Sin and Evil in Western Lit
The problem of evil is central to any examination of the human situation. Philosophers and social scientists have taken various stances on this problem, as have different religious traditions. Some hold that people are essentially good, succumbing to evil only as a result of temptation or social pressure. Others maintain that we are fallen creatures who must constantly struggle to overcome our base impulses. Still others view human nature as essentially divided, a battleground between good and evil. Many recent thinkers would argue that all these viewpoints are meaningless, that the terms good and evil have no objective validity, referring only to socially constructed beliefs which vary enormously over time and space. In this course, we read texts from the Western tradition which approach evil from various perspectives, both religious and secular. Some major themes include Satan and other personifications of evil, knowledge as temptation, transgression as heroic rebellion, the figure of the Doppelgnger and the allure of decadence. Our main focus will be on how these themes are addressed in works of literature, but we also read selections from nonliterary authors whose views will inform our discussion of the literary texts. Among the authors read are Saint Augustine, Shakespeare, Goethe, Milton, Hawthorne, James Hogg, Dostoyevsky, Nietzsche, William James, Flannery O'Connor, Hannah Arendt, Stanley Milgram, Philip Zimbardo, J.M. Coetzee, Kazuo Ishiguro and Jos Saramago.