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"If there is no God, then everything is permitted?" Moral Life in a Secular World
Winter 2021
Section: 01  
Crosslisting: REES 344Z, RELI 393Z

Please note: Students should expect some readings and assignments to be due during winter break, prior to beginning Winter Session. Please visit the Winter Session website for the full syllabus -- http://www.wesleyan.edu/wintersession.

In Fyodor Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov, Dmitri Karamazov famously poses the question of what would happen to mankind "without God and immortal life," asking whether this means that "all things are permitted." Made famous by Dostoevsky, the question of whether we can be moral without God has always haunted secularism and has consistently been the most vocal criticism of unbelief. From papal condemnations of secularism and "godless Soviets," to the contemporary consensus that belief in God is evidence of moral goodness and its absence a sign of a broken ethical barometer, the assumption has been that transcendental authority is all that stands between us and moral abyss. When the atrocities committed by "totalitarian" regimes are cited as evidence of this, it is only the most radical articulation of a broader narrative of secular modernity.
One of modernity's master narratives is that people go from being under the care of the church to being under the care of the state, and our focus will be on historical cases where the question of secular values was explicitly engaged by the state. We will examine individual and collective articulations of morality in three prominent models of secularism: American civil religion, French laïcité, and Communist official atheism. What constitutes the moral foundation of a world without God? Can religion's moral and spiritual function be performed by a different kind of belief system?
Credit: 1 Gen Ed Area Dept: SBS HIST
Course Format: SeminarGrading Mode: Student Option
Level: UGRD Prerequisites: None
Fulfills a Major Requirement for: (HIST-MN)(HIST)(REES-Social Sci)(RELI-MN)(RELI)
Past Enrollment Probability: Not Available

Last Updated on JUL-13-2024
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