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Rutgers University

Soul Beliefs: Causes and Consequences - Unit 2: Belief Systems

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 2.


  • Introduction to Unit 2
  • Thinking and Feeling
  • Terror Management
  • Internalized Beliefs I
  • Internalized Beliefs II: The Evolution of Senses of Self in Childhood
  • After-Life, Out of Body, and Disembodied: What's the Evidence I
  • After-Life, Out of Body, and Disembodied: What's the Evidence? II
  • Biological Perspectives on Beliefs
  • The Brain and Our Emotional Future
  • The Biology of Thou Shalt Not
  • The Undesired Self
  • General Course Pages

Taught by

Leonard W. Hamilton and Daniel M. Ogilvie


3.8 rating, based on 5 Class Central reviews

4.6 rating at Coursera based on 170 ratings

Start your review of Soul Beliefs: Causes and Consequences - Unit 2: Belief Systems

  • While diverting from the first part of the course, I still found it to be interesting. Though the speed and cohesiveness of the material was a little hard to follow at some points.
  • Taich
    The topic is interesting and speakers from outside the course were interesting. However the primary professor during this session wanders, tells too many personal stories, and seldom expresses his views coherently and concisely. I completed the first and third sessions but not this one.
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    Luis Ribeiro
  • Debbi

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