SOAS University of London

Department of Religions & Philosophies, School of History, Religions & Philosophies

The Holocaust and the Problem of Evil

Module Code:
158000156 - not running in 2020/21
15 -runs in Term 1
Year of study:
Year 2 or Year 3

The purpose of the course is to analyse different representations of the Holocaust in 20th and 21st century theology, literature, film, and art. The impossibility of adequately expressing the horrors and atrocities of the Holocaust stands in contrast to the need to transmit knowledge about the Holocaust to later generations. How and to what extent is it legitimate to write fiction and poetry about the Holocaust, to address the Holocaust in art, and to make movies about it which are non-documentary and sometimes even have the form of comedy?

The course is intended to allow for progression in the study of Judaism. It is designed for students interested in the significance of the Holocaust in 20th and 21th century Judaism and for those interested in modern Judaism in general.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

On successful completion of this module a student will be able to:

LO1) obtain historical knowledge about the Holocaust and the political, social, and cultural context in which it occurred
LO2) understand the roots, expressions, forms, and contexts of Antisemitism
LO3) discuss the legal categories of genocide and crimes against humanity
LO4) analyse representations of the Holocaust in theology, literature, and art
LO5) discuss the question whether and to what extent different artistic genres (e.g., fiction writing, film, graphic novels, paintings) can represent historical evil
LO6) distinguish between different perspectives (survivor, second generation, outsider) in representing Holocaust experiences
LO7) discuss the differences between autobiographies, literary fictions, and historical writing about the Holocaust
LO8) assess the uses, functions, and qualities of Holocaust memorials and museums.
LO9) examine the ways in which allusions to the Holocaust are used in popular and political discourse,


  • Lectures: 1hr per week
  • Seminars: 1hr per week
  • Independent study: 50hrs (over 10 weeks)

Scope and syllabus

  • The course will first look at the ways in which Jewish and Christian theologians come to terms with the Holocaust. How can the Holocaust be reconciled with the notion of a caring and omnipotent God? Whereas one reaction to the Holocaust was the so-called "Death of God" theology (e.g. Richard Rubenstein and Paul van Buren), other theologians have provided solutions in which the notion of God's omnipotence and care for his people could be maintained.

  • Besides autobiographies of Holocaust survivors and documentaries, various fictional accounts of the Holocaust have been written and feature films have been made. On the basis of selected examples (e.g. Alain Resnais'' "Night and Fog" and Roberto Begnini's "Life is Beautiful") the question whether some representations are more appropriate than others and whether certain forms are inappropriate will be discussed.

  • Finally, the most prominent Holocaust museums (Yad Vashem, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the New York Museum of Jewish Heritage - A Living Memorial to the Holocaust) and memorials (e.g. in Berlin) will be compared with regard to the ways in which they commemorate the victims and transmit the significance of the Holocaust to later generations.

Method of assessment

  • One essay of 2,500 words (30%)
  • One 2 hour exam (60%)
  • 1 class presentation (10%)

Suggested reading

  • Appelfeld, Aharon (1993) The Age of Wonders London .
  • Cohn-Sherbok, Dan (ed.) (1989) Holocaust Theology: A Reader London .
  • Fackenheim, Emil (1990) The Jewish Bible after the Holocaust Manchester.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules