The Sociology of Evil
Wellesley College, Fall 2000

Professor Thomas Cushman
Seminar Meets: Monday 7:00-9:10, FND 305
Office Hours: Tuesday 3-5; Thursday, 1-3.

I am not a pessimist: to perceive evil where it exists is, in my opinion, a form of optimism.
--Roberto Rosselini


This seminar focuses on sociological approaches to the problem of evil. We begin by outlining a conceptual and methodological sociological approach to moral phenomena, in general, and to evil, in particular. We then compare different approaches to evil (psychological, biological, philosophical, and theological) in order to delineate an autonomous sociological approach to the problem of evil. We then explore key works that constitute the core of the sociology of evil. The central areas we will cover are:

• the social construction of evil and symbolic violence

• modernity, the rise of instrumental rationality and the facilitation of organized cruelty.

• postmodern interpretations of evil and criticisms of ethical and cultural relativism.

• important work in the sociology of genocide with a concentration on three cases in the twentieth century

• political and social-scientific debates and controversies surrounding the use and misuse of the term genocide

• indifference to evil

• individual and organized modes of resistance to evil and the ways in which sociological knowledge informs the latter.


Required Texts:
All of the following are available at the College and are required:

Roy F. Baumeister. Evil: Inside Human Cruelty and Violence. New York: W.H. Freeman, 1997
Sigmund Freud. Civilization and Its Discontents. New York: W.W. Norton, 1989
Arthur Kleinman, Veena Das, and Margaret Lock, eds. Social Suffering. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.
Tzvetan Todorov. Voices from the Gulag. Penn State Press, 1999.
Andreopoulos, George. Genocide: Conceptual and Historical Dimensions. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
C. Fred Alford,. Think No Evil: Korean Values in an Age of Globalization . Cornell University Press. 1999.
George Orwell, 1984.

There is also a list of reserve readings for the seminar. These are available from the Knapp Media Center and they must be done in conjunction with other readings and seminar meetings.

Films: A number of films will be placed on reserve that are meant to supplement the course. I will announce these as we move through the course.

Guest Speakers: I have organized a number of guest speakers to come to campus to lecture on topics related to the sociology of evil. I have tried to schedule speakers for times when the seminar meets, but there may be exceptions. I will remind you of the date and times of the speakers during the semester.

Organization of the Seminar

Students are expected to attend all seminar meetings. There will be a brief 1-2 page writing assignment due most weeks that we meet. The purpose of these is twofold: to help you organize your thoughts as you read and to serve as the basis for our class discussions. Each week, members of the seminar will be asked to report on class readings as a way of facilitating discussion and debate.


Course Policies

The final grade for the class will be determined by:

• class attendance and participation
• short weekly writing assignments of 1-2 pages (there will be approximately six- eight of these due during the semester)
• two short papers of 6-8 pages

A final class project to be done with a partner from the seminar. The grade for this project will be based on evaluation of a class presentation and a final written product.

There are no formal examinations in class. Any student who misses more than three seminars without a valid medical excuse or family emergency will automatically be withdrawn from the course. This is a policy that has been and will be enforced in all of my seminars at Wellesley. Also, no late work is accepted without a request for extension asked for well in advance of the due date. Extensions are only given in case of medical or family emergency.


Seminar Schedule

September 11: Articulating a Social Science Approach to Evil: Concepts, Ideas, Boundaries, Difficulties.

Roy F. Baumeister, Evil: Inside Human Cruelty and Violence. New York: W.H. Freeman, 1997. Please read as much of this book as possible before the first class meeting.

Richard Lloyd Parry, "What Young Men Do," Granta, vol. 62 (Summer 1998), pp. 83-123. ®

Jimmy Carter, "It's Wrong to Demonize China" New York Times,-August 10, 1997 and Mei-Chin Chen, "Demonizing China? Beijing Can Blame Itself, New York Times, August 14,1997. ®

Saul Levine, "The Development of Wickedness--From Whence Does Evil Stem?," Psychiatric Annals, 27:9 (Sept. 1997), pp. 617-623. ®

 September 18: Social Suffering, Language and Silence.

Arhur Kleinman and Joan Kleinman, "The Appeal of Experience; The Dismay of Images: Cultural Appropriations of Suffering in Our Times," in Kleinman, Social Suffering.

David B. Morris, "About Suffering: Voice, Genre, and Moral Community," in Kleinman, Social Suffering.

Lawrence Langer, "The Alarmed Vision: Social Suffering and Holocaust Atrocity, " in Kleinman, Social Suffering.

Veena Das, " Language and Body: Transactions in the Construction of Pain, in" Kleinman, Social Suffering. (Read also Stanley Cavell’s response to Das’s essay in the same volume).

September 25: From Philosophy to Sociology: The Intellectual "Career" of the Concept of Evil.

Werner Post, "The Problem of Evil." Pp. 105-114 in Johannes B. Metz, Moral Evil Under Challenge. New York: Herder and Herder, 1970.

Arthur Schopenhauer, "On the Sufferings of the World." Pp. 381-394 in Essays of Arthur Schopenhauer, ed. T. Bailey Saunders. New York: A.L. Burt. ®

Arthur Schopenhauer, On the Basis of Morality. Section 14, "Antimoral Incentives," pp. 131-138. ®

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. The Communist Manifesto, review any copy (there is one on reserve) ®

Friedrich Engels. The Condition of the Working Class in England. Moscow: Progress Publishers, [1892] 1973, "Single Branches of Industry. Factory Hands," pp. 172-224. ®

Sigmund Freud. Civilization and Its Discontents. New York: Norton, 1989. In entirety.

October 2: Comparative Study of Evil: The Case of Korea

Read, in entirety, C. Fred Alford, Think No Evil: Korean Values in the Age of Globalizaton.

Guest Speaker, C. Fred Alford, The University of Maryland.

First Paper Due, October 6.

Fall Break: No Class on October 9

Wednesday, October 11: The Social Construction of Evil

Christie Davies, "Sexual Taboos and Social Boundaries" American Journal of Sociology, vol. 87, no. 5, pp. 1032-1063. ®

Brown, Richard Harvey, "Cultural Representation and Ideological Domination," Social Forces, vol. 71, no. 3 (March 1993), pp. 657-676. ®

Said, Edward. Covering Islam: How the Media and the Experts Determine How We see the Rest of the World(revised edition). New York: Vintage, 1997, Chapter 3, pp. 135-173. ®

October 16: Evil as Discourse: Postmodern Interpretations of Evil and Their Critics

Michel Foucault, ed. I, Pierre Riviere, Having Slaughtered my Mother, my Sister, and My Brother London: Penguin, 1975. Chapter 1. ®

Talal Asad, "On Torture, or Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading Treatment." In Kleinman, Social Suffering.

George Orwell. 1984, in entirety.

Richard Rorty. Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity. New York and Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989, read excerpt "Private Irony and Liberal Hope" (supplied from other source) and Chapter 8, "The last intellectual in Europe: Orwell on cruelty," pp. 169 -188. ®

Guest Speaker: John Rodden, University of Texas at Austin.

The Social Organization of Evil: Genocide in Comparative-Historical Perspective

October 23. Legal, Sociological, and Moral Definitions of Genocide and "Dernocide"

Frank Chalk and Jonassohn, Kurt, "Genocide: An Historical Overview," Social Education, Feb. 1991, pp. 92-96. ®

George J. Andreopoulos (ed.). Genocide: Conceptual and Historical Dimensions, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1994. Read all of Part 1, "The Conceptual Dimensions of Genocide."

Jean-Paul Sartre. On Genocide. Boston: Beacon Press, 1968, pp. 57-85 ®

Gerald W. Scully, "Dept. of gee, now that you mention it: genocide is bad for the economy, " The New York Times, Sunday, December 14,1998. ®

Case Studies

October 29 : The Armenian Genocide

Richard G. Hovannisian, "Etiology and Sequelae of the Armenian Genocide," pp. 111-140 in George J. Andreopoulos (ed.), Genocide: Conceptual and Historical Dimensions, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1994.

R.G. Hovannisian. "Denial of the Armenian Genocide in Comparison with Holocaust Denial" and "Professional Ethics and the Denial of the Armenian Genocide" in Hovannisian, ed. Remembrance and Denial: The Case of the Armenian Genocide." ®

Petition of Scholars and Writers, "Taking A Stand Against The Turkish Government's Denial of the Armenian Genocide and Scholarly Corruption in the Academy" (To be distributed)

Arpie Nakashian, " Armenian Genocide Debate Goes on the Web." 8 March, 1997

Bruce Fein, "An Armenian and Muslim Tragedy? Yes! Genocide? No! , at Azerbaijani webpage:

November 6: Culturalist Versus Structuralist Approaches: The Case of the German Destruction of European Jews

Stanley Milgram, Obedience, a 45 minute film on reserve.

George Orwell, "Shooting an Elephant" from Inside the Whale. London: V. Gollancz, 1940. ®

Zygmunt Bauman. Modernity and the Holocaust. New York: Cornell University Press, 1989, Chapter 4, pp. 83-116 and Chapter 6, pp. 151-168. ®

Hannah Arendt. Eichmann in Jerusalem : A Report on the Banality of Evil. New York: Penguin, 1994, Chapter 3, pp. 35-55 and Chapter 8, pp. 135-150. ®

Daniel Goldhagen. Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust. New York: Vintage, 1997, Introduction, pp. 3-24 and Chapter 3, pp. 80-128. ®

Ralph Blumenthal, " Cries to Halt Publication of Holocaust Book." New York Times, January 10, 1998, Section B, Page 7. ®


Christopher A. Browning. Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland. New York: Harper, 1992.

Christopher R. Browning. The Path To Genocide: Essays on Launching the Final Solution. Cambridge, UK and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992.

Raul Hilberg. The Destruction of the European Jews. New York: Harper & Row, 1979

Saul Friedlander. Memory, History, and the Extermination of the Jews of Europe. Bloomington : Indiana University Press, 1993.

Robert Jay Lifton. The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide. New York: Basic Books, 1986.

Please note: There is a vast literature on the Holocaust which should be consulted by the serious student of this event. The readings suggested here are by no means exhaustive and represent what I consider to be some of the more sociologically relevant and interesting works.

November 13: Communism in the Twentieth Century

Read Tzvetan Todorov, Voices from the Gulag, in entirety.

Martin Malia, "Foreward: The Uses of Atrocity" in The Black Book of Communism. ®

Stephane Courtois, "The Crimes of Communism", The Black Book of Communism. ®

November 20: Genocide in Bosnia

Michael Ignatieff, "Homage to Bosnia", review essay in The New York Review of Books, April 24,1994. ®

Gutman, Roy. A Witness to Genocide. New York: Macn-dIlan, 1992, pp. 28-101. ®

Norman Cigar. Genocide in Bosnia: The Policy of "Ethnic Cleansing. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1995, Chapters 5, 6, and 7, pp. 47 106. ®


Thomas Cushman and Stjepan Mestrovic, eds. This Time We Knew: Western Responses to Genocide in Bosnia. New York and London: New York University Press. ®

November 27 : Indifference to Evil

Arthur Koestler, "On Disbelieving Atrocities," Pp. 88-92 in The Yogi and the Commissar. New York: MacMillan, 1945. ®

Lewis Coser, "The Visibility of Evil." Journal of Social Issues, 25:1 (1969), pp. 101-110. ®

Rienhold Niebuhr. Moral Man and Immoral Society. New York: Scribner, 1960, Chapter 4, "The Morality of Nations," pp. 83-112. ®

Michael Barnett, "The Politics of Indifference at the United Nations and Genocide in Rwanda and Bosnia." Pp. 128-162 in Thomas Cushman and Stjepan Mestrovic, eds. This Time We Knew: Western Responses to Genocide in Bosnia. New York and London: New York University Press, 1996. ®

December 4: Student Presentations. (We may need to schedule a late session of another session to cover all of the presentations – more details about the student presentations will be provided).