Soul Beliefs: Causes and Consequences
Ogilvie (Daniel M.) & Hamilton (Leonard W.)
Source: Coursera, June 2015
Paper - Abstract

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About this Course

  1. 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. […]
  2. This course explores several facets of this relatively unexplored but profoundly important aspect of human thought and behavior.

Course Introduction
  1. We are delighted that you have decided to enroll in “Soul Beliefs: Causes and Consequences - Unit 1: Historical Foundations” and are eager to begin our shared exploration of the powerful themes explored in this course:
    • Why are soul and afterlife1 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 world views of different cultures?
    • What is the role of competing afterlife2 beliefs in religion, science, politics, and war?
  2. 'Soul Beliefs' grew out of an undergraduate Signature Course offered by Rutgers University School of Arts and Sciences, the content of the lectures reflect aspects of the human condition from ancient times to the present.
  3. This course follows the structure of a traditional 13 week university course, and is divided into three units. Ideally, it is anticipated that you will devote 3-5 hours per week to complete each of the units, giving yourself time to pursue many of the concepts in greater depth on your own.
  4. You should, however, follow a viewing schedule that suits your own personal learning style, moving through the sessions at a faster rate, or taking a more gradual approach and spending more time to explore the concepts presented in greater depth.
  5. The learning experience you will encounter is similar to early style MOOC development. This course was recorded live during a traditionally taught class at Rutgers University; Coursera students may feel immersed as if you were attending the class in person. Due to the lengthiness of this class and natural progression, the online course has been separated into 3 units. Throughout each Unit there will be quizzes to track your progress in understanding the material presented. At the end of the course, upon completing the 3rd unit, you will have the opportunity to reflect on the major themes presented throughout the 13 weeks of lectures in a final written assignment. This peer-graded final exam will challenge you to distill the concepts you have learned, and offer to you the option to assess your peers’ thoughts as well. Writing the examination essay is voluntary, but we hope you choose to contribute your own life experience and relate it to the subject matter.
  6. At this time the original professors have since retired, due to the uniqueness of the subject matter Rutgers would like to continue to make this class available to learners around the world. There will be no professors or teaching assistants to moderate discussions; we are embracing the Coursera open learning model by utilizing discussion forums, peer assessments and volunteers. There are quizzes available every few lectures to help identify subject matter learning.
  7. In the forums, you will be able to join your peers in discussing this rich and illuminating look at the human soul and psyche. If you need support, or have any questions related to the course, the forum is the best place to post your questions. As you approach the discussion forums to share your experiences and perspectives, please do so with respect and a generosity of spirit.

Administrative Notes
  1. The course is put out by Rutgers, via Coursera.
  2. For a paper outlining the underlying project, see "Ogilvie (Daniel M.) - Soul Searching Project" (Link; see also Link, the outline of the Rutgers Course).
  3. For the Coursera course itself, see Link.
  4. For Ogilvie, see Link & Link.
  5. For Hamilton, see Link.
  6. Why am I bothering with this course?
    • It’s first-year undergraduate, non-specialist, so probably not worth much attention.
    • However, it might just fit in as a “wind down” activity late at night, instead of watching random documentaries with a glass of wine!
    • Additionally, it’s good to consider some “naïve” philosophy from time to time as a way of connecting to ordinary people (well, undergraduates at top universities, that is).
    • And there might be some content to the course that’s useful for my Thesis, or as a way of connecting to a mild version of the “new atheism”.
  7. Unlike other MOOCs I’ve attended (not many) this course has no hand-outs, which is inconvenient as far as leaving a record is concerned. However, the parallel Rutgers course has a couple of hand-outs which may prove useful, ie:-

Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)

  1. Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2018
  2. Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)



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