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Philosophy of Monsters Series – Prof. Stephen Asma

General Course Description

The category “monster” disrupts the borders and boundaries of what we consider natural, normal, and even intelligible. Our rational systems of order are upended by the monstrous. In this lecture series Dr. Asma examines the role of monsters in cognition and knowledge, the ethical and political uses of monstrosity, the relation to personal identity, and the problem of evil. A philosophical “monsterology” is committed to the idea that we can better understand the human condition by examining what scares us–what makes us vulnerable.

Demonization: Xenophobia and the Other – May 29th 2022

In this illustrated lecture Dr. Asma will explore how monster culture has played a role in antisocial representation of humans outside one’s own tribe. Stories and images embedded in religious, literary, and scientific narratives have conceptualized strangers as threats. Are there specific trends in such scapegoating? How do moral panics draw on established monster tropes and metaphors? And is it possible to overcome these entrenched tendencies in our social psychodynamics?

In this lecture Professor Asma will look at the way some monster stories and images were used in racist propaganda as well as the vilification of ethnic groups. Special attention will be given to longstanding antisemitic monster narratives in Europe, African American demonization in 19th and 20th century, and more recent cases of Islamophobia. Asma argues that demonizing outsiders is lamentable but a common feature of all human group interaction when there is competition for resources. Asma will show how most demonization strategies divide into accusations of “barbarism” on the basis of innate flaws or deleterious cultural conventions.


Stephen Asma is Professor of Philosophy at Columbia College Chicago, where he is a Senior Fellow of the Research Group in Mind, Science and Culture. Asma is the author of ten books, including On Monsters: An Unnatural History of Our Worst Fears (Oxford Univ. Press), The Emotional Mind: Affective Roots of Culture and Cognition (Harvard Univ. Press), The Evolution of Imagination (Univ. of Chicago), and The Gods Drink Whiskey (HarperOne). He writes regularly for the New York Times, the Chronicle of Higher Education, and Aeon magazine.

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Philosophy of Monsters Series – Prof. Stephen Asma

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