Deus Ex Machina: Technology, Complexity and Religion in Modern European and American Intellectual History

History R1B

Spring 2016
Day & Time: 
MWF 300-400
  • This course satisfies the second half of the Reading and Composition Requirement.
  • This course will examine some of the ways modern European and American intellectuals have sought to grapple with the relationship of basic philosophical concepts to technology, science and religion. Philosophers, social theorists and scientists over the last three centuries have posed the relationship between religion and technology at the center of their ruminations on modernity and the limits of human existence. We will look not only at a sampling of philosophers’ reflections on the nature and significance of technology and religion, but also at how scientists and engineers have made sense of their own work in similar terms. Themes may include but are not limited to: transcendence and immanence, freedom and determinism, self-organization, complexity, thermodynamics and heat death, evolution, contingency, artificial life, cybernetics, computing, biotechnology, and space travel.
    This course will aim to foster and develop critical thinking, reading and writing skills by offering students a chance to engage with topics familiar from everyday life from unfamiliar and challenging historical perspectives. Students will read a wide range of short primary and secondary texts surveying the major themes of the course, focusing on the manifold ways historians can interpret and contextualize these resources. In addition to a brief diagnostic essay, several short papers and one final research paper will be assigned.