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Ethics and Religion: War and Peace


Admission requirements

Knowledge of ethics and of the history of philosophy is indispensible.
Knowledge of German and French is recommended, although English translations are available.


War and peace are inextricably intertwined. In a three year sequence this master seminar will deal with war and peace alternatively. The focus of the seminar will be not so much on political and polemological questions but rather on the intra-psychic, or even metaphysical resonance of war and peace. Does warfare teach us something about a fundamental inner combat, for example? 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?

Next, how should peace be conceived (if it can be conceived at all)? Is it an original state to which we must strive to return? Is it a manmade product once to be established within human history? Is it a mere idea never to be attained but always to be strived after?

Starting with some a comparative reading of the ancient Chinese philosopher Hsun Tzu and the 19th Century German general Clausewitz, we will deal with the belligerent mind-set: aggression (Konrad Lorenz), militarism (Scheler); the mind-set of the conquered (Cioran); and the mind-set of pacifism (Simone Weil). We will conclude by Jacques Derrida’s reflections on reconciliation and repentance.

Course objectives

 By discussing the war phenomenon and the idea of peace within a psychological-metaphysical framework, this seminar aims at giving an alternative approach to this ineradicable tragedy of human history, called ‘war’.
 Students will improve their capacity of reading primary philosophical and ethical texts.
 By reading some literary texts along with the seminar’s main philosophical and ethical texts, students will be challenged to test or assess the ideas put forward by the latter.


See Time table

Mode of instruction

Seminar, with weekly assignments.

Assessment method

There will be weekly assignments that will be graded. The seminar will be concluded by writing a paper of 2500 words, to be submitted before January 31, 2014.

The paper will have to be centered on some crucial or telling passage taken from one of the texts discussed. This passage will have to be considered and commented upon scrupulously. These are the criteria of evaluation:

  1. originality and consistency of the argument
    1. attested capability of integrating elements from the other texts into the argument
    2. attested capability of actualizing the argument by referring to existing discussions and burning issues of today

Seminar: 4 ects. Paper: 1 ects.

Extension to 10 ects is possible upon request. Requirements: a paper of 10.000 words, due on 1 March 2014.


Yes, see blackboard.

Reading list

To be provided by the course instructor.

Recommended literary texts are:

 Ernst von Salomon, Die Geächteten
 Aristophanes, Peace
 Id., Lysistrata
 Euripides, Trojan Women


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


Extension of this seminar to 10 ects is possible. Please contact the course instructor.
BA-students who are interested and who have appropriate philosophical skills can attend this seminar as well. Their work will be assessed on a BA level.