Soul Beliefs: Causes & Consequences

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 and its prospects of surviving the death of the body. Why are soul and afterlife beliefs so common in human history? Are there adaptive advantages to assuming souls exist? Are there brain structures that have been shaped by environmental pressures that provide the foundation of body/mind dualism that is such a prominent feature of many religions? How do these beliefs shape the worldviews of different cultures and our collective lives? What is the role of competing afterlife beliefs in religion, science, politics, and war? This course explores several facets of this relatively unexplored but profoundly important aspect of human thought and behavior. The course consists mainly of 70 to 80 minute lectures, typically broken up into 3 segments, recorded from a course offered by Rutgers University School of Arts and Sciences. These videos include slides and some embedded video clips. Most lectures are accompanied by slides used during the lecture, also including recommended reading assignment which may provide additional opportunities to reflect on your studies. Due to the lengthiness of this class and natural progression, the online course has been separated into 3 units.

Created by:   Rutgers the State University of New Jersey

  • Daniel Ogilvie

    Taught by:    Daniel Ogilvie, Professor of Psychology


  • Leonard Hamilton

    Taught by:    Leonard Hamilton, Professor of Psychology

    Department of Psychology

There are Three (3) Parts in the Course. Each Part is 11 Weeks long.

  • TOPICS - Part 1

    Week 1: Introduction
    Week2: What was I told?
    Weeks 3: Historical Foundations of Soul Beliefs
    Week 4: Historical Foundations of Soul Beliefs.
    Week 5: Historical Foundations of Soul Beliefs.
    Week 6:Functions of Religion in Ancient & Modern Times
    Week 7: Reactions to Scientific Evidence.
    Week 8: Religions Under Attack
    Week 9:Big Ideas & Big Controversies
    Week 10:Darwin's Dangerous Idea
    Week 11: The Mind Body Problem

  • TOPICS - Part 2

    Week 1:Introduction to Unit 2
    Week 2:Thinking & Feeling
    Week 3:Terror Management
    Week 4:Internalized Beliefs 1
    Week 5:Internalized Beliefs 2 - Evolution of Sense of Self After-Life,
    Week 6:Out of Body, and Disembodied: What's the Evidence I
    Week 7:After-Life, Out of Body, and Disembodied: What's the Evidence? II
    Week 8:Biological Perspectives on Beliefs
    Week 9:The Brain and Our Emotional Future
    Week 10:The Biology of Thou Shalt Not
    Week 11:The Undesired Self

  • TOPICS - Part 3

    Week 1:Introduction to unit 3
    Week 2:Evolutionary Psychology,
    Week 3:The Evolution of the Human Brain,
    Week 4:The Human Spark,
    Week 5:The Scopes Trial: Human Origins and the Public Classroom,
    Week 6: Where Do We Go From Here?