The Epidemiology of Beliefs

Term: Fall 2009

Subject Code: GANT

Course Number: 6074

Beliefs are a little like germs; good ones are highly contagious. In the past two decades, a new approach has emerged that seeks to explain cultural phenomena by explaining why some ideas are catchier than others. Different scholars stress different dimensions: some focus on ecological factors, others on cultural issues, still others on psychological architecture. All seek to identify those factors that underlie the distribution and stability of beliefs within a population, much as medical epidemiology seeks to identify the factors that underlie the distribution and stability of diseases within a population. In this interdisciplinary seminar we examine the pioneering work of the cognitive scientist Dan Sperber, anthropologist Scott Atran's evolutionary account of religion, popular versions of the approach such as Gladwell's best seller, The Tipping Point, Ians Hacking's influential Foucauldian Analyses of Mental Disorders, and Richard Dawkin's biologically-inspired notion of meme. Students are encouraged to think with these concepts in their ethnographic and psychological research.

< back

Connect with the New School