Spring 2015 Course Highlight: Zen and the Samurai

Dr. McRae (above) throws his opponent during jiu-jitsu practice.

To be offered in the spring 2015 semester, “Zen and the Samurai” is a new course that Dr. James McRae, Associate Professor of Philosophy and Religious Studies, has developed as part of his recent Winney Faculty Award.

McRae is currently in the early stages of writing a book on Bushido, the warrior ethic of Japan that developed during the Warring States Period and Tokugawa Era. McRae’s utilized his Winney Award funds for research for his book, presenting scholarly papers based on his research, hiring a Westminster philosophy major as his research assistant, and developing this new course based on his research.

“Zen and the Samurai” will examine two of the most influential traditions in the history of Japanese philosophy, Zen Buddhism and Bushido (the ethical code of the samurai).  Students in the course will begin with the study of the socio-historical context of the Warring States Period and Tokugawa Era, then examine key texts within the Zen and Bushido traditions.  This course also covers ethics, philosophy of warfare, philosophical anthropology, aesthetics, and the neurophysiology of Zen enlightenment.

“I made this course writing intensive,” McRae says, “so that students can hone the critical thinking skills most needed by graduate students (conducting research, making arguments, and breaking arguments).”

“Zen and the Samurai” is designed for students who are studying philosophy, religious studies, Asian studies, and security studies.  Students taking this course will gain a greater understanding of East-Asian philosophy, religion, and history, which will help inform their decisions as leaders in a global community.

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