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How Minds Create Societies: An Evolutionary Psychology Approach
Graduate Program (& Advanced Certificate) Status
Course Description

Historically, explaining the nature of social and cultural institutions that humans form and live in has been long considered to be the natural and sole domain of the social sciences such as sociology, economics, history, or philosophy. It was widely believed that advances in the natural sciences such as genetics, evolutionary biology, or experimental psychology are largely irrelevant for accounting for supra-individual societal phenomena and should be restricted to the study of individual behaviour and sub-personal mechanisms and processes. Recently, this standard view has been changing and radically challenged by significant advances in evolutionary psychology, comparative and cross-cultural psychology, cognitive archeology, social and cognitive anthropology, behavioural economics, social cognitive neuroscience, and ‘naturalized’ approaches to philosophy of mind or moral philosophy. Pascal Boyer’s recent book on Minds Make Societies provides an excellent and up-to-date overview of how recent empirical and theoretical advances in a variety of evolutionary based scientific disciplines are making significant new contributions toward a deeper understanding of the nature of human societies, social and cultural institutions, traditions, moral norms, religious beliefs, cumulative culture and its intergenerational transmission, etc. Through analyzing basic and long-debated examples of social phenomena, Boyer illustrates how these previously unrelated fields of scientific inquiry are now inducing profound changes in the standard conceptualization of the social sciences and argues that the fruitful integration of these muti-disciplinary approaches provides the basic building blocks for a new and unified scientific theory of human social institutions.

Learning Outcomes

At the end of the course, students should be able to assess how recent advances in evolutionary psychology and related disciplines provide new foundations for a deeper scientific understanding of the nature of human societies, social institutions, and uniquely human cultural traditions.  


Course Requirements:

  • Participation in class discussions (20%)
  • Powerpoint Presentation of a designated chapter of the Boyer book for the class (preparing and presenting a ppt summarizing the chapter’s main arguments) and leading the class discussion (30%)
  • End-of-term essay (50%) – you’ll need to choose and propose a topic of your interest to write your essay on that has been inspired by (or at least is meaningfully related to) some of the central issues, hypotheses, and arguments covered by the Boyer book and discussed by us in the class. 
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