Professor Kevin Schilbrack Awarded a Grant for a New Course on What Makes Life Worth Living

BOONE, N.C. — Dr. Kevin Schilbrack, professor of religious studies in Appalachian State University's Department of Philosophy and Religion, was awarded a $20,000 “Life Worth Living” Course Development Grant by Yale University's Center for Faith and Culture. As part of the grant, Dr. Schilbrack is developing a new course on what different religions teach about the good life, how to suffer well, and what makes life worth living, to be taught for the first time in the Fall 2024 and Spring 2025 semesters.

The recipients of the grant were a few dozen university instructors, drawn from all over the globe. The recipients are now designing courses at their home institutions on the question about values in life and how to rank them. The grant recipients met in Iceland and participated as a group in a one-week workshop on teaching from June 27 to July 1, 2023. They then met together online for the next seven weeks over the summer as they developed their courses, shared assignments and readings, and debated how best to teach a class on such a personal subject matter. Each instructor has agreed to teach their new course at least twice at their institution.

Schilbrack described the course he is developing. “People often have a tendency to think of different religions as different sets of belief. But for many religious people, religions are more like different paths to live by. I wanted to teach a course that helped students see what difference it made to someone’s life to adopt the values taught by these different communities," shared Schilbrack, who plans to have his newly-developed course count toward future general education requirements. "If this is approved, then I hope to teach the course every semester," he added.

When asked about his favorite aspect of being part of the grant, Schilbrack responded, “Well, I love teaching and I think that this course topic is one that Appalachian students care about, so I am excited. But I have to admit that going to Iceland was amazing. That is a remarkable and dramatic place. And this idea that young adults should think about what makes life worth living has been adopted by the nation of Iceland as a whole, and so I got to meet a large number of Icelandic professors of education who are now developing courses for their graduate students – who will then in turn be high school teachers leading courses like this all over their country.”

Schilbrack earned his Ph.D. at the University of Chicago Divinity School. Following positions at other universities, he came to App State in 2014, where he served as chair of the Department of Philosophy and Religion until 2022 when he returned to full-time teaching. Schilbrack has spoken about his views on philosophy and religion at universities all over the United States and Europe. He is the author of the book "Philosophy and the Study of Religions: A Manifesto" (Blackwell, 2014), which argues for a transformation of the discipline of philosophy of religion from its traditional, narrow focus on theism to a fully global form of critical reflection on religions in all their variety and dimensions.

Schilbrack integrates his research into the religious studies courses he teaches in the Department of Philosophy and Religion, including “Religion and Imaginary Worlds” and “Theories of Religion” and, starting next academic year, in “Comparative Religious Ethics.”

Schilbrack explained why he finds this topic important, saying: “Higher education these days is primarily focused on earning a degree that will enable students to get good jobs. This focus on jobs leads schools to focus on STEM fields, and the departments in the humanities that study history, literature, languages, cultures, religions and philosophies can get marginalized. But I like that saying: science can tell you how to clone a T-Rex and the humanities can tell you why that might not be a good idea."

He continued, "I think that an educated adult is someone who has not only technical skills for one particular job, but has also reflected on their values. That is what this course helps students do. And the truth is that most employers do not prefer that students have a degree in a STEM or business field. For this reason, if an App State grad has a degree in philosophy or religious studies or any other humanities field, then they are going to get both an education that speaks to what they care about most, and they are going to get hired.”


About the Department of Philosophy and Religion
The Department of Philosophy and Religion invites students to explore the world, examine beliefs, understand a diversity of worldviews, and challenge the ideas and values that instruct our lives. The department offers a Bachelor of Arts in philosophy and a Bachelor of Arts in religious studies, as well as a minor in both of these areas. Learn more at

By Lauren Andersen and Kevin Schilbrack
October 25, 2023

Dr. Kevin Schilbrack, professor of religious studies in Appalachian State University's Department of Philosophy and Religion
Published: Oct 25, 2023 8:50am