Course Map

General Syllabus

*Welcome and Introduction

Welcome to an adventure into the wilderness of ideas!  I appreciate your choosing this course, this trail, to explore with Muir, Burroughs and with me.

This is the sixth class along these paths and we’ll be looking at even more stimulating ideas further along the trail.  If you’re new to this course, don’t worry, no one is ahead of you and no one will be left behind; everyone brings an “intense curiosity” in their daypack.

We’ll be reading and discussing many New Materials relating to these great thinkers and their “spiritual sisters and brothers.”

Building on last quarter’s emphasis on the Brilliant Women who (intellectually and literally) stood beside both Johnnies, we will saunter deeper into darker woods where there just may be more light!  We will jab some pesky questions with our walking sticks–questions that concern “Nature Religion,” “Natural Spirituality,” “A Religionless Religion with a God Beyond God.”  Tiny, newt-like questions like these!!  With help from JM and JB and their circle, and with added assistance from the mystic traditions of the world (and our own experience face to face with ineffable Nature), we will poke around into some possible answers to the questions. . .tentative as they may be!

Feel free to click on any links and read as much as you’d like of Muir and Burroughs (no need to purchase any texts unless you want to, since most can be found online).  We will be reading selected passages from our “trailguides” and following some of these “trail maps” along the sauntering way (I will not be handing out much paper in class, except our weekly discussion passage from the Johnnies and a “take home” reflection).

Keep in mind that this syllabus is “general” and by the “nature” of the class needs to be organic and grow (who knows what we’ll stumble on along the deertrails!).  I anticipate some creative and lively discussions in class that will help direct the course of our path.

Please leave your comments and questions on the Forum page (and bring your curiosity to class!).

To the Open Trail!

Why I Teach this Course


Quote to Ponder along the Trail

“Men will search for beauty as scientists search for truth, knowing that while truth can make one free, it is beauty. . .that alone can give permanent happiness. . . . The world will look back to the time we live in and remember the voice of one crying in the wilderness and bless the name of John Muir. To some, beauty seems but an accident of creation: to Muir it was the very smile of God. He sung the glory of nature like another Psalmist. . . . The love of nature was his religion. . . . California [did not fully appreciate] the service he did in trying to recall her to the gospel of beauty.” (1916, Robert Underwood Johnson, Editor of The Century Magazine)


Week One:  March 26

Our Trailhead: Overview and Introduction; walkingsticks for the path (if you have one, bring it to class)–Major Questions for Our Quest; Thanatopsis (William Cullen Bryant)

Trail Map:  Natural Spirituality–What is the nature of religious experience?

-New definitions at the wild edges of religion (heavy backpacks or light daypacks?)

-Beginning with Death!  Ultimate Questions.

Class Readings:  Muir at 70; JM and JB on “Life’s night”; Muir Letter to Browne

Take Home:  Robert Burns


Week Two:  April 2

Trail Map:  Natural Ethics–What is the Good?

Muir on Robert Burns (3 pages to scroll down)

"Golden Rule"

“Golden Rule”

"Green Rule"

“Green Rule”

“Environmental Ethics”

An Ethical Lesson?  Sifakas and the Snake (BBC)

Is the Mountain More “Sacred” Now? (New Monastery in Hong Kong)

Class Readings:  Burroughs; Muir

Take Home:  Muir Letter to Jeanne Carr on “Nature Sermons” + Whitman


Week Three:  April 9 

Trail Map:  Natural Sanctuary/Community–Who is Our Tribe?

Wild Roots of Religion

Tribalism (E.O. Wilson)

Principle of “Re-wilding” (and Wicken Fen)

Here Be Dragons (new lizards discovered)

As with Ethics, What is our Duty to the Environment of which we are a part, and Why?

Class Readings:  Muir’s Mountaineers; Burroughs’ Circle of Creatures

Take Home:  Frances Wright–The New Community


Week Four:  April 16  

Trail Map:  Natural Scriptures–Where is the Wisdom?

Wisdom Traditions and Scriptures

Thomas Paine on “The Bible of Creation”

Wiccan Invocation in the Iowa House of Representatives (skip to 3:00)–what would the Johnnies think about the words?

And in Tennessee. . .

Tennessee legislation sponsored by Rep. Jerry Sexton, R-Bean Station, to make the Bible the official state book was approved on a 2-1 vote April 1 by the General Assembly’s State Government Subcommittee.

(Freethought Today)

Remember Farkhunda, killed in Kabul when falsely accused of burning pages of the Qur’an

Just for Fun:  Hawk and Squirrel Chase

Class Readings:  Muir on Glacier Meadows; Burroughs on Sauntering

Take Home:  Mary Moody Emerson; selection from the Hindu Upanishads


Week Five:  April 23

Trail Map:  Natural Ritual–How do we honor, respect and have a reverence for Life?

Natural Creeds (if you’ve read this before, I invite you to read it again)

Reflection on New Religions

Age-Old Art of Getting Lost (a touch of urban wildness)

Current Events:  “Sacred Land” vs. Science in Hawaii (can they co-exist?  can there be “sacred science”?  cf. Frances Wright’s conversion of a Church to a Hall of Science–is there a comparison?  What about Muir’s “Yosemite Temple”?)

Class Readings:  Muir on New Points of View; Burroughs on Miracles

Take Home:  “Poet of the Cosmos” (Whitman); Robert Burns


Week Six:  April 30  

Trail Map:  Nature is Enough–IS Nature Enough?

Questions Shaken Up by the Nepal Earthquakes

“A New Way to Think About God” (hint:  Ants)

“It didn’t create the universe, but it has created the meaning of the universe, which is what matters to us. Meaning, universe, spirit, God, creation and all other abstract concepts are themselves ideas that took form over countless generations, as people shared their aspirations to understand and express what may lie beyond the visible world.

“Nature Knows No Borders” (Arava Institute:  Israelis and Palestinians working together for the environment)

What Comes After Religion?

John Oliver and Martin Sheen with The Doomsday Video

-Communicating, collaborating and cooperating in a practice of natural spirituality

-A “Service” in Honor of John Muir

-Is some kind of “Religion of Nature” the Future of Religion?

-The rough way forward; Pathfinders through unexplored wilderness

Final Class Reading:  Muir, Burroughs, YOU

EVALUATIONS (feel free to send comments to the instructor)

Take Home:  Janine Benyus, “Surrounded by geniuses”

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