and loathing it, and with so many professors teaching PoG, it can be tough to know who to take—especially as an incoming freshman.
With that in mind, here are Voice staffers’ (and a couple friends of the Voice‘s) thoughts about their PoG professors. (Asterisks denote professors who are teaching the course this fall).
Burnett’s class raises some serious questions, like a good theology class, but it’s also easy to pass and easy to skip, like a good core class. If you’re serious about theology, Burnett’s not for you—he doesn’t go deeply into the material, and he never inspires much from the class. But if you just want to burn through the core and boost your GPA, Burnett’s your man.
Stephen Fields, S.J.
If you’re a Catholic boy, you do well in his class. If you’re not, then you don’t. The class was theoretically an examination of rational defenses of the existence of God, which sounded pretty cool to an agnostic like me, but it was a very one-sided debate; only Catholics (and mostly boys) were called on. It was not a good introduction to Catholic school.
She’s a fair, but not easy, instructor, and a good grade definitely requires you to read the books and speak in class (although there’s no actual participation grade). She’s really nice, but don’t let that fool you into thinking that she doesn’t have a good radar for bullshit.
Enthusiastic professor, knows his stuff, especially about monastic traditions in each of the religions studied. Reasonable amount of reading (50 pages or less per class), though skimming for basic content is adequate. Fair grader on paper and exams, and in-class participation can boost grade significantly.
Leo Lefebure is a very nice man, and a reasonable Problem of God Professor. Although the class is not especially difficult, it’s worthwhile to study for the cumulative midterm. Write your papers about his research interests (which will be obvious) and you’ll have no problem.
Anyone lucky enough to draw Professor Beth McKeown will find themselves immediately using their rapidly accumulating theological know how in order to thank God for their good fortune. The often unpredictable and always entertaining McKeown will have you in stitches throughout the semester. The sharpness of her rapid-fire wit is matched only by the breadth of her inexhaustible knowledge.
She has a warm personality and laughs at herself often, but the reading is a bit much for a introductory Theology course. She focuses mainly on the idea and the concept of religion by teaching about religion before Christianity.
The class is pretty straightforward, and the reading are minimal, but I felt we never really delved into the text. Professor Murphy is a kind man, and very helpful, but his discussions were a bit haphazard and unorganized. It sometimes felt like he would say shocking things just to make sure we were paying attention, without having any real basis (i.e. “Is heaven sitting around passing around a fresh one?”). All in all it was a good class, but if you really want to explore the problem of God, take it with someone else.
He doesn’t talk about religion at all, just about about natural religion and if there things about humans that make us create religions because of our need for order We studied many philosophers, modern and not, mostly excerpts (except for Richard Berger and David Hume). Class is generally a lively discussion, he has great anecdotes, and even invites you for dinner at his house. He does take attendance, though, and not writing twice a week in the blog will affect your grade.
Overall, I liked the class, and it was not very difficult. It was more focused on the history of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, and on comparing these three religions. There were infrequent short response papers, a midterm, and a final. The professor is entertaining and has a sarcastic sense of humor. Definitely recommended, especially compared with other classes that involve a lot more work.
Definitely an old-school theology class—lots of Paul Tillich and philosophy of religion, not so many flowcharts comparing different faiths. Ruf is a smart guy and the workload is really manageable, with a huge emphasis on class participation (a blessing or a curse depending on who’s in your section).
Professor Sanders is fun, energetic, and interesting. More importantly, she’s a fair grader and doesn’t try and fool her students. She’s a very good teacher.
Brilliant teacher, engaging class. Reading assignments were very manageable.
She was just about the nicest professor I’ve ever had. My class called her Saint Theresa, and for good reason. She was really open to discussing faiths other than Christianity, encouraged my whole class contribute to the discussion, and was a pretty fair grader as I remember. I really liked her class, and would highly recommend her.
Christopher Steck, S.J.*
He was really good if you didn’t have a problem with God. Otherwise, he’d give you higher class participation grades if you didn’t participate.
The class is focused almost entirely on touchy-feely personal discussions, and you get the sense that she doesn’t have much solid knowledge or intellectual curiosity about religions (especially ones that aren’t in the Judeo-Christian family). Not too much reading, but you do have to write four very lengthy (15-20 pages or more each), invasively personal essays. Once you get past the creepiness of being forced to share your personal memories with your professor, they’re easy As as long as you can crank out the verbiage—she seems to grade more on quantity rather than quality.
I absolutely loved her. She would start the class with an interesting quote that we’d contemplate before beginning the class. I also enjoyed how we read The Brothers Karamazov in her class. The class was more focused on the human desire to find meaning in life through spirituality. I would definitely recommender her.
Bonus: Intro to Biblical Literature professor John Pilch
(Along with History of Asian Cultures, Bib Lit is one of the classes you can substitute for PoG)
Pilch is quite funny and entertaining, but he is also very blunt (he told a girl that she should seriously contemplate whether or not she belonged at Georgetown). He also has a policy of leaving religion at the door, making this a great class for people of little or no religion.
Check back this afternoon for more info about core requirements!