Course code:



IM - Introductory/Intermediate

Class size limit:


Lab fee:


Typically offered:

Upon occasion

This class will draw from recent research on religion and evolution to illuminate the evolutionary origins of the supernatural and the persistence of religious belief and behavior in the modern world, including the deep background of sectarian violence. We will look at core narratives from disparate traditions including selections from the The Old Testament, the Bhagavad-Gita, the Buddhist sutras and the Koran, as well as Darwinian theory as both a scientific hypothesis and a culture-binding myth. We will discuss the relation between divine and human creation, along with recent evolutionary theories of ethics and politics and their manifestation in current life and events; for examples, formation and strife among competing sects, the worldwide ethical paradigms of celibacy and individual sacrifice, and the governance of women and sexuality. The class will be widely inclusive and multidisciplinary; classes by the coordinating faculty will be supplemented with weekly guest lectures on topics ranging from competing theories of natural selection to the flowering of the human imagination and the global appeal of counterintuitive belief. We will be constantly monitoring contemporary news media for living examples of the deeply evolved structures behind contemporary conflict and collaboration, including Pope Francis’ Encyclical and the politics of belief in the 2016 Presidential election. Readings will be drawn from David Sloan Wilson’s Darwin’s Cathedral, E.O. Wilson’s The Meaning of Human Existence, Karen Armstrong’s Fields of Blood, Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion, Nicolas Wade’s Before the Dawn, Pascal Boyer’s Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought, Robert Bellah’s Religion in Human Evolution, Robert Trivers’ The Folly of Fools, Euripedes, The Bacchae, Flannery & Marcus’ The Creation of Inequality, Eva Jablonska’s Evolution in Four Dimensions, as well as fiction by Hermann Hesse, Marilynn Robinson and Nadeem Aslam, and a film series including Inherit the WindParadise NowBreaking the WavesBefore the Rain, and Monty Python’s Life of Brian. Students will be expected to choose and follow a chosen subtopic over the term and write a mid-term and a final paper on their discoveries.



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