Illinois State University’s Daniel Breyer joins the ranks of some of the top faculty in the world after being selected by The Great Courses to create a lecture series on Understanding the Dark Side of Human Nature.
Forming partnerships with institutions such as National Geographic and the Smithsonian, The Great Courses invites only 1 percent of the world’s college professors to help create content. The company invited Breyer to its studios just outside Washington D.C. to audition in 2016. Once accepted, the writing and filming process took two years to complete. The course was released this summer.
Breyer is an associate professor of philosophy at Illinois State, where he also serves as the director of the Religious Studies program. His research tends to explore the nature of personhood, often highlighting those aspects of us, as persons, that are most important but also most puzzling and problematic.
Through the 24-part series of lectures titled Understanding the Dark Side of Human Nature, Professor Breyer guides participants through different philosophical and religious traditions while exploring difficult questions about the human condition. Lectures focus on topics such as “What is Evil?”, “The Problem of Expectation and Desire”, “The Fear of Death”, “Forgiveness and Redemption”, and “The Elimination of Anger”.
“I wanted to pick a variety of topics that would help explore what I think of as the fragile underbelly of humanity—humanity at its most vulnerable and sordid,” said Breyer, who has received numerous teaching awards, including the Outstanding University Teaching Award for tenured faculty. Breyer noted his desire was to have the series connect on a personal level. “I didn’t want to make it seem like ‘the dark side’ is someplace where only other people dwell. I wanted the series to feel personal—like a journey of self-discovery, rather than a voyeuristic tour.”
The course is intended to challenge participants. “I don’t think it’s controversial to say that it can be painful and humiliating to face the unvarnished truth about ourselves,” said Breyer. “What’s rewarding about exploring the dark side of human nature isn’t just that it’s intellectually illuminating; it’s that it can be, if taken seriously, personally transformative.”
Professor Breyer’s research and teaching have been supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities. His articles have appeared in top journals such as Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, Pacific Philosophical Quarterly, the Journal of Buddhist Ethics, and Sophia, and he is currently working on a new theory of moral responsibility. Breyer received his Ph.D. in philosophy from Fordham University.