Selfies, Etc: Portraits in Photo
This course explores a type of visual art work that exists in all the cultures and in all historical periods after the Middle Ages, including our own; the portrait. It offers strong parallels and a rich tradition in the history of literature as well.
The seminar will consider the special characteristics of portraiture in the art and literature and how this form of creative expression has been used over many centuries to reflect psychological, social, historical, political, economic, allegorical, satirical, pop culture and other content. Examples from the visual arts will be considered with reference to contemporary literary sources, such as biographies, autobiographies, etc.
What happens when digital information technology, genetics, neuroscience, and a culture of cosmetic enhancement all get mixed together in the 21st century Western world? Among other things, you get an extensive debate about what it means to be human and what the "humanities" as a branch of learning can and should do.
This course will look at some vital questions (how do we define the "self"? What are its limits? What is the relation of individuals to the social groups in which they live?) in the context of these new scientific and cultural developments. Using a wide variety of materials (drawn from film, literature, visual art, popular culture, science, and elsewhere), we will examine issues like the status of privacy (is it even possible in a digitally-networked world?); how we construct our identities; and how changes in the way we consume media have affected how we understand their content.
Myth, Reason & Faith
This course is an introduction to the literature, religion, philosophy, and artistic expression of the Western world, beginning with the Greeks and Romans, continuing with the Hebrews, and ending with the emergence of Islam and the West. The texts that we will examine represent some of the most important currents of Western thought prior to the modern age; we will examine them in their historical contexts, and explore the complex question of how the thought of the past interacts with that of the present.
Among the issues that will recur in the semester will be: the nature of divinity, what it means to be human, the connection between spiritual beliefs and the material means through which they are expressed, the distinction between law and justice, the conflict between tradition and innovation, and the historical evolution of gender roles. Our starting point will be the realization that the “Western tradition” is not a unified, easily-described body of permanent truths, but a multi-faceted, heavily-contested, and historically-mutable body of provisional positions.