Soul Beliefs: Causes and Consequences
Professor Daniel M. Ogilvie Professor Leonard W. Hamilton
SAS Department of Psychology SAS Department of Psychology
Throughout history, the vast majority of people around the globe have believed they have,
however defined, a “soul.” While the question of whether the soul exists cannot be
answered by science, what we can study are the causes and consequences of various beliefs
about the soul. Why are beliefs in a soul so common in human history? Is there some
adaptive advantages to assuming souls exist? What cognitive development is necessary in
order to believe in a self that transcends the body? Are there brain structures that have
evolved specifically for maintaining soul beliefs? Why? How do these beliefs shape the
worldviews of different cultures and our collective lives? What is the role of competing
afterlife beliefs in generating religions and fueling hostilities between them that too often
escalate into armed conflict? How have widespread soul beliefs influenced scientific
progress and government policies?
Taking a multi-disciplinary approach, this course is particularly recommended for
students who intend to pursue majors or minors in psychology, anthropology, art, biology,
history, literatures, neuroscience, philosophy, political science, religion, and sociology.
This course carries credit toward the major and minor in Psychology. It can be used to
fulfill the SAS social science or interdisciplinary requirements and the diversity or
global awareness requirements.
01:830:123 Soul Beliefs: Causes and Consequences (4 cr)
Hickman Hall 101 TTh5 (3:55-5:15)
TH6* 5:50-6:45 HCK-209 F2* 11:10-12:05 HCK-123
TH6* 5:50-6:45 HCK-127 F2* 11:10-12:05 HCK-113
TH7* 7:30-8:25 HCK-204 F2* 11:10-12:05 HCK-112
TH7* 7:30-8:25 HCK-209 F3* 12:50-1:45 HCK-218
TH7* 7:30-8:25 HCK-218 F3* 12:50-1:45 HCK-123
The course will not require a formal textbook. Weekly readings (perhaps 20-30 pages per week)
will be posted on the Sakai site for the course. These readings will include journal articles,
essays by authorities in the field, book chapters, court rulings, etc. Students will also be
encouraged to find related resources on their own and share these references on the Sakai site.
Videos and films will also be used both in the classroom and on RUTV.
Students who successfully complete this course will be able to:
analyze the degree to which forms of human difference shape a person's experiences of
and perspectives on the world.
analyze a contemporary global issue from a multidisciplinary perspective.
analyze the relationship that science and technology have to a contemporary social issue.
understand the bases and development of human and societal endeavors across time and
explain and be able to assess the relationship among assumptions, method, evidence,
arguments, and theory in social and historical analysis.
identify and critically assess ethical issues in social science and history.
explain the development of some aspect of a society or culture over time, including the
history of ideas or history of science.
understand different theories about human culture, social identity, economic entities,
political systems, and other forms of social organization.
apply concepts about human and social behavior to particular questions or situations.
Students are expected to attend all lectures and recitations except for legitimate, fully excused
absences. Poor attendance may result in a full letter grade deduction for the course.
Two mid-term exams will count for 30 percent of the grade.
A final Exam will count for 20 percent of the grade.
Written homework assignments and in-class exercises will count for 30 percent of the grade.
Class participation in recitation sections will count for 20 percent of the grade.
You are expected to be honest with yourself and fair to your fellow students. We will enforce
the University’s regulations on academic integrity, and I ask your individual assistance in
reporting any suspected violations to me or to the Office of Student Conduct. The University’s
regulations are appropriately strict, and if you plan to cheat, you should first read the regulations
and potential consequences:
The classroom should be viewed as a formal environment with students and faculty dedicating
the 80-minute period to focused attention on the task at hand. Texting, twittering, surfing the
internet, playing computer games, and other extraneous activities are inappropriate in the
classroom environment because they distract the serious students who are sitting near you. Out
of respect for those who are seriously participating in the course, we will ask students who
engage in disruptive behaviors to leave our classroom.
Fair is fair—the instructors will not be making phone calls, texting, playing games, or surfing the
internet during our classes.
Lecture # Lecture Topics
1 History of the Soul Searching Project
2 O: A Comparison of Religious Soul Beliefs: Bringing the Soul Out of Hiding
3 O: Folk and Cross-Cultural Soul Beliefs
4 H: The Mind/Body Problem and Resistance to the Lawfulness of Behavior
5 H: Big Ideas and Big Controversies: When Earth Was No Longer the Center
6 H: The Victorian Sensation: The Zeitgeist Before Darwin
7 H: Darwin’s Dangerous Idea
8 O: The Evolution of Religion (from hunters and gatherers to farmers and herders)
9 O: The Evolution of Soul-Beliefs
10 O: The Cognitive Foundation of Soul-Beliefs in Children (Children as Natural
11 O: The Onset of Theory of Mind in Children
12 O: The Emergence of the "Traveling Self" in Childhood
13 G*: Death Anxiety, Disgust, and Soul Beliefs
14 O: The Soul as Buffer Against Death Anxiety: Hanging on for Dear Life: Primary
and Secondary Beliefs
15 G The Role of Culture in the formation of belief systems
16 M**: After-Life, Out of Body, and Disembodied: What’s the evidence?
17 M: After-Life, Out of Body, and Disembodied: What’s the evidence?
18 M: After-Life, Out of Body, and Disembodied: What’s the evidence?
19 M: After-Life, Out of Body, and Disembodied: What’s the evidence?
20 H: The Evolution of the Human Brain: What is the Human Spark?
21 H: The Emergence of the Traveling Self
22 G: Prophets of God and Their Conflicting Afterlife Prescriptions
23 G: Soul Beliefs and Religious Wars
24 G: Soul Beliefs and National Political Debates
25 H: The Scopes Trial: Human Origins and the Public Classroom
26 H: The Dover Board of Education: Intelligent Design and the Public Classroom
27 H&O: Zusammenfassung (Putting it all together)
28 O&H: Where Do We Go From Here?
Key: O = Ogilvie, H = Hamilton, G = Guest Speaker and/or panel discussion, M = Julian
There will be reading assignments for most, if not all, lectures. The selection of readings will be
based on the instructors' judgments regarding a match between the reading level of most first
year students and the relevance of the assignments to the lecture topics. Some examples include:
Atance, C. M. (2008). Future Thinking in Children. Current Directions in Psychological
Science, 17, pp. 295-298.
Bering, J. M. (2006). The Folk Psychology of Souls. Behavior and Brain Sciences, 29, pp. 453-
Bloom, P. (2007) Religion is Natural. Developmental Science, 10:1, pp. 147-151.
Cosmides, L., & Tooby, J. (2009). Evolutionary Psychology: A Primer. Found at
Gould, S. J. (?) Ever Since Darwin. Reflections on Natural History.
Norenzayan, A., & Hansen, I. G. (2006). Belief in Supernatural Agents in the Face of Death.
Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 32:2, pp. 174-187.
Ogilvie, D.M. (2008). The God Problem. Unpublished paper based on an award
acceptance address at the meeting of the American Psychological Association in August,
Ogilvie, D. M. (in preparation) Stages of Self Development: An Integration of Daniel Stern's
and Antonio Damasio's Stage Theories of Self Development. This reading is likely to be
comprised of excerpts from Ogilvie's book Fantasies of Flight (2006) Oxford University
Excerpts from Wade, N. (2009). The Faith Instinct. New York: The Penguin Press (on the
assumption that permission is granted).
Ramachandran, V. (2000) Mirror neurons and imitation learning as the driving force behind
"the great leap forward" in human evolution. (www.edge.org).
(The instructors will look into the possibility of combining most readings into a "for purchase"
course packet at a reasonable cost for students).
Recitation Sections will be an extremely important component of this course. The learning goals
of each section and the exercises designed to meet the goals will be designed in summer, 2010.
Here are three examples:
Week 2 Recitation sections will be comprised of students reporting the results of their
interviews with 3 people on the topic "What is the soul?" Section leaders will present a pre-
exiting content analysis system that was developed to "code" or categorize soul definitions.
Students will discuss the value of such a system. What information is left out when an elaborate
response is forced into a single category? The difference between inductive and deductive
strategies for the creation of categories will be described.
Week 17 (or thereabouts) Research methods will be the topic of this (as well as a few other)
recitation section. Not every study that claims to be a scientific study actually is a scientific
study and students will be trained to discern the difference. Topics of discussion will include
observational studies, correlational studies, and experimental investigations as well as the
distinction between independent and dependent variables and other matters pertaining to
systematic gathering and interpretation of evidence. Students' understanding of this information
will be assessed periodically.
Week 25 or 26 Section discussions will focus on the major points of disagreement between
proponents of human evolution and proponents of intelligent design. What sorts of evidence do
the opposing sides rely on to support their positions. Should both positions be given equal time
in public school science classes?