Before there was money, there was debt. After there was debt, there was philosophy and religion.
For thousands of years, from the early Vedic hymns in India to contemporary senate hearings in the US, we find people arguing about debt. A central question: What happens when our moral obligations to one another (or to our gods, our kings, our governments) become quantifiable and transferable through money? The answer is debt. For thousands of years, what follows debt is moral, philosophical, and religious crises – and profound outbursts of new ideas.
This decal covers a 5,000 year global history through the lens of money and the ethos of debt. We'll discover that money and debt, rather than being simple economic terms, are prisms through which we can better understand human history – more than unemployment and inflation, money and debt have to do with religion, philosophy, war, slavery, sex and marriage, animal sacrifice, ancestor worship, honor and degradation, poetry, cults of rational numbers, and, surprisingly, accounting.
This course asks the framing question, what is the nature and history of money and debt?
We’ll discover that different theories of money each come with a creation myth and reflect competing theories of humanity’s relation to itself and to the cosmos.
We’ll find that a history of money is necessarily a history of the powerful moral ethos of debtor and creditor; of the birth of the major world religions; of sex, marriage, and patriarchy; of ancient slavery, warfare, and statecraft; of sin and redemption, crime and recompense; of philosophy, law, and attitudes towards interest; of hierarchy, exchange, capitalism and communism.
This interdisciplinary course is a contemplation on the works of social theorists David Graeber and Geoffrey Ingham, through which we’ll delve into philosophers including Adam Smith and Karl Marx, Hindu texts such as the Rig Vedas and the Brahmanas, the Bible, texts of ancient Chinese statecraft, early Greek philosophy, Middle Ages Islamic theology, and much more.
Student expectations: There are no exams or papers. Students’ only responsibilities are to engage in class discussions and prepare a group project once during the semester.
|Elye Kehat and Leah Grossman
|debt, philosopy, religion ... syllabus