Death, God and the Meaning of Life

The details
Colchester Campus
Full Year
Undergraduate: Level 4
Thursday 03 October 2019
Friday 26 June 2020
16 August 2019


Requisites for this module



Key module for

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)

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

The Trial of Socrates
Plato's Cave
Eden and the Fall
The Sufferings of Job
The Myth of Sisyphus
The Tragedy of Antigone
The Binding of Isaac

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. 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)

Module aims

The aims of this module are: to introduce students to texts that are pivotal to Ancient Greek and Christian thought to introduce students to modern responses to the problem of nihilism

Module learning outcomes

By the end of this module students should to be able to: * display detailed knowledge of the texts covered in the module; * display some knowledge of the ways in which these texts have been variously interpreted and developed by different philosophers; * engage orally and in writing with these texts in a philosophical way, considering arguments and ideas carefully and critically; * display an understanding of the presuppositions of the question of the meaning of life in a "modern" context; * recognise the variety of forms of philosophical inquiry and expression, and be able to assess their significance for the philosophical content. By the end of the module, students should also have acquired a set of transferable skills, and in particular be able to: * define the task in which they are engaged and exclude what is irrelevant; * seek and organise the most relevant discussions and sources of information; * process a large volume of diverse and sometimes conflicting arguments; * compare and evaluate different arguments and assess the limitations of their own position or procedure; * write and present verbally a succinct and precise account of positions, arguments, and their presuppositions and implications; * be sensitive to the positions of others and communicate their own views in ways that are accessible to them; * think 'laterally' and creatively - see interesting connections and possibilities and present these clearly rather than as vague hunches; * maintain intellectual flexibility and revise their own position if shown wrong;

Module information

No additional information available.

Learning and teaching methods

1 x one-hour lecture each week followed by a one-hour discussion class at which issues covered in the lecture will be discussed in smaller class groups. Weeks 8 and 21 are Reading Weeks. Revision sessions in summer term.


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

Assessment items, weightings and deadlines

Coursework / exam Description Deadline Weighting
Coursework Early Assessment Exercise (1000 Words) 0%
Coursework Autumn Term Essay (2000 words) 50%
Coursework Spring Term Essay (2000 Words) 50%
Exam 180 minutes during Summer (Main Period) (Main)

Overall assessment

Coursework Exam
50% 50%


Coursework Exam
50% 50%
Module supervisor and teaching staff
Dr Steve Gormley (Spring and Summer), Dr Fiona Hughes (Autumn and Summer),



External examiner

Dr Thomas Joseph Stern
University College London
Senior Lecturer
Available via Moodle
Of 127 hours, 126 (99.2%) hours available to students:
1 hours not recorded due to service coverage or fault;
0 hours not recorded due to opt-out by lecturer(s).


Further information

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

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