Portraits Before Facebook
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. Our exploration of these themes will be supported by exhibitions held in the Samek Art Gallery. Stereotypes and how they are expressed in works of art and literature will constitute and important aspect of our consideration of contemporary portraits from our own cultural environment.
Love and Sex on the Silk Road
The primary goal of this seminar is to have students engage critically with cultural products-both foreign and familiar — in a way that recognizes the reality of cultural diversity as well as the possibility of a shared human nature.
The narrative frame for our tale of the history of love and sex will be the Silk Road or Silk Route, the 5000-mile series of overland and maritime trade routes that once connected Europe to West, Central, South and East Asia. Themes include: theories of love and sex, cultural taboos on love and sex, cultural conceptions of beauty, body image, misogyny and sexual politics. Topics include: classical Greek perspectives on the male body, Roman and Persian love poetry, Lilith, Adam's "first wife," fertility goddesses in Indian sculpture, the Kama Sutra, conceptions of the body in Hinduism and Buddhism, Islamic perspectives on women, tantra, asceticism, romance in The Tale of Genji, Japanese geisha, and attitudes towards homosexuality among the classical Greeks, medieval Christians, and samurai of Japan.
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.