Liberal Studies Program > First-Year Program > Course Descriptions > Focal Point Seminar

Focal Point Seminar

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Current & Recent Course Descriptions 

LSP 112

Certain years in American history resonate for decades after they have passed because they mark dramatic moments of political and cultural trauma and transformation. 1968 was such a year, a time of trauma when the old social order seemed to collapse, and political and cultural change shook the nation for years to come. This course will explore some of the most explosive and consequential events of that year from an interdisciplinary perspective.

This course will examine the production and reception of Hollywood films about Abraham Lincoln including how the films reflect history, how they function as cultural artifacts, their place in the history of film, and their representation of women and African Americans. The class concentrates on four films—D. W. Griffith’s Lincoln (1930), John Ford’s Young Mr. Lincoln (1939), John Cromwell’s Abe Lincoln in Illinois (1940), and Steven Spielberg’s recent Lincoln (2012). Films with Lincoln characters will also be considered but with less emphasis, e.g., the Shirley Temple film The Littlest Rebel (1935), and Tim Burton’s Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012). Through intensive reading, discussion, writing, and group work, students will engage the question: What do Hollywood films about Abraham Lincoln say about American culture—about us?

What do Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have in common? Among other things, these religions share Abraham as a foundational figure within their traditions. This course will examine Abraham: the man, the myth, the legend. Often called prophet and patriarch, Abraham is recognized for his special status and divine selection in each faith. In this course, students will read texts from the Hebrew Bible, New Testament, and Quran to explore how Abraham is remembered and characterized in religious literature. Students will also read secondary theological and philosophical texts and examine artistic representations to explore how later interpreters reflect on Abraham's significance. The course will consider Abraham's lasting legacy and significance to the Abrahamic faiths.

In many ways the history of advertising, especially in America, is the history of the development of modern technological society in the 20th Century. The move, from the earliest forms of “patent medicine” advertising, seen in “Huck Finn,” or “The Wizard of Oz,” for example, through the Yellow Press ads of the Hearst era, to early radio and mass communication, through mass magazines, television, into the digital age, is a reflection of the people, the times, and the struggle to make sense of the modern world. What worked? What didn’t work, and why? These questions reflect on American history, design, governmental regulation, writing, and creativity. Making connections between historical needs and wants introduces psychology, ethics, politics, economics, and business theory and practice. Through primary and secondary research and sources, as well as group oriented design projects, with a strong emphasis on the development of critical writing that embodies a personal tone of voice, the course will forge critical thinking, case-making, and innovative skills that will form the foundation of being not only a strong student, but also a thoughtful member of an ethical society.

The ancient Mediterranean World has had a profound impact on the culture of our modern world. With civilizations like Egypt, Greece and Rome along with the religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam that are so prevalent in today’s world, the ancient Mediterranean world has a lot to tell us. In classic history courses we would read an ancient history textbook but in this Focal Point Seminar we are also letting the ancient Mediterranean world speak for itself. Students will be challenged to understand and bring to life the ancient Mediterranean world by reading, interpreting and discussing a variety of primary and secondary sources relating to the era. This course will approach the ancient Mediterranean World through the disciplines of Art History, History and Philosophy.

This course centers on the history and impact of the twentieth century's most influential collection of American music, The Anthology of American Folk Music, originally compiled by the artist Harry Smith in 1952, and rereleased to great acclaim in 1997. Smith's idiosyncratic collection of mountain, gospel, ragtime, hillbilly, blues, and other sacred and secular songs recorded between 1927-32 originally confounded folklorists like Alan Lomax and Sam Charters, who noted its lack of historical context, its sequential discontinuity, its cryptic documentation, and that much of its content was originally commercial music considered to be nostalgic when it was originally recorded. That the Anthology is more art than scholarship belies its immeasurable influence on the two generations of scholars and folklorists who followed its cues down rural backroads in search of the last remnants of an authentically American music. More visibly, the Anthology provided the songbook for Bob Dylan, Dave Van Ronk, and their generation, and the 1997 rerelease inspired a vast and diverse American roots music revolution that is still growing today. This course traces the steady transformation of "folk music" from a practice of preserving the past into one of defining and legitimizing the present. It begins in the 1920s when the Anthology's music was originally recorded, and continues through the 40s folk revival, Smith's own midcentury collage and anthologizing practices, the Anthology-inspired folk groups of the 1950s, Dylan's polarizing 1965 electrified Newport Folk Festival performance and the concomitant Basement Tapes, the "American Primitive" movement of John Fahey and his contemporaries, and finally the "New Weird America" inspired by the Anthology's 1997 re-release. Through each of these periods, we will address what Robert Cantwell calls "the tireless and futile search for an original and authentic text" at the center of American roots music.

As we reflect upon the last century from the vantage point of the 21st century, apartheid stands out as one of the most intriguing and oppressive political ideas and practices of the 20th century. Developed by the Afrikaners of South Africa, apartheid emphasized the “separateness” of races as the organizing principle of social, religious, economic and political life in a multinational state. For nearly half a century, apartheid was enforced through a combination of laws, religious indoctrination, socialization and, above all, the pervasive use of coercion. In 1994, following several decades of sustained domestic and international opposition, the policy and practice of apartheid officially ended in South Africa. This course will focus on two important areas of inquiry. The first is how to explain the emergence of apartheid as the predominant form of political organization in 20th-century South Africa. The second focus of the course will be on the lessons humanity can draw from the apartheid experiment as we continue our prolonged quest for meaningful and harmonious co-existence of peoples and cultures within the framework of one political entity.

We have all heard the terms, “Go green!”, “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” and probably even “Sustainable” but what do these catchy phrases really mean? Why are they important? Furthermore, what do these terms have to do with visual art? Our relationship with the environment is complex and becoming increasingly urgent. The field of sustainability is interdisciplinary, but this course will focus specifically on the fields of science, philosophy and contemporary art. We will examine what science tells us about the current and future state of the planet and how sustainability can help. We will consider how our philosophical ideas about nature affect what we do to the environment. We will also look at how contemporary visual art can question, explore and propose answers to problems of sustainability. Finally the class will reflect on an individual's role in the problems as well as possible solutions to sustainability.

The body – how we eat, how we dress, our daily routines and rituals is the medium of culture. The body is a powerful symbolic form upon which are written the rules, customs, and power relations of a society. These power relations are inseparable from the way the body’s pleasures and pains are felt and expressed. In this way the body is the practical locus of social and political control. This Focal Point Seminar will examine the discipline and control of the body, specifically in regards to notions of sexuality, pleasure, and pain.

This course will explore representations of borders and walls in contemporary art and literature. We will initially explore from a border-study, topological and historical prospective, how and why borders and borderlines are human inventions and exist in the world only to the extent that humans regard them as meaningful. After framing the discourses about borders and walls within a theoretical context, we will examine how different kind of borders and walls have been represented in contemporary art and literature, focusing particularly on individual narratives, memoires and testimonies.

What is the relationship between capitalism and democracy? Western free-market (laissez faire) capitalism is argued to free individual actors to pursue personal gain, offering opportunity for all. At the same time, as this way of doing business comes to dominate countries across the globe: 1) more and more wealth and resources have become concentrated in the hands of fewer and fewer people, and 2) there is less opportunity for democratic participation of workers (through unions, for example) and small business (as opposed to big business). Conversely, in non-democratic or semi-democratic Asian countries (as well as a few European welfare democracies) where “unfettered” capitalism has yet to completely take root, there is a more equitable distribution of wealth throughout society and workers have a greater voice in economic processes. Clearly there are other forms of capitalism than the Western (U.S.) free-market model, but what are they and how do they compare? These issues are explored through a critical examination of the intellectual history of notions of capitalism and democracy in core texts. This is stimulated via class discussion, debates and weekly “think pieces” (short essays prompted by a critical question relating to class readings and lectures).

This course will examine how our bodies become a battle ground for social and cultural meaning, political power, and pleasure. Although we may view our bodies as highly individual, our bodies are often at the receiving end of social assessment, collective disciplining, and societal control. Leaving aside a universal idea of a “human body,” we will examine how bodies are controlled, imagined, engaged, enjoyed, and cast aside through racialization, engendering, presence of disability, and colonization. The course will touch on topics as varied as disability and environment, racialized minority embodiments in a colonial imagination in the U.S. and East Asia, the theories of bodily pleasures and protests in women of color feminism, and the prominence of the “flesh” in black studies and social movements, among other topics. Some questions we will tackle in this course include: what is at stake when buildings are built to exclude bodies with disability and prosthetics are considered “fake” or “inferior” to organic body parts? How do we understand the striking morbidity rates in Native American and Black populations, especially under the Covid pandemic? In what ways have women of color’s bodies have been appropriated, and how have they sought to heal and organize? What is the difference between skin and flesh, and why is this difference important to Black cultural imagination in the U.S.? How do ethnic differences get racialized in East Asia, for example, between Koreans and Japanese? We will read about historical contexts in which certain bodies came to be perceived as “unruly,” as well as looking at films, art works, illustrated zine, performance, philosophical texts, and fictions. Students will emerge from the course with a deeper understanding of the histories of body politics and its presence in the present culture of the U.S.

This course examines the rich history of jazz in Chicago, focusing on the music and musicians, social commentary, and writings about. We will trace the development of jazz both in and outside of Chicago, focusing on the particular contributions that Chicago musicians have made to the art form. Instruction in this course will come through reading, lecture (online or in person), seminar-style discussions, and analytical writing assignments. There will be periodic listening quizzes given online through D2L. You will be using the resources of DePaul’s Library in your quest for knowledge, and you will be asked to perform some research as part of your coursework, including a research paper. Major topics covered include: • What is jazz? How do I listen to it? • Early jazz: the Chicago style • Jazz as social commentary: the Roaring Twenties • Dance bands of the 1930s and 40s • Jazz as an Intellectual Statement: the bebop era • Jazz Loosens up: Fusion, funk and soul • Jazz and the Civil Rights Movement • The Avant-Garde: Jazz in the 21st Century

In Nelson Algren’s long, broken-hearted love poem to the city of Chicago he writes that “[i]t isn’t hard to love a town for its greater and its lesser towers, its pleasant parks… Or for its broad and bending boulevards… But you can never truly love it till you can love its alleys too.” Chicago: City on the Make was published as a slim volume in 1951, in the midst of the Post WWII McCarthy era. The country was rife with paranoia, convinced that Communist spies were lurking around every corner, and Soviet bombs were poised to drop on our soil at any moment. Any individual who varied from the prototype of a patriotic, mainstream American was viewed as suspect. In lyrical slang, Algren wrote his take on the history of Chicago, unearthing the city’s more unsavory past and declaring its present state desolate. He was an unabashed lefty nonconformist during a time in which conformity was not just highly valued, but seen as aeans to maintain national security. We will be studying Chicago: City on the Make as a work of prose poetry, subjective history, and a political treatise celebrating nonconformity in a period in American history when submission to social and political conventions was the status quo.

Cloning, Gene Therapy, and DNA Evidence are topics frequently in the news today. The goal of this course is to teach the biological underpinning of this field and how this basic biological knowledge has led to the seemingly magical ramifications we hear about in the headlines. Topics to be covered will include: how cells code, decode, and transmit information through DNA; basic methods of studying and manipulating DNA; methods of modifying the DNA of organisms; and biotechnological applications of these principles and their impact and regulation. Source materials will include first person accounts by principal investigators in the field, as well as critical assessments of the risks associated with this new technology.

More than any other sport, baseball has inspired writers to try to capture the essence of the game, as well as those who play and watch it. Beyond the staples of baseball journalists and essayists such as Roger Kahn, Roger Angell, and Bill James, writers as diverse as novelists Nelson Algren, Sherman Alexie, Annie Dillard, John Updike, and Philip Roth, and poets William Carlos Williams, Amiri Baraka, May Swenson, Carl Sandburg, and Robert Frost, have explored the nuances and intricacies of the game, as well as how emotionally loaded racial, social, political, and economic issues are historically and indelibly woven into it. In this course, students will read and analyze writing about baseball through poems, fiction, personal essays, and arguments, exploring such themes as baseball as myth, as both game and business, and as a cultural institution in America and abroad. In doing so, we will discover how larger social issues impinge on the sport, and what they reveal about our changing society.

This class will strengthen creative resources in response to life’s universally shared experience of adversity. Through the lens of psychology, religious thought, and the fine/performing arts, we will look at the stories of well-known artists such as Picasso, Van Gogh, Beethoven, Mozart, Baryshnikov, and Copeland who sublimated adversity into creative greatness. Students will examine personal adversity in relationship to unrealized creativity through an in-depth look at the nature of creative thinking, blocks to this natural resource, creativity related to a thought provoking psychological model and religious view, and Freud’s positive healthy defense mechanisms. The interdisciplinary course culminates in a self-designed transcending work of art through any medium.

As an industry, Disney has been well placed to meet the needs of contemporary culture as it commands a respectable place in the leisure industry, fulfills consumer demands, provides services people desire, and employs legions of workers. In this course, we will explore Disney as an enterprise, employer, tourist location, progenitor of cultural myths and symbols, and centrality to the transnational cultural politics of race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, class, nation, popular music, and visual culture. A series of key questions will unify our discussion of Disney, including: what does Disney produce, how it can be defined, whether it is fun, and if so, what is the nature of pleasure in contemporary culture, is it good business, and if so, what type of business is it and what makes it good, if Disney is just fantasy, and if so, how does it pertain to the manufacture of reality and fantasy in contemporary culture, if Disney is just for kids, and if so, what is the nature of childhood, what does watching Disney’s visual texts teach us, is watching a form of consumerism, if so, what are we consuming, is consuming a passive act, and if so, why do we spend money on a passive act, and what do we get in return, what kinds of myths Disney sells, do these myths need to be accountable to the broader culture and its histories, and what do these myths say about US and transnational cultures and histories?

On June 25, 1876, a pivotal event in American history, and specifically in the history of interactions between Native Americans and Americans of European heritage, took place. On this occasion, the U.S. Seventh Cavalry, commanded by Lt. Colonel George Armstrong Custer, was defeated by Sioux and Cheyenne warriors—led by Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull, among others—in what is now southern Montana. Sometimes referred to as the Battle of the Little Bighorn, Custer’s Last Stand, or The Battle of the Greasy Grass (a translation of the Sioux name for the location), this incident has been the subject of numerous debates, several films and countless books and articles. In this course, we will examine what is known about the major players, the cultural context and the historical ramifications of this remarkable confrontation. In so doing, we will strive to increase our understanding of 19th century America, and to develop insight about the cultural, political and other forces that shape our views of the past and the present.

Since the publication of Frankenstein by Mary Shelley in 1818—the first science-fiction novel in English—the world has been fascinated by the idea of the automaton. Human-looking machines have appeared in works as diverse as Fritz Lang’s 1927 silent film Metropolis, Philip K. Dick’s 1968 novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and David Eick and Ron Moore’s 2003 TV series Battlestar Galactica. This course will introduce students to the relevant historical, religious, cultural, and aesthetic lenses by which we can analyze written and dramatic works that question the role of the automaton in human society. From Frankenstein to The Matrix, students will engage with their own writing through criticism of written and dramatic interpretations of the automaton, coming away with a better understanding of the uncanny machine in literature and film.

This course focuses on the tensions between science and religion that surfaced in the wake of Charles Darwin’s book On the Origin of Species. The scientific debate also percolated through a host of related issues, including the implications of Darwinism for social reform, racial theories, and women's rights and the evolving concept of causation in science and its implications for public policy.

The course uses the “Reacting to the Past” philosophy. Reacting to the Past is a series of historical role-playing games. After a few preparatory discussions, the instructor becomes a Gamemaster (GM), and the students become important figures in a highly-charged moment in history. During the game, students strategize with teammates, work to defeat opponents, engage in negotiations, give speeches and participate in debates, and write essays and position papers. In this particular game, students are divided into 3 main factions: the Natural Theologians, the Naturalists and the Social Reformers.

The course will critically track the development of a continuous, provocative, and culturally distinct narrative of migration as undertaken by those Black Americans who journeyed northward from their agrarian, oppressive Deep South home(s) during the first half of the 20th Century, and settled in the industrial commercial Northern land of promised socioeconomic opportunity – in this case, Chicago. We will encounter this specific narrative as it morphed across mediums and communicative modes: from the Mississippi Delta blues/swinging Louisiana jazz aural traditions to the canonical literary offerings of Richard Wright, to Lorraine Hansberry’s iconic stage play A Raisin in the Sun and the Daniel Petrie’s 1962 film adaptation thereof, to the commercially prominent hip hop music produced out of the city’s South & West Sides at the chasm between 20th & 21st century. Further, we will consider the manner in which this narrative’s chronicling has been afforded context by forces beyond the literal and figurative “boundaries” of Chicago and the Great Migration experience – forces and circumstances of global, intercontinental, and national portent.

This course introduces students to the Gilded Age of Chicago when circumstances, personalities, and influence converged to accomplish a seemingly impossible feat: the construction of the 1893 Columbian Exposition. We will view this vibrant era in Chicago’s history through the lens of the book The Devil in the White City, which captures the ambitious spirit of the city in the telling of the construction of the World’s Fair. We will examine not only the civic leaders and architects who designed the Fair, but we will also explore the literature of the period and how it reflected or reacted to the dynamic forces in society. We will try to answer such questions as: How was the role of American cities changing? What was the effect of urbanization on the common person? Did urbanization increase a sense of isolation among city inhabitants? During the second half of the course, we will investigate how the building of the 1893 Columbian Exposition laid the groundwork for the city we enjoy today.

Domestic workers, the army of housekeepers, caregivers, and nurses, enable millions of Americans to go to their jobs every day. Yet, despite constituting this needed and growing workforce, they suffer from few labor protections and abusive working conditions. Drawing on theoretical debates as well as recent case studies from the US and around the world, this course will examine: a) the contemporary processes of globalization and economic restructuring that enable this type of work, b) the nature of this type of employment, and c) the issues and challenges faced by domestic workers as well as nascent organizing efforts and legal solutions to problems this pool of workers face daily.

Drug use, either directly or indirectly, affects everyone. Very few topics generate as much debate as the role of drugs in our society. For example, should drug abuse be prevented by increasing enforcement of drug laws or by making young people more aware of the potential dangers of drugs? Is drug abuse caused by heredity, personality, or the environment? Is drug abuse a medical, legal, or social problem? Are the dangers of some drugs over-exaggerated? Are drugs that treat disease over-prescribed and over-marketed? Three million children in the US take stimulant drugs to help them focus; do these drugs actually help? There are no clear answers to any of these questions, yet the positions we take as a society have profound effects on our safety, health, and economy. This course will guide students in deciphering controversies surrounding drugs and society; locate and evaluate sources of information; and formulate written and verbal arguments to support various positions.

W.G. Sebald’s novel The Emigrants, investigates the lives of a painter, a doctor, a teacher and his own uncle, each exiled because of catastrophic events in their homelands. In four extended, seemingly separate biographical narratives, Sebald follows his protagonists’ wanderings across the globe as they futilely try to escape the trauma of the 20th century. This class will focus on Sebald’s methods of storytelling — incorporating memories, documents, diaries and his idiosyncratic use of photographs as the intertwined but ultimately single narrative seeks to explore the effects of displacement, trauma and loss inflicted on populaces in the 20th century.

It feels like we're living in Apocalyptic times--but really, hasn't it always? In this course, we will explore the ways that human beings have considered, understood, and, especially, written about the end of the world, both in the past and today. This exploration will be organized around a series of texts--books, poems, films, religious documents, and works of art that people have created to grapple with the means and meaning of our ultimate end. As we discuss each text, we will draw from the disciplines of history, philosophy, and literary analysis to place each one in its proper context--to understand it not only as a work, but as both an artifact of its time and a vehicle for philosophical exploration of broader questions.

The historical period we call the Enlightenment was marked by significant scientific, political, cultural, and philosophical upheaval. Though it is difficult to establish with certainty when it ‘began” or “ended,” we can say that calculus, refined scientific observation, colonization, the U.S. Constitution, and the French and Haitian Revolutions are all real expressions of the Enlightenment spirit. Thus, the 18th century Enlightenment is not just a historical period but has a certain legacy, which continues on in our present day lives, from the 1st Amendment to medical science, from advanced technology to nuclear weapons. It also lingers in less obvious places: racism, sexism, and all other forms of ‑isms, and global poverty and exploitation. Thus the Enlightenment has its critics, those who think that the concept of Enlightenment does not deliver on its promises; or worse still, that it cannot do otherwise than produce serious, undesirable effects. In this course, we will explore such questions as: Has the Enlightenment political philosophy helped create docile, ignorant political agents? Has the Enlightenment established norms that presume to be universal but either are not or should not be universal? What is this “rationality” that Enlightenment speaks of? Are we still in the Enlightenment?

This course provides students an introduction to the unique aspects of the Deaf culture and the Deaf community. It will provide an in-depth discussion of the beliefs and customs of this sociolinguistic/cultural minority in relation to language use and history of Deaf people in the United States of America. Deaf Culture will be explored using three academic disciplines: History, Cultural Studies and Art.

When it comes to quadrennial sports celebrations, the modern Summer Olympics paved the way, with nations and competitors uniting to demonstrate great athletic ability for the world to see—and with medals awarded to the best. That wildly innovative idea was quickly and globally embraced, soon thereafter triggering a new “team-sport” entity known as the World Cup. Hosted initially by Uruguay in 1930, soccer’s World Cup was spawned. Its concept followed the Olympics, contested once every four years, and evolved into the planet’s most glorious event. The World Cup is about countries who battle, over one month’s time, to achieve immortal greatness, with an entire nation welcoming 32 qualifying teams within its borders and allowing millions to savor soccer’s different cultures. Students will study the World Cup’s origin, history and future—from a sole soccer festival to a showcase that facilitates players’ careers, endorsements and branding as well. After grasping the tournament’s history, students will delve into both the economics and politics of the World Cup—why host nations are selected, and what are the defining reasons of those decisions. Is it to “expand” the game, or might there be deeper factors? Politics, corruption, racism, sexuality, anti-Semitism and economics are only several factors why a country is granted custodianship of sports’ crown jewel competition. Concluding our study, the class will effectuate a simulated bidding to become a future tournament host, absorbing all the factors learned over the quarter. That exercise will culminate with student submitting a writing that focuses on the effects in that country’s perspective, and soccer as a whole.

The British television program Doctor Who is more than just a TV show—it is a fifty-year snapshot of changing cultures, new technologies, different audiences, and multiple media. Telling the story of an ancient alien time traveler, Doctor Who has been able to reinvent itself over and over again. This course will introduce students to the immense history of the classic and popular series of Doctor Who with an eye towards understanding the relevant historical, cultural, aesthetic, and critical lenses by which we can analyze the show. Students will investigate new ways to criticize television as well as garner an appreciation for multiple types of media in the course. Students will engage with their own writing through reviews of both specific shows as well as their own favorites. Students will come away with a better understanding of the role of Doctor Who in cultural history, become more thoughtful and engaged media critics, and view television with a more critical eye.

How do nuclear images affect our daily life and global culture? How does nuclear technology affect the human race? This class uses film and photography to explore the context of the deve-lopment of the Atomic Bomb and the infrastructure of the Manhattan Project, and to examine the response by the public during the Cold War period. Class content includes how photography and film served as documentary and artistic expression during and after the dropping of the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In all cases, we will focus on how the bomb and its representation were approached from a variety of social, national, political, and aesthetic points of view.

The films of Alfred Hitchcock have probably been analyzed, and in more ways, than those of any other director in history. The reason is likely that Hitchcock’s visual and thematic palettes often delved into the deep ravines of the human psyche, causing the audience to self-explore in a way that is, paradoxically, both uncomfortable and exciting. In this course we will approach some of his great works from the perspectives of several disciplines, including psychology, gender roles, and music. We will focus especially on the films The Lady Vanishes (1938), Notorious (1946), Rear Window (1954), Vertigo (1958) and Psycho (1960).

  • This section has a Friday "lab" period for film screenings.

Climate change is one of the most important environmental problems facing the world today. In this course, we will investigate the strength of scientific evidence that climate change is occurring. We will study evidence for various ways that it is affecting humans and ecosystems, such as how species that live in hot places have been shifting north. We will also be evaluating proposed solutions to the problem of climate change. We will address issues beyond that of scientific evidence. Communication about the issue is important to creating change—how do the news media cover the issue of climate change, and are people becoming informed? Also, how is a person’s motivation to change affected by risk perception and sense of place, phenomena studied by psychologists? Besides the news media, art and literature are important means of communication. What have artists and writers done to communicate their concerns? Can art and literature motivate people to change in a way that merely learning the science can’t?

This course explores the relationships and connections between food and politics. Politics may be defined as “who gets, what, when, why, and how.” This definition points to the underlying power relationships inherent in the political. To study the politics of food is to study the power relationships involving food. In other words, food may be understood as a type of language, reflecting cultural values, political practices, ideological perspectives, and the socialization process. Through an investigation of food, students will be able to explore the world of politics.

Frank Lloyd Wright was one of the most famous—and infamous—thought leaders of his time. He broke the box and broke the rules of architecture, and society. This course explores the life, philosophy and work of one of the most creative and distinctive architects of the 19th and 20th centuries. Frank Lloyd Wright had many interesting views of the world that still influence us. The course examines Wright’s formal and informal education and training and how his thoughts on art and architecture influence our present-day homes. We examine how his views on ideal communities are still seen as cutting-edge and how his designs are focused on a deep respect for the environment. We explore how his religious and ethical philosophy shaped the way he lived his life and how this perspective was also shaped by the major historical events of his day. We see several of Wright’s architectural achievements firsthand.

Two of the popular played games of chance are blackjack (twenty-one) and poker. These games form the most interesting examples of games of chance where risky decisions can profitably be made based on probability theory and game theory. Of particular interest is the theory and practice of card-counting in blackjack, and the mathematics and psychology of poker strategy. We shall deal with the basics of such analyses and indicate how they have been developed. Some requisite rudimentary probability theory statistics and their foundations will be introduced. The theory shall be reified with examples, concrete problems and live play, all tied in with mathematical and psychological theory. We will examine these and other games of chance, focusing on how they are played with positive expectation (or not). Fallacies regarding gambling and their psychological bases will be discussed in the context of games, and generalized to other decision-making processes. Moral, cultural and legal issues surrounding gambling will also be addressed.

What do London, Mumbai, L.A., São Paulo, New York, Algiers and Paris have in common? What are the similarities and differences between how a middle-class professional woman in Mumbai, a Latino migrant worker in California, a queer woman in Toronto and an Arab man in Paris experience the city? Some scholars are arguing that cities across the world are becoming increasingly similar due to the cross-border flows of peoples, cultures, media images, money and ideas. At the same time some cities continue to symbolize all that is “modern” and “developed” while others remain associated with “chaos, poverty, inefficiency and corruption.” Based on case studies from across the globe this course will take an interdisciplinary approach to introduce students to the changing role of cities in a globalizing world, new contours of inequalities that have emerged in them and how different people and communities are mobilizing in response to these changes. One of the main questions we will examine is how and why different people based on their social location and identities (in relation to race, class, gender, sexuality, nationality, religion, etc.) experience the city differently. We will use weekly class lectures, readings, group exercises and films to critically understand how cities are both shaped by and shape processes of global change, and the specific implications of these changes for particular places, peoples and communities.

The focus of this course will be on the promise and controversy surrounding genetically modified (bioengineered) crops. Proponents of the technology claim that the way to feed a burgeoning work population is to produce genetically engineered crop plant for higher nutritional and energetic content and disease resistance. Also, genetically modified crops can be used to reclaim polluted lands and water supplies. Opponents insist that scientists are “playing God” with the food source and force these crops on the human population without completely understanding the health or environmental consequences; they believe that agricultural biotechnology companies are not only interested in the profits but are also seeking to control the food supply of developing nations, the citizens of which would benefit the most from the technology. As with many debates of this nature, both sides likely have viable points.

This course provides an introduction to the some of the ideas behind the practices we understand as globalization. We will consider the ways in which technological advancements and industrial developments have contributed to the creation of a global society, and some of the consequences of this process for societies and people around the world. In particular, the unevenness of the phenomenon of globalization will be examined in terms of factors such as trade, employment, and the environment, with geography playing a central role in understanding relations of power, knowledge, and space. Indeed, if we are to reflect critically on our own world and to intervene responsibly in its future, we need to understand how certain ideas became “globalized,” and the impact of these ideas in the physical transformation of space and society.

Is cultural diversity diminishing as a consequence of globalization? This question will be addressed by attempting to understand cultural similarity and difference between America and Japan; but instead of focusing on traditional cultural themes such as politics, religion or economics, the focus of this course will be on idioms of popular culture. Disciplines through with analysis will be conducted include anthropology, Japanese studies, history, and film studies. The methods of comparing aspects of popular culture from American and Japanese culture will focus on films, monster movies/science fiction in particular.

The question, “How can I be happy?” and the quest to answer that question are our common journey this focal point course. We’ll investigate this question as asked and answered by three different disciplines: psychology, philosophy, and theology. Our central question gives rise to related questions such as: (i) what are the potential constitutive elements of happiness? (ii) is happiness fully achievable – if so, how? and if not, why not? (iii) is happiness subjective, objective, or both? (iv) what does happiness have to do with morality? (v) how do friendship and the flourishing of the social good impact happiness? Students are asked to formulate their own informed responses to the course’s central theme at its conclusion.

This course will explore what many consider the most timeless and universal myth of the “hero’s journey” through the stories of Harry Potter. The Hero’s Journey (Campbell, 1949) is at the heart of most major mythologies and religions the world over. Its universal themes present a roadmap for personal and spiritual transformation from innocence, to call to action, challenge, abyss, revelation, transformation and ultimately rebirth. Through examining and discussing the stories and characters of Harry Potter we will deeply dissect the stages of the hero’s journey and compare these themes with other myths and stories from ancient civilizations, classic literature and popular culture to examine how these themes reflect the human experience in modern times and how they have remained timeless. In this process, students will have the opportunity to explore their own lives and reflect on how literature can serve as a guide to their own personal journey of transformation and initiation.

Students are expected to have already read all 7 books in the Harry Potter series and/or have already seen all of the movies.

One of the most successful book series of all time is more than just a book series, as we will examine in this course. J.K. Rowling’s masterpiece, “Harry Potter,” provides readers with the opportunity to examine a fictional world through the lens of modern disciplines. We will examine our own interpretations of the world of Harry Potter through the disciplines of Sociology, Philosophy, Religion, and Business. As Harry Potter has taken on a life of its own within our Muggle world, we’re able to see the impact such a work has on today’s economic and religious climate. We will also discuss the content of the literature with a focus on gender, family, stratification, poverty, the idea of destiny, love, identity, choice, and the classic and ultimately important, good vs. evil.

Sometimes the questions asked by one individual and the paths and patterns of that individual's life reflect those of an entire generation or an era or even a culture. Su Shi 1036 – 1101, better known by his literary name Su Dong-po asked such questions. At nineteen, the age of most people taking this course, Su Shi left his home in Sichuan travelling to the capital to take the imperial examinations which propelled him into life as an official. Su was a Confucian scholar, imperial official, dissident, philosopher, art theorist, poet, painter, husband, father, friend, lover, intellectual, traveler, who lived during the most tumultuous decades of the Northern Song dynasty (960-1127) one of the richest and most intellectually creative periods in Chinese history. In this seminar we will explore the individual Su Shi and the era in which he lived: we will come to know Su Shi as an individual -- his birth, family, training, political career, poetry and painting -- and then as a shaper of Song society and the Confucian model of government and society. We will engage the major issues of Song political, social, intellectual, and artistic history through the political writings, poetry, and paintings of Su Shi and his contemporaries. The emphasis on analysis and interpretation of many types of primary sources - poetry, political treatises, theoretical writing (in translation); paintings; city planning and architecture - will allow us to think creatively about the nature of historical sources.

From Homer to Herodotus, religious texts to comic books, heroes and their deeds have fired human imaginations and inspired cults and hero worship. They inspire us with their words, deeds, and courage. They are worthy of emulation and provide us with the means to measure our own successes and failures. They rise and they fall. They are challenged by both superheroes and antiheroes. They are extraordinary and they are ordinary. They include the marble heroes of myth and the flesh-and-bones heroes of 9/11. This course will examine some attempts to define the heroic, then look at seminal figures of the past few hundred years. The central idea is to explore the notion of the hero as metaphor and assess the function and construction of the heroic. We will examine some of the critical approaches to these topics as well as case studies on figures such as Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, Jane Addams, Albert Einstein, Mahatma Gandhi, Eleanor Roosevelt, Martin Luther King, Jr., Cesar Chavez, Nelson Mandela, and John Lennon, as well as fictional heroes like Paul Baumer (All Quiet on the Western Front), Charlie Chaplin’s Tramp (City Lights), and everyday heroes from newspapers.

Drawing upon the disciplines of history, English literature, art history, and anthropology, this course provides a historical survey of the way in which western people, from the ancient world to modern times, perceive and respond to ideas and visions of the future. Often these concerns are rooted in the problems the society is currently facing. This course is concerned with themes such as: utopian thought, robots, social reactions to technological change, science fiction, world’s fairs as cultural optimism, dystopian fears, and apocalyptic predictions and the techniques and literature of contemporary futurists.

This course will explore issues of identity in modern Japan by examining a broad range of Japanese cultural products and practices in the 20th and early 21st century, including manga and memoirs, fiction, art and anime. As we consider these works from the perspective of disciplines such as literary criticism, religious studies, film studies and art history, we will pay special attention to the interplay between modernity and tradition, and examine translation as a tool for critical interpretation.

This class will address the academic study of the Inquisition in Spain, Portugal and their American colonies, as well as representations of this institution in literature and film. When was the Inquisition created? For how long were the tribunals active? In what aspect was the Inquisition trial different from a secular trial at the same place and time? What are the differences between Medieval and Modern? Are literary depictions of the Inquisition accurate? What about movies? These questions will be answered in this course, through a combination of readings (primary/secondary sources), discussions, analysis of visual materials, and written assignments.

In this course, we will study the conflict between modern Jewish nationalism and Palestinian nationalism in its many aspects by examining issues of roots and causes as well as the prospects for peace. Wider issues involving the Arab and Islamic world and the Jewish community will be explored for their impact on this conflict. Efforts at conflict resolution will be examined through exposure to diverse points of view. The course seeks to synthesize an examination of religion, nationalism, and ethnic identity in order to gain some insight into the possibilities for a peaceful resolution.

This course is devoted to Ivan the Terrible, the Russian ruler whose reputation for cruelty became legendary. Class discussions will explore both the historical tsar and the mythical figure who casts a long shadow over Russian and European discourse about kingship. Readings will draw upon insights from multiple disciplines (history, folkloristics, psychology, political science and film studies). Students will read Russian primary sources in translation (chronicle excerpts, the history attributed to the renegade prince Kurbsky, and church documents) and primary sources in English (reports of English merchants and travelers in Russia). Secondary sources will be employed to pursue connections to broader themes such as tyranny, religious authority, autocracy, politics, and violence. The problems of evaluating and interpreting oral, folk traditions about Ivan will also be considered. Finally, Sergei Eisenstein’s classic film about Ivan will be analyzed in the context of a significant reappraisal of Ivan’s legacy in the age of another all-powerful ruler, Joseph Stalin.

This course addresses the history of Paris society and culture in the era between the two world wars (1919-1939). We will examine political and social crises of the interwar period including the radicalization of the extreme right, and the rise of the left-wing Popular Front, as well as the rise of French feminism and anxieties surrounding gender roles in postwar society. We will also examine the role of American writers, artists, musicians and performers in the cultural world of Paris, the City of Light, in the broader context of the Harlem Renaissance and Négritude.

Even after the fall of the Roman Empire its influence continues to affect later generations. From the “Holy Roman Empire” to the revolutionary era of Alexander Hamilton and Napoleon, and from Machiavelli’s Florentine Republic to Mussolini’s Fascism, Rome’s influence has persevered and still resonates with us today. Students will be challenged to access the magnitude in which ancient Rome really had an effect on these eras through a variety of primary and secondary sources. In addition to political, intellectual and historical influences, we will also observe how ancient Rome affected the art of later generations as well as our ideas of modern society and culture.

Russian Literature of the 19th century is a panorama of portraits of simple men in the Romantic, realistic, and even existential works of the greatest Russian writers: Alexander Pushkin, Mikhail Lermontov, Alexander Karamzin, Nikolai Gogol, Fedor Dostoevsky, Leo Tolstoy, Ivan Turgenev, and Anton Chekhov, among some others. A simple hero lives in the capital and in provinces; he vainly attempts to become a real hero – and fails, ending as a lonely, insignificant, superfluous man. Instead, a heroine takes the leading place in the Russian artistic works of the 19th century. Reading material of the course includes not only original works of poetry and prose, but also film and theatre versions of the studied texts. Inter-generic, synaesthetic approach, as well as gender study and psychology, enhance traditional interpretation of a literary text.

If we were to point to what is most important in our lives, we would point to the things we love. Yet we would also be hard pressed to define love. In this course, we will explore love in representative texts from literature, philosophy, and Christian theology. We will also explore how these texts continue to influence contemporary authors.

In our seminar, Love and Loss, we will explore the role of love in dealing with loss, and we will also explore the many sources of loss that we must deal with in our society. The material on loss with come from Camus’ The Plague (1947) and James Baldwin's The Fire Next Time (1963). bell hooks’ All About Love: New Visions (2000) will give us our framework for discussing the role of love in society and how it can help us deal with loss. Finally, Aristotle’s Poetics (ca. 335 BC) and the view of tragedy therein will help us to see how the experience of art can provide tools for understanding and dealing with tragic loss.  One goal of the seminar is to develop our discussions based on our own experiences of love and loss, while also turning to the seminar texts to further analyze these central human experiences.

Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527) is arguably one of the most controversial writers of the Western canon. For example his Discourses, a commentary on Livy’s Histories that praise the Roman Republic in opposition to the later Empire, have been hailed as the forerunners of modern democracy, while his political pamphlet The Prince has been condemned as the ideological root of twentieth century totalitarianisms. According to Albert Russell Ascoli, such polarized readings result from the common mistake of isolating Machiavelli’s writings from their historical context and changing “his always qualified, always historically grounded precepts into abstract, universal rules of conduct.” Through the close reading of a number of Machiavelli’s writings, from his infamous The Prince to his comedy The Mandrake Root, from his Florentine Histories to his Letters, and with the aid of leading Renaissance scholars, this course aims at giving students the opportunity to understand and interpret Machiavelli’s thought in its historical context. Although the course and its texts are all in English, students will have the chance to familiarize themselves with a few famous terms and passages in the original Italian texts.

This course examines the life and meaning of Malcolm X in his own lifetime and considers discussions about the significance and impact of his legacy. It will interrogate the idea that Malcolm X/El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz represented a militant black racist who supported racial segregation and sought violent retribution against racist white people. The course will explore Malcolm’s life and legacy by using the tools from three different academic disciplines: literary studies, history, and cultural studies. Students will use biography and literary analysis to investigate Malcolm’s life from his own perspective and they will think about how Malcolm’s religious and political perspectives change in important ways over the course of his rich but short life. Students will consider how historians have explained Malcolm’s importance relative to the Civil Rights Movement, the Black Power Movement and African American Islam. This historical discussion that contextualizes Malcolm’s life will allow the class to loop back to biographical and autobiographical questions of Malcolm’s life raised by a literary studies approach. Students will then utilize their biographical and contextual understanding of Malcolm’s life to discuss how films shape the memory of Malcolm and inform discussions about the importance of his legacy for thinking about race, gender, and social activism.

For most Americans, Martin Luther King Jr. symbolizes the non-violent struggle to overcome racial injustice not only in the South, but across the nation and throughout the world. While King was indeed relentlessly committed to racial equality, his views on how to achieve that goal were far more complex than most Americans either realize or remember. For many Americans, Malcolm X symbolized a militant struggle for racial equality and black power “by any means necessary,” including violent resistance. While Malcolm X was initially skeptical about peaceful resistance to violent racial oppression, his views were also more complex than many realize. In order to appreciate both of these leaders as well as their legacies, we must familiarize ourselves with the full scope of their views on dissent, democracy and race – a scope that extends well beyond their most commonly known speeches and writings. This course will concentrate on the evolution of M.L. King’s and Malcolm X’s views on race during the short-but-significant period between the early 1960s until 1968.

Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick is one of the greatest novels ever written. It is also one of the strangest! Never fully appreciated in its day—and harshly criticized for its provocative portrayals of sexuality, religion, and authority—readers now admire the novel’s bold originality, mind-bending meditations, and blasphemous humor. Nearly everyone has heard of Captain Ahab’s quest to kill the white whale, but far fewer know of Ishmael’s quest to understand it. That is our goal in this seminar. We will unify methods of history, literary analysis, comparative religion, philosophy, political science, and ecology to explore the novel from many different and unique angles and to identify its glaring relevance for readers today. We will illuminate Melville’s world by addressing topics such as imperialism, slavery, and orientalism, the rise of industry and scientific thinking, social alienation, and shifts in the visual arts. Readings will draw from Melville’s contemporaries and their sources, including Greek mythology, the Old Testament, and Classical philosophy. We will also discover the novel’s sustained influence by viewing adaptations and contemporary works it has inspired, along with critical commentary addressing race, politics, the environment, and popular culture.

Musicals have been part of the cinema since sound entered in the late 1920s. While they were most prominent during the “golden era” of the studio system of the 1930s through the 1950s, musicals continue to figure into the film climate, as recently as Bohemian Rhapsody, A Star Is Born, and Mary Poppins Returns. In this class, we will study musicals not only from cinematic and musical perspectives, but also historical, gender studies, race representation, literary adaptation, and others. For Cabaret, for example, we will analyze the how the editing of the musical numbers comments on the rise of Nazism within the story. For that same film, we will read and analyze its journey from short story to play to musical play to the screen. From a historical perspective, we will analyze how Busby Berkeley’s elaborate 1930s musical numbers reflect the Depression. And we will consider West Side Story both in terms of race representation and urban dance. Top Hat, Singin’ in the Rain, Beauty and the Beast, and Chicago are among the other films we’ll study. We will watch the films in a separate film lab.

This section has a Friday “lab” period for film screenings.

Solve a 14th-century mystery with your knowledge of medieval history, politics, philosophy and art! This course is based on world-renowned Italian semiotician and writer Umberto Eco’s mystery novel The Name of the Rose. Written in 1980, the book became an instant best-seller thanks to its intriguing story and the richness of historical, philosophical and scriptural citations. In the class, we will enjoy the unfolding of the plot while also decoding the dense web of references with units on the arts, the idea of sacred and profane love, politics and philosophy in the Middle Ages. After having read The Name of the Rose as a representation of the past, we will also consider it as a product of our own time. As a splendid example of a postmodern novel, the book leaves us with only fragments of truth, which the reader can reassemble according to a multiplicity of interpretations.

This course will examine the mystical traditions within the world’s great religions. Whereas there is much to separate the Occidental thought of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam from the Eastern traditions of Hinduism, Buddhism and Taoism, when the mystical strain within each of these traditions is considered, a surprising similarity of beliefs, practices and experiences become evident. The religious vision and expression of a Christian mystic might appear to be virtually equivalent to that of a Sufi mystic or a Hindu or Jewish mystic. The great mystics of the ages, including Plato, Plotinus, Pseudo-Dionysius, Meister Eckhart, Ruysbroek, St. Theresa, Hadewijch, Julian of Norwich, St. John of the Cross, Rumi, Lao Tzu, Chuang Tzu, and Bataille will be examined. This course will examine the history of both Occidental and Eastern mysticism along with its socio-political significance. Seeking to pass over and through the rational and speculative religious thought of the divine, mysticisms enter into an experience with what is often termed the mysterium tremendum, the awe-inspiring mystery. Existing beyond rational discourse, this experience can neither be adequately expressed in nor arise from out from a specific cultural, ethical, and biological background. It has its own structure, which can only be expressed in poetry, music, imagery, or in negative theology. Consequently, we will examine the mystical experience of both men and women from a variety of cultures.

Where does evil come from? Why does it exist? What is its nature precisely? Why are villains so interesting? The question “does God exist?” precedes only by philosophical seconds the inquiries above. The relationship between these questions invites us to take an analytical scalpel to the social, artistic, philosophical, historical, psychological, and theological significance of evil. In this course, students will analyze and explains texts such as the Bible, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Breaking Bad and Gone Girl, in a quest to understand why good people go bad.

The safe disposal of our nuclear waste in the United States has become a not-in-my-backyard (NIMBY) problem causing a significant public policy dilemma—how should we dispose of nuclear waste in the United States? Nuclear waste is continuously generated by nuclear power plants, weapons facilities, and other generators like hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, and research institutions. This course explores the public policy problems posed for disposing of this waste and discuss the environmental, safety and health as well as the political and ethical implications. Nuclear waste disposal policies that are covered in the course include both low-level and high-level nuclear wastes.

Winter 2021: This course includes a Global Learning Experience with students abroad and virtual game simulations plus a debate to understand the issues associated with NIMBY.

Could it be easier to imagine the end of the world than fundamental and widespread changes to global capitalism or liberal democracy? This focal point seminar will investigate the revolutionary projects of the 20th century in a variety of spheres: global, revolutionary political movements, as well as similarly revolutionary transformations in music, visual art, physics, mathematics and other domains. In order to understand these groundbreaking events we will also need to think more generally about the notion of revolution, its meaning and its implications—when did the idea first emerge? is the very idea of revolution itself in some sense revolutionary? how are we to think revolutionary change as distinct from mere modification, transformation, or reform? is a revolution always a step forward? or is there something inherently backward-looking or repetitive about revolutions, an aspect of “revolving” or coming back around to a previous state of affairs? what can past revolutionary projects teach us about future possibilities and strategies for revolutionary transformation? We will dedicate 10 weeks to studying the works (philosophical, artistic, political, scientific) of a wide range of figures in order both to understand important revolutions of the past and to produce a theory of these revolutions.

Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro – one of the greatest masterworks of opera – was created in 1785, in the stormy years between the American and the French Revolutions. How much did the ideas of liberty and equality play a role in the opera? And how was the work received by audiences around Europe? This class explores Mozart’s opera and its libretto (by Lorenzo Da Ponte) in the context of the cultural and historical climate of the time. Through the analysis of the aesthetics of Italian opera we will try to under¬stand how a “revolutionary” message could be projected on an operatic stage, and what was the function of opera in promoting political and social change.

This course will introduce students to Performance Art with a special emphasis on artists whose work has explored the relationship between the body and self. A brief history of Performance Art in the 20th Century will be surveyed in order to provide a context for understanding the main focus of the course, an examination of selected contemporary performance artists who create interdisciplinary hybrid forms (incorporating sound, movement, text, experimental theatre, sculpture, photography, electronic media) that explore the properties and limits of the human body and the self and identity within the context of contemporary social, cultural, political and economic factors. The list of possible subjects for examination includes such prominent artists as Joseph Beuys, Marina Abramovic, Matthew Barney, Orlan, Ana Mendieta, Stelarc, Guillermo Gomez-Peña, and others. Intensive reading, discussions, demonstrations, research papers and a final group performance project will be the components of this class.

There is a great deal of interesting culture and theoretical problems surrounding the game of chess, and it is beneficial for critical thinking to learn to play the game of chess and to improve one's play. No chess experience is required for taking this course. We will undoubtedly have students in the course at all levels of play (including beginners and some who may be better players than the instructor). In the first week we will learn the basics of the game and also certain techniques for thinking about the game, and we will help each other to improve throughout the quarter. We will spend the first part of each class meeting playing chess, and working on chess problems, “backwards chess” problems, notation, etc. In most classes the instructor will present a brief lecture and guide discussion on some aspect of chess and its relation to philosophical, cultural, and other theoretical questions. Among the theoretical issues we will deal with are chess in relation to artificial intelligence and the nature of computation; some connections between chess and fundamental results in logic and pressing questions in mathematics; some more philosophical questions surrounding the nature of “rule-following”; analogies between chess and military strategies; the history of the game as it relates to certain political and cultural issues and events; comparison to other games (like Go) and looking at their respective “philosophies.”

The ancient ritual of pilgrimage, found in many cultural and religious contexts, is a meaningful journey undertaken for the purpose of transformation. This course will use the theory and cross-cultural practice of pilgrimage (drawing from a range of religious and non-religious contexts) to: (1) explore how initiatives for peace and justice are journeys for transformation and meaning, and (2) identify and engage tools derived from this framing, which students can use to explore the potential for transformation in the journey of their lives, their communities, and their world. This course will use resources from three disciplines to understand the pilgrimage of peace and justice: ritual studies, religious studies, and nonviolence studies.

This course studies the complexity and ambivalence of happiness by first understanding its history including but not limited to classical accounts of the good life, seventeenth century writing on affect and the passions, eighteenth century debates on virtue and education, and nineteenth century utilitarianism. The Promise of Happiness also focuses on various philosophical and religious perspectives surrounding happiness, especially as they pertain to finding meaning and purpose in one's life. Lastly, the current understanding of happiness as positive feeling and optimistic character traits as expressed through Positive Psychology and Mindfulness practices will be studied and evaluated through a cultural lens that includes personal experience, historical context, current scientific research in the field of psychology.

We’ve all witnessed the changes caused by recent social protest movements around the globe. The ideas that are shaped, voiced, followed or refuted echo those from the past. These social movements were and are definitively rhetorical. This course looks at the relationship between rhetoric and social movements from a historical and contemporary perspective. We look at the rhetoric that surrounds these protests—both from the protestors and the resisters, from the text to the technology—and define social movement, watch its progress, and explain the specific rhetorical strategies that movements generally take on. By the end of the course, you should be familiar with several specific social movements and have a better understanding of the rhetorical construction of social protest. We will read and analyze the writings of several authors on different social activist movements throughout history from the Declaration of Independence to the taking down of the Confederate Flag. Students will write and revise several essays, including their own personal protest essay and a medium-length research-based argument on an issue of their choice that draws on both popular and scholarly sources.

With a strong emphasis on a literary approach, this course proposes to analyze fairy tales of diverse cultures in light of their psychological significance. Using theoretical perspectives developed from Jungian and Freudian psychology, we will bring out, on one hand, the basic role of fairy tales in portraying the development of individual maturity, and, on the other hand, the typical though universal themes found repeatedly in tales from different cultures.

The Puerto Rican Experience examines the island of Puerto Rico and the Puerto Rican diaspora through the lens of the unequal colonial relationship, “belonging to, but not a part of, the United States.” We will examine US intervention since 1898, how migration began in the early twentieth century, and what shapes Puerto Rican communities in the US. The smallest and furthest east of the Greater Antilles, Puerto Rico boasts a legacy of African, indigenous and Spanish inheritances—well known, for example, in the global presence of salsa music. We will look at El Barrio in New York City, recent growth in Florida, and showcase how Chicago is a national center for Puerto Rican pride, politics, arts and culture, where gentrification threatens the pedacito de patria [little bit of homeland] on Division Street in Humboldt Park. We examine legacies of political repression and resistance, the current debate on its status and sovereignty, migration history, early settlement, ongoing transnational life, and consider what the Puerto Rican experience means to those who live it.

Vladimir Putin is one of the key figures in contemporary global politics. Elected four times as president of the Russian Federation, Putin is a lens on understanding the dynamics of international affairs, on the challenges of managing a significant society, on appreciating the balance among economic, political, communications, psychology and culture. Putin's career is insight into how leaders with minimal experience and background "grow" into the imposing breadth of tasks faced by all leaders. Putin's own experience has been charted by an inventory of tests including the Kursk crisis, Chechnya, the Georgian conflict, the Sochi Olympics, Ukraine's Maidan rebellion and civil war, the Russian seizure of Crimea, the Syrian conflict, US and EU sanctions, and the Trump presidency. By examining the varying forces in Russian politics, we will gain perspective on how leaders can and do out-maneuver and weather opposition and congeal legitimacy. Political leaders experience on the job education that, among the most effective, include coming to know what they don't know. The objective is to raise each student's awareness of the complexity of the challenges and influences that stem from any individual functioning in a leadership role. In this way, implications for leadership at all levels and in all contexts will be emphasized. Putin's leadership will likely persist in some form until the year 2030. Given that, students will be rewarded with an understanding that will remain relevant well into their adult lives.

This course will focus on a specific question regarding human evolution: Who were the so-called “cavemen,” and what is their relationship to modern humans? There are several important reasons for focusing on this particular topic in human evolution. One is to separate myth from reality with regard to these early beings who came to be popularly known as “cavemen.” A second issue is whether these beings are direct ancestors to modern humans, or a side branch that became extinct. A third concerns the issue of human diversity, which, during the last 200 years or so, many scientists have characterized as racial.

This course will examine the treatment of refugees using three different academic disciplines: history, journalism, and film studies. The class will progress through a range of primary and secondary sources. Students will grapple with news articles and videos, historical accounts, United Nations’ documents, book-length investigative reporting, and a documentary film. By exploring these different sources, by asking plenty of critical questions, and by thinking about the material through discussions and writings, students will by the end of the quarter have an understanding of the strengths and weakness of each source material and methodology and a better understanding of the complex issues facing today’s refugees. This will be an intensive reading course.

On May 4, 2017, President Donald Trump signed an Executive Order "... promoting free speech and religious liberty." (The order does not define "religious liberty.") In this Focal Point Seminar, students will study 1) the history of what is now in the United states popularly called the "separation of church and state" and 2) the emergence and development of the concept of "religious liberty." Beginning with the Code of Hammurabi, we will examine several understandings of religious and civil authority, appropriate political structures, the relationship between religio-moral and civil laws and various notions of "religious freedom/liberty." After an historical survey, concentration will be on the Constitution of the United States and several Supreme Court Cases that apply the Constitution to particular religio-moral issues (e.g. polygamy, religious faith and fraud, interracial and same-sex marriage, various sexual activities, just and unjust discrimination based on religious belief, etc.). The course will conclude with 1) a consideration of laws regarding physician-assisted-death (PAD), 2) the religio-ethical beliefs that under-gird those laws and 3) the creation of a proposed Illinois statue regarding PAD.

This course examines reparation payments in four cultural, racial/ethnic, and geographical contexts, and explores the conditions by which groups or persons are compensated for atrocities committed through governmental policies and practices. Does society owe the oppressed? Under what conditions? Students will explore the historical experiences of Malaysians, Jews, African Americans, and the Japanese, and the factors facilitating or impeding reparations.

The March 2018 issue of Vogue stirred up controversy by featuring a Caucasian model, Karlie Kloss, donning a kimono-like costume and posing in front of a Shinto shrine and sake barrels. An article in the Huffington Post, “Vogue Celebrates Diversity with Karlie Kloss in Yellowface,” criticized Vogue’s employment of a Caucasian model and the way in which it contradicts the magazine’s cover title, “celebrating diversity.” While the concept of “cultural appropriation” has been much criticized, few critics have discussed the stereotypical and orientalistic depictions of the (supposedly Japanese) culture—mystic, erotic, totally other—represented by Kloss. In other words, would there have been a controversy if an Asian (or a Japanese/Japanese-American) model had been chosen for the photo shoot? This question leads to some larger questions that are worthy of academic inquiry: What does it mean to learn about an unfamiliar culture? How can one appropriately represent a culture that is not one’s own? And, what do we mean by “culture,” considering that the term already reduces rich phenomena to some sort of “representation?” Responding to the critical issues of race, diversity, and multiculturalism, the course will delve into Japanese culture and its representations through the human body—both by themselves and by outsiders. By focusing on the physicality that we all share, regardless of race, culture, and nationality, we will shed light on the significance as well as the ethics of understanding a culture, which in turn will help us understand our own culture.

This course uses an interdisciplinary approach to examine the issues of school choice in American education. We will explore questions/debates regarding school choice from the perspectives of economics, history, and sociology. We will examine the following topics: benefits of education; brief history of U.S. education; current education system; rationale for school choice; types of school choice; and implementation of school choice. For each topic, we will explore relevant theories, methodologies, findings, prospective research topics, and policy implications through readings, students’ writings, and through small and large group discussions and presentations. This class will improve students’ abilities to read about current events in the press and to understand the issues the major debates regarding school choice in education.

In contemporary society science and religion are often depicted as being in conflict. But does this need to be the case? In this course, we will examine the way in which science and religion have interacted with one another over the last 500 years, through the lenses of theology, philosophy and history. We will examine where science and religion have come into conflict, and where they have acted in collaboration, and how they might move to cooperation.

This course explores Scotland’s rich history, beginning with the Jacobite Uprising of 1745. We will discover how the failed uprising led by Bonnie Prince Charlie impacted the Scottish people in the 18th century and how that impact reverberates across Scotland's cultural and political landscape to the present day.

This course examines ethical philosophy, cultural identity, and political theory through the television series Star Trek: Voyager. Voyager was unique in the Star Trek franchise in that the ship was “lost in space” on its first day out, allowing its crew to develop both individual identities and a collective identity through alien encounters and ethical scenarios. How do these scenarios shape how we think of ourselves? How do we tackle emerging identities in a new environment of cultural norms? Students will develop an understanding of the factors that influence our knowledge of our “selves” when confronted with new cultures and politics. Critical thinking, reflective learning, and academic writing are emphasized throughout the term.

This course examines two critical concepts: the state and violence. First, we will engage normative debates over the state as defeating or overcoming violence versus the state as normalizing and deepening violence. Second, we will explore two significant labor conflicts/strikes that occurred in Chicago during the Gilded Age (late 19th century): the Haymarket bombing and trial and the Pullman strike. Examining these two events in depth and comparing them with other labor conflicts and protest/events will provide an empirical base for thinking about the government’s use of violence and coercion. The course will conclude with trajectories of state practices, especially current discussions about a transition from sovereign to post‐sovereign modes of identity, power, and subjectivity. A comparison of the Gilded Age with contemporary society, with what some commentators have dubbed the “second Gilded Age,” will challenge us to think about our democratic principles; who has benefited from it; and who has borne the costs? What are the similarities and differences in the state’s use of violence and coercion during the two Gilded Ages? We will incorporate historical accounts through both primary and secondary sources; sociological concepts of social order and social control; political science concepts of democracy and anarchy; and legal writings on appropriate government use of violence and coercion.

The City of Chicago has 4,456 miles of streets and 2,131 miles of alleys. How do these public realms or “outdoor rooms” shape the character of the place? What are the ideologies that have shaped these streets over time? What urban design characteristics make these streets successful? What makes them fail? Who is responsible for caring for all of the complex functions that happen in these spaces? Who are the audiences and users? These are some of the questions we will explore in this course, taking a new urbanist approach to street design. We will explore at least three types of streets: the network, the boulevard and the major urban thoroughfare looking at key details of how those public realms or outdoor rooms are shaped employing a multicultural perspective and using a multidisciplinary approach. By the end of this course, students will be able to: understand the history and purpose of traditional street design; understand how Modernism impacted street design and articulate critiques of this movement; identify different types of street networks, boulevards and major urban thoroughfares and articulate their uses and benefits; understand the methodology and practice underlying the last 60 years of transportation planning and engineering; make recommendations for streets that serve a balance of users from pedestrians to cyclists to emergency responders; and see how streets are viewed from a variety of community perspectives.

  • There will be a (non-mandatory) class bike tour.

In this seminar, you’ll explore the art of conversation. Conversation has served as the basis for human interaction and connection since the ancient Greeks (if not before). If language makes us human, then “talk” defines us. In this class, you’ll examine how conversation dictates the norms, successes, and failures of our society. It serves as the basis for TV talk shows, printed interviews, many novels, some poetry, most music, interpersonal relationships, and social conflict. As in all Focal Point Seminars, you’ll read primary works and secondary sources. You’ll engage in seminar behavior and investigate the art of conversation via a multidisciplinary approach, i.e., through literature, media, visual art, history, journalism, linguistics, music, and pop culture.

This course will explore the ways in which recent and emerging technologies, such as social media, artificial intelligence, augmented reality, and the increasing prominence of “big data” have altered, or will alter, the political processes and institutions of democratic systems. Beginning with the fundamentals of democratic theory, we will ask whether the assumptions made by theoretical models still make sense for a society in which these technologies are prominent. We will look at a number of specific issues or problems, (for example, “fake news,” predictive policing, and the “right to be forgotten”) and explore how vital aspects of democracy, like freedom of information, freedom of speech, transparency, and accountability are affected by those technologies. We will also examine how existing political practices, policies, and institutions have been affected by these technological changes, and how they might continue to change in the future (for example, how "big data" and statistical analysis have altered the practices of political campaigns, or the ways in which policing strategies in major cities have changed in response to predictive policing algorithms). This course will use the lenses of political science, philosophy, and science and technology studies to examine these issues. We will look at the abstract theoretical ideal of democracy, the actual institutional mechanisms in existing political systems, and the way in which various technologies actually work (or don’t) in the context of those systems.

This course has as its focal point the Arabian Nights Entertainments, also known as the Thousand and One Nights, and in the original Arabic as Alf Layla wa Layla. By any title, these stories—framed by the well-known tale of Scherazade—have enjoyed varied reputations over the centuries and across cultures. (Their role in popular American culture is well known: one need only look at the Disney Aladdin animated trilogy to see how these stories have permeated our entertainment medium.) Students will examine this literary work from a variety of academic perspectives, taking advantage of the wealth of primary and secondary source material available. Starting with the earliest surviving collection of the stories, we will examine issues of provenance: where did these stories originate and when? We will study the stories as historical documents, asking what, if anything, they tell us about the societies in which they are set. We will delve into matters of religion, asking to what extent Islam influenced these stories. Finally, we will examine how these tales have been interpreted by subsequent societies, both Western and Arab.

Our topic is the practice of translation and its driving tension. A translation needs to grant access to a text and thus must in some way be the same as that text. But in order to be accessible the translation must be calibrated to a readership inherently different from the readership of the original, a new readership separated in varying degrees be language, time, and culture. The translation must be the same but can only be different. The course makes visible the presence of sameness and difference by examining some of Shakespeare’s sonnets from the original edition with those found in subsequent ones, paraphrases aimed at students and other non-specialists, intra-lingual translations (or updates) by contemporary poets and by a modest consultation of criticism of and scholarship on the sonnets. The perceptions of sameness and difference will be documented in class discussion and written reflection. These findings will then be evaluated in light of the understanding of translation as conceived by practicing translator and scholar David Bellos in his primer Is That a Fish in Your Ear? Translation and the Meaning of Everything, and our work here will be to synthesize what we have perceived of sameness and difference with our emerging understanding of how translators work. This will be done in discussions culminating in one explanatory paper. Our attention will then turn to John Sallis’s reading of canonical statements on translation and language from the Western philosophy in his treatise On Translation, which demonstrates that rather than being the fallout from imposing one language on another, the practice of translation is always already at work in human thinking and experience, undergirded by imagination and a sense of boundary. Thus, our task will be to resituate the tension of sameness and difference in the practice of translation as something fundamental to human existence, which will happen via class discussions and a final thesis-based paper.

“True” Detectives juxtaposes fictional (True Detective, season 1) and nonfiction (S Town) mystery narratives in order to explore questions of religion and ethics. Students will be asked to consider the following questions: What is the intellectual appeal of crime narratives? Why does society gravitate toward crime narratives—both fictional and real, especially those involving conspiracy and scandal? Why are these topics worth studying in a scholarly manner? What does it mean to lead an ethical life? How might one live, as the protagonists in both True Detective and S Town suggest, an ethical life without religion? How do the protagonists, and how might we as citizens, engage with this thinking? How do we support and engage with belief systems separate from our own while living ethically in society? What is the relationship between fiction and reality? What are the limitations and potentials of art for exploring these questions?

This course will draw from Chicago history, sports economics, and rhetorics of urban change to explore why the United Center was built and explore who the project helped and hurt on the Near West Side and throughout the city. Students will be encouraged to research and craft their own original arguments about the United Center and a sports stadium construction project of their choice. Our primary course text will be Sean Dinces' Bulls Markets: Chicago's Basketball Business and the New Inequality, but we will be reading from a variety of sources about the history of Chicago, economic rationales for building and maintaining sports stadiums, and discourses that tie cities to their teams and sports stadiums. I will supplement Dinces' text with 7 primary source readings from period appropriate local newspaper coverage of the United Center and the Chicago Bulls.

“Away with the Monuments!” Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Use and Abuse of History, 1874

What does it mean to install a monument in a public place? What does it mean when monuments are taken down? Why do some artists design impermanent monuments? What, after all, is a monument? From Nietzsche’s exclamation above to the recent debates around the removal of public sculptures in the American south and elsewhere what a long strange trip it’s been. In this class students will ask the first two questions above to establish a shared sense of understanding about public monuments, how and why they generate meaning, and how those meanings resonate for various communities. Digging further we will ask the second two questions with an eye toward the limitations built into traditional monumental form, material, and design. In this portion of the class we will explore themes of ardor and irony and how thinking across traditional ideas about monuments can open new perspectives into how we understand and why we value (or not) monuments. Each written assignment is designed to challenge students to think about how form, content, material, context and tradition contribute to each monument’s value and meaning. The introduction of irony into the conversation will allow students to think about ways to counter the ardor that motivates the creation of traditional monuments. Such motivations often connote arrogance or domination that wither as communities change. The introduction of irony will open opportunities think through alternative planes of meaning for the ongoing conversations about the value of monuments now and into the future. (Irony is an ancient device that is over-used in our culture and –following Søren Kierkegaard – our class will study it as both a seducer and a guide. Examples of irony from popular culture will be presented and discussed and compared to more traditional examples from the literature of Jonathan Swift and the paintings of Diego Velazquez.) Visual projects are designed to challenge students to creatively think across the trajectories of their usual academic disciplines. The Erasure assignment has the added benefit of getting the students to make things with their hands while reflecting on course content. The final Monument Design assignment is focused on a written essay that is complimented with creative visual elements.  No students will be judged on the quality of their visual work, but rather on how well their projects engage in and reflect course topics and themes.

Many artists and writers have incorporated autobiographical narratives into their work but women often face criticism for it with the common term being “narcissistic.” However, scholars Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson prefer the term “life narrative” instead of “autobiographical.” In their anthology Interfaces: Women, Autobiography, Image, Performance, fellow scholar Domna C. Stanton points out that the autobiographical “constituted a positive term when applied to [male writers and artists], but… had negative connotations when imposed on women’s [work]… and has effectively served to devalue their [work].” Why is that, and is that so? In this class we will explore and discuss your answers to these questions through the art and writing of women such as Frida Kahlo, Maya Angelou, Linda Gray Sexton, Sylvia Plath, Erica Jong, Maxine Hong Kingston, and Marjane Satrapi. We will also read critical essays about the subjects and confession as an artistic method by both genders while diving into how history, sociology, psychology, religion, and gender archetypes play their part in both validating and invalidating women’s perspectives.

This course will focus on one of the most important trials, and, indeed, one of the most important events, in Western history and culture – the trial and death of Socrates. As a multi-disciplinary course combining philosophical, literary, and historical materials, we will look at the trial of Socrates from a variety of different perspectives - that is, as an historical event, as a drama at the center of some of the most beautiful and significant works of art in Western culture, and as the origin and inspiration for philosophy itself.

This course will look at how zombies are represented in different ways, at different historical moments, in novels, graphic novels, short stories, and films. Although there are several prototypical zombie novels in the nineteenth century, the zombie is a creature of late capitalism, representing twentieth and twenty-first century popular anxieties about immigration, disease, class, sexuality, gender, technology, race, national identity, and consumer culture, among other things. We will look at some origins of the idea of the zombie in Romantic and late Victorian literature, study imperialist accounts of Haitian voodoo that introduced the zombie in 1930s films, trace the evolution of the apocalyptic zombie during the Cold War and Civil Rights era, and analyze how zombie literature, films, and video games operate to criticize capitalism and consumer culture from the 1970s onwards.