The Holocaust & Society (PHL3046)

StaffDr Nigel Pleasants - Convenor
Credit Value15
Academic Year2012/3
ECTS Value7.5
NQF Level6
Duration of Module Term 2: 11 weeks;

Module aims

This is an interdisciplinary course, and not as such a history of the Holocaust. It combines historical and social scientific inquiry with philosophical reflection on the nature and significance of the Holocaust and (possibly) kindred events, processes and institutions. You will draw on theories, methodologies and concepts from sociology, social psychology, historical explanation and moral philosophy. Issues to be explored include: questions on what kind of event the Holocaust was, what kind of knowledge and understanding it affords, and its relationship to other events and practices of a putatively similar kind; different approaches to explaining the causes, conditions and essential features of the Holocaust; the nature of evil and the moral character of perpetrators and other participants; the relationship between the Holocaust and modernity; reflection on human nature, civilisation, social organisation and social progress; questions on perpetrator motivation and action, moral responsibility and blame.

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. understand the significance of the Holocaust for wider conceptions of social organisation and ethical life;
  • 2. acquire knowledge of some of the leading social scientific and interpretative attempts to account for socially organised evil- and wrong-doing;

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 3. reflect on the core social scientific and historical disciplines as explanatory and interpretive endeavours and assess their success and limitations in making sense of the Holocaust and other kindred events, processes and institutions;
  • 4. reflect on and identify issues of fundamental ethical significance and to be able to relate these issues to social, historical and material features of the cultural environment;

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 5. reflect on, and examine critically, taken-for-granted moral and cultural beliefs and values;
  • 6. analyse and communicate, clearly and directly, a range of epistemological, ontological, and normative issues arising from study of the Holocaust and other kindred events, processes and institutions.

Syllabus plan

1.Introduction & orientation: Why study the Holocaust?
2.Uniqueness and comprehensibility: Was the Holocaust a unique event?
3 Dialectic of Enlightenment and the Modernity thesis: was the Holocaust an essentially modern p henomenon?
4 The nature of evil: Radical or Banal?
5 Social psychology: situationist explanation and the fundamental attributional error
6 Explaining direct perpetrators' actions and motivations: Browning's situationist explanation
7 Explaining direct perpetrators' actions and motivations: Goldhagen's cognitive explanation
8 Rescue and resistance: supererogation, ordinary goodness and the social conditions of altruism.
9 Normalisation of the Holocaust? Comparison & analogy with other genocides and putative cases of social wrong- and evil-doing
10 Knowledge, ignorance and responsibility
11 Judgement and understanding: compatible or incompatible?

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching activity 231 x 2 hour weekly lectures which will include group presentations and class participation
Scheduled Learning and Teaching activity 11 hour revision session, and 11 x 1 hr voluntary 'drop in sessions'
Guided Independent study126A variety of activities directed by module leader.

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Regular reading; preparation for seminars.Weekly1-6Verbal feedback

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay331,800 words1-6Written feedback
Examination672 hours1-6Mark plus feedback on request

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
EssayEssay (1,800 words)1-6August/September assessment period
ExaminationExamination (2 hours)1-6August/September assessment period

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

H. Arendt (1965) Eichmann in Jerusalem: a report on the banality of evil
Z. Bauman (1989) Modernity and the Holocaust
C. Browning (1992) Ordinary men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the final solution in Poland
E. Garrard & G. Scarre (eds) (2003) Moral philosophy and the Holocaust
D. Goldhagen (1997) Hitler's willing executioners: ordinary Germans and the Holocaust
R. Hilberg (1961; 1985) The destruction of the European Jews
D. Jones (1999) Moral responsibility in the Holocaust: A study in the ethics of character
B. Schlink (1998) The Reader
A. Vetlesen (2005) Evil and Human Agency: Understanding Collective Evildoing

Module has an active ELE page?


Available as distance learning?


Origin date

1st October 2011

Last revision date

3rd April 2012

Key words search

Holocaust, society, philosophical reflection, scientific inquiry