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Great Books: Fyodor Dostoevsky


Admission requirements

Required course(s):

None, but the student should have a serious interest in the history of philosophical and theological ideas. Completion of History of Philosophy is strongly recommended.


Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky (1821-1881) is considered to be one of the greatest writers of the nineteenth century and the most important forerunner of twentieth century existentialism in philosophy and literature. He has been an unprecedented source of influence to Nietzsche, Berdyaev, Shestov, Sartre, Kafka and Camus.

Dostoevsky's core themes are: his strong critique of modern rationalism (Enlightenment, utilitarianism and positivism); the struggle between heart and mind; religion and reason; the possible rebirth of the self through art and imagination, and the inspiration of compassion and unneighborly love, leading to the healing of the self and to authentic brotherhood.

In this class we will be reading two of the most important works written by Dostoevsky: the short novel Notes from underground and his grand masterpiece Brothers Karamazov. Set in 19th-century Russia, The Brothers Karamazov is a passionate philosophical novel that enters deeply into questions of God, free will, and morality. It deals with existential problems of faith, doubt, and reason in the context of a modernizing Russia.

Course Objectives

At the end of this course, the student will be able to:

  • Describe, explain and historically place Dostoevsky’s philosophy of life, his important theological insights and their connections to the tradition and our current, modern age;

  • Analyse and discuss texts, using highly developed reading and writing skills;

  • Reflect on your position in life, relating the texts read in this course.


Timetables for courses offered at Leiden University College in 2022-2023 will be published on this page of the e-Prospectus.

Mode of instruction

Instruction will take place within the framework of a Socratic conversation about the books to be read. That is to say, classes consist of a communal dialogue about what the students have read. The tutor will guide the discussion, by asking questions, and if needed, suggesting possible answers. There are no lectures. It is crucial that the students read the texts beforehand and actively participate in the dialogue.

Assessment Method

  • Seven weekly short papers of 400 words, each 10%

  • Participation, 30%

Reading list

It is very important that we all use the same editions:

  • Fyodor Dostoevsky, Notes from underground, Norton critical edition, Transl. and ed. M.R. Katz, 2e ed., New York / London: Norton & Company 2001.

  • Fyodor Dostoevsky, Brothers Karamazov, Norton critical edition, Transl. and ed. S. McReynolds, 2e ed., New York / London: Norton & Company 2011.


Courses offered at Leiden University College (LUC) are usually only open to LUC students and LUC exchange students. Leiden University students who participate in one of the university’s Honours tracks or programmes may register for one LUC course, if availability permits. Registration is coordinated by the Education Coordinator,


Dr. Timo Slootweg,