Origins, Evolution and Psychology of Religious Experience
College: Trinity College
Instructor 1: Hewitt, Marsha A.
Course Code: 
First Semester
One Credit
Toronto (St George Campus)

The course will explore the nature of religious experience from the perspectives of psychology, recent evolutionary theory and theories of the emergence of the modern mind. We will explore the ways in which ancient peoples forged a 'consciousness contract' that allowed those individuals and groups whose facility for entering altered states of consciousness that gave them access to the world of spirits and god(s) also gave them enormous political and social power and authority. Drawing on research in neuropsychology and contemporary evolutionary psychology, the course will consider that religious experience is not a mere result of the pressures of the material environment but rather an interaction between neurobiological capacities and their interaction with culture. Moreover, it will be considered that the human capacity for religious experience, symbol formation, the manipulation of images and altered states of consciousness that shape religious beliefs and rituals have significant impact on human action in shaping the environment and forming culture. Writers studied will include, but not be limited to, the theories of religion and the mind as elaborated by Ludwig Feuerbach, Sigmund Freud, William James, David Lewis-Williams, Brian Hayden and Walter Burkert. We will also examine specific cases of the religious experiences of medieval Christian mystics.

Pre-Requisites Currently Offered Next Scheduled Previously Offered Scheduling Information
Fall 2009
Fall 2008
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End Time: 
Additional Notes: 
Location: Larkin Building, Room 212
Teaching Method: 
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