New course examines modern culture through Darwinian theory
A new graduate course offered this winter through the Cultural Studies Program gives students the opportunity to explore contemporary culture through the lens of Darwinian evolutionary theory.
“I am interested in investigating how evolutionary thinking can affect our understanding of our lives, our species and our ability to share the planet with other species,” says Lonnie Aarssen (Biology), who will teach BIOL 850: Darwinism and cultural evolution.
In the course, students apply Darwinian evolutionary theory to the interpretation of culture and human nature, and examine how these effects impact civilization and the challenges it faces in the 21st century.
Dr. Aarssen has been teaching a similar course at the undergraduate level for the past five years. That course, available to all students in year three or above from any program, has been very popular, with enrolment climbing every year. Given its success, Dr. Aarssen decided to expand and connect with the Cultural Studies Program to offer the new graduate course.
Through seminars, essays and group discussions, students will look at the impacts of Darwinism on cultural products such as art and literature, socio-cultural institutions such as religion and marketing, and societal problems such as war and environmental conservation.
“Students really enjoy having the opportunity to think about socio-cultural issues as having been at least partially informed by the fact we’re an animal that has evolved by the process of evolution, just like all animals,” says Dr. Aarssen.
The controversial nature of Darwinism generally spurs great debate, particularly in the social sciences, Dr. Aarssen says. He hopes the new graduate course gives Cultural Studies students the opportunity to discover the issues, and provides a forum for stimulating discussion. He is also encouraging biology students to enroll in the course to gain an understanding of the implications of Darwinism across a broader domain.