The Pursuit of Happiness:A History

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"The Pursuit of Happiness: A History"  (IST 3037; RLGN 4506)

Winter Term 2020 - Residential History Course (HI-Depth; 4 credits)

Wednesdays 1 PM - 4:30 PM.    Classroom Location: T.B.A.

Instructor:   Albert Hernández, Ph.D.

Office Hours:  --by appointment--

(D.U. Joint Doctoral Program Course Number: RLGN 4506)


This course provides a historical examination of key concepts, major questions, and practices about humanity’s search for happiness from the Hellenistic-Roman period of Antiquity through the Early Christian and Medieval periods. The content of the course centers on the role of Classical moral philosophy and Early Christian theology in the formulation of eudaemonic theories about the problem of happiness in relation to metaphysical assumptions and religious influences as well as to socio-cultural, political, and institutional norms that shaped Christian notions of human purpose and potential.

The legacies of these ancient philosophical and theological ideas on the development of modern assumptions about happiness and human flourishing will be discussed during the course, but these later, modern transformations of eudaemonic theories are not as central to the content of this class as will be the earlier formative historical questions from the Ancient and Medieval periods.  However, time will be set aside in class each week to examine and discuss the contemporary proliferation of books, seminars, organizational development programs, and employee engagement workshops aimed at addressing "Happiness" in the early 21st-Century.



(1) Students will develop an understanding of the classic formulations of Aristotle on Western moral thought and its influence on the formation of Christian theological anthropology, the history of ethics, and ideas about happiness.

(2) Students will develop systematic research skills related to the research and writing of various types of historical, philosophical, and theological narratives from the contexts of Hellenistic thought and culture, Early Christian thought and culture, as well as from Medieval continuations of these ancient eudaemonic discourses.

(3) Students will develop critical skills for assessing the problems of periodization in historical reconstruction and representation.

(4) Students will cultivate critical skills for analyzing unexamined socio-cultural and contextual assumptions in works of historical representation, as well as in theological and philosophical treatises.

(5) Students will cultivate critical skills for assessing the selection and application of historiographical methods/models to specific research projects.

(6) Students will develop an awareness of the ongoing proliferation and dissemination of "Happiness" and "Wellness" programs across the landscape contemporary U.S. culture during the early 21st-Century.

DEGREE LEARNING GOALS in HISTORY (for all Iliff Master’s Degree Programs) 

Historical Development/ Expressions of Religious Traditions (HI): demonstrate awareness of religious traditions as historically-situated movements that interacted and changed in relationship to their surrounding cultures and subcultures over time, resulting in various expressions located within and influenced by social structures and institutions, ideologies, historical events, ethnicity and gender, and cultural worldviews.



and objectives)


Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics. Second Edition. Terence Irwin, Trans. Hackett Publishing, 1999. (NOTE-WELL: Any edition of Aristotle’s Ethics will be fine for your reading and our class discussions, including versions of this text available online.)

Augustine, Trilogy on Faith and Happiness. The Augustine Series, Book 6. New City Press, 2010. (NOTE-WELL: Any edition of these commentaries and theological treatises by Augustine will be fine for your reading and for our class discussions, including versions of this text available online.)

Thomas Aquinas. Treatise on Happiness. John A. Oesterle, Trans. University of Notre Dame Press, 1991.  (NOTE-WELL: any edition of this section of Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae will be fine for your reading and for our class discussions, including versions of this text available online.)

R. W. Sharples, Stoics, Epicureans and Sceptics: An Introduction to Hellenistic Philosophy . Routledge, 1996.

SUGGESTED BACKGROUND TEXTS : (You are not required to purchase these books)

Frederick Copleston. A History of Philosophy, Volume I: Greece and Rome from the Pre-Socratics to Plotinus. Image Books; Reprint Editions, 1993.

Everett Ferguson. Backgrounds of Early Christianity. Third Edition. Eerdmans, 2003.

Darrin M. McMahon, Happiness: A History. Grove Press, 2006.

Martin Thielen, Searching for Happiness: How Generosity, Faith, and Other Spiritual Habits Can Lead to a Full Life. Westminster John Knox Press, 2016.

Paul J. Wadell. Happiness and the Christian Moral Life: An Introduction to Christian Ethics. (Second Edition). Rowan and Littlefield, 2012.

SUGGESTED ADDITIONAL READING : (You are not required to purchase this book)

William Davies, The Happiness Industry: How Government & Big Business Sold Us Well- Being. New York: Verso, 2015.

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Required course assignments, due dates, and grading policies/procedures---Coming soon.....