Course Syllabus

TBA – Nothing Can Separate Us . . .!: The Dialectical Materialism of Slavoj Žížek Institute for Christian Studies
Toronto School of Theology

Fall 2018

Instructor Information

Instructor:                Jim Olthuis, PhD, Professor

Office Location:                ICS

Telephone:                (416) 979-2331


Office Hours:                By appointment

Course Identification

Course Number:        ICS 240908 F18/ICT5704HF 0101

Course Format:                In-class

Course Name:                Nothing Can Separate Us . . .!: The Dialectical Materialism of Slavoj Žížek

Course Location:        Classroom 2, Knox College

Class Times:                Wednesdays, 6:00pm - 9:00pm

Prerequisites:                N/A

Course Description

This seminar will map out the Dialectical Materialism of Slovenian philosopher, psycho-analyst, and cultural critic Slavoj Žížek. A communist and atheist, Žižek's thought is an original Lacanian inspired repeat of Hegel that recalibrates Materialism. Žížek's incisive structural insights will be explored even as his faith in the Void as the eternal traumatic Real is contrasted with faith in the steadfast Love of God.

Course Resources

Required Course Texts/Bibliography

Žížek, Slavoj. The Plague of Fantasies.  New York: Verso, 1997. [Knox College Caven Library: BF175.5 .F36 Z58 2008]

___________.  The Fragile Absolute.  New York: Verso, 2000. [ICS Library, Knox College Caven Library, Robarts: BT1102 .Z58 2008; Trinity College: BT1102 .Z58 2000 TRIN]

___________.  How To Read Lacan.  London: Granta Books, 2006. [Knox College Caven Library: BF109 .L23 Z59 2007; St. Michael’s College: BF109 .L23 Z593 2007 SMC]

___________.  Less Than Nothing.  New York: Verso, 2012. [ICS Library: B2948 .Z55 2012; Robarts: B2948 .Z55 2012X; St. Michael’s College: B2948 .Z55 2012 SMC]

___________.  Absolute Recoil.  New York: Verso, 2014. [Robarts Library: B809.8 .Z585 2014X; St. Michael’s College: B809.8 .Z585 2014 SMC]

Course Website(s)

Course Learning Objectives/Outcomes

Graduate Level

Each graduate program has detailed statements of “degree level expectations” (goals and outcomes) found in the respective program Handbooks. The harmonized course goals and outcomes (below) describe the level of knowledge and skill that will be characteristic of a typical graduate of the program. Instructors are required to develop a statement of learning outcomes for each course. These outcomes will provide benchmarks for course evaluation/grading and program assessment. Doctoral students are typically required to demonstrate higher levels of ability or expertise.





In this course students are expected to demonstrate the following:

1. Depth and Breadth of Knowledge is defined as a set of increasing levels of understanding within a student’s area of specialization, methodologies, primary & secondary sources, historical developments and inter-disciplinarity.

Ability to identify , explain, and interpret  Žížek’s complex, innovative version of  Dialectical Materalism ; ability to set forth in historical context, both   philosophically and culturally, how and why  Žížek has become  both an influential  philosopher and cultural critic.

Weekly readings and classroom discussions

2. Research and Scholarship is defined as the ability to identify a new or unresolved question, to locate that question within a corpus of scholarly research & assess critically the relevant literature, to adopt a methodology(-ies), and to then formulate a thesis and reasoned argument(s) on the basis of the evidence.

Ability to identify, enumerate  and evaluate both the relative strengths and weaknesses of Žížek's theoretical proposals;  ability to write a publishable paper, not only critically assessing Žížek’s theory, in terms of the relevant literature, but, at the same time, formulating a thesis of some of the pertinent issues that require sustained attention.

Research paper


3. Level of Application of Knowledge is defined as the ability to engage in self-directed or assisted research, and the ability to produce innovative or original analysis within the context of graduate seminars and courses. In some cases this includes the application of a research language.

Ability to identify and explain how Žížek  uses both Hegel and Lacan to develop his innovative version of  Dialectical Materialism  in order to be able to lead a  seminar on that influence; ability to lead a seminar indicating why and how   Žížek  has become both a  leading philosopher and influential cultural critic.

Seminar presentations

4. Professional Capacity or Autonomy is defined as the ability to translate the knowledge gained in other research or professional settings, e.g., to  undertake further studies in their area of concentration; or to enter or return to other professional vocations for which an advanced understanding of Theological Studies is necessary or beneficial.

 Ability to appraise Žížek’s theory in light of their other research projects, whether philosophical, theological or cultural and formulate their appraisal into four or five comparative theses.  

5. Level of Communication Skills is defined as clear and effective communication in both oral and written forms; the construction of logical arguments; the making of informed judgments on complex issues; and facility with standard conventions of style for scholarly writing. Cohort formation is a component of all graduate programs.

Critical appraisal of Dialectical Materialism in order to be able to ask probing questions, understand their pertinence and defend the critical insights they express in the context of formal scholarly debate.

Classroom discussions and seminar presentations

6. Awareness of the Limits of Knowledge is defined as the recognition that Theological Studies is a complex discipline, comprising: a broad array of subject areas; methods and sources; various ecclesiastical traditions and social contexts; and, insights from other disciplines.

Assess the relative strengths and weaknesses of Žížek's theoretical proposals in order to be able to write a paper of publishable length and striving for publishable quality.

Research paper



The final grade for the course will be based on evaluations in three areas:

Graduate Students:

(1) Participation (20%) – Weekly Readings of an average 70 pages

(2) Seminar papers (30%) – Weekly questions/Reflections; 1 Classroom Seminar

(3) Final paper (50%) – Research Paper of 4000-6000 wds (MA); 5000-7000 wds (PhD)

Grading System

                A+ (90-100)                

                A (85-89)                

                A- (80-84)                

                B+ (77-79)                

                B (73-76)                

                B- (70-72)                


Please see the appropriate handbook for more details about the grading scale and non-numerical grades (e.g. SDF, INC, etc).

Late work (Graduate).Graduate students are expected to hand in assignments by the date given in the course outline. [The instructor should stipulate the penalty for late work.]This penalty is not applied to students with medical or compassionate difficulties; students facing such difficulties are kindly requested to consult with their faculty adviser or basic degree director, who should make a recommendation on the matter to the instructor. The absolute deadline for the course is the examination day scheduled for the course. Students who for exceptional reasons (e.g., a death in the family or a serious illness) are unable to complete work by this date may request an extension (SDF = “standing deferred”) beyond the term. An SDF must be requested from the registrar’s office in the student’s college of registration no later than the last day of classes in which the course is taken. The SDF, when approved, will have a mutually agreed upon deadline that does not extend beyond the conclusion of the following term. If a student has not completed work but has not been granted an SDF, a final mark will be submitted calculating a zero for work not submitted.

Course grades. Consistently with the policy of the University of Toronto, course grades submitted by an instructor are reviewed by a committee of the instructor’s college before being posted. Course grades may be adjusted where they do not comply with University grading policy ( or college grading policy.


Accessibility. Students with a disability or health consideration, whether temporary or permanent, are entitled to accommodation. Students in conjoint degree programs must register at the University of Toronto’s Accessibility Services offices; information is available at The sooner a student seeks accommodation, the quicker we can assist.

Plagiarism. Students submitting written material in courses are expected to provide full documentation for sources of both words and ideas in footnotes or endnotes. Direct quotations should be placed within quotation marks. (If small changes are made in the quotation, they should be indicated by appropriate punctuation such as brackets and ellipses, but the quotation still counts as a direct quotation.)Failure to document borrowed material constitutes plagiarism, which is a serious breach of academic, professional, and Christian ethics. An instructor who discovers evidence of student plagiarism is not permitted to deal with the situation individually but is required to report it to his or her head of college or delegate according to the TST Basic Degree Handbook and the Graduate program Handbooks (linked from and the University of Toronto Code of Behaviour on Academic Matters A student who plagiarizes in this course will be assumed to have read the document “Avoidance of plagiarism in theological writing” published by the Graham Library of Trinity and Wycliffe Colleges

Other academic offences. TST students come under the jurisdiction of the University of Toronto Code of Behaviour on Academic Matters

Back-up copies. Please make back-up copies of essays before handing them in.

Obligation to check email. At times, the course instructor may decide to send out important course information by email. To that end, all students in conjoint programs are required to have a valid utoronto email address. Students must have set up their utoronto email address which is entered in the ACORN system. Information is available at course instructor will not be able to help you with this.416-978-HELP and the Help Desk at the Information Commons can answer questions you may have about your UTORid and password. Students should check utoronto email regularly for messages about the course. Forwarding your email to a Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo or other type of email account is not advisable. In some cases, messages from addresses sent to Hotmail, Gmail or Yahoo accounts are filtered as junk mail, which means that emails from your course instructor may end up in your spam or junk mail folder. Students in non-conjoint programs should contact the Registrar of their college of registration.

Email communication with the course instructor. The instructor aims to respond to email communications from students in a timely manner. All email communications from students in conjoint programs should be sent from a utoronto email address. Email communications from other email addresses are not secure, and also the instructor cannot readily identify them as being legitimate emails from students. The instructor is not obliged to respond to email from non-utoronto addresses for students in conjoint programs.  Students in non-conjoint programs should only use the email address they have provided to their college of registration.

Course Schedule

Week 1

TBA                        Introduction: Žižek on Idiots, Morons and Imbeciles

                        Less Than Nothing, pp.1-22

Week 2

TBA                        Žižek on Fundamental Fantasy

Plague of Fantasies, pp. 1-54

Week 3

TBA                        Žižek on Fundamental Fantasy

Plague of Fantasies, pp. 55-106, 273-310

Week 4

TBA                        Žižek on the Christian Legacy

Fragile Absolute, pp. 75-150

Week 5

TBA                        Žižek on Creation as Catastrophe, a Hegelian Coincidence of Opposites

Less Than Nothing, pp. 23-48, ch. 2, pp.79-135

Week 6

TBA                        Žižek on Creation as Catastrophe, a Hegelian Coincidence of Opposites

Less Than Nothing, Interlude 5, pp. 625-647

Week 7

TBA                        Žižek on Human Subjectivity and Quantum Mechanics

Less Than Nothing, ch. 6, pp. 359- 416, ch. 8, pp. 507-535  

Week 8

TBA                        Žižek on Human Subjectivity and Quantum Mechanics

Less Than Nothing, ch. 14, pp. 905-963

Week 9

TBA                        Žižek on Human Subjectivity and Quantum Mechanics

Absolute Recoil, pp. 1-89

Week 10

TBA                        Žižek on Human Subjectivity and Quantum Mechanics

Absolute Recoil, pp. 117-156,179-207

Week 11

TBA                        Žižek on Human Subjectivity and Quantum Mechanics

Absolute Recoil, pp. 245-281, 317-349

Week 12

TBA                        Žižek on Human Subjectivity and Quantum Mechanics

Absolute Recoil, pp. 383-415

Week 13

TBA                        Swarming Void or Wild Love; Concluding Discussion


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Course Syllabus Template

Up-dated: September 2017