Psychology

How do infants navigate their world? How do factors as diverse as genetics, socioeconomic status, social networks, mindfulness practices, and access to open spaces contribute to how people cope with the problems of living? How do technology, architecture, language, and cultural practices affect how we think? What accounts for the global epidemic of mental health issues? What has psychology contributed to understanding genocide and torture? In what ways can psychologists illuminate the mystery of the creative process in science and art? How does morality develop? What factors determine our political, economic, and moral decisions? What happens in mind and body as we experience emotions? These reflect just a few of the questions discussed in our psychology courses, a sampling of the broad range covered in the psychology curriculum.

We offer courses from the domains of biological, clinical, cognitive, community, cultural, developmental, educational, experimental, health, personality, and social psychology. Our courses emphasize the interplay of theory and observation, research and analysis, understanding and applications. Our courses are also inherently interdisciplinary, making connections between psychology and other fields such as biology, anthropology, education, linguistics, public policy, public health, women’s studies, philosophy, and the arts. Students have a variety of choices as they design their independent conference work.

Some conference projects consist of reviewing and analyzing the primary research literature on a topic of interest. Others make experiential learning central to the independent work. We will offer these as they become available over the course of the 2022-2023 academic year. ​ Opportunities open to students include: assisting at our Early Childhood Center, in local schools, or at clinics; planning and carrying out original research in one of three psychology lab spaces on campus (the Child Study Lab, the Cognition and Emotion Lab, and the Adult Experimental Psychology Lab); working with community organizations in Yonkers, NY; and participating in environmental education at our Center for the Urban River at Beczak (CURB). Psychology is also a core component of two focused, semester-long, community-based academic programs: the Intensive Semester in Yonkers and Sarah Lawrence College’s Study Abroad Program in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Ideas and skills developed in class and in conference often play a formative role in the intellectual and professional trajectories of students who go on to pursue these ideas in a wide range of fields, including clinical and research psychology, education, medicine, law, the arts, social work, human rights, and politics. Our alums tell us that the seminar and independent conference work here prepared them well for the challenges of both graduate school and their careers.

The college has two psychology-related graduate programs—Art of Teaching and Child Development—which offer the possibility for our undergraduate students to pursue both their bachelor’s and master’s degrees in five years of study. The college also offers a dual-degree program with New York University’s Silver School of Social Work, allowing Sarah Lawrence undergraduates to obtain a BA, a Master of Social Work, and an MA in Child Development in six years.

Psychology 2022-2023 Courses

First-Year Studies: Approaches to Child Development

Open, FYS—Year | 10 credits

What are the worlds of children like? How can we come closer to understanding those worlds? In this class, we will use different modalities to cast light on them. One set of lenses is provided by psychological theory. Various psychologists (Piaget, Vygotsky, Freud, Erikson, Bowlby, Skinner, Bandura, Chess, Bronfenbrenner) have raised particular questions and suggested conceptual answers. We will read the theorists closely for their answers but also for their questions, asking which aspects of childhood each theory throws into focus. We will examine systematic studies carried out by developmental psychologists in areas such as the development of thinking, social understanding, language, gender, friendship, and morality. We will take up the development of the brain and nervous system and consider the implications for psychological questions. An important counterpoint to reading about children is direct observation. All students will do fieldwork at the Early Childhood Center and make notes on what they observe. At times, we will draw on student observations to support or critique theoretical concepts. Fieldwork also will provide the basis for conference work. Ideally, conference projects will combine the interests of the student, some library reading, and some aspect of fieldwork observation. Among the projects students have designed in the past are exploring children’s friendships, observing what children say as they are painting, following a child as he is learning English as a second language, and writing and perhaps illustrating a children’s book. We will meet for conference weekly in the first semester, as you develop your individual conference project and for donning matters. In the spring, the conferences could be weekly or biweekly, depending on your needs and the progress of your conference projects. The world of childhood is magical. This course is for students who understand that the magic won’t disappear if we take a close, intellectually rigorous look.

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First-Year Studies: Urban Health in a Multicultural Context

FYS—Year | 10 credits

This FYS/community-partnership course will focus on the health of humans living within physical, social, and psychological urban spaces. We will use a constructivist, multidisciplinary, multilevel lens to examine the interrelationship between humans and the natural and built environment, to explore the impact of social-group (ethnic, racial, sexuality/gender) membership on person/environment interactions, and to explore an overview of theoretical and research issues in the psychological study of health and illness across the lifespan. We will examine theoretical perspectives in the psychology of health, health cognition, illness prevention, stress, and coping with illness. And we will highlight research, methods, and applied issues. This class is appropriate for those interested in a variety of health careers or for anyone interested in city life. The community-partnership/service-learning component is an important part of this class; for one morning or afternoon per week, students will work in local community agencies to promote health-adaptive, person-environment interactions within our community. Students will have an individual conference every other week and a group conference on alternating weeks. In the group conferences, we will discuss the nature of academic work in general and practice research, reading, writing, and editing skills.

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International Perspectives on Psychology

Open, Lecture—Fall | 5 credits

What does psychology look like outside of the United States? How does psychology operate across multiple cultures? In this course, we will attempt to answer these questions as we explore multiple international perspectives of psychology. First, we will begin with an examination of the history of psychology as a field. Next, we will grapple with arguments for and against international psychology. Our course will explore the development of psychology in multiple parts of the world. Our readings will focus on tracing the roots of specific schools of psychology, such as liberation psychology and South African psychology, and examining case studies in India, Aotearoa/New Zealand, the former Soviet Union, and El Salvador. Readings may include perspectives from theorists such as Martin-Baro (liberation psychology), Sunil Bhatia (decolonizing psychology), Frantz Fanon (postcolonial theory and psychology), and Lev Vygotsky (cultural-historical psychology). Lastly, we will explore the role of international organizations and mental health, such as the WHO and the UN. In conference work, students will be encouraged to explore international perspectives of psychology beyond the examples discussed in class. This course is open to students interested in psychology, mental health, international relations, politics, regional studies, and anthropology.

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Psychocinematics: Film, Psychology, and Neuroscience

Open, Small Lecture—Fall | 5 credits

Why are movies so compelling to us? When you think about it, it is odd to spend so much time sitting still in a chair, in the dark, staring at a flat screen and watching flickering light without the possibility of interacting with the depicted characters or affecting their actions in any way. Philosophers argue that movies tap into our dream mechanisms. Psychologist Ed Tan calls films “emotion machines.” Neuroscientist Jeffrey Zacks claims that movies hijack evolutionary mechanisms of mind that evolved for other purposes. In this perceptual psychology course, our focus will be on how study of fundamental faculties of mind and body—perception, attention, emotion, and memory—can inform our experience of viewing and, perhaps, making movies. Switching our point of view, we will also investigate how the study of film can advance our understanding of the workings of perception, attention, emotion, and memory. We will watch some films together and discuss clips from many others that you select and present to the seminar group. This is a good course for people who are interested in interdisciplinary work that integrates artistic and scientific approaches to the material at hand. The course format is a small lecture (30 people), with one lecture and one small seminar (10 people) every week.

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Crossing Borders and Boundaries: The Social Psychology of Immigration

Open, Small Lecture—Fall | 5 credits

Remember, remember always, that all of us…are descended from immigrants and revolutionists.—Franklin D. Roosevelt

Immigration is a worldwide phenomenon where people move into another nation with the intention of making a better life for themselves and/or residing there. This seminar explores the processes shaping our conceptualizations of immigration and immigrants. The course has a social-psychological emphasis, with social psychology being the latest in the social sciences to contribute to the immigration debates. Beyond that, the course is also anchored in a multidisciplinary perspective to assure the broadest possible exploration of this complex topic.

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Finding Happiness and Keeping It: Insights From Psychology and Neuroscience

Open, Large Lecture—Fall | 5 credits

We cannot cure the world of sorrows, but we can choose to live in joy. —Joseph Campbell

We all want happy lives filled with meaning and satisfaction. Yet, for many of us, happiness can be difficult to obtain with regularity or to sustain over a long period of time. Happiness is more than a feeling; rather, it is a state of well-being that should last a lifetime. Like exercising to improve physical health, it takes sustained cognitive effort to improve our mental health and engage in practices to promote well-being. We can look to evidence from the fields of psychology and neuroscience, which tells us that we are mentally unprepared to: (1) predict what will make us happy, and (2) engage in behaviors that are known to make us happier. In this course, we will cover the psychological and brain-based factors for why happiness feels so fleeting and what we can do to build better and more effective habits that have been shown to lead to longer-term maintenance of a positive mood and well-being. Students will read foundational work in the field of positive psychology by Martin Seligman, Sonja Lyubomirsky, Edward Diener, Daniel Kahneman, and others. We will also discuss studies in neuroscience that show how behavioral interventions in positive psychology can impact the brain’s structure and function—just like building stronger muscles during exercise. Through small-group conferences, students will apply evidence-based practices—such as bringing order and organization to their daily lives, expressing gratitude, and building social bonds (i.e., “cross training” for the mind) in activities called “Re-wirements.” For the final project, called “Unlearning Yourself,” students will learn to undo or replace a detrimental habit (e.g., overspending, social-media use, poor sleep hygiene, complaining, procrastinating) by establishing a plan to introduce into their daily lives evidence-based practices for sustained well-being. By the end of this course, students will have gained the ability to sift through the ever-booming literature on positive psychology and neuroscience to identify the practices that work best for them, as well as an appreciation for the notion that finding and keeping happiness and well-being requires intentional practice and maintenance. As part of this course, students should come prepared to engage in meaningful self-work.

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Community Psychology

Open, Small Lecture—Spring | 5 credits

The purpose of this course is to introduce students to the field of community psychology, which is primarily concerned with individuals in their social context. Community psychology seeks to support and understand communities and to conduct research that helps communities thrive. Sometimes, community psychology engages broadly by doing work focused on large connected and diverse communities, such as the Black community; and sometimes it is more focused, such as on a community of students at a single university. As a critical community psychologist myself, my focus has always been on social justice, change, and activism. As such, this course will engage with critical theories, concepts, and methods within the field of community psychology. In doing so, it is my hope that students will gain a deeper understanding of community psychology. The course will move away from and challenge the traditional community deficit models and, instead, emphasize community psychology that focuses on community issues, engagement, empowerment, activism, and work.

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Art and Visual Perception

Open, Small Lecture—Spring | 5 credits

Seeing comes before words. The child looks and recognizes before it can speak. —John Berger

Psychologists and neuroscientists have long been interested in measuring and explaining the phenomena of visual perception. In this course, we will study how the visual brain encodes basic aspects of perception—such as color, form, depth, motion, shape, and space—and how they are organized into coherent percepts, or gestalts. Our main goal will be to explore how the study of visual neuroscience and art can inform each other. One of our guides in these explorations will be the groundbreaking gestalt psychologist Rudolf Arnheim, who was a pioneer in the psychology of art. The more recent and equally innovative text by the neuroscientist Eric Kandel, Reductionism in Art and Brain Science, will provide our entry into the subject of neuroaesthetics. Throughout our visual journey, we will seek connections between perceptual phenomena and what is known about brain processing of visual information. This is a course for people who enjoy reflecting on why we see things as we do. It should hold particular interest for students of the visual arts who are curious about scientific explanations of the phenomena that they explore in their art, as well as students of the brain who want to study an application of visual neuroscience. The course format is a small lecture (30 people), with one lecture and one small seminar (10 people) every week.

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The Psychology and Neuroscience of Addictions

Open, Lecture—Spring | 5 credits

This course is a multidisciplinary overview of addiction. Although the primary focus of the course is substance-related addictions and use, the emerging literature regarding nonsubstance addictive behaviors (food, gambling, internet, gaming) will also be discussed. Explanations for addiction—spiritual, emotional, biological—have spanned the ages and remain controversial today. This course will explore the study of addiction from its historical roots to contemporary theory. Competing theories of substance abuse/addiction will be examined, with a focus on the individual with regard to cultural and societal concerns. This course presents a framework for understanding models of substance use and addiction, including neuropsychological advances, with a critical review of the evidence and controversies regarding each. Students will be asked to think critically and constructively about the topic, eschewing dogma of any one approach to the treatment and understanding of substance abuse. Readings will include literature from psychology and medicine to the arts, ethics, and the press. Adequate time will be spent introducing basic social and brain science as it pertains to later, more advanced examinations of exciting neurological research.

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Child and Adolescent Development

Open, Seminar—Year | 10 credits

In this course, we will study the psychological growth of the child from birth through adolescence. In the process, we will read about some of the major theories that have shaped our thinking concerning children, including psychoanalytic (Freud and Erikson), behaviorist (Skinner), social learning (Bandura), and cognitive developmental (Piaget). A number of aspects of child development will be considered, including: the capabilities of the infant; the growth of language, thinking, and memory; various themes of parent-child relations, including attachment, separation, and different parenting styles; peer relations (friendships, the “rejected child”); sex role development; some of the “real-world” challenges facing today’s children and adolescents (e.g., “pushing” young children, divorce, and single-parent/blended families); and the modern study of childhood resilience in the face of difficult circumstances. Direct work with children will be a part of this course.

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Culture in Mind

Open, Seminar—Fall | 5 credits

In this psychology seminar, we will keep culture in mind as we explore the diversity of human behavior and experience across the globe. We will pay close attention to how culture influences psychological processes such as cognition, perception, and emotion, as well as people’s sense of self and their relation to their social world. Through our readings and discussions, we will ask questions like the following: How do parents in Sri Lanka raise their toddlers to adapt to local social expectations of attachment, hierarchy, and morality? How does an Inuit child come to learn the beliefs and values that structure adult social life in challenging geographic and environmental conditions? Is the experience of grief or anger universal or distinct in different societies? Do all people see color or experience time in the same ways, or does culture influence even those perceptual experiences that we often assume to be common to all people? What is it like to live across two cultural worlds or to move from one place to another, and how does the language we speak or the communities within which we live influence the ways we think, feel, and act? Adopting an interdisciplinary approach, our course material will draw from cultural psychology, developmental psychology, human development, and psychological anthropology and will include peer-reviewed journal articles and books, as well as films that address core issues in a range of geographic and sociocultural contexts. Students will conduct conference projects related to the central topics of our course.

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Environmental Psychology: An Exploration of Space and Place

Open, Seminar—Fall | 5 credits

This course explores human-environment interactions and the relationships between natural, social, and built environments in shaping us as individuals. We will critically explore human interactions from the body, the home, and the local to the globalized world, with a return to the individual experience of our physical and social environments. As a survey course, we will cover myriad topics, which may include informal family caregiving; urban/rural/suburban relationships; gentrification; urban planning; environmental sustainability; globalization; social justice; and varying conceptualizations and experiences of “home,” based on gender, race, class, age, and people with disabilities. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, we will give special consideration to public space and home environments. As a discussion-based seminar, topics will ultimately be driven by student interest. Several films will be incorporated into the class.

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Neurodiversity and Clinical Psychology

Open, Seminar—Fall | 5 credits

Neurodiversity may be every bit as crucial for the human race as biodiversity is for life in general. Who can say what form of wiring will prove best at any given moment? —Harvey Blume, The Atlantic, 1998
Defects, disorders, diseases can play a paradoxical role by bringing out latent powers, developments, evolutions, forms of life that might never be seen or even be imaginable in their absence. —Oliver Sacks

This seminar focuses on the concept of neurodiversity and the potential impact of this concept in understanding certain clinical concerns. To some authors, the concept of neurodiversity is of simple relation to the concepts of biodiversity or genetic diversity, with a focus on different ways in which brains might develop. To other authors, the term describes a social/political stance in viewing difference. That is the concept of neurodiversity that will be explored in this course, as it relates to current and developing ways of understanding difference related to several ways of presenting traditionally-termed “disorders” within mental health treatment. Definitions of the term “neurodiversity” vary, with one conference defining it as “a concept where neurological differences are to be recognized and respected as any other human variation” (National Symposium on Neurodiversity, 2011). From that point of view, such differences are not necessarily pathology but, rather, differences to be celebrated and respected. This is in stark contrast to deficit models of taxonomy of mental illness, such as catalogued in the DSM 5. The course will provide an overview of this form of disorder description in order to frame points of view that contain distinctly different and sometimes opposed assumptions. We will explore ways in which these views have influence regarding the spirit of intervention (e.g., correction versus accommodation). Readings will explore important, related continuums of essentialist versus contextualist understandings of these presentations to help us understand how the focus of interventions varies based on underlying assumptions. The course begins with a focus on these points of view regarding autism, as this is the area where the neurodiversity movement first gained the powerful momentum of self-advocacy and framed the larger debate regarding challenges to the deficit model. Since that initial momentum, the neurodiversity concept has also been applied to other areas of difference: dyslexia, ADHD, bipolar disorder, and others. The course also incorporates an older literature regarding the sometimes-assumed link between mental illness and creativity debate, which is complex, as well as literature focused on potential overlooked strengths and abilities that may exist within these populations. We will consider work in this domain such as that of Kay Jamison, Oliver Sacks, Naoki Higashida, and others. Most of all, the course aims to increase student understanding regarding potential heightened abilities, as well as challenges, in neurodiverse populations.

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Moral Development

Intermediate, Seminar—Fall | 5 credits

For thousands of years, philosophers have struggled with questions surrounding the issue of morality. Over the past hundred years, psychologists have joined the fray. While many theories exist, a unifying theme centers upon the notion that childhood is the crucible in which morality is formed and forged. In this course, we will explore the major theories dealing with three aspects of the development of morality: moral thought, or reasoning (e.g., Piaget, Kohlberg); moral feelings (psychoanalytic approaches, including Freud, and the modern work on the importance of empathy and mirror neurons); and moral actions, or behavior (behaviorism, social-learning theory). In addition, we will investigate the possible relations among these three aspects of moral development. For example, how is moral thought connected to moral action? Throughout the course, we will relate moral development theory to the results of research investigations into this crucial aspect of child development. Conference work may include direct experience with children or adolescents, either in the form of detailed observations or direct interaction (interviews, etc.).

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Speaking the Unspeakable: Trauma, Emotion, Cognition, and Language

Intermediate, Seminar—Fall | 5 credits

Psychological trauma has been described as unspeakable—so cognitively disorganizing and intense that it is difficult to put the experience and the emotions that it evokes into words. Yet, the language that survivors use to describe their traumas provides insight into the impact of trauma and the process of recovery. This course will begin with an overview of theories of trauma, resilience, and post-traumatic growth, as well as an introduction to the study of trauma narratives and how language reflects emotional and cognitive functioning. We will then explore different aspects of the cognitive, emotional, and biological impact of undergoing a trauma and how these changes are reflected in the language that trauma survivors use as they speak and write about their experiences. We will consider works by experts on trauma and language, including Judith Herman, Bessel van der Kolk, and James Pennebaker, as well as current research in the field of trauma and trauma narratives. Through these readings, we will address topics such as what makes an experience traumatic, how representations of trauma in popular culture color our perceptions of trauma and recovery, the role of resilience and growth following a trauma, and what we can learn from attending to the content and structure of language. This course will be of interest to students who are curious about how the words we use reflect our cognitive and emotional functioning, especially for students interested in pursuing topics such as these at an advanced or graduate level.

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The Power and Meanings of Play in Children’s Lives

Intermediate, Seminar—Fall | 5 credits

Play provides us with an amazing and informative lens for observing the development and complex inner lives of young children. Yet, play is being threatened by increasing amounts of time spent on technology and a growing societal focus on scheduled activities and academic goals. This course will offer an introduction to the many fascinating aspects of play, including the importance of unstructured free play, how play shapes the brain, sensory processing and self-regulation in play, outdoor play, cultural contexts of play, and humor development in play. Through readings, video illustrations, and discussion of student fieldwork at the Early Childhood Center, we will explore the many ways in which play contributes to the complex social, cognitive, emotional, and imaginative lives of children. This course will provide a foundation for the spring course, Early Intervention Approaches for Young Children and Families.

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Doing Research With Young People: Research, Policy, and Activism

Open, Seminar—Spring | 5 credits

How is research conducted with young people? What are the ethical dilemmas when working with children, adolescents, and young adults? Instead of focusing on traditional research methods on subjects, this course will explore the possibilities of conducting research with, or alongside, young people. This is an interdisciplinary course, and our readings will be pulled from a variety of disciplines, including psychology, sociology, history, anthropology, education, criminal justice, and critical childhood studies. First, we will examine the sociohistorical context of children, adolescents, and youth. Next, we will investigate the rights of young people and the policies that designate them as protected populations. This course will survey a number of different research methods with youth participants, including but not limited to interviews, mapping, narrative analysis, youth participatory action research, and visual and performative research. We will apply a critical eye to a number of case studies of young people dismantling systemic oppression and working toward racial, immigration, and environmental justice. Students will develop their own conference project, focusing on how to conduct research with young people.

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Family Caregiving Across the Lifespan

Open, Seminar—Spring | 5 credits

Care and caregiving are aspects of daily life that each of us depend upon at various times throughout our lives. Yet, care remains hidden and devalued in our current sociopolitical climate in which women continue to provide a majority of care. In this course, we will look at care, both as an orientation and as an activity provided by family and friends to people with disabilities and older adults. An ethics of care will provide a lens through which to explore the experiences of family caregivers. Specifically, our focus will be on caregiving youth, young-adult, and male family caregivers, as well as on paid caregivers and care receivers living with a variety of disabilities and chronic illnesses. Students will have the opportunity to engage with qualitative research methods, such as interviews and photovoice, as we explore care and caregiving from a variety of perspectives. This course will take an interdisciplinary approach and introduce students to the various literatures on family caregiving. From psychology to public health, we will consider care as a reciprocal process that ebbs and flows throughout the lifespan. We will read from feminist theory, critical disabilities studies, psychology, and public health, as well as look at how care is portrayed in popular culture, film, and books. We will learn about individual and policy responses geared toward supporting family caregivers, as well as about organizations that are dedicated to creating better conditions of care for all of us. There may be opportunities to engage with grassroots advocacy organizations and with research (with me) for conference, although this depends upon the status of the research and the community-based projects.

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The Psychology of Food and Eating Behaviors

Open, Seminar—Spring | 5 credits

Why do we eat? What is the function of food? These questions seem simple on the surface, but the many possible answers reveal the complexity of our relationship with food. At its core, food is an essential source of nutrition and sustenance. Beyond that, food can serve as a source of great pleasure, anguish, or both and as a tool for controlling ourselves, our bodies, and our environments. Food choices are shaped by our relationships with others, our culture and upbringing, our emotions, and our bodies. In this broad survey course, students will be exploring concepts ranging from the psychological and biological underpinnings of how we sense and perceive different tastes to how we develop food preferences and eating behaviors in the context of both “normal” and disordered relationships with food. High standards of beauty and mass/social media’s perpetuation of an “ideal” body type are at the forefront of disordered eating behaviors, which will be considered in conjunction with the psychological and biological factors underlying the development of disordered eating behaviors. Global changes in diet and eating habits, the rise in obesity and related health issues, and the sustainability of current food patterns will also be discussed. By examining the attitudes, behaviors, and practices around food choices and eating behaviors, students will learn essential psychological, biological, cultural, and social theories to develop a greater appreciation and awareness of our highly complex relationship with food.

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Mindfulness: Science and Practice

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Spring | 5 credits

Mindfulness can be described as nonjudgmental attention to experiences in the present moment. For thousands of years, mindfulness has been cultivated through the practice of meditation. More recently, developments in neuroimaging technologies have allowed scientists to explore the brain changes that result from the pursuit of this ancient practice—laying the foundations of the new field of contemplative neuroscience. Study of the neurology of mindfulness meditation provides a useful lens for study of the brain in general, because so many aspects of psychological functioning are affected by the practice. Some of the topics that we will address are attention, perception, emotion and its regulation, mental imaging, habit, and consciousness. This is a good course for those interested in scientific study of the mind. One of our two weekly meetings will be devoted to a mindful yoga practice.

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Puzzling Over People: Social Reasoning in Childhood and Adolescence

Intermediate, Seminar—Spring | 5 credits

We humans tend to find other people the most interesting “objects” in our lives, and for good reason. As infants, we are completely dependent upon other people for our very survival; and, throughout our lives, other people serve as the social bedrock of our existence. We are a social species, one that derives “fitness” through our abilities to read the social terrain and figure out social meaning in our interactions with others. There are a range of timely questions to address: How do we do this, and how does it develop throughout childhood? Are we “hardwired” in some ways to feel what other people are feeling? What about the special case of childhood autism? How do our emotions interact with our cognitions about the social world to affect our views of self and other and of our future social lives? What would cause us to have a relatively good or poor “emotional IQ,” and what are the consequences? What are the roles of family and childhood friends in this process? These are some of the issues that we will address in this course. The opportunity will be available for hands-on fieldwork with children, so as to observe children puzzling over people in real life.

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Culture and Mental Health

Intermediate, Seminar—Spring | 5 credits

This interdisciplinary course in psychology and anthropology will address mental health in diverse cultural contexts, drawing upon a range of case studies to illuminate the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, course, and treatment of mental illness across the globe. We open the course by exploring questions of the classification of mental illness to address whether Western psychiatric categories apply across different local contexts. We explore the globalization of American understandings of the psyche; the exportation of Western mental disorders; and the impact of psychiatric imperialism in places like Sri Lanka, Zanzibar, Oaxaca, and Japan. Through our readings of peer-reviewed articles and current research in cultural psychology, clinical psychology, and psychological and medical anthropology, we will explore conditions such as depression and anxiety, schizophrenia, autism, susto, and mal de ojo in order to understand the entanglements of psychological experience, culture, morality, sociality, and care. We explore how diagnostic processes and psychiatric care are, at times, differentially applied in the United States according to the client’s race/ethnicity, class, and gender. Finally, we explore the complexities of recovery or healing, addressing puzzles such as why certain mental disorders considered to be lifelong, chronic, and severe in some parts of the world are interpreted as temporary, fleeting, and manageable elsewhere—and how such expectations influence people’s ability to experience wellness or (re)integration into family, work, and society. Several of our authors will join us as invited guest speakers to talk about their current work. Students will conduct conference projects related to the central topics of our course.

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Critical Urban Environmentalism, Space, and Place

Intermediate, Seminar—Spring | 5 credits

In North American countries, 83.6 percent of residents live in cities as of 2020, and 56 percent of the world’s population is urban. Traditional environmental movements focus on the “natural” world, and the built environment tends to be undertheorized and perhaps underanalyzed. Yet, urban spaces are also sites of resistance, as residents create community gardens from vacant lots, paint public-housing project exterior walls, and lobby for city government support of the built environment. This course explores paths toward humanistic urban revitalization and civic engagement through community partnership. We will read in three main domains: knowledge of local and global urban environments; physical, mental, and social/community health; and theory and philosophies of urban environments. The relationship between urban sustainability and social dynamics, such as ethical decision-making and sociopolitical power relations (Sze, 2020), seem to lead to a particular set of public-private solutions. These are implemented from the top downward, without input from stakeholders and residents, with serious implications for resident health. In turn, health is strongly affected by the urban physical environment, infrastructure, pollution, population density, and the concomitant social environment (Galea and Vlahov, 2005). And as development occurs, long-time residents of neighborhoods are being displaced. How can we ensure that the health and welfare of all denizens are developed as well as purported positive economic change? The community-partnership/service-learning component is an important part of this class. For one morning or afternoon per week, students will work in local community agencies to promote health-adaptive, person-environment interactions within our community.

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The Mind-Body Connection: Psychophysiology Research Seminar

Intermediate, Seminar—Spring | 5 credits

Your heart beats faster, your palms sweat, and your pupils dilate—all at once. Is this because you are exercising? Or did someone you really like just walk into the room? Psychophysiology is the experimental study of these bodily, or peripheral, signals, which are thought to be important “read-outs” of a person’s emotional state (e.g., fear, happiness, anger). In this course, students will gain a foundational understanding of the field of psychophysiology, which is the study of the relationship between signals recorded from the body and brain to emotional and cognitive states. In the first third of the semester, we will cover the biological processes that give rise to peripheral autonomic arousal (e.g., heart rate, respiration, electrodermal activity to measure sweating, pupillary responses, brain activity) and how these responses are naturally regulated by the brain and body in a process called homeostasis. We will also survey the brain areas that may be responsible for developing a conscious awareness of, and ascribing meaning to, the signals from the body. We will discuss major theories of emotion and the mind-body connection, including the James-Lange Theory, the Somatic Marker Hypothesis (Damasio), the Neurovisceral Integration Model (Thayer & Lane), and the Polyvagal Theory (Porges), among others. Through in-class labs and discussions of relevant research papers in the second third of the semester, students will learn how to measure peripheral markers of arousal (e.g., heart rate, respiration, electrodermal activity to measure sweating, pupillary responses) and relate those signals to emotionally provocative events. In the final third of the semester, in their small lab groups, students will oversee seminar discussions on applications of psychophysiology as it relates to a special topic of their choice, including social interactions, sleep and dreaming, marketing and consumerism, psychopathology (mental health), social justice, and more. Through conference work, students will identify a topic of personal interest to explore through the lens of psychophysiology and, after performing a literature review, propose a hypothetical research question that incorporates one or more of the methods that we discuss in class. At the end of the semester, students will present their conference work at the Sarah Lawrence poster symposium.

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Culture in Mind

Open, Seminar—Fall

In this psychology seminar, we will keep culture in mind as we explore the diversity of human behavior and experience across the globe. We will pay close attention to how culture influences psychological processes such as cognition, perception, and emotion, as well as people’s sense of self and their relations to their social world. Through our readings and discussions, we will ask questions like the following: How do parents in Sri Lanka raise their toddlers to adapt to local social expectations of attachment, hierarchy, and morality? How does an Inuit child come to learn the beliefs and values that structure adult social life in challenging geographic and environmental conditions? Is the experience of grief or anger universal or distinct in different societies? Do all people see color or experience time in the same ways, or does culture influence even those perceptual experiences that we often assume to be common to all people? What is it like to live across two cultural worlds or to move from one place to another, and how does the language that we speak or the communities in which we live influence the ways we think, feel, and act? Adopting an interdisciplinary approach, our course material will draw from cultural psychology, developmental psychology, human development, and psychological anthropology and will include peer-reviewed journal articles and books, as well as films that address core issues in a range of geographic and sociocultural contexts. Students will conduct conference projects related to the central topics of our course.

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Understanding Experience: Phenomenological Approaches in Anthropology

Open, Seminar—Fall

How does a chronic illness affect a person’s orientation to the everyday? What are the social and political forces that underpin life in a homeless shelter? What is the experiential world of a deaf person, a musician, a refugee, or a child at play? In an effort to answer these and like-minded questions, anthropologists in recent years have become increasingly interested in developing phenomenological accounts of particular “lifeworlds” in order to understand—and convey to others—the nuances and underpinnings of such worlds in terms that more orthodox social or symbolic analyses cannot achieve. In this context, phenomenology entails an analytic method that works to understand and describe in words phenomena as they appear to the consciousnesses of certain peoples. Phenomenology, put simply, is the study of experience. The phenomena most often in question for anthropologists include the workings of time, perception, emotions, selfhood, language, bodies, suffering, and morality as they take form in particular lives within the context of any number of social, linguistic, and political forces. In this course, we will explore phenomenological approaches in anthropology by reading and discussing some of the most significant efforts along these lines. Each student will also try her or his hand at developing a phenomenological account of a specific subjective or intersubjective lifeworld through a combination of interviewing, participant observation research, and ethnographic writing.

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Specters of the Subject: Hauntologies of Ghosts, Phantasms, and Imaginings in Contemporary Life

Advanced, Seminar—Fall

“The future belongs to the ghosts,” remarked the philosopher Jacques Derrida in 1996. His interlocutor, Bernard Stiegler, phrases the main idea behind this statement: “Modern technology, contrary to appearances, increases tenfold the power of ghosts.” With the advent of the internet, various forms of social media, and the ubiquity of filmic images in our lives, Derrida’s observations have proven to be quite prophetic, such that they call for a new field of study—one that requires less an ontology of being and the real and more a “hauntology” (to invoke Derrida’s punish term) of the spectral, the virtual, the phantasmic, the imaginary, and the recurrent revenant. In this seminar, we consider ways in which the past and present are haunted by ghosts. Topics to be covered include: specters and hauntings, figures and apparitions, history and memory, trauma and political crisis, fantasy and imagination, digital interfaces, and visual and acoustical images. We will be considering a range of films and video, photography, literary texts, acoustic reverberations, internet and social media, and everyday discourses and imaginings. Through these inquiries, we will be able to further our understanding of the nature of specters and apparitions in the contemporary world in their many forms and dimensions. Students will be invited to undertake their own hauntologies and, thus, craft studies of the phenomenal force of specters, hauntings, and the apparitional in particular social or cultural contexts.

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Culture and Mental Health

Intermediate, Seminar—Spring

This interdisciplinary course in psychology and anthropology will address mental health in diverse cultural contexts, drawing upon a range of case studies to illuminate the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, course, and treatment of mental illness across the globe. We open the course by exploring questions of the classification of mental illness to address whether Western psychiatric categories apply across different local contexts. We explore the globalization of American understandings of the psyche; the exportation of Western mental disorders; and the impact of psychiatric imperialism in places like Sri Lanka, Zanzibar, Oaxaca, and Japan. Through our readings of peer-reviewed articles and current research in cultural psychology, clinical psychology, and psychological and medical anthropology, we explore conditions such as depression and anxiety, schizophrenia, autism, susto, and mal de ojo in order to understand the entanglements of psychological experience, culture, morality, sociality, and care. We explore how diagnostic processes and psychiatric care are, at times, differentially applied in the United States according to the client’s race/ethnicity, class, and gender. Finally, we explore the complexities of recovery or healing, addressing puzzles such as why certain mental disorders considered to be lifelong, chronic, and severe in some parts of the world are interpreted as temporary, fleeting, and manageable elsewhere—and how such expectations influence people’s ability to experience wellness or (re)integration into family, work, and society. Several of our authors will join us as invited guest speakers to talk about their current work. Students will conduct conference projects related to the central topics of our course.

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Experimental Neurobiology and Physiology

Intermediate, Seminar—Year

Animals are composed of an astoundingly complex orchestra of molecules, cells, tissues, and organs that support life. In this laboratory-based seminar, we will explore the intricacies of animal physiology, from the molecular to the behavioral, while engaging in complementary experimentation using the versatile zebrafish model organism. Seminar and lab time will be integrated, as we move back and forth between discussing concepts in biology and applying them to our lab work. We will begin with the foundational subject of neurobiology by studying the nervous system and how it accomplishes the sensation and perception of diverse internal and external stimuli through visual, auditory, somatosensory, gustatory, and olfactory systems; the performance of precise movements and behaviors; and learning and memory. Our knowledge of the nervous system will serve as groundwork upon which we will grow our understanding of other topics in physiology, including circulation, respiration and breathing, feeding and digestion, thermoregulation, osmoregulation, hormonal regulation, reproduction, and camouflage. Students will learn to house, breed, and conduct experiments with adult and larval zebrafish and will collaboratively design and execute novel experiments based on relevant scientific literature.

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Sensory Biology

Open, Seminar—Spring

Why do chili peppers taste “hot,” while peppermint gum tastes “cold”? How can humans distinguish between a trillion different odors? Can onions be confused with apples if our noses are plugged? Why do flowers appear different to humans and to bees? Why can’t we hear the echolocation calls of most bats? The answers to these questions lie in our understanding of how animals interact with their environments via sensory perception. In this course, we will study the sensory systems underlying hearing, balance, vision, smell, taste, and touch, as well as unique abilities that support some animal navigation strategies like magnetoreception used by butterflies and sea turtles during migration. We will explore senses from a neurobiological perspective and, therefore, will begin with an overview of the nervous system and the structure and function of neurons. We will then study how each sense is based on the perception of a particular stimulus by specialized sensory neurons within specialized sensory tissues. We will discuss how stimuli are converted to cellular information and how that is communicated to the brain, leading to perception.

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Genetics

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Spring

At the biological core of all life on Earth is the gene. The unique combination of genes in each individual ultimately forms the basis for that person’s physical appearance, metabolic capacity, thought processes, and behavior; therefore, in order to understand how life develops and functions, it is critical to understand what genes are, how they work, and how they are passed on from parents to offspring. In this course, we will begin by investigating the theories of inheritance first put forth by Mendel and then progress to our current concepts of how genes are transmitted through individuals, families, and whole populations. We will also examine chromosome structure and the molecular functions of genes and DNA— and how mutations in DNA can lead to physical abnormalities and diseases such as Trisomy 21, hemophilia, or others. Finally, we will discuss the role of genetics in influencing such complex phenotypes as behavior or traits such as intelligence. Classes will be supplemented with weekly laboratory work.

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Theories of Development

Advanced, Seminar—Fall

“There’s nothing so practical as a good theory,” suggested Kurt Lewin almost 100 years ago. Since then, the competing theoretical models of Freud, Skinner, Piaget, Vygotsky, and others have shaped the field of developmental psychology and have been used by parents and educators to determine child-care practice and education. In this course, we will study the classic theories—psychoanalytic, behaviorist, and cognitive-developmental—as they were originally formulated and in light of subsequent critiques and revisions. Questions that we will consider include: Are there patterns in our emotional thinking or social lives that can be seen as universal, or are these patterns always culture-specific? Can life experiences be conceptualized in a series of stages? How else can we understand change over time? We will use theoretical perspectives as lenses through which to view different aspects of experience—the origins of wishes and desires, early parent-child attachments, intersubjectivity in the emergence of self, symbolic and imaginative thinking, and the role of play in learning. For conference work, students will be encouraged to do fieldwork at the Early Childhood Center or in another setting with children, as one goal of the course is to bridge theory and practice.

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Clinical Perspectives: Challenges to Child and Adolescent Development

Advanced, Seminar—Spring

How do varying childhood experiences impact children’s mental health and wellbeing? What happens when the course of development is affected by trauma or depression? This seminar will focus on challenges that arise in child and adolescent development, drawing upon approaches in clinical psychology, developmental psychology, and cultural psychology/clinical ethnography. We will analyze how particular psychological experiences and behaviors have been typically understood as abnormal or pathological and how they are intertwined with the experience of child development. We will also explore critical commentaries on clinical diagnosis and treatment in order to analyze the merits and drawbacks of the common approaches to these issues. Students will learn about the clinical categories of conditions such as ADHD, autism, depression, and anxiety, as compiled in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V). We will look at case examples to illuminate the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, course, and treatment of such psychological conditions in childhood and adolescence. Through readings and course discussion, students will be invited to question the universal applicability of Western clinical approaches that rest on particular assumptions about normality, behavior, social relations, human rights, and health. We will also explore how diagnostic processes and psychological and psychiatric care are, at times, differentially applied in the United States according to the client’s race/ethnicity, class, and gender and how clinicians might effectively address such disparities in diagnosis and care. Students will complete conference projects related to the central themes of our course and may opt to work at the Early Childhood Center or a local community program that serves children or adolescents.

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Early Intervention Approaches for Young Children and Their Families

Advanced, Small seminar—Spring

This small seminar will explore several early-intervention approaches for young children and their families, with a particular emphasis on the theory and technique of play therapy. While this course will focus mostly on child-centered play therapy (CCPT), we will also look at the methodology of other types of approaches, such as cognitive behavioral therapy and DIR/Floortime. In addition, course material will highlight cultural considerations, therapeutic work with parents and caregivers, challenges in therapeutic treatment, self-reflection, self-regulation, and interoception. Readings, class discussions, group play-based activities, and video illustrations will provide students with both a theoretical and introductory clinical basis for play-based therapeutic work with young children in early intervention.

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First-Year Studies: Achilles, the Tortoise, and the Mystery of the Undecidable

FYS—Year

In this course, we will take an extended journey through Douglas Hofstadter’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Gödel, Escher, Bach, which has been called “an entire humanistic education between the covers of a single book.” The key question at the heart of the book is: How can minds possibly arise from mere matter? Few people would claim that individual neurons in a brain are “conscious” in anything like the normal sense in which we experience consciousness. Yet, consciousness and self-awareness emerge, somehow, out of a myriad of neuronal firings and molecular interactions. How can individually meaningless physical events in a brain, even vast numbers of them, give rise to meaningful awareness, to a sense of self? And could we duplicate such a process in a machine? Considering these questions will lead us to explore a wide range of ideas—from the foundations of mathematics and computer science to molecular biology, art, and music and to the research frontiers of modern-day cognitive science and neuroscience. Along the way, we will closely examine Gödel's incompleteness theorem, the drawings of M. C. Escher, the music of J. S. Bach, mathematical logic and formal systems, the limits of computation, and the past history and future prospects of artificial intelligence. During the fall semester, students will meet with the instructor weekly for individual conferences. In the spring, we will meet weekly or every other week, depending on students’ needs.

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Bio-Inspired Artificial Intelligence

Intermediate, Seminar—Spring

The field of artificial intelligence (AI) is concerned with reproducing the abilities of human intelligence in computers. In recent years, exciting new approaches to AI have been developed, inspired by a wide range of biological processes and structures that are capable of self-organization, adaptation, and learning. These sources of inspiration include biological evolution, neurophysiology, and animal behavior. This course is an in-depth introduction to the algorithms and methodologies of biologically-inspired AI and is intended for students with prior programming experience. We will focus primarily on machine-learning techniques—such as evolutionary computation and genetic algorithms, reinforcement learning, artificial neural networks, and deep learning—from both a theoretical and a practical perspective. Throughout the course, we will use the Python programming language to implement and experiment with these techniques in detail. Students will have many opportunities for extended exploration through open-ended, hands-on lab exercises and conference work.

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Beginning Latin

Open, Seminar—Year

This course provides an intensive introduction to Latin grammar, syntax, and vocabulary, with a view toward reading the language as soon as possible. Close reading of Vergil’s Aeneid in English will accompany intensive language study in the fall. By midsemester, students will be translating authentic excerpts of Latin poetry and prose. During the spring semester, while continuing to develop and refine their knowledge of Latin grammar and vocabulary, students will read selections from Vergil’s Aeneid in Latin.

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First-Year Studies: Reality Check: Homer, Herodotus, and the Invention of History

FYS—Year

Reality is currently under siege. Millions of people today believe, to their core, things that are demonstrably not true. Are we “each entitled to our own reality,” as some would argue? The ancient Greeks thought otherwise. Some 2,500 years ago, the Greeks began to distinguish muthos (origin of the English word “myth”)—an unverified, unverifiable story—from historiē (origin of the English word “history”), an inquiry into the facts for the purpose of making a rational assessment. Simultaneously, the Ancient Greeks began to reject tyranny and introduce democratic political ideals and institutions. Tyrants, however, require obedient subjects unwilling or unable to fact-check even their most preposterous lies. Today’s autocrats and would-be autocrats bombard us with fictions, even contradictory fictions, so as to eradicate the very concept of objective fact. As individuals, we are losing the ability to assess facts on their merits. We’re losing the ability to learn not only from history but even from our own experience. Succumbing to authoritative speakers, many of us prefer virtue-signaling to real-world problem solving. We’re abandoning verbal persuasion in favor of violence and intimidation. Can democratic ideals and institutions survive if we can no longer distinguish myth from history, fiction from fact? What is the value of evidence-based, logical reasoning? How can we learn from fiction without being deceived by it? Reading and discussing Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey (c. 8th cent. BCE) and Herodotus’s Histories (c. 440s, 430s BCE), we will examine these and other questions that are as vital to human survival and success today as they were centuries ago. This course is designed for students who welcome open-minded critical inquiry and are eager to read texts that are challenging both intellectually and emotionally. During the fall semester, students will meet with the instructor weekly for individual conferences. In the spring, we will meet weekly or every other week, depending on students’ needs and the progress of their conference projects.

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Tradition and Transformation: 17th-Century British Literature

Open, Seminar—Year

In the 17th century in England, the great ordering coherences of medieval and earlier Renaissance thinking seemed to disintegrate under the warring impulses of individualism and authority, empiricism and faith, revolutionary transformation and reinforcement of tradition. Yet, even as monarchy and the established church were challenged and torn apart, the 17th century produced an extraordinary flowering of drama, poetry, and prose that expressed the contradictory energies of the period. We will study English writing of the 17th century in a roughly chronological sequence. The first semester will explore the aesthetics and ideology of the Stuart courts and the robust and bawdy urban century of London through a reading of masques and plays by Jonson and Shakespeare and their contemporaries; dramatic experiments in “metaphysical” and moral verse by Donne, Jonson, Herbert, and other poets; various developments in scientific, philosophical, and meditative prose by Bacon, Burton, and Browne; and the early poetry of Milton. The second semester will be devoted to major writers during the periods of the English Revolution and the Restoration of the Stuart monarchy. Our primary attention will be on the radical politics and the visionary poetics of Milton, particularly Paradise Lost and Samson Agonistes; but we will also study the work of the cavalier and libertine court poets, as well as Andrew Marvell, Katherine Phillips, Aphra Behn, and John Dryden. John Bunyan’s spiritual allegory Pilgrim’s Progress and Behn’s colonial romance novel, Oroonoko, will provide a retrospect of the imagined and the social worlds that we have traversed and a prospect of the worlds to come.

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Disability, Media, and Literature

Open, Seminar—Fall

This course examines representations of disability in literature and other media while also exploring how disability shapes the experience of readers and audiences. Course readings will include stories such as H. G. Wells’s The Country of the Blind, novels like Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent, and poetry collections like Ilya Kaminsky’s Deaf Republic. We will also watch films such as The Diving Bell and the Butterfly and Crip Camp. In addition to these works, we will read a range of secondary texts about the history of audiobooks for the blind and dyslexic, sign-language poetics, and legislation for closed captioning, among other topics. We will look at particular artists and their work to consider how a deaf playwright approaches writing for the stage, how a blind memoirist describes her experiences in art museums, and how an actor with cerebral palsy experiences the physicality of his craft. Conference work will include community engagement with the Wartburg Adult Care Community. You will be asked to consider the access needs of seniors at Wartburg and work together to help make literature, music, and film more accessible to them.

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An Introduction to Statistical Methods and Analysis

Open, Lecture—Fall

Variance, correlation coefficient, regression analysis, statistical significance, and margin of error—you’ve heard these terms and other statistical phrases bantered about before, and you’ve seen them interspersed in news reports and research articles. But what do they mean? And why are they so important? Serving as an introduction to the concepts, techniques, and reasoning central to the understanding of data, this lecture course focuses on the fundamental methods of statistical analysis used to gain insight into diverse areas of human interest. The use, misuse, and abuse of statistics will be the central focus of the course; specific topics of exploration will be drawn from experimental design theory, sampling theory, data analysis, and statistical inference. Applications will be considered in current events, business, psychology, politics, medicine, and other areas of the natural and social sciences. Statistical (spreadsheet) software will be introduced and used extensively in this course, but no prior experience with the technology is assumed. Group conferences, conducted in workshop mode, will serve to reinforce student understanding of the course material. This lecture is recommended for anybody wishing to be a better-informed consumer of data and strongly recommended for those planning to pursue advanced undergraduate or graduate research in the natural sciences or social sciences.

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The Philosophy of Music

Open, Large Lecture—Fall

Music is central to most of our lives. How can we understand the experience of music? What does music express? If it expresses emotions, how do those emotions relate to the emotions that we experience in everyday life? Can music without words express emotions with as much clarity as music with words? As a background to these questions, we will look at issues concerning the nature and experience of art in general. We will examine the views of writers such as Plato, Kant, Schopenhauer, Dewey, and Adorno and compare how they understand the role of art in society, along with our own experiences. The musical repertory will include medieval and Renaissance music, music by Bach, songs by Schubert, and examples from the symphonic repertory of composers such as Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Tchaikovsky, and Stravinsky. We will study those works using the techniques of formal analysis that are generally used in music-history classes but also attempt to draw out the many contextual threads: How are they embedded in a culture, and how do they reflect the temperament and orientation of the composers? While most of our musical examples will be from the classical repertory, other styles will occasionally be relevant. The goals of the class are to understand how musical and philosophical thought can illuminate each other and to deepen our awareness of the range and power of music. No prior knowledge of music theory or history is required; we will introduce and define the terms that we need as the class proceeds.

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First-Year Studies: Literature and Philosophy: Enthusiasm, Fanaticism, Superstition

FYS—Year

We live at a time when fanaticism, religious and otherwise, has become a subject of great concern. This is not a new problem: Western literature and philosophy have been concerned with fanaticism since the beginning, and we cannot understand the way the problem of fanaticism appears to us now without going back to the earlier discussions and transformations of that question. The reading list, which may be modified, is Euripides, Bacchae; Plato, Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, Phaedrus, Lucretius, On the Nature of Things; St. Paul, Epistle to the Romans; Montaigne, “On Presumption”; Shaftesbury, Characteristics; Swift, Gulliver’s Travels; Hume, “The Natural History of Religion,” “Of Superstition and Enthusiasm,” “Of Parties,” History of England, Vol. 5, an excerpt on the New Model Army; Kant, Dreams of a Spirit-Seer; Lessing, Nathan the Wise; Bentham, “Anarchistical Fallacies”; Orwell, Animal Farm, 1984. During the fall semester, students will meet with the instructor weekly for individual conferences with some opportunities for small-group meetings; in the spring, we will normally meet every other week.

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The Philosophy of Sex and Love

Open, Seminar—Year

One of the fundamental transformations to occur in society and culture over the course of the 20th and 21st centuries is the understanding of sex and love and the relation—or nonrelation—between them. Among the many catalysts for this change, we may count changing perceptions of sexual difference, gender, sexuality, gender identity, and gender roles; an increasing range of possibilities for reproduction or nonreproduction; and the problematization of the nuclear, monogamous, heterosexual family structure. This yearlong seminar will engage in the philosophical examination of these topics. While we will read some ancient philosophy, including Plato’s Symposium and some late-modern texts by the Marquis de Sade and the Baron von Sacher-Masoch (the authors who gave their names to Sadism and to Masochism, respectively), most of our readings will be from 20th- and 21st-century sources, including Sigmund Freud, Claude Levi-Strauss, Georges Bataille, Simone de Beauvoir, Michel Foucault, Julia Kristeva, Audre Lorde, Lee Edelman, Paul Preciado, Maggie Nelson, and Luce Irigaray. Students will be required to not read Fifty Shades of Grey.

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First-Year Studies: Cities, Suburbs, Trains, and Highways: Politics and Geography

FYS—Year

Winston Churchill purportedly remarked that “we shape our buildings; thereafter, they shape us,” suggesting that the built environment and geography more generally have a profound impact on society, culture, and politics. This course explicitly will take the study of politics and the social world out of the narrow and traditional views of political science—views that regularly see individuals as “atoms” that are, in the words of Kenneth Shepsle, “unconnected to the social structure in which he or she is embedded”—and, instead, look at how “politics and people” are embedded in particular spaces and places, and networks are highly conditioned, based on specific locational qualities, histories, and features. This course rejects the idea that individuals are atoms and explicitly brings geography into the picture in our study of American politics at the start of the 21st century—in a moment of intense rancor and polarization. After examining theory and methodology, the course tackles a number of big issues that are hotly debated in academic, political, and policy circles vis-à-vis the built environment. One example is the ever-growing literature on geographic differences and regionalism in the United States as an underlying cause of American division and fractionalization. These geographic fissures do not fall along easy‐to‐map state lines but, rather, along a variety of regions in the United States that have been described and mapped by scholars in a number of social-science disciplines. We will examine and review a number of literatures and large amounts of localized data that will enable us to look more precisely into the numerous claims that there are nontrivial regional differences in terms of political beliefs, behaviors, and distinct regional political cultures. While American regions display varied histories and cultures, the question that we will attempt to answer is whether these histories and cultures have an impact on contemporary political attitudes, behaviors, and social values. We will take on similar empirical topics throughout the year, using many tools available from the social sciences—from GIS to historical election and economic data—to examine issues of welfare, mobility, and “hollowing out the middle”; employment; innovation; gerrymandering and issues of representation; competition over natural resources; mass transit and the impact of transportation and highways on sociopolitical development; and urban and rural differences. Many of these topics will be familiar, but the tools through which we examine them will be via a geospatial lens; and the way in which we understand the surrounding politics will, hopefully, be more complete when compared to the traditional lenses of political science. This FYS seminar will be an open, nonpartisan forum for discussion and debate. As such, the course will be driven by data, not dogma. We will use a variety of approaches based in logic and evidence to find answers to various puzzles about American policy and will treat this material as social scientists—not ideologues. Comfort with numbers and statistics is expected. This course will have weekly conferences for the first six weeks; biweekly conferences thereafter.

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Deranged Democracy: How Can We Govern Ourselves if Everyone Has Lost Their Minds?

Open, Lecture—Fall

Many of us are struck by what seems to be the growing irrationality of contemporary democratic politics to the point where we despair of our capacity to address problems like global climate change or pandemics that could pose existential threats to our species, not to mention a whole range of urgent but more mundane policy issues. In this class, we will seek to understand disturbing trends like populism, polarization, and disinformation in part on their own terms but also by asking whether they are deeply rooted in human nature—at least on our current best understandings of ourselves. More specifically, democracy seems to rely on at least a minimum degree of rationality and self-control on the part of the citizens whose votes and opinions guide government policy. But is this reliance foolhardy in light of what recent history, psychology, evolutionary theory, philosophy, and cognitive science teach? Do aspects of our current social and technological circumstances make us less rational and self-controlled today than our Enlightenment progenitors hoped we were becoming 200-odd years ago in the era of democratic revolutions—the era from which ideas and institutions that continue to inform our politics today emerged? In this course, we will survey aspects of the political history of recent centuries, as well as our own historical moment, to ask if they should temper confidence in the power of reason in politics? We will also examine recent research in cognitive science and philosophy that conclude that it is hard to sustain a model of human behavior that places reason and rationality in the driver’s seat. What alternative accounts of human nature are emerging from recent research? And what are their political implications, especially for democratic societies? This course will survey these issues by examining the intersection of cognitive science, philosophy and political science, history and theory to ask whether the Enlightenment’s faith in democracy was misplaced. Or, instead, are there reasons to believe that democracy can maintain its claim to legitimacy even after reason has been demoted in our understandings of human nature?

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Sociology of the Body, Disability, Illness, and Health

Open, Seminar—Year

In this yearlong seminar, we will examine bodies: how disability and illness shape life experience; the ways in which the body is surveilled by government and other institutions, including the medical profession; and the individual development of social identity. The course explores several themes, including the politics of reproduction, agency and labor, bodies in transition, stigmatization, and resisting bodies. Substantive topics include the experience of pregnancy, gender development in childhood, the development of sexual identity, the onset of severe mental illness, the isolating experience of physical decline, and the politics of death and dying. For their conference work, students are invited to select one bodily experience, disability, or illness to explore in depth. The first semester will be devoted to background reading and the development of a research question. This will lay the groundwork for second-semester data collection and analysis.

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Technology and Social Identity

Open, Seminar—Spring

In this course, we will explore the nature of agency—or the motivation behind and responsibility for action—and the role of technology in shaping personal social identity. We begin by discussing how to treat nonhumans as actors in their own right before exploring key concepts that include Donna Haraway’s cyborg and Bruno Latour’s hybrid agent—concepts that allow us to consider how humans utilize nonhumans in their environment (assistive technologies for people with disabilities, animals, clothing, etc.) to enact social identity and become inseparable from them. This lays a foundation for us to explore how social identities like race, gender, ability, and socioeconomic status are made and unmade in interactions with technology. We will consider how identities are shaped by institutions, embodied in individuals, and conceived as lifelong projects. In past conference projects, students have explored deaf identity and cochlear implants, responsible pet ownership and leashes, bicycles in urban space, and hacking culture on video-game servers.

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1,001 Drawings

Open, Seminar—Fall

This will be a highly rigorous drawing class that pushes young artists to develop a disciplined, sustainable, and experimental drawing practice with which to explore new ways of thinking, seeing, and making art. Each week, you will make between 50 and 100 small works on paper, based on varied, open-ended, unpredictable prompts. These prompts are meant to destabilize your practice and encourage you to interrogate the relationship between a work’s subject and its material process. You will learn to work quickly and flexibly, continually experimenting with mediums and processes as you probe the many possible solutions to problems posed by each prompt. As you create these daily drawings, you will simultaneously work on one large, ambitious drawing that you revisit over the entire semester. This piece will evolve slowly, change incrementally, and reflect the passage of time in vastly different ways from your daily works. This dynamic exchange will allow you to develop different rhythms in your creative practice, bridging the space between an idea’s generation and its final aesthetic on paper. The course will challenge you to ambitiously redefine drawing and, in doing so, will dramatically transform your artmaking practice.

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The Face Is a Clock: Drawing Portraits

Open, Seminar—Spring

Portraiture has a rich and complex history. Drawing a face is an ideally challenging way for students to learn how to render realistically through line, light, shadow, volume, and space. Intentionally manipulating this same graphic language can embed portraits with the complex emotional and psychological states that lie beyond visual representation. Politically, socially, and historically, portraits have been a means to establish class and gender, provide immortality, and document the human condition. In this course, you will learn the fundamentals of drawing through the subject of the portrait. The act of looking will be primary for us, as seeing the face accurately—as it truly exists—is a constant challenge for artists. As the semester progresses, we’ll move from observational portraits to interpreted, experimental drawings that challenge traditions and norms of portraiture. As you learn to draw what you see, you’ll simultaneously begin to reveal qualities not visible—those psychological, political, symbolic, and personal aspects of portraits that make them individual and unique. Students will work on daily drawing exercises both inside and outside the studio in order to build a disciplined drawing practice. For context, we will look at a range of historical and contemporary examples of portraiture and will visit New York City exhibitions to see artworks. A visiting artist working in portraiture will visit class, as well.

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Words and Pictures

Open, Seminar—Fall

This is a course with writing at its center and other arts—mainly, but not exclusively, visual—around it. We will read all kinds of narratives, children’s books, folk tales, fairy tales, graphic novels...and try our hand at many of them. Class reading will include everything from ancient Egyptian love poems to contemporary Latin American literature. For conference work, students have created graphic novels, animations, quilts, a scientifically accurate fantasy involving bugs, rock operas, items of clothing with text attached, nonfiction narratives, and dystopian fictions with pictures. There will be weekly assignments that involve making something. This course is especially suited to students with an interest in another art or a body of knowledge that they’d like to make accessible to nonspecialists.

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Stories And

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Spring

This class will involve telling stories, writing or recording our own and other people’s stories, and illustrating stories with photos or drawings. It involves becoming collectors of the storytelling around us and analyzing its form, type, uses, and pleasures. It centers on oral storytelling—formal and informal, short and long, fantasies, tales, family stories, and gossip. It also involves practice in being both a leader and a member of a storytelling group at the Wartburg Elder Care Residence in nearby Pelham or at some other venue, perhaps involving children or teens. Homework will include reading, practicing your stories, working as a group leader with a classmate, and calling on family and friends to tell their stories. Anyone interested in their own or other people’s lives, in leadership and followership, in teaching, and otherwise in stories should consider this course.

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Children’s Books: A Reading and Writing Adventure

Open, Seminar—Fall

Who doesn’t love Frog and Toad? Have you ever wanted to write something like it—or like Charlotte’s Web or A Snowy Day? Why do our favorites work so well and so (almost) universally? We will begin by reading books we know and books we missed and discuss what makes them so good. We may look at books for older children and consider what good children’s history and biography might be like. We will talk about the place of the visual, the careful and conscious use of language, notions of appropriateness, and age level. Then, we will try our hand at writing picture books, older children’s narratives, collections of poems like Mother Goose. Conference work will involve making a book, an animation, or a game for children with narrative content.

Faculty