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Back to Soul Beliefs: Causes and Consequences - Unit 1: Historical Foundations

Learner Reviews & Feedback for Soul Beliefs: Causes and Consequences - Unit 1: Historical Foundations by Rutgers the State University of New Jersey

395 ratings

About the Course

Throughout history, the vast majority of people around the globe have believed they have, however defined, a “soul.” While the question of whether the soul exists cannot be answered by science, what we can study are the causes and consequences of various beliefs about the soul and its prospects of surviving the death of the body. Why are soul and afterlife beliefs so common in human history? Are there adaptive advantages to assuming souls exist? Are there brain structures that have been shaped by environmental pressures that provide the foundation of body/mind dualism that is such a prominent feature of many religions? How do these beliefs shape the worldviews of different cultures and our collective lives? What is the role of competing afterlife beliefs in religion, science, politics, and war? This course explores several facets of this relatively unexplored but profoundly important aspect of human thought and behavior. The course consists mainly of 70 to 80 minute lectures, typically broken up into 3 segments, recorded from a course offered by Rutgers University School of Arts and Sciences. These videos include slides and some embedded video clips. Most lectures are accompanied by slides used during the lecture, also including recommended reading assignment which may provide additional opportunities to reflect on your studies. Due to the lengthiness of this class and natural progression, the online course has been separated into 3 units, this is Unit 1....

Top reviews


Sep 21, 2017

Brilliant course, brilliant lecturers, brilliant topic, extremely well thought-out approach to such a mind-blowing topic. I highly recommend it to anyone with even the vaguest interest in the topic.


Aug 21, 2015

I just started with this course and I am loving it! This not only offers a very fresh perspective on beliefs about souls and an afterlife but is also extremely relatable on a personal level.

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1 - 25 of 107 Reviews for Soul Beliefs: Causes and Consequences - Unit 1: Historical Foundations

By Kimberly K

Sep 14, 2015

My first choice and completed course here, two additional courses on soul beliefs follow and I will certainly be doing those as well. I found the material (both lectures and reading references) very interesting and it connected to daily life and many conversations I find myself referencing things that are discussed here. Retired professor, Daniel Ogilvie, is the primary lecturer and he's very easy to listen to. He has a good personality and gets you thinking. Because of the nature of soul and afterlife beliefs is a personal topic (controversial as well) he and the other lecturers I found to be very passionate and thoughtful in their presentations. I especially enjoyed the writing assignments and learned not only from writing my own submissions but also doing peer reviews.

This is truly a one of a kind course in that you would be hard pressed to find one book or class that is inclusive of many different sources of soul and afterlife beliefs covered collectively. His own writing is one of the reading references (as an overview) specifically because you won't find it all under one roof elsewhere. The course discusses mythology, philosophy, many religions as well as atheism, psychology and neuroscience... some might consider the religious segments taboo or unsettling. Hopefully if you are considering this course you are an open-minded individual. I chose this course to work on for the purpose of personal enrichment and it has sparked motivation for me to continue auditing courses after not having formally studied in over 20 years. It was a challenge but well worth it!

By Deleted A

Aug 8, 2015

I must confess I've tried to complete other courses before but due to time constraints and other responsibilities I've failed miserably. But this time thanks to the fact I can study this on my own pace, I'm no longer having a clash between my job and the courses I want to study, which in turn fills me with excitement and appreciation for this course. Personally, I have a deep interest in the field of religion (spirituality, theology, comparative religions, etc) which I think it is fascinating. That's why I decided to enroll in this course and give it my best. I'm learning so much thanks to the awesome lectures the professors are given and the material it is provided. I watch the lectures, I take tons of notes and I do some extra research as well. I'm just about to finish unit 1 and looking forward to starting unit 2.

I want to thank Coursera from the bottom of my heart for making this course available for free so I can have access to this material. The knowledge I'm getting here is helping me to sharpen my focus on what to study next.

I hope more courses on religion (from an academic perspective) are offered in the future so I can learn even more. (I saw a course on Calvinism I'm already interested in but it's not available yet).

My name is George (Jorge in Spanish) and I'm from South America, Chile.

Thank you to all of you for your efforts. They are deeply appreciated.

By Terry G (

Sep 19, 2015

I really enjoyed this course. An interesting mix of history, philosophy and psychology. I enjoyed the written assignments as it made me think harder about the course material than just passing the quizzes. Reviewing others' work was fascinating too, as it made me consider things from different points of view (though I do think the reviewing criteria would've benefitted from being just a little bit more detailed, to better reflect the huge variation in standard between submissions).

I'm very much looking forward to the next module!

By Kok K G

Aug 30, 2015


Unit 1 is comprehensive in covering historical foundations of after-life beliefs, from pre-history to modern times. This is a necessary grounding to understand the evolution of religion. It provides different religious perspectives on the issue, and Prof Hamilton brings about an objective view in exploring the topic.

Perhaps the important thing for students to better appreciate the course is that it is titled Soul "Beliefs". These are beliefs from different religions, not facts. It is necessary to keep that in mind. Understanding that will lead to a more unbiased and scientific approach towards the topic.


I came across this course after recently losing my fiancée. Am going through Unit 2 at the moment.

I grew up in a Buddhist environment for over 20 years before distancing myself over the last several years. I appreciate the philosophies of Buddhism and that of other religions, but I would describe myself to be agnostic. My recent experiences and subsequent studies of history, philosophy, neuroscience and psychiatry and various interactions with different religious leaders have only reinforced this perspective. This course has been very helpful in providing unbiased information on the topic of after-life beliefs.

By Omar Á C V

May 8, 2017

Muy buen curso, considero que es un gran enfoque desde la psicología de un tema tan importante como lo es la religión, se nota la pasión que los docentes han tenido al diseñar e impartir este curso. En ocasiones da la impresión que bajan de nivel pero, si eres paciente te das cuenta que todo lo que han ideado tiene una razón y termina siendo determinante para la comprensión de los objetivos de cada semana. Si te interesan los temas relacionados con las creencias del alma, este MOOC es indispensable.

By Alejandro P

Aug 14, 2015

I loved the presentation of this course, as someone interested in what distinguishes us from other animals and the mechanisms that underlie our senses of self. Some of the material, I was already familiar with because of other books on anthropology and evolution, but appreciated nevertheless how it was related to the beliefs in the soul and our psychological survival.

By Francisco G

Aug 16, 2015

Este es un curso muy interesante pues trata el tema del alma desde la perspectiva de varias disciplinas. El material recomendado de lectura es muy bueno. Realmente aprendí cosas nuevas y que me sorprendieron, como la relación entre la consciencia, el cerebro y el darwinismo. Superó mis expectativas.

By Debra

Mar 13, 2017

This course breaks all the taboos with academics discussing the history of how humans developed their belief systems, how religions and societies engineer how humans define themselves and how humans view themselves and their concepts of their soul beliefs... My favorite course of all time...

By Heather C

Sep 23, 2016

I love this course, however, I really wish it would have covered other types of belief systems as well, such as the native american beliefs, ancient celtic, or ancient norse belief systems, which have some similarities to the old middle eastern religions, but also a lot of differences.

By Catherine H

Mar 5, 2019

The premise of this class is so interesting! However, if you're not willing to scroll through, or listen to, a TON of VERY long anecdotes while looking for actual information....then this is not the class for you. I felt extremely frustrated because I really wanted to learn from this class, but it's just not organized well at all. Some of the lectures contained the EXACT same thing that we just went over in the previous week. Also...I saw there were 3 parts to this class, which is absolutely ridiculous because they could definitely condense them into one class if you took out the hours of filler....

By Deleted A

Sep 10, 2020

For children

By Dawnene H

Jan 25, 2018

This course was amazing. I loved the classroom teachings with both professors. This is the sort of course that makes your shake out the dust of your brain and really stop and consider WHY you believe what you believe and then decide for yourself IF you still believe in the same manners whenever you complete the course. I am not easily swayed and this course completely made me do a 360 and rethink my "Soul" beliefs. Bravo!

By Charmaine

Nov 24, 2015

This course gives a great view point of the evolution of different religions.It also dwells into how we have today managed to successfully misinterpret the core values of religion leading to mass wold unrest.Its a course that gives us a better understanding into how our beliefs have come to be as we know it today by tracing back history and the philosophers who contributed towards religious beliefs.

By Dennis S

Sep 9, 2016

I found the lectures and reading material very interesting. The professors were very good at explaining complex material and it served to tie together some loose ends regarding various religions that I had been struggling with. As a retiree, I was not interested in receiving a certificate so I didn't take the tests or do the peer reviews though. I was only interested in hearing the lectures.

By Misael H

Sep 26, 2015

Excelente curso sobre un tema MUY importante y, como se indicó en el propio curso, poco tratado en ámbitos académicos. Creencias del Alma aporta informaciones históricas sobre el desarrollo de las religiones y creencias y su función para el ser humana, así como una visión (más o menos) crítica sobre los mismos, y apunta a la relevancia de éstos en conflictos y debates del mundo moderno.

By Daryl R

Jan 21, 2016

The course starts by having students identify what they were taught to believe and walks the student through the human concept of soul belief. It takes you on a journey of religious progression and rationalizes mind and body experience. Thanks so much Corrsera, Ruthers, Professors Daniel Ogilvie and Leonard Hamilton, and all the great guest speakers for such an outstanding course.

By Nobuko S

Aug 31, 2020

This course was very thought provoking. I am not religious and had a general idea of what the course would be about but wasn't expecting a focus on Darwin's natural selection. I had a basic understanding of his theory but never thought how it may be one of the fundamental laws that govern our universe!

By Stanny G

Feb 20, 2016

This course is the most interesting course I've done. It has so many facets and different topics, yet a clear line of thought. The lectures are interesting and the assignments helpful. I would recommend this to everyone... who is ready for his/her ideas and beliefs to be shaken up !

By Bruce M

Sep 16, 2015

Thank you for the opportunity to have a better life through many understandings found in the Rutgers State University course Soul Beliefs: Causes and Consequences. The information was refreshing, enlightening and cut to the quick on many questions I had about soul beliefs.

By Parthsarthi D

Jan 30, 2018

Extraordinary course on Soul Belief, covering physical to metaphysical view from brain to mind and beyond. It was so interesting that I could not stop going through it and finished all course material in few days. Thanks a million for having this course.

By Ana K

Oct 27, 2015

The course was really interesting. Professors are so adorable and the material are full of new thoughts and knowledge. I hope I can take the second and the third units of the course. With great respect, grateful to the creators of the course. Thank you!

By Nancy M W

Jul 24, 2021

This course is fantastic! It really makes you think about how you have been 'programmed' to think and what you truly believe! I have hardly talked about anything else since starting this course and I can't wait to dive into unit 2!

By Yaroslav V

Feb 4, 2016

The course offers a very interesting insight into soul beliefs and combines history, psychology and philosophy. The articulate lecturers and a well prepared material help to maintain the interest and understand the content.

By Pradip M

Jan 9, 2023

A very broad overview of the history behind SOUL BELIEFS.

Well presented with all the controversies & issues.

Also showing that Science has done a great job in trying to prove the physical existence of the soul.

By Martin S

Sep 22, 2017

Brilliant course, brilliant lecturers, brilliant topic, extremely well thought-out approach to such a mind-blowing topic. I highly recommend it to anyone with even the vaguest interest in the topic.