Elective course - The Psychology of Genocide: Modern Mass Murder and Its Aftermath

Course content

Genocide is often called the “crime of crimes.” Yet despite the progress of international law, genocidal episodes continue to plague human existence with disturbing frequency. What can psychology contribute to an understanding of such violence?

In general, psychology has shied away from the topic of mass atrocity for several reasons. Traditionally, the discipline of psychology has tended to focus on the individual, using primarily the experimental method to study it. Large-scale projects of mass murder have seemed beyond psychology’s theoretical and methodological grasp. Recently, however, the psychology of mass violence has received increasing interest and recognition from both academics and the general public. Especially after 9/11, 2001 people have wondered about the “psychology of evil,” and psychologists have begun to realize that they should deal more systematically with collective violence.

This course explores the social and psychological dynamics of genocide and mass atrocity, examining perpetrators, victims, and bystanders. The perpetrators are thoroughly described and analysed – from the policymakers, planners, and bureaucrats, down to the face-to-face killers – in an attempt to understand and explain how seemingly ordinary people may become mass murderers. The course then turns to the psychological effects of genocide on the victims. How is systematic persecution and murder perceived by those who endure it? What is the nature of the survivor’s trauma? Is it possible to recover from such events? Finally, we consider whether there is any realistic hope that genocide can be prevented.

The course is broadly based, drawing on psychology, history, sociology, philosophy, and political science. The psychological approach is predominantly social, but students are encouraged to offer alternative theoretical interpretations. Scenes from documentaries help bring the perpetrators and survivors to life, providing vivid material for discussion and analysis.

Learning outcome

The purpose of these modules is to expand knowledge or put the psychological subject area into perspective through theoretical or empirical specialisation within subject areas within or related to psychology.

Upon completion of the elective subject module within the Department of Psychology, students are able to:

  • describe and account for relevant concepts and themes within the elective subject
  • describe and account for relevant methodological approaches in relation to the subject matter for the elective subject
  • explain contexts, analyse and/or conduct procedures relevant to the elective subject under supervision.

Classes: 10 weeks, starts week 36

Type of assessment
Written assignment
Free assignment, submitted in Digital Eksamen according to the exam schedule.
Marking scale
passed/not passed
Censorship form
No external censorship
Criteria for exam assessment

Vejledende karakterbeskrivelse (Danish)

International students: If you require a grade, please inform the exam administration prior to the exam periods by sending an email with your student ID and the course name to eksamen@psy.ku.dk .

  • Category
  • Hours
  • Class Instruction
  • 30
  • English
  • 30