Theologies in the Age of AI

Instructor: Dr.  Butler


Office Hours: Zoom By Appointment

Phone: (303)765-3124

Zoom ID: 818 608 7210

Course Synopsis: Artificial intelligence (AI) in the early 21st century is rapidly growing. Much like other technologies made famous by speculative fiction and sci-fi AI exists, but in nascent less fantastical modes. In a process sense AI is still more conceptual than a fully formed physical reality. So, questions arise such as “what are theological thinkers doing to meet AI where it is?” This course seeks to explore myriad perspectives on the ways AI is simultaneously being conceptualized by religious scholars and how it is subsequently reshaping theological thought.

Learning Outcomes:

After taking this class, students will be able to:

1. Engage in critical analysis inspired by deep thought around topics at the intersections of artificial intelligence and theology.
2. Articulate some of the ways that intelligence is being conceptualized by theological thinkers .
3. Differentiate between various types of artificial intelligence .
4. Speak knowledgeably about theological responses to the emergence of AI as presented in the course .
5. Demonstrate awareness of the relationship between the myriad modes of embodiment, cognition, artificial intelligence, and their significance in history along with the future .
6. Write academic papers with increased ability to formulate a clear, concise, and direct thesis while supporting it with apt textual evidence and sound logic.
7. Creatively synthesize the course materials into a personal project.

Course Requirements:

1. Preparation and participation. Participation is 15% of your final grade. For more information concerning participation expectations, see

Throughout the quarter, we will have several discussions which will compose a large part of our engagement with each other in this online learning space. For these discussions to be meaningful conversation spaces, we all need to take responsibility for consistent and substantial participation. Over the course of a conversation, substantial engagement means:

  1. Extend the conversation - creatively and critically push the conversation forward, do not just regurgitate what has already been said. If 1 or 2 other students have already responded directly to a point raised in a student paper, do not simply write another response to that point unless it adds something new to the conversation. You need to extend the conversation by adding an additional or different insight from the course materials, by asking a new question that stems from one of the posts already offered, by offering a related and contextualized example of the issue being discussed from your own experience, or by creatively integrating your own perspective with what has already been posted. 
  2. Ask contextualized questions - situate your questions within the discussion by referencing the course materials and other parts of the conversation thread that inform your inquiry. Give us a little background as to why this question matters to you and how it relates to the course.
  3. Engage others in the course - thoughtful engagement with other students in the course and with the instructional team. 
  4. Engage the course materials - thoughtful engagement with readings, lectures, student presentations, and any other materials related to the course. Referencing and citing course materials in your posts where appropriate is encouraged. 
  5. Participate Respectfully - discussions in this course are likely to raise sensitive topics. Please strive for respect in all your comments, and charity in reading the comments of others.

Things to consider: While we learn from each other from our interactions it is important to remember you classmates are not here to teach you through the justification of their experience/existence. It is also helpful to keep in mind that we take each other's histories and backgrounds seriously--being mindful that humor around these issues can be easily misconstrued.

Each post need not do all of these things, but your overall participation in each conversation should demonstrate all of these components. You might have several short posts and a handful of longer posts in a week or you might have only a few strategic substantial posts (minimum of 2 posts per discussion). Either way, your overall participation in each conversation will be evaluated for substantial engagement. The goal of this discussion design is to encourage and reward interchange, so post often and engage each other with meaningful questions that open to other questions.

I am looking for posts that help us understand and analyze the text at hand. Application of our texts to new situations is of course the ultimate goal, but we can't do that responsibly without understanding what the author is doing first. And that can be hard!

If your first post (due Thursday) focuses on one of the assigned papers/readings, please focus your second post on a discussion about another paper/reading.

. These address student learning outcomes 1-6 .
2. Each student will write two papers analyzing one of the readings for a particular . week. You may not write on the same author more than once, and you may not write more than one paper for any given week. Each paper counts for 20% of your final grade. For more information on paper requirements, see

Each student will prepare 3 papers of 3 double-spaced pages each (no less than 1200 words).  You will choose two readings you will write about and one background paper in the Paper Sign up assignment.


Post Papers

On a week you have signed up to write, you will submit your paper on canvas for grading. Background papers and one of your reading papers will also be shared as discussion starters for that week. So, on the week you write a background paper and on the week you have indicated that you want to share you reading paper, you will post the paper both in the paper assignment area and as an attachment to a discussion post in our discussion for that week.


Discussing Papers

All students not writing in a week will read all of the posted papers and choose one to engage substantially with a robust response by the first discussion deadline for the week. See Discussion Guidelines for more details on discussion expectations. By the second discussion deadline each week, students will need to participate substantially in the discussion at least one additional time. Late postings will not be accepted.


Paper Types



Evaluating Papers:

Papers will be graded according to the following 4 criteria:


  1. A clearly stated claim;
  2. Textual evidence to support the claim;
  3. Quality of writing (organization, proper use of sentences and paragraphs, grammar, spelling, and all other mechanics);
  4. Depth and seriousness of analysis. 


In a short paper the claim typically appears as the last sentence of the introductory paragraph (if it is not there the writer needs clearly to mark where it is, since otherwise readers will assume that sentence is the claim).  A claim states the conclusion of the argument put forward in the paper.  You have a great deal of freedom here.  A claim might state what is the most important idea in the reading, or what the author must assume to make his or her argument, or what the logical extension of that argument might be, or how that argument relates to other readings on our syllabus, or what the author gets right or wrong, etc.   In a short paper you will likely not be able to summarize the all the points the author makes, nor should you try.  Part of your task of analysis is to prioritize what is most important to lift up for discussion for our class.  Your paper will likely not follow the same organization as the reading under analysis, since the logic of your argument will not be the same as the logic of the argument of the reading.  If your paragraphs tend to begin “And then . . .;  Next . . .” then it is probably time to go back and do at least one more draft and re-think what you are presenting and how.  Papers for this class are a little closer to the summary end of the spectrum than a term paper might be, since they are the basis for our discussion.  But they are still papers that make engage the text by making a point about the text.

The purpose of the papers is three-fold:


  1. The first is to encourage deep engagement with the texts;
  2. The second is to encourage a habit of discussion that is open, respectful, and rigorous.  This is best accomplished when the analytical essays take a charitable stance towards the readings.  Some of them will seem old-fashioned, and the writers may have different concerns than do we.  As in any good conversation, it is important first to try to see where the writer is coming from, rather than to be dismissive of his, her or their ideas.  There will be plenty of time later to decide what is useful to you and what is not.   We must begin with an accurate understanding of what is actually going on in the essay. 
  3. Third, these section papers will help develop your skills as readers and writers.  A great number of studies show that “peer-review” is a very effective way to teach writing.  The feedback you get on these papers during discussion will be quite valuable.


Papers will be graded on the following scale:

4 = A

3 = B

2 = C

1 = D

0 = F

section below. These address student learning outcomes 1-6 .
3. Each student will provide introductory background on 1 topic during the quarter. This background paper is worth 20% of your grade. For more information on this assignment, see

Each student will write 3 papers this term: 1 on a background topic and 2 on course readings. Please choose 2 readings from the list below, without choosing more than 1 in any single week and without choosing the same author twice. Please choose 1 background paper slot below, preferably not in a week you are writing one of your reading papers. Ideally, each student will only write one paper in a given week. For more details on the requirements for these papers, see Paper Guidelines.

Your background papers and one of the two reading papers you choose to write will be used to initiate our discussion for the week. Please indicate the reading paper you wish to use as conversation starter by BOLDING your name in that slot. On this week you will post your reading paper BOTH as an assignment to be graded and as an attachment to a discussion post in our discussion for that week. Background papers will always be posted both as an assignment and in the discussion as an attachment. 

To make your selections, click Edit in the top right corner of the page and enter your name in the Sign up column for 2 readings and 1 Background.  Please choose readings that do not have anyone signed up before adding your name in the second slot for a reading. Only the number of students indicated by each slot can sign up for that reading, so if a reading or background already has all spots filled, you must choose another. Once you have entered your name in 3 spots and bolded the reading paper you want to share with the class, be sure to click Save at the bottom of the page and check to make sure the saved page has your name in the slots you selected. You can always come back to this page to see the papers you chose to write. 

Topic Reading Sign up

Week 1

An Intro to AI and Religion for the Religious Studies Scholar

Religious AI as an Option to the Risks of Superintelligence: A Protestant Theological Perspective

 David Dashifen Kees


Week 2

Decolonization of the Digital world and practical theology

Lyse Fedjanie Barronville

Global AI Ethics: Review of Social Impacts and Ethical Implications of AI



Seth Ratliff

Week 3




Distributed, Decentralized, and Democratized AI

Lewis Cox

Political Theology of Entropy: A Katechon for the Cybernetic Age

Elixah Taylor



John Fiscus

Week 4



Islam and Science in the Future


Black Church as the Timeless Witness

Lyse Fedjanie Barronville

David Dashifen Kees

Week 5

Echoes of Myth and Magic in the Language of AI

Seth Ratliff

Info-topia: Postcolonial Cyberspace and AI in Tron and Nalo Hopkinon’s Midnight Robber

Lewis Cox



Week 6

“A Greater Truth than Any Other Truth You Know”: A Conversation with Professor Sylvia Wynter on Origin Stories


The Impact of AI on Religion: Reconciling a New Relationship with God

John Fiscus


Elixah Taylor

Week 7

AI and Online Spirituality

David Dashifen Kees

Robotics and AI in the sociology of religion: A human in imago roboticae



Lewis Cox

Week 8

Spirit Name and Strong AI: A Bemba Theo-Cosmology Turn

Seth Ratliff

Preserving the Rule of Law in the Era of AI

John Fiscus




Week 9

A theological Embrace of Transhuman and Posthuman Beings

Elixah Taylor

Decolonizing the Virtual: Future Knowledges and the Extrahuman in Africa



Lyse Fedjanie Barronville


section below. These address student learning outcomes 1, 2, 4-6 .
4. Final project. 25% of your grade These address student learning outcomes 1-7 .

Required Readings:

See Weekly Assignments and correlating Files page

**No texts to purchase**

Statement of Inclusivity:

If you have a preferred pronoun that you would like for the class to address you by please let me know so that we can honor that for you.

Sep 14, 2021TuePaper Sign-up Infodue by 05:59AM
Sep 17, 2021FriWeek 1due by 05:59AM
Sep 19, 2021SunWeek 1 Continueddue by 05:59AM
Sep 24, 2021FriWeek 2due by 05:59AM
Sep 26, 2021SunWeek 2 Continueddue by 05:59AM
Oct 01, 2021FriWeek 3due by 05:59AM
Oct 03, 2021SunWeek 3 Continueddue by 05:59AM
Oct 08, 2021FriWeek 4due by 05:59AM
Oct 10, 2021SunWeek 4 Continueddue by 05:59AM
Oct 22, 2021FriWeek 6due by 05:59AM
Oct 23, 2021SatWeek 6 Continueddue by 02:00PM
Oct 29, 2021FriWeek 7due by 05:59AM
Oct 31, 2021SunWeek 7 Continueddue by 05:59AM
Nov 05, 2021FriWeek 8due by 05:59AM
Nov 07, 2021SunWeek 8 Continueddue by 05:59AM
Nov 12, 2021FriWeek 9due by 06:59AM
Nov 14, 2021SunWeek 9 Continueddue by 06:59AM
Nov 19, 2021FriWeek 10due by 06:59AM
Nov 21, 2021SunWeek 10 Continueddue by 06:59AM
Nov 23, 2021TueFinal Projectdue by 06:59AM
Nov 24, 2021WedWeek 1 Papersdue by 06:59AM
Nov 24, 2021WedWeek 2 Papersdue by 06:59AM
Nov 24, 2021WedWeek 3 Papersdue by 06:59AM
Nov 24, 2021WedWeek 4 Papersdue by 06:59AM
Nov 24, 2021WedWeek 5 Papersdue by 06:59AM
Nov 24, 2021WedWeek 6 Papersdue by 06:59AM
Nov 24, 2021WedWeek 7 Papersdue by 06:59AM
Nov 24, 2021WedWeek 8 Papersdue by 06:59AM
Nov 24, 2021WedWeek 9 Papersdue by 06:59AM