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First-Year Seminar (101-6-20)


Psychology and 'Weird' Beliefs


Sara Cantonia Broaders
Swift 243, 2029 Sheridan Road

Meeting Info

Swift Hall 210: Tues, Thurs 11:00AM - 12:20PM

Overview of class

Lots of people have beliefs that other people think are just plain weird. Why do people have these beliefs? We will look at "weird" beliefs within our culture and maybe some cross-cultural examples to understand what leads to development and maintenance of beliefs. We'll also consider how to evaluate rationality of beliefs. Among the specific topics we may cover are: science denial, superstition, parapsychology, conspiracy theories, ghosts, near-death and out-of-body experiences, witchcraft, alien abduction, repressed memories of abuse, and creationism/intelligent design. Students will use a wide variety of academic and popular media resources (including empirical research articles, philosophical arguments, popular press books, and documentary films) to explore the bases for these beliefs and practices.

Teaching Method

Primarily discussion supplemented with videos and some brief lectures.

Evaluation Method

Grades will be based on weekly written assignments, one short paper (2-3 pages), peer critique of papers, an independent research paper (~10 pages), class participation, and an in-class presentation.

Class Materials (Required)

In addition to the required books, we will have articles and chapters from a variety of other sources that will be available through the Canvas course management system.

The required books are most likely to be:
1. Clancy, S.A. (2005). Abducted: How people come to believe they were kidnapped by aliens. Harvard University Press. ISBN: 0-674-01879-6
2. Gilovich, T. (1991). How we know what isn't so: The fallibility of human reason in everyday life. Free Press. ISBN: 0-02-911706-2
3. Merlan, A. (2019). Republic of lies: American conspiracy theorists and their surprising rise to power. Metropolitan Books. ISBN: 978-1250159052
4. Shermer, M. (2011). The believing brain. New York: Henry Holt. ISBN: 978-0-8050-9125-0
5. Wiseman, R. (2010). Paranormality: Why we see what isn't there. ISBN: 978-0-9568756-5-5

Class Attributes

WCAS First-Year Seminar
Attendance at 1st class mandatory
Prerequisites apply, see description

Enrollment Requirements

Enrollment Requirements: Reserved for First Year & Sophomore only