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Rutgers University

Soul Beliefs: Causes and Consequences - Unit 1: Historical Foundations

Rutgers University via Coursera


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, this is Unit 1.


  • Introduction to the Course
  • What I was Told to Believe
  • Historical Foundations of Soul Beliefs #1
  • Historical Foundations of Soul Beliefs #2
  • Historical Foundations of Soul Beliefs #3
  • Functions of Religion in Ancient & Modern Times
  • Reactions to Scientific Evidence
  • Religions Under Attack
  • Big Ideas & Big Controversies
  • Darwin's Dangerous Idea
  • The Mind-Body Problem

Taught by

Daniel M. Ogilvie and Leonard W. Hamilton


3.1 rating, based on 9 Class Central reviews

4.5 rating at Coursera based on 399 ratings

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  • This was a great course. It opened my eyes to a different perspective of the soul. I would recommend it to anyone wanting to explore other views.
  • Profile image for Atul Burnwal
    Atul Burnwal
    If you want to understand the genesis of gods and religions then this course is a must. This is a inter-disciplinary approach where Socio-Psycho-Cultural aspects of religious views are explained. Does it promote Atheism? It promotes logic and knowledge and if the implication is promotion of atheism then I don't think we need to worry.
  • Ayca Ogel
  • Robert Murray Dickson
  • Profile image for Norma-jean Benoy
    Norma-jean Benoy
  • Cristina Cotofana

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