CCHU9065 Humanities
A Life Worth Living

[This course is under the thematic clusters of ‘Sustaining Cities, Cultures, and the Earth’ and ‘The Universe and the Question of Meaning’.]

Course Description

What does it mean to live a worthy life? This is one of the most fundamental questions of human existence and this course addresses the relevant issues through an engagement with various philosophical and religious traditions, such as Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Hinduism, Christianity and Secular Humanism. We shall discuss how the teachings of important historical figures from these traditions have influenced the choices of people over the centuries, and how they have been contextualized and adopted in contemporary society. We shall examine how these figures regard the place of bodily pleasures, intellectual pursuits, power, status, possessions, accomplishments, virtues, relationship with other human beings and the relationship (or not) with the transcendent in their vision of a good life. We will explore the resources they offer for dealing with stress, temptations, disappointments and failures, social oppression, the loss of possessions and of loved ones, and with one’s own death. The course will help students connect across different disciplines and cultures, and develop the ability to examine controversial issues from multiple perspectives. Students will achieve these aims through interactive learning and high impact practices such as group debates and interviewing contemporary advocates of different worldviews concerning the question of “what makes a worthy life?”

Course Learning Outcomes

On completing the course, students will be able to:

    1. Identify and critically engage with issues related to the meaning of life.
    2. Analyze a range of views and arguments from multiple perspectives, and formulate clear, logical and precise responses to them.
    3. Critically evaluate competing interpretations of ancient texts and apply them to present day situations.
    4. Critically reflect on the ways of knowing, underlying assumptions and cultural roots of their own and others’ beliefs, values, interests and practices concerning these issues.

Offer Semester and Day of Teaching

Second semester (Wed)

Study Load

Activities Number of hours
Lectures 24
Tutorials 10
Reading / Self-study 36
Preparing materials and questions for discussion 10
Assessment: Essay / Report writing 36
Assessment: Debate 4
Total: 120

Assessment: 100% coursework

Assessment Tasks Weighting
Group debates 20
Tutorial participation and assignments / discussions 10
In-class discussion 10
Short writing assignments 30
Final essay 30

Required Reading


  • Campbell, S., & Nyholm, S. (2015). Anti-meaning and why it matters. Journal of the American Philosophical Association1, 694-711.
  • Volf, M. (2016). Flourishing. Yale: Yale University Press.

The Buddha’s vision of a good life
Excerpts from:

  • Harvey, P. (2013). An Introduction to Buddhism: Teachings, history and practices (2nd ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Lewis, T. (Ed.). (2014). Buddhists: Understanding Buddhism through the lives of practitioners. Malden, MA: Wiley Blackwell.

Taoist vision of a good life

  • Hansen, C. (Trans.). (2009). Tao Te Ching on the art of harmony: The new illustrated edition of the Chinese philosophical masterpiece (The art of wisdom). London: Duncan Baird.  [pp. 7-205]

Confucianism’s vision of a good life

  • Lai, K. L. (2008). An introduction to Chinese philosophy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. [pp. 35-54]
  • Liu, S. -H. (1998). Understanding Confucian philosophy, classical and Sung-Ming. Westport and London: Praeger. [pp. 15-32, 131-152]

Hinduism‘s vision of a good life

  • Selections from Bhagavat Gita, Ramayana, Maha Bharat, Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, Upanishads

Jesus’ vision of a good life

  • Selections from the Bible
  • Swinburne, R. (2017). Why the Life of Heaven is supremely worth living. In T. R. Byerley & E. J. Silverman (Eds.), Paradise understood: New philosophical essays about heaven. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Volf, M., & J. Crisp. (2015). Joy and human flourishing: Essays on theology, culture and the good life. Minneapolis: Fortress.

A ‘Western’ secular philosopher’s vision of a good life

  • Seachris, J. W. (Ed.). (2012). Exploring the meaning of life: An anthology and guide. Malden: Wiley-Blackwell.

Conclusion: what is a life worth living

  • Volf, M. (2016). Flourishing. Yale: Yale University Press.

Recommended Reading

  • Klemke, E. D. (2000). The meaning of life. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Martin, N. M., & Runzo, J. (2000). The meaning of life in the world religions. Oxford: Oneworld.
  • Smart, N. (1989). The worlds religions: Old traditions and modern transformations. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  On Buddhism

  • Cantwell, C. (2010). Buddhism: the Basic. London: Routledge.
  • Mitchell, D. (2008). Buddhism: Introducing the Buddhist experience. New York: Oxford University Press.

On Taoism and Confucianism

  • Littlejohn, R. (2011). Confucianism: An introduction = Ru. London: I.B. Tauris.
  • Palmer, D. A., Shive, G., & Wickeri, P. L. (2011). Chinese religious life. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Palmer, D. A., & Siegler, E. (2017). Dream trippers: global Daoism and the predicament of modern spirituality. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

On Hinduism

  • Dalmia, V., & von Stieltencron, H. (Eds.). (2009). The Oxford India Hinduism reader. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.
  • Mittal, S. & Thursby, G. (Eds.). (2008). Studying Hinduism: Key concepts and methods. London: Routledge.

On Islam

  • Ali, K., & Leaman, O. (2008). Islam: the key Concepts. London: Routledge.
  • Sonn, T. (2010). Islam: A brief history. Maldon, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

On Christianity

  • Loke, A. (2017). The origins of divine Christology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • McGrath, A. E. (2015). Christianity: An introduction. Oxford: Wiley Blackwell.

On Secular Humanism

  • Copson, A., & Grayling, A. C. (2015). The wiley Blackwell Handbook of humanism. John Wiley & Sons.
  • Law, S. (2011). Humanism: A very short introduction. New York: Oxford University Press.

Recommended Websites

Course Co-ordinator and Teacher(s)

Course Co-ordinator Contact
Professor D.K.L. Chua
School of Humanities (Music), Faculty of Arts
Tel: 3917 2872
Teacher(s) Contact
Professor D.K.L. Chua
School of Humanities (Music), Faculty of Arts
Tel: 3917 2872
Dr A.T.E. Loke
School of Humanities, Faculty of Arts
Professor C. Hansen
School of Humanities (Philosophy), Faculty of Arts
Tel: 3917 2796