Philip Swoboda

BA, Wesleyan University. MA, MPhil, PhD, Columbia University. Special interest in the religious and intellectual history of early modern Europe and in the history of Eastern Europe, particularly Russia and Poland. Author of articles on early 20th-century Russian philosophy and religious thought; served on the executive committee of the Mid-Atlantic Slavic Conference. Previously taught at Columbia University, Hunter College, Lafayette College, University of Wisconsin–Madison. SLC, 2004–

Undergraduate Courses 2020-2021

History

The Enlightenment

Open , Seminar—Year

The 18th-century Enlightenment was arguably the most important single episode in the last thousand years of European intellectual history—an upsurge of new ideas and attitudes that ushered in the “modern” climate of opinion. Dozens of our own society’s most characteristic beliefs about the structure of the universe, human nature, the foundations of political community, and the principles of morality were first put into circulation by Enlightenment thinkers. This course will examine the development of the Enlightenment from its origins in the age of the Baroque to its demise in the era of the French Revolution and Romanticism. While the course’s central focus will be doctrines, values, and sensibilities as expressed in works of philosophy, literature, and art, we will also consider 18th-century political and social history and the role of the Enlightenment in inspiring the revolutionary upheavals that brought the Old Regime in Europe to an end. Students may pursue conference projects examining almost any aspect of life or culture in early modern Europe.

Faculty

Realisms: Currents and Crosscurrents in 19th-Century European Thought

Open , Seminar—Fall

The term “realism” enjoyed an unprecedented vogue in 19th-century Europe. All manner of doctrines and ideologies prided themselves on their “realistic” understanding of the human predicament and the structure of the universe while disdaining rival doctrines as captive to illusions and prejudices. Students in this course will read and discuss texts illustrating influential forms of 19th-century European realism in philosophy, ethics, and politics. They will also consider realism in literature and painting. We will try to identify what exactly “realism” meant to each of these philosophical and artistic tendencies and to discover why 19th-century Europeans found the concept of “realism” so irresistible. Since the schools of thought to be investigated often conceived “reality” in diametrically opposed ways, the course will provide an introduction to a number of the most significant intellectual debates of the 19th century. Thinkers to be discussed include Malthus, Hegel, Marx, Darwin, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Weber, and Freud; creative artists include Turgenev, Strindberg, Courbet, Manet, and Degas.

Faculty

Germany Confronts the Enlightenment

Open , Seminar—Spring

In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, German-speaking Europe was the scene of one of history-s most remarkable explosions of human creativity. This was the age that gave the world the philosophy of Kant, the poetry of Goethe, the music of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven, and many of the pioneering works of European Romanticism. In this course, we will read and discuss writings by a number of eminent German thinkers and men of letters of the period. Besides Kant and Goethe, we will read works by Lessing, Herder, Schiller, Fichte, Novalis, Hölderlin, Hegel, and Kleist. Those writers chose very diverse genres in which to express their ideas, and their views on important issues were often opposed. Yet it may be argued that they were all responding to the same challenge. The 18th-century Enlightenment undermined the credibility of orthodox Christian belief among educated, middle-class Germans without persuading them that the Enlightenment’s own answers to the problems of human life were adequate. It, therefore, stimulated a search for a new faith, a new ethics, and a new vision of what human beings could and should achieve. Since the assumptions of the Enlightenment remain, in many ways, the determining principles of our culture, the works created by German thinkers in their efforts to formulate an alternative system of values have also retained their relevance—continuing to inspire critics of modernity (Marx, Nietzsche) up to the present day. Even when we are not conscious of their influence, their thought continues to shape our own. To familiarize oneself with their ideas is to acquire an indispensable key to understanding the intellectual history of the modern world.

Faculty

Previous Courses

First-Year Studies: The Disreputable 16th Century

Open , FYS—Year

Sixteenth-century Europeans shared a variety of fundamental beliefs about the world that a secular-minded Westerner of today is likely to find “disreputable”—intellectually preposterous, morally outrageous, or both. Almost all well-educated people believed that the Earth was the unmoving center of the universe, around which the heavenly bodies revolved; that human destinies were dictated, at least to some extent, by the influence of the planets and stars; that the welfare of their communities was threatened by the maleficent activities of witches; and that rulers had a moral duty to compel their subjects to practice a particular religion. In this course, we will examine 16th-century ideas on these and other topics and see how these beliefs fit together to form a coherent picture of the world. We will also look at the writings of pioneer thinkers—Machiavelli, Montaigne, Galileo—who began the process of dismantling this world-conception and replacing it with a new one closer to our own. It is not only ideas, however, that render the 16th century “disreputable” to modern eyes. Some of history’s most notorious kings and queens ruled European states in this period—Henry VIII of England with his six wives; Mary, Queen of Scots with her three husbands; Philip II of Spain, patron of the Inquisition; Ivan the Terrible, slaughterer of his own nobility. This was also the era of the most scandalous of the popes—Alexander VI and Leo X. In the second half of the course, we will examine the careers of these powerful 16th-century men and women and of others like them. We will endeavor to make their appalling deeds humanly comprehensible, partly by considering the specific historical circumstances in which these figures acted and partly by exploring the notions of power, authority, morality, and order entertained by the Europeans of their age.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

Russia and Its Neighbors: Lenin to Putin

Open , Lecture—Spring

This course is a continuation of Russia and Its Neighbors: From the Mongol Era to Lenin but is open to students who have not taken that course. The aim of the lecture will be to provide students with the historical background required to make sense of Russia’s current predicament and the policies of its present-day leaders. We will first examine seven decades of Communist Party rule, tracing the extraordinary path that Russia took in the 20th century to become a literate, urban, industrial society. We look at such crucial episodes in Soviet history as Stalin’s war on the peasantry and his crash industrialization drive of the 1930s, the Great Purge, World War II, the Khrushchev-era cultural “Thaw,” the development of a consumer economy and embryonic civil society in the 1960s and 1970s, and Gorbachev’s failed attempt to reform the Communist system. We will also discuss the methods by which the Communist regime maintained control over the minority peoples of the USSR, and the evolution of its relationships with its East European satellites and the non-Communist world during the era of the Cold War. We will devote some attention to the causes and effects of the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1990–1991 and to Russian policies toward the newly independent states that came into being as a result of the dissolution of the USSR. In the final weeks of the course, we will consider how the travails endured by the Russian people during the unhappy Yeltsin period set the stage for a resurgence of authoritarianism and national self-assertion under Putin. Group conference readings will include a variety of memoirs and literary texts that capture the experience of ordinary Russians over the course of the last 100 years.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

Russia and Its Neighbors: From the Mongol Era to Lenin

Open , Lecture—Fall

This course will introduce students to the main themes of Russian history from the Middle Ages to 1917. We will begin by examining how history transformed the various Slavic tribes of the East European plain into the three distinct peoples whom we now term “Russians,” “Ukrainians,” and “Belorusians.” We will consider the medieval principality of Moscow—in which Russia’s enduring traditions of autocratic government, territorial expansionism, and xenophobia originally took shape—and trace the course of Muscovy’s protracted struggle with Poland-Lithuania for dominance in Eastern Europe. We will investigate how rulers such as Ivan the Terrible, Peter the Great, and Catherine the Great endeavored to meet “the challenge of the West” to marshal the resources of their huge but economically backward empire in order to compete militarily with the monarchs of more advanced European countries. We will discuss resistance to the oppressive demands of the tsarist state on the part of peasants, Cossacks, religious dissidents, and national minorities. We will consider how the tsars’ response to the Western challenge called into being a new, Europeanized elite, which in the 19th century grew restive under the tutelage of its government and was increasingly attracted to liberal and socialist ideas. In the final weeks of the semester, we will consider the revolutionary upheavals that convulsed the Russian Empire in the early years of the 20th century and created the conditions for the establishment in Russia of the world’s first socialist regime. In group conferences, students will discuss a wide range of primary sources: saints’ lives, picaresque tales, classic works of 19th-century poetry and fiction, and the writings of leading revolutionary thinkers.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

The Enlightenment

Open , Seminar—Year

The 18th-century Enlightenment was arguably the most important single episode in the last thousand years of European intellectual history—the true watershed between the “premodern” world and the “modern” world. Yet historians have found the Enlightenment to be a singularly elusive phenomenon. Enlightenment thought was woven of several very different strands; the champions of “enlightenment” shared a surprisingly large number of assumptions with their supposed opponents; and some of the beliefs that we regard as most characteristic of the Enlightenment were already being attacked by Rousseau and other adventurous pre-Romantic thinkers before the century was half over. This course will examine the development of the Enlightenment from its origins in the age of the Baroque to its demise in the era of the French Revolution and Romanticism. While the course’s central focus will be ideas, values, and sensibilities, we will also consider the economic, social, and political context of the Enlightenment and examine the revolutionary upheavals in European politics and culture that brought it to an end. We will conclude by discussing several key texts of the 1790s that typify the revolt against the Enlightenment outlook with which the 18th century ended.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

Romantic Europe

Open , Seminar—Year

Between the 1790s and the middle of the 19th century, European culture was largely shaped by the broad current of thought and feeling that we know as “Romanticism.” This course will examine the rise of the romantic sensibility in the decades between the 1760s and 1800 and survey diverse manifestations of Romanticism in thought, literature, and art during the subsequent half-century. We will pay particular attention to the complex relations between Romanticism and the three most portentous historical developments of its era: the French Revolution; the birth of industrial society in Britain; and the rise of national consciousness among Germans, Italians, and other European peoples. Readings will include prose fiction by Goethe, E. T. A. Hoffmann, and Walter Scott; poetry by Wordsworth, Shelley, Hölderlin, and Mickiewicz; works on religion, ethics, and the philosophy of history; and political treatises by the pioneers of modern conservativism, liberalism, and socialism.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

Spiritual Autobiography

Open , Seminar—Spring

Around 398, Christian bishop and theologian Augustine of Hippo produced one of the most influential books of all time: his Confessions—a lengthy meditation on events during the first 33 years of Augustine’s life, undertaken in an effort to comprehend how God acted through those events to transform an ambitious but confused young Roman, attracted by the exotic Asian cult of the Persian prophet Mani, into a dedicated Christian. Augustine’s book is arguably the first real autobiography ever written, and the author’s profound exploration of his own motivations and feelings led William James to term Augustine the “first modern man.” The Confessions also served as the model for hundreds of other spiritual autobiographies written over the course of the next 1,600 years, including masterworks such as The Life of St. Teresa of Ávila, William Wordsworth’s Prelude, John Henry Newman’s Apologia pro Vita Sua, Leo Tolstoy’s Confession, and Thomas Merton’s Seven Storey Mountain. In this course, students will read and discuss these and other classics of Christian autobiography. They will also be invited to examine a number of comparable works by writers standing outside the Christian tradition, including the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius and M. K. Gandhi’s Story of My Experiments With Truth. These readings are gripping, because they attempt a uniquely challenging feat: to capture the history of an individual soul’s relations with the Infinite through the language that we use to describe our everyday experience. We will combine detailed literary analysis of the autobiographies, with an examination of their content in the light of recent writing on the phenomenology of religion. Conference projects may address a wide range of topics in the general area of the history of religion and religious expression.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

The Russian Revolution

Open , Seminar—Fall

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the two Russian revolutions of 1917: the February Revolution that overthrew the tsar and the October Revolution, nine months later, that put the Communist Party of Vladimir Lenin in control of the world’s largest country. Arguably, the seizure of power by Lenin’s party was the decisive political event of the 20th century. If that hadn’t occurred, there would probably have been no turn toward fascism in Europe, no Hitler, and no World War II. A large part of the world’s population would not have found itself, after 1945, under the rule of Marxist dictatorships. Students in the course will read and discuss a variety of texts that discuss the causes of the 1917 revolutions, the nature of the regime that Lenin and his followers instituted following their conquest of power, and the global repercussions of their success in establishing what they claimed to be the world’s first “Workers’ State.” The course will therefore serve not only as an introduction to the history of modern Russia but also to the history of world communism and anti-communism in the four decades after 1917. Students may choose to pursue conference research devoted to events in Russia but also will be encouraged to develop projects dealing with the reverberations of the Russian Revolution in other parts of the globe.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

Becoming Modern: Europe from 1760 to 1914

Open , Lecture—Year

What are the distinctive features of our “modern” civilization? A partial list would include representative democracy, political parties, nationalism, religious pluralism and secularization, mass production, rapid technological change, consumerism, free markets, a global economy, and unceasing artistic experimentation. All these characteristically modern things became established in the 19th century, and most of them were pioneered by Europeans. Yet in Europe, with its ancient institutions and deeply rooted traditions, this new form of civilization encountered greater resistance than it did in that other center of innovation, the United States. The resulting tensions between old and new in Europe set the stage for the devastating world wars and revolutions of the 20th century. In this course, we will examine various aspects of the epochal transformation in ways of making, thinking, and living that occurred in Europe during what historians call the “long 19th century” (1789–1914). We will also survey the political history of the period and consider how the development of modern civilization in Europe was shaped by the resistance it encountered from the defenders of older ways. Group conference readings will include novels, plays, political programs, philosophical and scientific writing, and recent studies on the history of 19th-century art.

Faculty
Related Disciplines