The Humanist Hour #151: Soul Beliefs, with Dan Ogilvie

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In this episode, Bo Bennett and Kim Ellington speak with Professor Dan Ogilvie about the concept of the soul and how to teach this concept to both secular and religious students.

After 45 years of teaching, Dan has been engaged in removing the wraps from the topic of soul and afterlife beliefs. He is a personality and social psychologist who formed a partnership with his brain scientist colleague, Leonard Hamilton, and together the two have been exploring the riches of a new field of inquiry. The topic of soul and afterlife beliefs provides an easy entrance into the disciplines of psychology, history, philosophy, brain evolution, child development, cognitive development, anthropology, religion, mythology, and other fields of inquiry.

About Dan’s course (from

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.