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Semester and Year FA 2014
Course Number IDSEM-UG1766
Section 001
Instructor Joe Thometz
Days Tue,Thu
Time 9:30 AM - 10:45 AM
Units 4.0
Level U
Foundation Requirement HUM


This interdisciplinary seminar will examine the concept of evil, as it appears in a variety of religious, philosophical, psychological and literary texts and their cultural contexts. Variably personified as malevolent celestial beings—whether playful or vengeful figures like Beelzebul, Kali, Lucifer, Ravana, Xenu, etc.—evil has been tied to ethics. In South and East Asian traditions evil is an effect of the law of karma (literally, “action”). In Buddhism, evil appears because of ignorance or illusion, which mistakes our ‘self’ and the world to be made up of independent and permanent “things.” In the Christian West, evil was seen as a necessary by-product of a "free will" whose corruption or depravity must be acknowledged to achieve any human goodness. Framed philosophically, as a value judgment that has historically been assigned to intentionally harmful actions, misfortune, or even natural disasters such as the Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755, evil came to be problematized in the West in the question: “How could a benevolent God allow the innocent to suffer?” We will survey the depth of that question, but also ask: Is this formulation of “the problem of evil” uniquely Western in its assumption that a god must be absolutely good? In addition, we will approach the concept of evil psychologically, by examining demonic possession and exorcism, as well as recurring complicity in mass atrocities, which will lead us to consider the theory of "the scapegoat," and the very different idea that evil now is "banal," as unthinking people become part of the machinery of modern power. Readings may include: Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem ; "Book of Job;" Bhagavad-Gita ; Wendy Doniger, The Origins of Evil in Hindu Mythology ; Freud, Civilization & Its Discontents ; Rene Girard, Violence and the Sacred ; Primo Levi, The Drowned and the Saved ; Stanley Milgram, Obedience to Authority ; Gitta Sereny, Into That Darkness ; Voltaire, Candide ; and Elie Wiesel, Night .

Course Type

Interdisciplinary Seminars (IDSEM-UG)

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