Death, God and the Meaning of Life

The details
Philosophical, Historical, and Interdisciplinary Studies (School of)
Colchester Campus
Full Year
Undergraduate: Level 4
Thursday 03 October 2024
Friday 27 June 2025
08 April 2024


Requisites for this module



Key module for

BA V530 Continental Philosophy,
BA V531 Continental Philosophy (Including Foundation Year),
BA V532 Continental Philosophy (Including Placement Year),
BA V533 Continental Philosophy (Including Year Abroad),
BA VV56 Philosophy, Religion and Ethics,
BA VV57 Philosophy, Religion and Ethics (Including Placement Year),
BA VV58 Philosophy, Religion and Ethics (Including Foundation Year),
BA VV59 Philosophy, Religion and Ethics (Including Foundation Year and Year Abroad),
BA VV5P Philosophy, Religion and Ethics (Including Year Abroad),
BA VV20 Philosophy with Business Management,
BA VV21 Philosophy with Business Management (Including Foundation Year),
BA VV22 Philosophy with Business Management (Including Placement Year),
BA VV23 Philosophy with Business Management (Including Year Abroad),
BA V5L5 Philosophy, Ethics and Sustainability,
BA V5L6 Philosophy, Ethics and Sustainability (Including Foundation Year),
BA V5L7 Philosophy, Ethics and Sustainability (Including Placement Year),
BA V5L8 Philosophy, Ethics and Sustainability (Including Year Abroad)

Module description

In the first part of this module, we shall consider some of life's big questions, the problems each of us face as human beings. What, if anything, is the meaning of our lives? How can we become wise? Do we stand in need of salvation? Can we make sense of human suffering? How should we think about our own deaths? We shall approach these questions by taking a fresh look at some of the most powerful stories, myths and allegories in the history of reflection on the human condition.

In the second part of the module we take up the problem of nihilism as experienced in modernity. We begin with Nietzsche`s account of the problem of nihilism as it emerges in the wake of the 'death of God', before turning to Weber`s account of processes of disenchantment and rationalisation, and Freud`s analysis of the repressive forces of civilization. We then examine responses to this `malaise of modernity` that emphasise the role of art, an authentic relation to one`s own death, the radical choosing of oneself, and collective political struggle.

Module aims

The aims of this module are:

  • To introduce students to texts that are pivotal to Ancient Greek, Christian thought and Existentialism.

  • To introduce students to modern responses to the problem of nihilism.

Module learning outcomes

By the end of this module, students will be expected to be able to:

  1. Display detailed knowledge of the texts covered in the module.

  2. Display some knowledge of the ways n which these texts have been variously interpreted and developed by different philosophers.

  3. Engage orally and in writing with these texts in a philosophical way, considering arguments and ideas carefully and critically.

  4. Display an understanding of the presuppositions of the question of the meaning of life in a "modern" context.

  5. Recognise the variety of forms of philosophical inquiry and expression, and be able to assess their significance for the philosophical content.

Skills for your Professional Life (Transferable Skills)

By the end of the module, students should also have acquired a set of transferable skills, and in particular be able to:

  1. Define the task in which they are engaged and exclude what is irrelevant.

  2. Seek and organise the most relevant discussions and sources of information.

  3. Process a large volume of diverse and sometimes conflicting arguments.

  4. Compare and evaluate different arguments and assess the limitations of their own position or procedure.

  5. Write and present verbally a succinct and precise account of positions, arguments, and their presuppositions and implications.

  6. Be sensitive to the positions of others and communicate their own views in ways that are accessible to them.

  7. Think 'laterally' and creatively - see interesting connections and possibilities and present these clearly rather than as vague hunches.

  8. Maintain intellectual flexibility and revise their own position if shown wrong.

Module information

In particular, we shall examine the following, from a philosophical point of view:

  • Out of Africa; the First Human Beings and the Beginning of Death, God and the meaning of Life.

  • The Trial of Socrates.

  • Eden and the Fall.

  • Plato's Cave.

  • The Sufferings of Job.

  • The Myth of Sisyphus.

  • The Tragedy of Antigone.

  • Covid and Camus' 'The Plague.

In the second part of the module topics we will focus on include:

  • The Death of God (Nietzsche).

  • The Iron Cage of Modernity (Weber).

  • Civilization and its Discontents (Freud).

  • Art as a Saving Sorceress (Nietzsche).

  • The Antinomy of Life and Art (Thomas Mann).

  • Confronting One's Own Death (Tolstoy).

  • Choosing Oneself (Sartre).

  • Collective Emancipation of Humanity (Marx).

Learning and teaching methods

This module will be delivered via:

  • One 1-hour lecture per week.
  • One 1-hour seminar per week.

There will also be a Reading Week in each term when no teaching will take place, exact weeks to be confirmed.


This module does not appear to have a published bibliography for this year.

Assessment items, weightings and deadlines

Coursework / exam Description Deadline Coursework weighting
Coursework   Autumn Term Essay (1500 words)    50% 
Coursework   Spring Term Essay (1500 Words)    50% 
Coursework   OPTIONAL: Autumn Term Pre-Assessment (750 words)    0% 
Exam  Main exam: Remote, Open Book, 24hr during Summer (Main Period) 
Exam  Reassessment Main exam: Remote, Open Book, 24hr during September (Reassessment Period) 

Exam format definitions

  • Remote, open book: Your exam will take place remotely via an online learning platform. You may refer to any physical or electronic materials during the exam.
  • In-person, open book: Your exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may refer to any physical materials such as paper study notes or a textbook during the exam. Electronic devices may not be used in the exam.
  • In-person, open book (restricted): The exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may refer only to specific physical materials such as a named textbook during the exam. Permitted materials will be specified by your department. Electronic devices may not be used in the exam.
  • In-person, closed book: The exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may not refer to any physical materials or electronic devices during the exam. There may be times when a paper dictionary, for example, may be permitted in an otherwise closed book exam. Any exceptions will be specified by your department.

Your department will provide further guidance before your exams.

Overall assessment

Coursework Exam
50% 50%


Coursework Exam
50% 50%
Module supervisor and teaching staff
Dr Steven Gormley, email:
Dr Fiona Hughes, email:
PHAIS General Office, Room 6.130;



External examiner

Dr Josiah Saunders
Durham University
Associate Professor
Available via Moodle
Of 59 hours, 59 (100%) hours available to students:
0 hours not recorded due to service coverage or fault;
0 hours not recorded due to opt-out by lecturer(s), module, or event type.


* Please note: due to differing publication schedules, items marked with an asterisk (*) base their information upon the previous academic year.

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