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Meaning-making in Contemporary Society (20-21)


Meaning-making in Contemporary Society

Course Code




Year of Study

Bachelor, 3rd year




7.5 ECTS


Fernando Suárez Müller

(Intended) teaching staff

Caroline Suransky, Bram van Boxtel; Guest: Henk Manschot, student assistants

Learning objectives

After the successful completion of this course, students are able to: 

  • Compare how diverse (organised) worldviews manifest themselves in the public debate with regard to selected social concerns  (learning outcomes 1b, 3a)
  • Identify and discuss how humanist traditions and values are expressed in contemporary public debates (learning outcomes 1b, 2a, 3b, 4a)
  • Substantiate how their own point of view regarding selected social concerns, relates to humanist traditions and values (learning outcomes 3b, 4a, 4b)
  • Explain how meaning-making processes in societies are cultivated according to Nussbaum’s theory on Political Emotions (learning outcome 2a)
  • Analyse their own key findings on meaning-making– and worldview dynamics in the public debate, with the help of selected course literature (learning outcome 2a)

Content description

This course is a philosophical approach to existential meaning-making and religiousness (spirituality) as it takes place in modern societies with a developed scientific and technological space and situated in a globalizing multicultural context. How is it possible that people still have religious beliefs in a scientifically enlightened world? How is it possible that the longing for spirituality is not diminishing but increasing? We live in secular societies, with post-secular spaces, as Jürgen Habermas calls it in his books on belief and science. This course takes up all the knowledge accumulated during past courses on philosophy and on the axial age. It reflects on what it means to have a humanist approach to religion, on atheistic humanism as being different to open or spiritual humanism, on the relation of existential and ethical questions, on spirituality and the rediscovery of ancient forms of belief, on the impulse of spirituality through ecology, in general on the truth claims of religions in a time dominated by science and the ecological crisis. We will concentrate on the crisis of Christianity that can be interpreted as a dynamics of redefinition of spirituality. New Age and post-secular forms of spirituality will be explored, mainly also as they occur in relationship with a new religion of the Earth (Pachamama, Gaia). The encounter of the axial traditions of the East and West with pre-axial religions of nature is a surprising phenomenon taking place in modern societies. Very important in this course will be the exploration of what the limits of science are – a ‘Critique of Science’ in the Kantian meaning of ‘Critique’: what does science allow to say about the soul? About a non-material domain of being? About morality and freedom? About God or divinity? Are all the proofs of God nonsense? We will therefore explore biological evolution, physics, psychology, neurobiology, the criticism of the proofs of God – to see what can be said about the claims of religion (the soul, metaphysics, God, the Good, miracles, etc.) in modern times. This course is also paramount for humanistic spiritual care professionals. In conversations with their clients about philosophical, ethical and existential questions they should be able to discern science from ideology, rediscovering the possibilities of meaning subjacent in the modern world. 


Lectures, discussion sessions, self-study.


Paper and participation in discussion

Literature and sources

Required reading:

  • Tucker, Mary E, & Grim, John (ed. 2018), Routledge Handbook on Religion & Ecology, New York: Routledge, ISBN-10: 1138315931
  • Suarez Muller, F & Duyndam, J (ed. 2020), Cahier Humanistiek, Swp, Amsterdam.
Additional selected readings, to be determined.