Ancient Origins; Secret History
In this course, we'll be examining origins of things we think we know: stories of heroes; our concept of human nature; our understanding of medicine and healing; the fundamentals of democracy; uses and abuses of war and violence; gender roles for women and men; and our concepts of faith. We'll be looking at these topics and writing about them through the lens of ancient Greece and Rome. We'll be reading a discussing a variety of great texts from these two civilizations (e.g., epic poetry (Homer); Greek tragedy, Plato, Thucycides, Lucretius, Galen), and all the while we will simultaneously contemplate what we also know from our own cultures about these topics. Can we find foundations for our own attitudes in these cultures from long ago, or is the past dead and foreign to us? How can we approach these ancient thoughts as modern citizens of the world? What does it mean that we as modern humans can read and explore such ancient ideas? As we explore we will develop our skills in thinking creatively about these themes, and we'll pay close attention to how we can write about them critically and convincingly.
Monuments and Memory
How do Americans remember the past? And what do our public displays of historical memory say about who we are and what we hope to become? In this course, we will explore the intersection of art, literature, and historical memory beginning with a study of the recent movement to remove Confederate monuments from public spaces and consider how the Civil War is remembered today in town squares and on the National Mall in DC (including a field trip to visit it). Can our history be told without retreading white supremacy? Course readings will include various forms of myth-making including historical fiction, film, and public art. We will also read Antigone, a classical play about mourning that has proven rich for philosophers who interrogate repeating, remembering, and working through the past. Works by E.L. Doctorow, William Faulkner, Colson Whitehead, Michelle Cliff, Sophocles, or related. Films to include Twelve Years a Slave, Django Unchained, and more.
What is the Human?
What does it mean to be human? This seminar is centered around this perennial question, inviting students to examine how it has been addressed in philosophical theories, ancient myths, contemporary novels, poetry, music, film, and prose narratives. We will focus on several aspects that characterize our lives as specifically human, such as conscious awareness, reason and knowledge, freedom, time (past and future), personal identity, embodiment, the nature of moral pathos, and the inevitability of death. Students will discuss the wealth of ideas, theories, and perspectives appearing in existentialist literature, other writings, and creative expressions as they evaluate the philosophical, religious, and psychological quandaries that confront Western humanity in its search to understand itself and create a meaningful existence. Themes include the pervasiveness of suffering, theism, agnosticism, atheism, anxiety and death, alienation, guilt and suffering, the problem of evil, human freedom, self-transcendence, human aspiration, and human-animal connections.