Course description

We frequently look upon the modern world and characterize it in naturalistic and secular terms. But at the extremities of human behavior and human suffering whether individual or social we find ourselves calling people groups and situations evil. What do we mean by this? What is the difference between something being evil or just wrong? What typifies actions we deem evil and what should we do about them? What does our appeal to evil say about our sense of humanity religion God? This course takes up these questions through a variety of lenses drawn from Western thought religious philosophical theological and ethical. Readings include Jewish and Christian scriptures (Genesis Job Paul) classic theologians and philosophers (Augustine Leibniz Kant) novelists (Dostoevsky Dillard) and contemporary critics (Nieman Arendt Gouri). The last portion of the course turns from ideas to situations looking at cases such as the Eichmann trial the use of evil in contemporary American political discourse our location relative to nature and a parent's reaction to the murder of a child to query our contemporary thinking about evil and suffering.


  • Professor of Philosophy and Theology, Harvard Divinity School

Associated Schools

  • Harvard Division of Continuing Education

  • Harvard Summer School

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