Due to the Corona virus education methods or examination can deviate. For the latest news please check the course page in Brightspace.


nl en

Culture and Civilisation




Admission Requirements

Similarly tagged 200-level and 300-level courses. Students that do not meet this prerequisite should contact the instructor regarding the required competencies before course allocation. This course is an integrative course for the Human Interaction and Political Arts majors.


This course will be an in-depth study of the distinction between the two related notions culture/_Kultur_ and civilization/_Zivilisation_, beginning with Kant, Schiller, Diderot, Herder, Guizot, Nietzsche, Arnold, and continuing with Freud, Mann, Elias, Hoggart, Marcuse, Adorno, Benjamin, Spengler, Canetti, Fukuyama, Huntington, Bourdieu, and Rancière. Our approach to these notions will be historical and philosophical, special attention being paid to the uses of “culture” in the discourse of Bildung, the anthropological critique of modernist elitism at the beginning of the twentieth century, the discourse of culture by the British left intellectuals, the so-called “cultural turn” and debates on multiculturalism, and the obliteration of the notion over the past decade.

Some fictional texts and films will give depth and detail to our discussion of the archive of “culture” and “civilization”. We will start by reading a few excerpts from Petronius’s Satyricon and will watch Federico Fellini’s idiosyncratic film adaptation. They raise not only questions such as what is a civilization, or what counts as culture and how it is transmitted, but also what is the price of culture, and who are the invisible, the forgotten, the silent marginal actors at whose expense civilization is built. A brief acquaintance with Goethe’s Faust will enhance our appreciation of the subtle critique of modern civilization mounted by the futurist Aleksander Wat in Lucifer Unemployed, in complicity with Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times. Excerpts from T. S. Eliot’s landmark modernist poem The Waste Land, Elias Canetti’s monstrous novel Autodafé, and Mircea Eliade’s novella Youth without Youth will also be part of our discussion, as well as, possibly, films like Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor, Sokurov’s The Russian Ark, or Pasolini’s Trilogy of Life.

This course is likely to interest ambitious students who want to deepen their knowledge and understanding of the history of ideas, interdisciplinary approaches to culture, and critical theory.

Course Objectives

As an upper-level seminar, “Culture and civilization” builds on the knowledge accumulated by students in previous courses in anthropology, history, arts, social theory and literature, aiming to integrate these readings, ideas and approaches. Among our objectives around a rigorous understanding of the history of the two related notions “culture” and “civilization.” It aims to enhance the students’ appreciation for ideas in their historical context and their critical ability to evaluate, describe, synthesize, and create original and nuanced interpretations of cultural objects.

Mode of Instruction

The seminar will be based mostly on discussion run by students and on individual presentations of the required and recommended readings. The instructor will occasionally offer short lectures to introduce and contextualize the texts.


There will be no final essay or research paper for this course. Instead, students will keep a critical reading journal that they will post to BB in weekly installments, and that they will have to revise based on their peers’ and instructor’s feedback and resubmit at the end of the course. (A handout with instructions for how to write a good critical response to the texts will be distributed on the first day of class.) Each student will be responsible for two presentations: one introducing the required readings for a seminar, a second one discussing at least one of the recommended texts. The former should include a critical synthesis of the webposts for the day.

Assessment: In-class participation and webposts
Percentage: 30%
Deadline: Ongoing Weeks 1 – 7

Assessment: Presentation one, including feedback on webposts
Percentage: 25%
Deadline: Sign-up

Assessment: Presentation two
Percentage: 20%
Deadline: Sign-up

Assessment: Final dossier with revised materials, including a 500-word reflection on the learning and writing process
Percentage: 25%
Deadline: End Week 8


Mircea Eliade, Youth without Youth
T. S. Eliot, The Waste Land

All other texts will be made available electronically on Blackboard.

Contact Information


Weekly Overview

Week 1 Culture and civilization, between satire and romance: Petronius, Satyricon; Fellini, Satyricon (screen adaptation)
Week 2 Culture as Bildung: Kant, Schiller, Guizot, Arnold, Elias
Week 3 Translatio imperii, a modernist critique: Chaplin, Wat, Eliot
Weeks 4&5 Visions of the end of Western culture: Freud, Canetti, Spengler, Fukuyama, Eliade; the anthropological perspective
Week 6 The “clash of civilizations” debate: Huntington, Chomsky, Said, Berman, Sen
Week 7 Whose culture is it, anyway? The Leftist critique of “culture” (Hoggart, Williams, Weiss, Rancière), mass culture and consumerism (Warhol, Adorno, Debord); multiculturalism (Said, Bhabha, Taylor, Eriksen&Stjernfelt). “Empire” (Hardt, Negri)

Preparation for first session

Students should check out the course Blackboard page and read the excerpts from Petronius’ Satyricon indicated in the “Content” section. It would also be useful if they read Mircea Eliade’s novella Youth without Youth before the start of the block.