HSP Course Descriptions

Click titles below to read about Humanist Studies Program (HSP) courses. After completing Course 101, students are welcome to take any of our other courses (we recommend the order listed). All courses must be completed for one to become a Certified Humanist Professional. Students will receive a syllabus upon registration and be expected to complete readings and assignments prior to class.

Course 101: The Humanist Lifestance
This tutorial course (the only required course of the Humanist Studies Program) introduces students to in-depth critical thinking, analytic discussion, and other methods of instruction necessary to prepare students for further exploration of humanism in proceeding courses.

What characteristics distinguish humankind in contrast to other living things? Are these characteristics fixed or can they be changed by experience? What causes someone to think, feel, or act the way they do? Is humankind naturally good or evil? Are we inherently selfish?

This course begins with an examination of human nature by looking at those psychological and social qualities that make us human. We will review the many opposing concepts concerning human conduct that affect how one forms a philosophy of life. Leading thinkers will be explored to get a clearer picture of how humanists view human nature and the impact these positions have on philosophical perspectives. Rousseau, for example, argued that people are naturally good and it is society that turns a human into a “beast.” Thomas Paine asserted that humankind was originally in a state of equality and that inequalities are brought about by circumstance. Jean-Paul Sartre said, “existence precedes essence,” assuring that human nature is not fixed or inevitable.

In the second part of this course we will examine the development of humanist thought through the ages and how it changed over time from Classic Greece, to the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and the 19th and 20th centuries. We will look at how Greek culture viewed humankind as the measure of all things; how Renaissance thinkers emphasized wisdom and eloquence in the service of public good; how thinkers in the Enlightenment period added character formation, reason, critical thinking, and the scientific method; and how the modern era’s Romantics, Existentialists, Radicals and beyond shaped current humanist philosophy. This, in turn, will lead to looking at the humanist spectrum from religious to secular and the various organizations that represent the broad range of humanism.

Course 102: Humanist Values and Principles
Have you ever considered how individuals develop morally? Have you wondered about ethics and how we make ethical decisions? Or have you considered what one does when consequences and rights clash with a chosen set of values, such as not believing in killing, but supporting a woman’s right to choose abortion?

This course begins by looking at theories of development, especially moral development. It addresses the imperative need for humanists to understand what humans are capable of, in order to fully know what kind of environment and education is needed to aid individuals in becoming responsible people. Moral education, family life issues, and concerns of society are explored. This course looks at the major ethical theories found in the history of Western culture and how ethics is a primary aspect of humanism. We will examine the Enlightenment paradigm as a common morality, and think about whether this paradigm is still applicable. We will also explore how ethics comes to terms with multiculturalism’s claim that there is no common ethic beyond a local consensus or one’s own community.

Course 103: Humanism in Relation to World Religions
In this course we will look at some of the beliefs, ideologies, and world-views of various religions that often conflict with humanist philosophy. We engage in mutual critiques of each other. At times we see each other as the enemy. In our communities and in reality, however, we have often worked with religious groups on causes dear to both sides. Our investigation will begin with early religions—myth, cosmos, and connection; what is it to be human? Next we look at Hinduism—epistemology; what is reality? How do we know? Buddhism is next—ethics and non-violence; what is the right path? Confucianism—society based on ethics; what does that constitute? Taoism—harmony with the natural world; how is that achieved? Judaism—practice harmony with the natural world; how is that achieved; what is community? Yoruba—how do we reach our full potential? Islam—Al-Andalus; what does tolerance mean? Christianity—the demographic challenge?
Course 201: Critical Thinking, Knowledge, and Truth
“What is the best way to prove a case, create a rule, solve a problem, justify an idea, invent a hypothesis, or evaluate an argument? In other words, what is the best way to think? Everyone has to think in order to function in the world…Whether you are a budding philosopher searching for ultimate truths, a science student grappling with the nature of scientific proof, a new parent weighing conflicting child-rearing advice, or a concerned citizen making up your mind about today’s issues…[you will need help cutting] through deception and faulty reasoning to get closer to the essence of the matter.” –Dr James Hall, University of Carolina, Tools of Thinking: Understand the World Through Experience and Reason.

This course will look at critical thinking, knowledge, and truth as reflective reasoning about beliefs and practices. We will discuss the process of conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and evaluating information gathered by observation, experience, reflection, reasoning and communication as a guide to belief and action. By examining opposing views that stimulate critical thinking and creative ideas, we will look to uncover what reason and logic are and how reason and logic are used and abused. This course will also aim to explore the difference between probability, likelihood, and reasonableness, and what constitutes truths, truth, facts and reality.

Course 202: Physical and Life Sciences—Foundation Blocks of Humanism
What is science? Is science the only way to truth? What does science tell us about life and what if anything does science leave unaddressed? Does science fracture society or help it? How can science live with religion?

This course is aimed at trying to understand the various attacks on, problems for, and factors influencing the pursuit of science, which is a foundation block of humanism. Scientific work is done in a cultural setting, which is influenced by the politics and economic factors of the day. In the past we have had to worry about the “creationists.” While the creationists are still present and doing damage, there are new challenges in the postmodern world. Truth claims come from various ethnic groups with alternative stories. All are looking for validation. Challenges come from feminism, multiculturalism, and religious conservatives. This course explores these issues to better understand what science is, what it does, and what it tells us.

Course 203: Social Science—Foundation Block of Humanism
Social science focuses on society and the relationship among individuals within society. Social sciences utilize various methods, quantitative and qualitative, to understand the world beyond our immediate experience and how our society works. This course will investigate social, political, economic, and legal issues and trends in society as another foundation block of humanism. It will look at ethical discourse and leadership; civil liberties and religious freedom; philosophies of government and democracy; war, peace and non-violence; environment issues; just economics; effective politics; and prophecy as leadership. This course will examine social science in terms of its various disciplines, how it differs from physical and life sciences, how it evolved, and its reliability in uncovering truths.
Course 301: Contemporary Culture
Contemporary culture goes beyond simply understanding the core elements of social science in identifying and examining issues that call for a humanist’s attention in a variety of ways. Whether the challenge is to take action individually, collectively, through public debate or written discourse, this course will look at current cultural situations significant to humanists in terms of the present social, political, economic and legal landscape. Some (but not all) of the questions and concerns this course will consider are: What are the crucial issues affecting us today? What do we do or how do we address our fractured society pervaded by “isms,” i.e. racism, sexism, ageism, classism, ethnicism, elitism, etc. How do we deal with the danger of our secular society being replaced by a particular version of the Judeo-Christian tradition? Should humanists expect to have a position in terms of world politics? If not, where do we act in union? What is our common ground (if any) on contemporary issues across the humanist spectrum? Where do we differ, if at all? How can humanists make a difference and what type of social action is truly effective?
Course 302: Leadership—Theory and Practice
This course will introduce leadership theory and practice. Participants will learn how to improve one’s abilities and enhance one’s capabilities in handling resistance to change, managing conflict, motivating others, setting goals and objectives, planning, and listening skills. Group dynamics and meeting-management will be addressed as well as how to effectively build teams and facilitate group decision-making.

We will introduce participants to areas that are important in order for humanists to be effective leaders. Areas to be covered are: presenting without notes, writing clearly and succinctly, effective use of media, the key elements of fundraising, the ethics of counseling and referrals, chairing meetings, growth of groups and organizations, and steps to making a strategic plan for the future. We will look at administration as the realization of human intention and moral enterprise. Authenticity, professional ethics, and personal integrity will be discussed. Marketing humanism as good news will be part of presenting our humanist selves.

Course 303: Aesthetics and Ritual
This course will explore what many critics of humanism say are the missing dimensions in the movement. We readily acknowledge that reason and science are our touchstones for seeking truth and making decisions, but this stance ignores the basic fact that humanists—like everyone else—are tremendously influenced by emotion. If we insist that we are people who use only our intellect in making up our minds, then we are in danger of confusing reason with rationalizing. Our emotional experiences are powerful determining factors in our decision-making. Psychology may be considered a soft science, but it does tell much about human behavior and the gap between what we say and what we actually do. Philosopher John Dewey understood the power of emotions emanating from personal and social experience. He leads the way to our understanding of how artistic expression is the culmination of mind and emotion into a particularized piece of art that unites the world in experiencing a new, enlightened truth. The course will address art as protest; personal aesthetic practices; and ritual as an art form.