PSYC 3275
HRTS 3600

Professor: Dr. Linda M. Woolf

Office Hours:


Catalog Description

Examines the psychological, cultural, and societal roots of human cruelty, mass violence, and genocide. We examine the questions of what enables individuals collectively and individually to perpetrate mass violence and genocide as well as examine the impact of apathetic bystanders on human violence. Genocides studied include the Armenian genocide, the Holocaust, the auto-genocide in Cambodia, the Rwandan genocide, the genocides in the former Yugoslavia, and others.

Expanded Course Description:

We live in a time of unparalleled instances of democide, genocide and ethnocide. In fact, Rummel (2007) estimated that political violence such as genocide resulted in the deaths of approximately 262 million. Indeed, the 20th century was so bloody that Powers (2002) entitled it the "Century of Genocide." Unfortunately, the advent of the 21st century did not usher in a century of peace. Genocidal violence continues unabated in regions such as the Nuba Mountains, Central Africa, and Myanmar. Of course, these statistics underestimate the additional toll on human life from physical and psychological scarring.

Although most individuals are aware of the Holocaust (although they often do not realize the extent of the brutality and actual cost in terms of human life), many are not aware of other past genocides/democides or of current genocides/democides. For example, many individuals remain unaware of the Armenian genocide in Turkey, the killing fields of Cambodia, the disappearances in Argentina & Chile, the death squad killings in El Salvador, or Stalin's purges. Many are unaware of recent events that have resulted in genocides in Bosnia, Rwanda/Burundi, and Darfur or the extreme violations of human rights and genocidal policies by the governments of China (including Tibet), Myanmar (Burma), Laos, and Indonesia (including the genocide of the East Timorese).

The Holocaust, the genocides in Turkey, Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda, and Darfur . . . the disappearances in Argentina, the death squad killings in El Salvador, . . . violence, torture, the mistreatment of human beings . . . . All of these raise questions about extreme political violence. In this course, we will examine the psychological, cultural, and societal roots of human cruelty, mass violence, and genocide. We will examine the questions of what enables individuals collectively and individually to perpetrate evil/genocide and examine the impact of apathetic bystanders on human violence.

Course Objectives and Outcomes:

  1. Objective: To examine the nature of various forms of state terror/genocide and its differential impact on victims vs. perpetrators.

    Outcomes: Students will be able to articulate the issues surrounding various forms of state terror/genocide and discuss the differences in impact for victims and perpetrators.

  2. Objective: To examine the differences between the terms genocide, democide, ethnocide, and other forms of mass violence.

    Outcomes: Students will be articulate definitions for the terms genocide, democide, ethnocide, and mass violence, and discuss the difficulties surrounding each definition.

  3. Objective: To become more knowledgeable concerning the interaction of psychological, sociological, cultural, and/or political roots of human cruelty, mass violence, and genocide.

    Outcomes: Students will be able to discuss the interaction of factors that play potential causative roles in the perpetration of human cruelty on an individual and collective basis (e.g. torture and genocide, respectively).

  4. Objectives: To become familiar with a psychosocial theory of evil and the application of this theory to the perpetration of genocide and mass violence in Nazi Germany, Turkey, Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda, and various indigenous cultures.

    Outcomes: Students will be able to articulate the theory and demonstrate/discuss how the theory can be applied to occurrences of mass violence/genocide in Germany, Turkey, Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda, and various indigenous cultures. Students will also be able to critique the theory and articulate ways that the theory falls short is discussing the previously cited instances of mass violence/genocide.

  5. Objective: To examine the nature of bystander behavior and the impact of bystander behavior on the perpetration of genocide.

    Outcomes: Students will be able to discuss the psychological and sociological research concerning bystander behavior and relate this research to the role of bystander behavior during the Holocaust, the genocides in Turkey, Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda, and various indigenous cultures.

  6. Objectives: To examine the question of what can be done to prevent human cruelty, mass violence, and genocide.

    Outcomes: Students will be able to articulate several theories examining both prevention of human cruelty, mass violence, and genocide or intervention during instances of mass violence and genocide.

  7. Objective: For students to be able to take all of the above information and apply it to a current or historical instance of individual and collective instance of human cruelty, mass violence, or genocide.

    Outcomes: Students will be able to write a term paper analyzing a case of collective mass violence (genocide/democide etc.) not discussed in class.

Incoming Competencies/Prerequisites:

PSYC 1100 and 6 credit hours of psychology, or permission of the instructor. All students should be capable of integrating and evaluating information, critical thinking, and writing at the college level.

Class Meetings:

The class will meet on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 12:00 - 12:50. Classroom attendance is expected and class discussion will greatly enhance your understanding of the material presented in this class. Also, material will be presented that is not in any of the books/readings.

Note:This course will be challenging for several reasons. First, it entails a fair amount of reading. If this is to be a good class, it is essential for everyone to do the reading, come to class, and be prepared to participate in the discussion. Second, this course is difficult because of its almost unrelieved concentration on human suffering and extreme, deliberately inflicted cruelty; the information presented in this class is difficult to read and difficult to discuss. There will be opportunities for class members to discuss thoughts and feelings that arise during the course.

Course Requirements:

Three exams, an analysis paper analyzing an instance of mass violence/genocide, a presentation (done in pairs or groups of three), and class participation/discussion.

All grades will be assigned on a scale of 0 - 10 with:

90 - 100A-,AExcellent
80 - 89B-,B,B+Above Average
70 - 79C-,C,C+Average
60 - 69D-,D,D+Below Average
Less than 60FFailing

Percent of Grade:

Examinations 70%
Analysis Paper 15%
Class Participation/Discussion 5%

Examinations: The exams are designed to test for an understanding of the terms, theories, ideas, and historical events related to mass violence, and genocide as presented in text, readings, lecture, videos, and discussion. The exams will include multiple choice, matching, short answer, and essay. Exams will be worth 70% of your final grade.

Policy: All exams must be taken on the date scheduled. In case of an emergency, the instructor must be notified. No make-up exams will be give if you fail to notify and discuss your situation with the instructor. It is up to the instructor's discretion whether to offer or not offer a make-up exam. Please note that no extra credit work will be make available to make-up for a poor test grade.

Analysis Paper: The purpose of the analysis paper is to provide you, the student, with the opportunity to explore the collective perpetration of genocide from a psychological/sociological/cultural/political perspective in depth. Specific instructions will be discussed in class and are available on World Classrooom. Students will be given a choice of recent/current instances of genocide/mass violence that are open for analysis/exploration. Any analysis that is not one of the recommended options must be approved in writing by the instructor. Failure to get topic approval may result in a paper that is not accepted as fulfilling the requirements for the assignment and hence, a failing grade. The analysis paper should be submitted electronically in Word format to Hard copies of the analysis paper will not be accepted. The analysis paper is worth 15% of your final grade.

Presentations: Teams and topics will be assigned the second week of class. Each team will present (i.e., a PPT presentation and lead a discussion) on an instance of genocide not previously discussed in class and will last approximately 20 - 30 minutes. Presentations will be work 10% of your final grade. If a pair elects to present on a genocide not included in the text, it must be approved by the instructor.

Possible topics for both the analysis paper and presentations:
Class Participation

Please realize that your participation in this class is extremely important. As such, class participation will constitute 5 percent of your final grade. The class participation grade will derive from regular attendance and everyday discussion and analysis. Please be aware that missing class (both excused and unexcused absences) and not actively participating in class will impact your grade in this area.

Policy Statements:

Use of Electronic Devices in the Classroom: Please respect others in the class by turning off all cell phones and pagers before entering the room. Text messaging during class is not acceptable. Laptops may be used in class but are only to be utilized for class related activities (e.g., taking notes). If it becomes apparent you are using the computer for non-class activities (e.g., checking your email, playing games) then you may be asked to turn off your computer and refrain from bringing it into class in the future. Laptop use is restricted to the back or sides of the classroom so that other students are not distracted during lecture.

Plagiarism (attempting to pass off the work of another as one's own) is not acceptable. Plagiarism includes copying all or part of another's writings (even a single sentence), inappropriate paraphrasing, using another student's paper as your own, submitting a paper for more than one class. All papers will be submitted to the university's plagiarism database for review. Plagiarism, either intentional or unintentional, will result in a grade of 0 for that assignment but also may be turned over to the appropriate university source for disciplinary action and a grade of F for the course. In addition, cheating on exams will also result in the same fate.

Here are some Web sites that will help you avoid the problem of plagiarism particularly plagiarism resulting from paraphrasing too closely to the original source. -

Late withdraws from this class will not be approved by the instructor except in cases of emergency discussed with the instructor. No late withdraws will be approved on the basis of poor class performance.

This syllabus is subject to change at the instructor's discretion. All changes concerning course requirements will be provided in writing. Changes concerning exam dates may be made at the instructor's discretion and communicated verbally to the class.

It is understood that remaining in this course (not dropping or withdrawing from this course) constitutes an agreement to abide by the terms outlined in this syllabus and an acceptance of the requirements outlined in this document. No grade of Incomplete will be issued for this course.

Course Outline

Week EndingTopic and Readings
August 29
September 5
Introduction to the Class

What is Genocide, Democide, Ethnocide?
Genocide/Mass Killing: Core Concepts
Towards A Psycho-Social Model of Genocide


  • The New Concept of Democide in Death by Government by R. Rummel
  • Psychosocial roots of genocide: Risk, prevention, and intervention Journal of Genocide Research by L. Woolf & M. Hulsizer
September 12 Towards A Psycho-Social Model of Genocide continued


  • A Study of Prisoners and Guards in a Simulated Prison by Craig Haney, Curtis Banks, & Philip Zimbardo in The Social Animal edited by E. Aronson.
  • Zimbardo's Prison Study Slide Show
  • Behavioral Study of Obedience by Stanley Milgram in The Social Animal edited by E. Aronson
  • Opinions and Social Pressure by Solomon Asch in The Social Animal edited by E. Aronson
  • Moral exclusion and injustice: An introduction by Susan Opotow In Journal of Social Issues (Spring 1990)
  • Social Circumstances and Factors That Incite the Upsurge of Nationalism in The Mass Psychology of Ethnonationalism by D. Kecmanovic
  • A Centuries of Genocide - Introduction
September 19
September 26
The Turkish Genocide of the Armenians


  • Provocation or Nationalism: A Critical Inquiry into the Armenian Genocide of 1915 by Robert Melson in The Armenian Genocide in Perspective edited by R. Hovannisian
  • Centuries of Genocide: Armenian genocide - Chapter 4
  • Required Film to be viewed on your own: The Armenian Genocide - available through the Webster University Library.

    Exam I (Friday, Sept. 26)

October 3
October 10
The Nazi Holocaust


  • Centuries of Genocide: Holocaust: Jews, Gypsies, and the Handicapped - Chapter 6
  • Film Recommendation: Schindler's List
  • Film Recommendation: In Darkness
  • Film Recommendation: Uprising
  • Film Recommendation: The Grey Zone

October 17
October 31
The Genocide in Cambodia


  • Centuries of Genocide: The Cambodian Genocide - Chapter 9
  • Film Recommendation: The Killing Fields

November 7
November 14
Exam II (Monday, November 3)

The Genocides in Burundi & Rwanda


  • Smith, D. N. (1998). The psychocultural roots of genocide: Legitimacy and crisis in Rwanda. American Psychologist, 53, 743-753.
  • The Triumph of Evil Web Site
  • Centuries of Genocide: The Rwanda Genocide - Chapter 13
  • Film Recommendation: Hotel Rwanda
  • Film Recommendation: Sometimes in April

November 21
November 28
Genocide in the Former Yugoslavia


  • Centuries of Genocide: Genocideal violence in the Former Yugoslavia: Bosnia herzegovina - Chapter 14
  • Film Recommendation: Belvedere

December 5
December 12
Intervention, Prevention, and Post-Conflict Justice


  • Psychosocial roots of genocide: Risk, prevention, and intervention by L. Woolf & M. Hulsizer
  • In search of genocide: A comparison of Rwanda and South Africa. in Peace an Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology (Special Issue: Understanding Conflict and Promoting Peace: Contributions from South Africa) by duPreez.

Analysis Paper: December 6

See Finals Exam Schedule - TBA Exam III

Back to Genocide Course Page

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