Words that Change Worldviews
A handful of people in the past 150 years have used the power of their minds and the power of language to change the thinking of the rest of us. In this Preceptorial, we will examine a few of the people who have caused paradigm shifts in our ways of thinking and consider how the ways in which they communicated their ideas made that happen. We will analyze, for example, some political speeches of Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King to see what made them so powerful. We will also look at the writing of Charles Darwin and Rachel Carson, scientists who not only changed their respective fields of biology and ecology but also the assumptions and beliefs of most humans on the planet. Through these and other examples, we will look at several paradigm shifts and how they came about. Together we will come to conclusions about what made these people’s words, which introduced ideas that many at the time found difficult to accept, so very powerful in persuading others to change their views. At the same time, we’ll be learning principles of persuasive argumentation useful for academic course work and careers in any discipline.
Bunkong Tuon (Fall)
In this class, we will explore the following questions: Why do we suffer? What are the causes of our suffering? Is suffering man-made or divine intervention? Is suffering necessary for our well-being? If suffering is inevitable, how do we cope with it in our contemporary world?
As a class, we will examine these questions about suffering by reading philosophical and literary texts on the problem and meaning of suffering, religion and spirituality, the relationship between good and evil, morality and ethics, and war and atrocity. Texts may include Thomas Merton's The Way of Chuang Tzu, The Book of Job, What the Buddha Taught, Art Spiegelman's Maus, Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried, Loung Ung's First They Killed my Father, and Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis.
The Marketplace of Ideas: What "The People" Know...or Think They Know
Denis Brennan (Fall)
Information drives today's society. The vast networks (traditional and electronic) which provide news, intelligence, perspective, and gossip enlighten our lives, and we believe that what we know routinely provides a critical foundation for how we live. While inclined to view this as a modern phenomenon, information's use (and misuse) has a long and rich lineage. This course will use a variety of texts to study several critical past events and to examine what people knew, how they knew it, and evaluate the reliability of the information on which they depended. I.F. Stone's The Trial of Socrates, offers a rather unsympathetic examination of Socrates as an elitist enemy of the common man's capacity for self-government and right to free expression. Edmund Burke's widely read and prophetic pamphlet Reflections on the Revolution in France stands in seeming contradiction to his support for the American Revolution, but reflects his concern about the power of popular opinion to produce mass dislocation. Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe created a national sensation that informed millions of Americans about the conditions of slavery (or "life among the lowly") and will introduce students to the potential power of literature to both educate and persuade. Moving into the 20th century, Edward Bernays' classic study, Propaganda discusses the means to shape and manipulate public opinion (or the "engineering of consent"), which will be dramatically represented in Propaganda and the Germany Cinema, 1933-1945 by David Welch. Finally, Arthur Miller's cold-war epic The Crucible vividly mingles history, humanity, morality, drama and mid-20th century themes, the relevance of which to 21st century events cannot be dismissed.
The Ills of Civilization
Tarik Wareh (Winter)
The course focuses on authors who have sweeping opinions about the world, sometimes proclaiming what is true and beautiful, but more often diagnosing the faults of our civilization and ourselves. Readings may include the essays of sages and philosophers (John Ruskin on art and labor, Simone Weil on violence, Karl Marx on alienation, Jean-Jacques Rousseau on the moral corruption wrought by civilization, W.E.B. Du Bois on race in American life), Whitman’s poetry, fiction (Kerouac’s On the Road, Morrison’s Sula), and contemporary experimental memoir (Edouard Levé’s Autoportrait). Our daily discussions will be partly devoted to “workshopping” your writing; once per week each student will contribute for discussion a paragraph of evidence-based interpretive argument on the day’s reading.
DNA, Self and Society
Jesse Richmond (Winter)
How much about us can be explained by our genes? Are our mental abilities biologically predetermined? Is our sexual orientation coded into our DNA? Questions like these are in the air these days, brought on by advances in the science of genetics whose consequences we have yet to fully fathom. They are questions about biology, but they are also questions about identity, and the answers have the power to shape the way we relate to each other in society. In this course, we will explore the relations between our genes, ourselves, and our society through the writings of several authors with different, and sometimes opposing, points of view on the scope and power of genetics.
Airports, Tourists, and Borders
William Garcia (Winter)
The course invites students to engage on a critical exploration through spaces and attitudes affecting our new world order: globalization, migration and immigration, cosmopolitanism and global citizenship, nationalisms, transnational subjects, border demarcations, and cultural identity. The texts and films selected-by authors from the United States, Jamaica, Ghana, Dominican Republic, Antigua, Thailand, France, Mexico, and Haiti-are meant to serve as platforms from which we will depart on a critical reflection about what does it entail to be a global citizen.
Locating the Self
Jordan Smith (Fall)
This section of FYP will focus on the importance of place in the development of the thought and style of a variety of writers, all of whom use their sense of where they are to better understand who they are and how they connect with the world, whether through religion, politics, or principle. Books will include George Orwell's Homage to Catalonia, Joan Didion's The White Album, James Baldwin's Go Tell It On the Mountain and Notes of a Native Son, Paula Meehan's Dharmakaya, Denis Covington's Salvation on Sand Mountain, and Nat Hentoff's Boston Boy and The Nat Hentoff Reader. The class will also provide close attention to student writing, especially to the development of the skills involved in effective revision.
Human / Nature
Andrew Burkett (Fall)
The categories of “human,” “nature,” and “human nature” are, it is safe to say, extremely complex and interrelated. In this first-year seminar, we will investigate various representations (literary, scientific, theoretical, religious, artistic) of the natural world, on the one hand, and on the “nature” of what it means to be a human being, on the other. While the natural world – the world “out there” – will be continuously set in contrast to the nature of humanity, we will also certainly be careful to explore in our readings and discussions the ways in which these ostensible opposites intersect and overlap. In effect, we will examine the ways that human nature and the natural world are always already deeply interconnected categories.
In this class you will grapple with these and other related issues both in class discussion and in your writing (and revising) of course papers. Students will submit four (4-5 page) papers throughout the course of the term. Each of these four paper projects asks that you examine a particular critical, theoretical, or historical controversy regarding or in relation to at least one of the fictional texts at hand from course readings. These texts will provide the impetus for your production of a written response to each controversy. One of the controversies involves disagreements about the ways we define the relationship between humans and what may be called “non-humans” (e.g., “androids,” “animals,” or “monsters”). Another involves a controversy about the ways in which human beings interact with the natural world and how humans both shape and are shaped by nature. A third set of texts centers on disagreements about how human beings should properly relate to urban (or “non-natural”) environments. And a final coupling of readings involves the margins or limits to which we may possibly expand the category of “human nature.”
Class discussions will focus on and rehearse the disagreements that have emerged in both academic and public discourses in an effort to help you to become familiar with the issues and claims that you’ll need to wrestle with as you draft and revise your arguments on these subjects. Drafts of course papers will go through a series of revisions. In addition, weekly short writings may be assigned and collected. Finally, class attendance and participation will be crucial to the determination of final grades for this course.
Reason and Passions in the Ancient World
Tommaso Gazzarri (Fall)
This course is concerned with the archetypal categories of reason and passion. A number of texts crucial to the classical tradition will be analyzed, and for each one we will try to assess how they contributed to the constitution of arguments that are still relevant to the modern discussion of the topic.
What follows is a partial list of the many issues that will be targeted: Reason and emotions are opposite or conciliable categories? The creation of orderly systems can be seen as a product of cold reason or is it rather a balanced regimentation of emotions? Are passions detrimental or beneficial for the individual? And for the collectivity? Is beauty something that can be created and fully experienced by reason, or does it pertain and involve solely our emotions? What do atomic theories have to do with fear and emotions? What is madness?
Regular discussions will develop from the problems presented by the texts at hand. Participation and attendance in class are therefore of paramount importance. The students will be responsible for writing a paper concerned with one of the themes targeted in class. The final version will be preceded by three drafts. For each draft the students will be provided with extensive feedback.
The United States of Amusement
Brian R. Hauser (Fall)
What are we talking about in the U.S., how are we talking about it, and why does it matter? In a country founded during an era of printing, how does our reliance on more recent mass communication technologies like television, the Internet, and texting affect our democracy? Are we even able to engage in deliberative democracy using these means? Do the various media we use to communicate help us or hinder us in our deliberation? Does Web 2.0 technology herald a new age of civic engagement, or is it simply a new and all-encompassing way for us to amuse ourselves? We will read authors as diverse as Plato, Aldous Huxley, Neil Postman, and Thomas Paine, as we consider the ramifications how we choose to communicate with one another.
Bernhard Kuhn (Fall)
This course surveys the work of some eloquent advocates of ideas that in one way or another attack the foundations of traditional Western culture. Our readings will include writers such as Rousseau, who argues that civilization has led not to progress but to the moral debasement of the human species; Friedrich Nietzsche, who assaults (among other things) Judeo-Christian theology and ethics, rejects every form of metaphysics, and substitutes "perspectivism" for eternal truth; Sigmund Freud, who argues that the price of order and civilization is the purposeful mutilation of our instinctual desire; and Karl Marx, who attacks capitalism and calls upon the poor to revolt and establish a communist society. We will also look at feminist writers, such as Simone de Beauvoir and Susan Faludi, who consider the myriad ways men oppress women and offer thorough-going alternatives; queer theorists such as Judith Butler and Adrienne Rich, who explore heterosexuality as a social construction. Other writers may include Peter Singer, who champions animal liberation, vegetarianism, and voluntary euthanasia, while charging that all excess wealth is criminal; Reg Morrison, who traces all our environmental crises to destructive (and probably irreversible) overreaching by a demented "plague species" (humans); Christopher Clausen, who insists that we are living in a "post-cultural" age and mocks the current American obsession with cultural diversity; and, Sherwin Nuland, who debunks the myth of "death with dignity" with a chillingly detailed account of what actually goes on in American hospitals and ICUs. Students will be asked, not to agree with the often jolting and unexpected stands of these "extremists," but to explain and defend their own views in the light of our authors' radical insights.
Water - How It Has Helped and Hindered Civilizations
Thomas K. Jewell (Winter)
Water is essential for our survival, therefore it is inevitable that water has played a key role in determining when and where civilizations have developed. How civilizations procure and manage water can have considerable influence over their growth, their consolidation of power, and in some instances their eventual decline. We will explore the importance of water to civilizations such as the ancient Mesopotamians and other peoples of the Fertile Crescent area of the Middle East, the Romans, the Egyptians, the Muslim empire of the middle ages, the British Empire, right up to the modern civilizations in North America and Australia. Readings pertinent to the subject will come from the works of Archimedes, the Bible and Koran, Leonardo DaVinci, Robert Harris, Patrick O'Brien, Mark Twain, and others.
Growth and the Good Life
Ellen Foster (Fall)
Does growth make us better off? Most economists (and many of us) would answer “yes—of course,” and could point to dramatic improvements in standard of living made possible by improvements in technology and the operation of free markets as evidence that growth does indeed make us better off. Others question whether improvements in material well being mean that we are moving closer to living “the good life.” Does having more “stuff” mean that we are happier? Isn’t there more to life than working, shopping and consuming? Environmentalists argue that environmental degradation and natural resource depletion caused by rapid economic and population growth are moving us closer to disaster, not closer to the good life. Critics of the market system point to inequalities of income distribution and the plight of groups “left behind” or “left out” during periods of growth as evidence that growth doesn’t result in a good life for many in our society.
We will take an in-depth look at issues related to growth and the good life in this precept section. This course is organized around the following questions: * What is the good life? We will consider different perspectives on what the good life is and reflect on the nature of the good life as it is portrayed in essays and in fiction. * Can economic growth bring us closer to the good life? We will discuss both arguments that growth is good because it causes improvements in our standard of living and arguments that growth is good because it promotes more open, tolerant and democratic societies. * How can growth undermine the good life? Environmentalists caution that there is dark side to growth—global warming, pollution and resource depletion may destroy life as we know it today unless preventive measures are taken soon. Critics of the market system argue that too many segments of society don’t share in the benefits of growth in a capitalist economy. Others warn that economic growth may have increased life spans and material wellbeing, but has not brought us closer to that elusive goal of “happiness.” * What can we do to help ensure a bright future—a better life—for ourselves and our children? We will discuss policy proposals designed to promote “virtuous” economic growth—policies that enhance the standard of living and address the negative environmental and distributional consequences of growth.
Living through Troubling Times
Jeannette Sargent (Fall)
We'll take a close look at how people deal with the big and little disasters of life by examining works of literature from as far back as ancient China (Tao Te Ching) to the futuristic novel Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood. Winnie the Pooh turns out to be a model Taoist who lets his life be guided by the Tao Te Ching, while Atwood gives us a glimpse of the future we may be creating for ourselves as we try to figure out how much we want technology and marketing to control our lives. Rabbi Kushner's When Bad Things Happen to Good People asks us to consider why people believe in divine intervention in human affairs, and Boccaccio's Decameron gives us entertaining insight into how people dealt with the Black Death in Florence in the fourteenth century. The short stories of Raymond Carver show how easy it is to be overwhelmed by in the modern world and the dangers of isolation, while the contemporary David Sedaris offers humorous takes on serious problems like death and political correctness.
Migration and Identity in the 20th Century
Nicole Calandra (Fall)
According to Meera Alexander, an internationally renowned author of the Indian diaspora, the effect of migration is the following: "the shock of arrival [in a new place] is multifold--what was borne in the mind is jarred, tossed into new shapes, an exciting exfoliation of sense. What we were in that other life is shattered open. But the worlds we now inhabit still speak of the need for invention, of ancestors, of faith." In this course we will explore how migration both creates a painful "shatter[ing]" of the past and offers the "exciting" possibility of "invention." We will focus on the movement of bodies and cultures across national and regional boundaries in the twentieth century to examine how migration reshapes the identities both of the migrants themselves and of all those whom they encounter. More specifically, we will ask how this reshaping of identity is reflected, questioned, or facilitated in fiction, film, and critical essays. Possible texts for this course include Pietro di Donato's Christ in Concrete, Edwidge Danticat's The Dew Breaker, Ismaël Ferroukhi's Le grand voyage, and Junot Diaz's The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.
Initiations: Discoveries of the Self, Society and the Sacred
April Selley (Winter)
How do we come to know who we are and what we believe? How do our families affect our boundaries--what we will and will not do? What does "family" mean? What are the events, both subtle and ritualized, that initiate us into the many societies into which we are born or with which we eventually have significant contact? What does "reality" mean, and how do we construct and determine our own realities based on perceptions of self, society and the sacred (and/or the profane)? How do we determine what is ethical within our realities?
We will explore the development of selfhood and of familial and social relationships in poetry, fiction, drama, sacred texts, and film. Approximately three weeks of the course will be devoted to exploring relationships between the human and the spiritual/divine, as seen in the Bible (specifically, the Book of Genesis and perhaps the Gospel according to Matthew) and other works. The Japanese anime Spirited Away will be discussed in the context of the Shinto religion. We will also discuss at least one other film. Students will write at least five essays, take quizzes, give an oral report, and take a final exam.
Possible texts (two or three other works will be added) include: Handouts of poetry; Poe, "Ligeia"; Morrison, The Bluest Eye; Sophocles, Oedipus the King (trans. Robert Fagles, Penguin Classics); The Gospel According to Matthew; Alter, ed., Genesis (Norton); Vea, Gods Go Begging.
St. Petersburg Nightmares: The Horror of the City
Charles H. Arndt (Winter)
For those who come from a tradition-based agrarian society, the move to the “big city” is often traumatic. Upon transferring to urban areas, some of the new residents experience alienation and a sense of rootlessness, while others flourish in their new environment. All of this begs the question as to whether the influence of the city, and the civilization it represents, is helpful, benign, or harmful to the individual. This course will address the question in two ways. First, we will analyze texts which explain this phenomenon of alienation (these include Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Discourse on the Origin of Inequality and Karl Marx’s The Communist Manifesto).
Following this, we will consider a particular case-study; Saint Petersburg, Russia. Here we will draw from a number of seminal works of Russian nineteenth-century literature (including Nikolai Gogol’s The Overcoat and Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground), which give voice to the estrangement engendered by what the latter referred to as “the most intentional city in the world.”
In addition, we will look at the cataclysmic events that occurred in St. Petersburg in the twentieth century, i.e., the February and October Revolutions of 1917 and the 900-day Blockade of St. Petersburg (then called Leningrad) by the Nazis during World War II. We will finish with St. Petersburg’s more recent history; the movement toward democracy, the Mafia crime-wave, and cultural developments in the 1980s and 90s.
Monstrous Kinships: Attachment and Loss in Literature
Jillmarie Murphy (Winter)
Since its inception, the field of psychoanalysis has relied on the art of story-telling to describe the disturbing and traumatic experiences of humankind. In many ways, psychoanalytic research provides insight into the universal and singular way that fiction writers, dramatists, and poets tell their stories. Literature has the ability to pierce the deepest recesses of human experience, enabling readers to discover their own truths. Twentieth century British psychoanalyst John Bowlby developed a psychoanalytic approach known as Attachment Theory to help conceptualize the proclivity human beings have to create deep-rooted affectional bonds with others. One of the most important bonds most human beings develop is with parents or primary caregivers, since they are among the very first individuals with whom children come into contact when they enter the world. While a general understanding exists in modern society that parents should protect their children, the realities of everyday modern experience tell a different story. In this course we will use Attachment Theory as a psychoanalytic paradigm from which to examine several works of fiction, poetry, and drama. In most of the literary works we will read, the parental figures tend not to offer stability or a secure environment for their children. Alongside our reading of various classic and contemporary essays in the fields of psychoanalysis, ethology, history, and sociology, several literary works will be chosen from the following list: Euripides' Medea, Sophocles' Oedipus Rex, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus, Charles Dickens' David Copperfield, Herman Melville's Pierre: Or the Ambiguities, Thomas Hardy's Jude the Obscure, Stephen Crane's Maggie: A Girl of the Streets, Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy, Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita, Cormac McCarthy's The Road, Shelley's Mathilda, Gabriel Garcia Marquez' Innocent Erendira, Lydia Sigourney's "The Father," Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Rappaccini's Daughter," or selections from William Blake's Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience.
Creativity and Culture
Chris Duncan (Winter)
Contemporary artists in literature, music or the visual arts often cultivate attitudes of detachment from and critique of society. A lingering cliché imagines the artist laboring in obscurity in a garret, but a few achieve the kind of celebrity more typically associated with rock stars. This course will look at ways in which artists' roles reflect their times, and ways in which those roles are defined by different societies and the artists themselves. We'll read first hand source material, biographies, fiction, and critical works by or about major 20th C. figures including Italian futurist poet Marinetti, Russian sci-fi novelist Zamyatin and jazz musician Miles Davis. We'll examine the life of a Renaissance sculptor through the autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini. We'll try to get inside the creative process, looking at the artist's life as they lived it; and we'll examine the making of art from the outside, as critics and cultural observers see it. Some of the issues that might come up as we read: the nature and definition of art, its relationships and responsibilities to society: art and morality; art and politics; art and sexuality; art and money; art and sanity. Through this subject matter this First-Year Preceptorial aims to improve students' ability in those skills crucial to their success in college: writing, critical reading, and presenting ideas orally.
Impersonation and Authenticity
Patricia Wareh (Fall)
In this class we will explore texts from a variety of genres, cultures, and time periods that address the relationship between impersonation and authenticity. From the advice given to Renaissance courtiers to autobiographical accounts of modern day teenagers and their struggle to create themselves, we will consider how interacting with others may involve acting a role. Why does existing in society mean putting on a persona? If your identity changes from situation to situation, how is it possible to determine the real “you”? Do different cultural moments encourage more or less authentic expression of the individual? These are the kinds of questions we will explore in texts ranging from Castiglione’s Book of the Courtier to Shakespeare’s Winter’s Tale to Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis. Throughout our readings and discussion, we will be concerned both to think about the specific textual and cultural details of these works as well as to ask whether creating a persona is a universal human preoccupation.
Jewish + Graphic + Novel
Judith Lewin (Winter)
This course will focus on three key issues: differing definitions of Jewishness and the need to express them; the graphic novel as a new medium of communication that relies on the simultaneous interpretation of text and illustration; the question of audience as it relates to both definitions of Jewishness and the question of evolving conceptions of text construction. Do Jewish Graphic Novels really tell us new stories? Why turn to the graphic novel for renewal in an age that favors film and television? Why use this avant-garde medium to express something as conservative as religious belonging? These are some of the questions our course will try to address as we discuss and write about the burgeoning field of Jewish Graphic literature. Some of the authors we may consider include Will Eisner, Joann Sfar, Art Spiegelman, Miriam Katin, Miriam Libnicki, Ben Katchor, Ari Folman, Rutu Modan and JT Waldman.
Ethics and the Environment
Kara Doyle (Winter)
This course will focus on the intersections of human cultures and environment, with an emphasis on the social and cultural dynamics of the environment and environmental action. Some questions we will consider in the course: What are the ethical questions that we pose and wrestle with as we interact with and within our environment? What is the place of literature in community, literacy, and environmental activism? To what extent does place matter in our conceptions of what nature is? What are the connections between race, class, and environmental degradation and environmental activism? How does gender enter into the nexus of social interactions that shape our environment? To what extent are humans ethically responsible for non-human nature? How does the practice of careful observation lead us toward ethical practices? We will consider both the concept of “nature” as we consider the concept of human culture. This course is collaborative in nature, and as such students should bring their interests, curiosities, and discoveries to add to the mix. A partial list of readings may include those by Terry Tempest Williams, Barbara Kingsolver, Evelyn White, bell hooks, Benjamin Alire Sáenz, Luther Standing Bear, Running-Grass, Simon Ortiz, Ana Castillo, Vandana Shiva, Wangari Maathai, Aldo Leopold, Robert Sullivan, Andrew Light, Holmes Rolston.
Exploring New York City Experience
Brigham Taylor (Fall)
This class will consider the myriad of human experiences that have made up America’s most dynamic city as it has been expressed over time through literature and the arts. We will consider poetry, fiction, theater, and film by notable figures such as Chang Rae Lee, Dawn Powell, E.L. Doctorow, Edith Wharton, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Francine Prose, Frank O’Hara, Langston Hughes, Tony Kushner, Walt Whitman, and Woody Allen. We will look at not only how the city has been experienced, but also of how the ways it is represented affects the ways it is understood.
Constructing the Self
Anastasia Pease (Winter)
Who are you, really? What makes you you? What do you and all other humans have in common? How do we humans learn and form judgments? What makes us peaceful or violent, conservative or liberal, competitive or collaborative, truthful or deceitful? What is the nature of friendship, love, and loyalty? This section of the Preceptorial will address these and many other questions by bringing together biology, cognitive science, ethics, history, psychology, philosophy, gender studies, religion studies, literature, linguistics, art, plus the latest findings of primatology and genetics to explore the complexities of the Self. Students will watch movies and talks, as well as read about consciousness, free will, power, and sexuality. The reading list will include philosopher Susan Blackmore's provocative Consciousness: A Very Short Introduction, geneticist Spencer Wells' Deep Ancestry, a book of philosophical essays, a set of Science Fiction short stories, and Cordelia Fine’s A Mind of Its Own: How Your Brain Distorts and Deceives.
Utopias, Dystopias, and Totalitarianism
Thomas McFadden (Winter)
Stendahl observed in The Charterhouse of Parma that "politics in a work of literature are like a pistol-shot in the middle of a concert, something loud and vulgar yet a thing to which it is not possible to refuse one's attention." Yet one of the most effective ways to trace and analyze forms of political organization and their impact on individuals is through imaginative fiction. In the 20th century in particular, novelists have constructed narratives around the great political themes of our time: communism, fascism, socialism, and democracy. In this Preceptorial we will read, discuss, and write about novels by Arthur Koestler, George Orwell, Robert Penn Warren, Alan Paton, Mary McCarthy, Graham Greene, Alan Drury, and Richard Condon. Several excellent films have also been produced based on some of these novels, and we will view and discuss two or three of them. Appropriate attention will be give to the historical background of the novels.
Animals and Humans
Peter Heinegg (Winter)
This course is a historical, scientific, and philosophical study of the ways we have thought about and treated our fellow creatures. It focuses in particular on the narcissistic human domination of nature-supported by both religious and secular traditions-that has brought us to the desperate ecological crisis now threatening the world. It reflects on what, if anything, can be done about all this.
Reading List: Bible readings, selections from Montaigne (hand-outs) Jonathan Swift, Gulliver's Travels (Oxford) Marc Bekoff, The Emotional Lives of Animals (New World Library) Jonathan Safran Foer, Eating Animals ( Back Bay Books) Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson, The Face on Your Plate (Norton) Reg Morrison, The Spirit in the Gene (Cornell) Alan Weisman, The World Without Us (Picador)
Morality, Apes and Religion
Felmon Davis (Fall)
Of late one hears more and more about the implications of evolution theory and neuroscience for our understanding of morality. Does the claim that morality has evolved out of the behavior of primate ancestors imply that (a) non-human animals are capable of morality? (b) evolution determines our morality? (c) moral and religious ideals and beliefs are mere 'adaptations' without objective truth-value? We will look at some work on morality in animal behavior (de Waal´s Primates and Philosophers), on the evolution of morality (Joyce´s The Evolution of Morality and Hauser's Moral Minds), on religion and evolution (Pascal's Religion Explained). This is an exploration and a launching pad for reflection about morality, religion and human nature.
Heresy and the Defense of Orthodoxy in Western Christianity
In the 1790s, the United States was a nascent nation riven by religious tension. Nevertheless, in 1795, local leaders from various Christian denominations put aside their doctrinal disputes to petition jointly for the chartering of Union College. Union's very name speaks to their eagerness to establish a college free from the control of any one church. At the time, however, many western Christians saw the toleration of spiritual differences as not just undesirable but downright pernicious. Thus, Union offers an ideal environment in which to consider the nature of religious truth and its discontents.
Heresy and the Defense of Orthodoxy in Western Christianity will investigate how and why religious authorities from across the Christian spectrum from ancient times to the present have attempted to define and enforce what they consider the one right way of knowing God and to re-educate and discipline those who depart from it. We will examine the topic through sources as diverse in time, genre, and outlook as Edgar Allan Poe's "The Pit and the Pendulum," Monty Python's "The Spanish Inquisition" sketches, Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code, and Alister McGrath's Heresy: A History of Defending the Truth. Ultimately, we are interested in such overarching questions as: Is there still a place for absolute religious truth in our world? For absolute truth in any context? If so, how do we discover and dictate that truth?
Media Accuracy, Credibility, Fairness, and Reliability
Mohammad Mafi (Winter)
According to a published report by The American Society of Newspaper Editors, “Seventy-eight percent of U.S. adults believe there’s bias in the news media.” In order to carry out our social responsibilities, we ought to be able to think critically and evaluate the information we get through the media: radio, TV, Internet, movies, books, newspapers, and magazines.
In this course, students will:
• Gain an increased awareness of inaccuracies in the media and be provided with tools to search for different opinions and perspectives
• Be inspired to critically reflect on increasingly complex social, political, and cultural issues
• Learn how to read between the lines and form their own independent opinions despite the proliferation of media outlets and PR tricks
• Be better prepared to identify WMD (Weapons of Mass Distraction)
• Have ample opportunity to use and enhance their critical thinking abilities
As citizens and future leaders, our students will be better equipped to protect great values such as democracy, civil liberties, peace and justice if they are well informed.