Spring 2012


Listed in: Political Science, as POSC-401


Andrew Poe (Section 01)


[PT] Many perceive a dangerous rise in radically Utopian politics, often described as "fanaticism." Against the backdrop of increased ethnic and nationalist violence, authoritarianism, and declining safeguards for human rights, fanaticism is considered a fundamental impediment to well-functioning democratic politics. Yet, if such a concept is to have the theoretical force policy makers and theorists would like, more clarity is needed regarding what fanaticism is and how it operates. This course examines the history of fanaticism as a political concept. In particular, we will explore theoretical critiques of fanaticism, especially as the concept developed in relation to the history of liberal democracy. The first half of the course explores the emergence of fanaticism as a political--not merely as a  religious--idea. Engaging Enlightenment debates on civil society, toleration, and public passions, this section of the course should highlight how fanaticism came to be re-conceived in modern political thought. Here we will explore the traditionally perceived dangers of fanaticism to democratic politics. The second half of the course questions the conceptual costs of this redefinition. Who are political fanatics? What are the political (and psychological) consequences to us in labeling others as fanatics? How might we distinguish between fundamentalism and fanaticism? Is fanaticism necessary to define the extant parameters of toleration or civil society? Is fanaticism always dangerous to democratic politics? Ultimately, this inquiry into the genealogy of fanaticism is designed to test our assumptions about what fanaticism is as a political idea and how it operates in contemporary political thought.

Limited to 25 students. Spring semester.  Visiting Professor Poe.

If Overenrolled: Priority will be given first to majors who have already taken some prior political theory coursework (polisci), and then to those who are non-majors, but have taken courses in political or social theory (polisci, ljst, sociology).


2021-22: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2014, Spring 2015