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Ethics and Religion: War and Peace


Admission requirements

A satisfying knowledge of the history of philosophy, particularly of moral philosophy, is required and indispensable. Translations of German texts are available, although working knowledge of German is highly recommended.


War and peace are inextricably intertwined. In a two year sequence this master seminar will deal with war and peace respectively. The focus of this year’s seminar will be not so much on political and polemological questions as on the intra-psychic, or even metaphysical resonance of war. Does warfare teach us something about a fundamental inner combat? Does it betray thorough ontological tensions? How relevant is a gender perspective here, given the fact that wars are mostly waged and prepared by men, albeit sometimes for the sake of women (e.g. Helena, Cleopatra, Patma)? Can causes of war be derived from projective identifications invested with religious energy (e.g. Kosovo, ‘Palestine’, Jerusalem)? On what conditions can these questions be answered at all?
Starting with a reflection on the famous pre-combat conversation between Krishna and Arjuna in the Baghavad Gita, we will study several authors who connected war and destructivity to inner-human or even ontological tendencies: authors varying from psychoanalytical thinkers (Freud and Fromm), idealists (T.H. Green), existentialists (Gabriel Marcel), to a First World War combat soldier whose writings are renowned for having inspired Hitler (Ernst Jünger).

Course objectives

Indepth ethical study of the concept of war and its intrinsic relation to the human mind and inner experience. By discussing the war phenomenon within a psychological-metaphysical framework, this seminar aims at giving an alternative approach to this ineradicable tragedy of human history, called ‘war’.


See Time table.

Mode of instruction

Lecture with weekly individual assignments.

Assessment method

Written paper (1 ects) and weekly assignments (4 ects).


Yes, see blackboard.

Reading list

Although texts may be available on the internet, students may wish to procure one or more books themselves. For antiquarian books, see,, or New: These are the relevant titles :

o Bhagavad-Gita (many translations and editions available).
o T.H. Green, Prolegomena to Ethics, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 2003 (1883)
o Gabriel Marcel, Les hommes contre l’humain, Paris, Fayard, 1951. (trans. The Existential Background of Human Dignity, Harvard University Press, 1963). (Antiquarian, library).
o Erich Fromm, Anatomy of Human Destructiveness, Holt Paperbacks, 1992 (1973).


Via uSis
In addition to the registration in uSis, students are also expected to self-enroll in blackboard a few weeks before the course starts.

Exchange and Study Abroad students, please see the Study in Leiden website for information on how to apply.

Contact information

Dr. H.W. Sneller , see here for a detailed programme.