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The Simpsons and Philosophy

It won't be taught by the Simpsons' evangelical neighbor, Ned Flanders, but a philosophy class being added to Siena Heights University's curriculum will be based on the popular animated TV series. This winter, the university is offering a two-credit class on how religion and philosophy are part of popular culture, including "The Simpsons."

Readings will include "The Simpsons and Philosophy: The D'oh! of Homer" by William Irwin (Open Court Publishing Company, April), and "The Gospel According to The Simpsons: The Spiritual Life of the Most Animated Family" by Mark I. Pinsky (Westminster John Knox Press, August).

"Animated Philosophy and Religion," taught by Kimberly Blessing and Anthony Sciglitano, is already proving popular with students.

"I think, once again, I will learn a lot and it will be very funny too," said biology major Lucy Wilmont, who took Blessing's "Practical Wisdom" class in the fall. That class also used pop culture to get students interested in philosophy.

For 12 seasons, "The Simpsons" has mined religious subjects for laughs. The staple of the Fox network has sometimes been called sacrilegious -- rather than satirical -- for its jabs at clergy and the faithful.

In "The Gospel According to The Simpsons," author Pinsky notes that the characters regularly pray, attend worship and discuss humanity's inescapable religious questions.

For example, Homer regularly displays his religious ignorance (he calls God "omnivorous" instead of "omnipresent"), snoozes in church and prays largely in desperation. "God, if you really are God, you'll get me tickets to that game. Why do you mock me, O Lord?" he moans in one show.

Next-door neighbor Flanders has his boys play Bible Bombardment board games and vacations at "America's Most Judgmental Religious Theme Park." His piety irritates people, but he's also one of the kindest characters in the series.

"When 'The Simpsons' book came along, I though it would offer another opportunity to draw people into philosophy," Blessing said.