Major Questions in Research and Society: Suffering

Undergraduate course

Course description

Objectives and Content

The reality and possibility of suffering poses a heterogeneity of problems, experiences, and concerns for living beings. The human responses to suffering can be seen on multiple societal levels, spanning from the individual to the global, and involve a number of key institutions and cultural practices. As such, suffering has a rich knowledge history, both theoretical and practical, as humans have tried to understand the nature of suffering and act upon it.

Objective: The aim of the VIT218 is to engage students and staff in a radically interdisciplinary study of thought traditions about suffering, in which suffering not only figures as something to be understood, but also as ways of seeing the world. The core aim is reflection, integration, critical thinking, and personal development (formation). Through studying various thought traditions about suffering the students will

  • learn about a complex topic from multiple vantage points, including non-academic perspectives and thought traditions
  • integrate insights from different thought traditions, including their own
  • develop a wide repertoire of intellectual skills and competencies to engage in complex topics at the interface between research and society (here: Suffering)
  • create knowledge culture around a shared and complex topic together with students and staff from other disciplines than their own
  • Create awareness about their own thinking and how to develop it further

Content: The study contains the following elements:

  • 4-5 thought traditions that have developed theoretical and practical responses to suffering, which may include traditions within medicine, anthropology, sociology, philosophy, economy, and other non-academic traditions (art, literature, religion, politics)
  • Methodological and epistemological issues in the knowledge of suffering
  • Models and concepts attempting to integrate insights across different discipline-based and experience-based perspectives and thought traditions
  • The problem of delineating suffering in humans and in non-humans
  • Ambiguities, values, and complexity in suffering
  • Conceptual clarifications: The plurality of definitions of suffering and their relation to other concepts (e.g., pain, anomie, illness)
  • The complex relations between suffering, science, and technology in modern societies

Learning Outcomes

At the completion of the study the students should have developed the following, knowledges, skills, and competencies


The students

  • can articulate, orally and in writing, key features of 4-5 thought traditions studying suffering, including their assumptions, limits, strengths and implication for individuals and society
  • can identify and articulate, orally and in writing, key features of models and concepts used in the study of suffering
  • can demonstrate the complexity, heterogeneity, and ambiguity of suffering as problems, experiences, and societal concerns, including how human responses, on various levels, may add to or resolve this complexity


The students

  • can develop, orally and in writing, a sound argument about a complex topic (here: Suffering)
  • employ various analytical frameworks, models, concept, and insights from different thought traditions relevant to an interdisciplinary understanding of suffering and discuss their strengths and weaknesses
  • can reflect upon and document development in thinking about a complex topic


The students

  • has a reflected and nuanced relation to knowledge and is capable of problematizing interdisciplinary insights as well as insights stemming from different thought traditions that attend to complex societal and human concerns (here: Suffering)
  • are able to communicate insights across disciplinary boundaries and academic cultures in a non-technical, balanced, and precise manner, including writing and expressing orally complex ideas and questions in an accessible language
  • are able to demonstrate curiosity and modify their own thinking and assumptions in light of new information, perspectives, and sound argumentation
  • have a critical and constructive approach to perspectives and insights outside their own main field of study

ECTS Credits


Level of Study


Semester of Instruction

Autumn, spring or summer semester
Required Previous Knowledge
Recommended Previous Knowledge
Access to the Course
The course is open for students at the University of Bergen. To be qualified you need to have completed at least 30 ECTS.
Teaching and learning methods

The study will be organized according to one of the following models:


As an intensive 2-3 weeks course (teaching time, excluding reading and writing final report), involving teaching at the end of one semester and at the beginning of the next (summer semester).


A regular "Major Questions in Research and Society"-course over 6-8 weeks (teaching time, excluding reading and writing final report) with late afternoon lectures and eligible seminars during regular teaching hours.

The model to be delivered will be announced at UiB's webpage.

In both models the study is organized into five phases:

Phase one: Reading background material (reading list)

Working methods: Reading

Phase two: Introduction to the study, including clarification of backgrounds, motivations, relevance, problems, and overview of the study, working methods, and expected outcomes. Becoming acquainted with key methodological and epistemological issues in the knowledge of suffering.

Working methods: traditional lectures, dialogue-based teaching and learning

Phase three: Introduction to different thought traditions in suffering.

Working methods: traditional lectures, dialogue-based teaching and learning, interdisciplinary discussion groups following lectures, and seminars where students engage with both theoretical and practical assignments, writing, assessment as learning

Phase four: Introduction to the problem of interdisciplinary integration in the knowledge of suffering

Working methods: Traditional lectures, dialogue-based teaching and learning, oral presentation, assessment for and as learning

Phase five: Integrating insights from different thought traditions

Working methods: Writing, reading, and presenting and defending written work, assessment for and as learning, summative assessment

Compulsory Assignments and Attendance

Minimum 80% attendance to seminars.

Mandatory acitivites are valid for one subsequent semester.

Forms of Assessment
Final report 3-4000 words academic essay with critical discussion
Grading Scale
Assessment Semester
Autumn, spring or summer
Reading List
Will be ready 1. July / 1. December
Course Evaluation
Courses are evaluated regularly in accordance with UiBsquality assurance system
Programme Committee
Centre for the Study of the Sciences and the Humanities (SVT)
Course Coordinator
Centre for the Study of the Sciences and the Humanities (SVT)
Course Administrator
Centre for the Study of the Sciences and the Humanities (SVT)