Expanded Description

We will read some philosophical essays, but most of the reading will consist of Leo Tolstoy’s autobiographical Confession and his story The Death of Ivan Illich; Victor Frankl’s death camp study, Man’s Search for Meaning; and Langdon Gilkey’s prison camp memoir, Shantung Compound. The size of this seminar encourages discussion among the participants; although the assigned readings are not demands, a good faith effort to read them will make a significant contribution to the value of the class sessions. I will send weekly email messages about the discussions and readings, including about the previous discussions; participants are encouraged to contribute their own suggestions and comments.

For our purposes, the particular editions of the texts don’t matter much, so inexpensive (often less than $5 including shipping) used copies can easily be obtained at any number of internet sites as listed in the Bookfinder sites below. There is a relatively new translation of the two Tolstoy works conveniently in a single volume that I recommend and that I give a link to below, but there are many inexpensive editions of those works and, as noticed in the Sept 22 and 27 dates below, they are available free on the internet (in acceptable translations). Links to and attachments of other readings will be provided electronically, and I will offer a free paper packet of some of them.



Frankl: (Be sure to get Man’s Search for Meaning rather than Man’s Search for Ultimate Meaning: The latter sounds more impressive, but the former is more impressive)





Sept 13: Perspectives from secular humanism and traditional theism.

Read Bertrand Russell’s “A Free Man’s Worship,” available free: https://www3.nd.edu/~afreddos/courses/264/fmw.htm

And David Swenson’s “The Transforming Power of Otherworldliness,” which will be sent to you by email.

Sept 20: Tolstoy’s spiritual crisis and his decision.

Read his Confession, available free:


Sept 27: Tolstoy’s Death of Ivan Illich.

Available free: https://manybooks.net/book/141872/read#epubcfi(/6/2[titlepage]!/4/1:0)

Oct 4: Frankl’s experiences in Auschwitz.

Read as much of Man’s Search for Meaning as you can.

Oct 11: Frankl’s conclusions, and Gilkey’s introduction to a Japanese prison camp in China.

Finish reading Frankl and some associated readings (provided); Begin Gilkey’s Shantung Compound.

Oct 18: Gilkey’s experiences.

Finish as much of Gilkey as you can.

Oct 25: Gilkey on living a meaningful life.

Finish Gilkey and some associated readings (provided).

Nov. 1: Remaining questions and debated answers.

The suggested readings will be provided and will depend on questions and debates raised in earlier discussions.