What is the Human?
This course introduces students to a variety of quandaries that have constantly haunted human beings in our search for meaning. In our encounter with literature, philosophy, and religious thought, and with the use of creative prose, poetry, and film, we will touch upon key themes in existential thinking, raising important questions regarding existence, life's absurdity, the nature of our moral pathos, the perplexing notion of choice, the problem of evil, atheism, agnosticism, human freedom, self-transcendence and aspiration, and even the inevitability of death.
Important and key questions we will address include the following: Are we free to choose our own destiny? What is truth and how do you know it? What difference, if any, does God's existence make in one's life? Are humans essentially happy slaves? Why live in conformity with societal rules? Is authentic freedom an illusion? Are there any absolute values that structure and instill our lives with meaning? Do we hide behind our social rules? Are we accountable to other human beings? If so, why?
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 and 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?
American Monuments and National Legends
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.