Spring 2015


Listed in: Political Science, as POSC-401


Andrew Poe (Section 01)


[SC]  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 genealogy of fanaticism as a political concept. 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 limits of toleration or representation or an open civil society? Is fanaticism always dangerous to democratic politics, or can it be usefully employed to reshape that politics? This course will use these questions to explore fanaticism and its critiques, especially as the concept developed in relation to the history of liberal democracy. The first section of the course examines the problem of identity and fanaticism, exploring the practical and conceptual costs of asking, “Who is a fanatic?” The second section of the course traces the political anxiety raised by fanaticism, engaging European Enlightenment debates on representation, rationality, and public passions. The third section of the course questions the traditionally perceived dangers of fanaticism to democratic politics, and whether fanaticism can be better conceived as a mode of political practice – a way of doing politics. Ultimately these inquiries are designed to test our assumptions about what fanaticism is as a political idea and how it operates in contemporary political thought.  This course fulfills the requirement of an advanced seminar in Political Science.

Requisite: One course in political or social theory. Limited to 15 students. Spring semester. Professor Poe.

If Overenrolled: Preference for majors/juniors first/balanced after

Cost: 39.00 ?


2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2014, Spring 2015