A Century of Hell

This is a seminar about Hell.  The Twentieth Century was a century of pure Hell — two world wars; civil wars; fascist and communist dictatorships and myriad other tyrannies; genocide; racist xenophobia; populist hysteria; assassinations; and terrorism. I define the Twentieth Century as the period between July 28, 1914 (the outbreak of World War I) and September 11, 2001 (the terrorist attacks on the United States).  Now, we may hope that these episodes from the Twentieth Century do not return to haunt us again.

In this seminar, we will explore this era by focusing on four themes:

  1. The experience of Hell.
  2. Contending theories of Hell’s origins.
  3. The moral implications of Hell, and finally,
  4. The problem of dealing with Hell.

To address these themes, we will draw upon ten widely recognized images of Hell. These are World War I; the Holocaust; existentialism; tyranny and madness; totalitarianism; technological imperialism; moral confusion; nihilism; terrorism; and torture.

I have four goals in this seminar.  If we achieve them, I will be pleased.

  1. To introduce you to a fascinating and disturbing period in the history and politics of the modern world.
  2. To familiarize you with four key concepts in the study of politics: description; explanation; analysis; and prescription.
  3. To develop your reading, writing, speaking, and arguing skills.
  4. To teach you how to persuade. Leadership is nothing more than the art of persuasion. All Notre Dame students should become leaders. All of your assignments will reflect this goal.

This seminar is designed to be demanding, both in terms of your time and in terms of your personality.  First, you must keep up with all of your assignments to avoid being left behind. Second, I will expect each of you to be a full participant in everything we do. This includes speaking in class, communicating with your classmates over Concourse, and daring to think for yourself.

This Web site is the authoritative syllabus for the seminar.  There is no paper syllabus.  That’s so 1990s.  I will modify this site as we move along. Accordingly, you must consult it regularly throughout the semester. You should not count on me notifying you every time I make a change in reading assignments or in our schedule.

NOTE:  Please leave your technology at home. This includes electronic devices of any kind, such as laptops, i-Pads, cell phones, Kindels, video cameras, or other personal digital devices.