Philosophy

At Sarah Lawrence College, the study of philosophy retains a centrality that helps students synthesize their educational experience with the discipline’s many connections to other humanities and to social science. Through conference work, students also find numerous ways to connect the study of philosophy with their interests in the arts and natural sciences. Stressing the great tradition of classical and contemporary philosophy, the College offers three types of philosophy courses: those organized around thematic topics, such as Philosophy of Science, Aesthetics, and Philosophy and Literature; those organized historically, such as Moral Philosophy, Political Philosophy, and 20th-Century Philosophy; and those that study the “systems” of philosophers such as Kant, Nietzsche, and Wittgenstein.

Philosophy faculty use the latest technology in their teaching, including web boards for posting course material and promoting discussion. Yearlong courses make extensive textual work possible, enabling students to establish in-depth relationships with the thoughts of the great philosophers and to “do philosophy” to some degree—particularly valuable to students preparing for graduate work in philosophy. Conference work often consists of students thinking through and writing on single philosophic and literary works, ranging from Greek tragedy, comedy, or epic to Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Machiavelli, Descartes, Shakespeare, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Hume, Kant, Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, or Heidegger.

Philosophy 2022-2023 Courses

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

FYS—Year | 10 credits

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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Jewish Philosophers: From Spinoza to Arendt

Open, Small Lecture—Fall | 5 credits

Hannah Arendt famously wrote that 19th-century Jews stood “between pariah and parvenu,” a formulation that embodies the complex relationship between Jews and the modern world. With the rise of the new science in the 17th century, Enlightenment beliefs and practices in the 18th century, and the emancipation of Jewish communities in the 19th century, the role played by Jewish philosophers—in advancing these processes, as well as struggling to locate themselves within them—became increasingly prominent. Tracing the history of Jewish thinkers from the 17th to the 20th centuries, we will consider how they grappled with their cultural heritage in a climate of enlightenment and emancipation on the one hand and anti-Semitism, persecution, and pogroms on the other. Central themes include the role of the sacred in the modern world, alienation and exclusion, national consciousness and utopianism, memory, and cultural despair. While most of our sources are philosophical (Spinoza, Mendelssohn, Maimon, Marx, Freud, Benjamin, Arendt), we’ll read historical documents, theological treatises, novels, poems, and correspondences, as well.

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Philosophy Through Film

Open, Lecture—Spring | 5 credits

You care about movies (I presume). Why do you care about movies? Because they entertain you? Because they are beautiful? Because they are informative? Because they make you feel things? The guiding thought of this class is that we care about movies because they participate in the practice of philosophy (or at least they have that potential). Of course, this also presumes that we care about philosophy (a claim that will take some time to defend). To test that hypothesis—that films have the potential to participate in the practice of philosophy—we first need to consider what the practice of philosophy is. Then, we will need to say something about what film is. And then, we can examine whether film can do philosophy. In the first part of the course, we will analyze the medium of film in order to clarify the characteristics of it that would allow it to be philosophical. In the second part of the class, we will explore how those characteristics of film contribute to how we think philosophically about our lives. In particular, we will explore problems pertaining to subjectivity (What it is to be a human being?) and to ethics (How do I know the right thing to do?). Each week we will watch a film (including Jeanne Dielman, Psycho, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Get Out, and Spring Breakers) and read a philosophical text (including Aristotle, Cavell, Merleau-Ponty, Parfit, and Adorno) with the aim of placing the two in conversation.

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The Philosophy of Sex and Love

Open, Seminar—Year | 10 credits

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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Gender and Sexuality in Greek Literature and Philosophy

Open, Seminar—Fall | 5 credits

Modern discussions of gender and sexuality have a predecessor in the literature and philosophy of ancient Greece, which have informed recent thought on the topic. Of the Greek discussions, we shall focus on just a few. We shall begin with poetry by Sappho, Sophocles’ Antigone, and Euripides’ Bacchae. We shall go on to Aristophanes’ Thesmophoriazusae, Plato’s Symposium, Aristophanes’ Ecclesiazusae, and Book Five of Plato’s Republic.

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Animal Ethics

Open, Seminar—Fall | 5 credits

This course explores philosophical questions related to contemporary issues regarding our moral and political relations with nonhuman animals. We will begin with more theoretical questions about the source of value and moral standing, examining some influential texts that are foundational to the contemporary Western animal-rights movement. In the latter half of the semester, we will spend a great deal of time examining contemporary issues and animal advocacy, including the connections between social movements for the liberation of humans and nonhuman animals.

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Feminist Ethics

Open, Seminar—Fall | 5 credits

This course investigates the ways in which feminist philosophers have challenged traditional approaches to moral philosophy. We will look at feminist ethics as not just a branch of ethics (for instance, one addressing the concerns of women) but as an approach to ethics as a whole that puts pressure on dominant moral philosophies— specifically, those inspired by Kant and Mill. Feminist philosophers have sought to correct the privileging of the male standpoint and question its characterization as neutral. Where traditional moral philosophy focuses on individual moral subjects, feminist interventions have illuminated the social and material conditions under which moral problems arise and moral actions occur. Over the course of the semester, we will consider how feminist ethics invite us to reconsider: (1) the way moral theories determine what counts as harmful or wrong; (2) how moral psychology construes our motivation to act and our responsibility for what we have done; and (3) individual social issues, including misogyny, abortion, and our thinking around sex. Our aim will be to appreciate how these thinkers expand the scope of moral consideration and to ask previously ignored or obscured questions. How does one’s upbringing shape their moral outlook, and should it change what one is responsible for? How does being oriented by care reframe what we take ethics to be about? What kinds of beings (and things) are eligible for moral consideration? Should this include animals? Or the environment? How does a feminist perspective allow us to notice systematic oppression on the grounds of race or sexuality? In working through these questions and others, some of the thinkers we will read include Elizabeth Anscombe, Simone de Beauvoir, Judith Butler, Claudia Card, Patricia Hill Collins, Cora Diamond, Carol Gilligan, bell hooks, Eva Kittay, Iris Murdoch, and Margaret Walker.

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Aesthetics and the Philosophy of Art

Open, Seminar—Fall | 5 credits

Art seems to be an inextricable part of human life. The question that guides this class is seemingly simple: What is art? As will soon become clear, answering this question proves to be exceedingly difficult; for example: Are trees works of art? Is an iPhone a work of art? Is a movie a work of art? Are all movies works of art? Is a doodle in your notebook a work of art? It may turn out that no definitive answer to our guiding question is possible; however, without demarcating between what counts as art and what doesn’t, art refers to everything and, consequently, to nothing special. This class investigates how works of art become meaningful. The narrative of the class traces the different frameworks used by philosophers over the last 2,500 years to pursue this question. We will follow a historical narrative, learning how these frameworks have responded both to each other and to the artworks of their time. We will read texts by Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Hegel, Danto, Benjamin, and others, as well as analyze artworks from Sophocles, William Shakespeare, Édouard Manet, Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol, John Cage, Kara Walker, Jordan Peele, and many others. At the end of the semester, our aim will be to articulate what is so special about art and why we care about it.

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Relativism

Open, Seminar—Spring | 5 credits

Is there truth over and above the point of view of the individual or group? This topic received considerable discussion in the philosophy of Plato, whose treatment of the topic remains indispensable for grappling with it. We shall read the Euthyphro, on piety; The Apology, in which Socrates defends himself against the charge of subverting the religion of Athens; and selections from The Republic, in which Socrates considers whether justice is just a matter of convention. We shall then go on to the Theaetetus, on knowledge, and the Sophist, on falsehood.

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Time in Literature and Philosophy

Open, Joint seminar—Spring | 5 credits

Where do we turn to understand the human experience of time? Science and technology might tell us about the physical flow of time or how the units of seconds, minutes, hours, and days might help to order time. Philosophy and literature, however, broaden the question of what time really is, emphasizing its inscrutability and elusiveness. Works in these disciplines demonstrate not only the mystery of human temporality but also the ways in which language and art attempt to capture, represent, or escape time. This course will examine the abiding concern with time and the complexities of temporal experience by examining a range of philosophical and literary writings, from antiquity to the present, as well as several films. Readings will include works by Augustine, Nietzsche, Kant, Kristeva, and Heidegger, as well as literary texts by Boethius, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Wordsworth, and Woolf.

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Environmental Ethics as Liberatory Theory and Practice

Open, Seminar—Spring | 5 credits

Historically, Western environmental movements have placed an emphasis on the idea of “wilderness” and have been characterized by a striving for a “return” to a nature that never existed outside collective imagination. This course examines some of the foundations of Western environmental ethics and critiques of those by feminist, Black, Indigenous, and queer scholars. Through this engagement, students are encouraged to analyze their own values and assumptions related to value, climate, and our environments and to bring the contemporary issues that are most important to students into conversation with these texts. This course aims to examine the possibilities of decolonizing environmental ethics and to work toward a future of environmental ethics as an academic endeavor that is able to better meet the ethical, social, and political needs of our current ecological crises.

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The Philosophy of Karl Marx

Intermediate, Seminar—Spring | 5 credits

Prerequisite: one college-level course in philosophy

This class is an investigation of the philosophy of Karl Marx. While interpreters primarily read Marx as an economist, historian, political theorist, or sociologist, we will read him foremost as a philosopher—examining the philosophical ideas animating his critical project. Of course, Marx famously wrote, “The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point, however, is to change it.” To consider Marx as a philosopher, first of all, requires that we see his thinking as responding to traditional philosophical ideas (for instance, those of Aristotle, Kant, and Hegel) but, at the same time, expanding our understanding of what philosophy is or should be. Traditionally, the practice of philosophy consists of examining the ideas that organize the world we inhabit; but, for Marx, these ideas are necessarily rooted in material realities and must be examined in the light of an empirical study of those realities. The contradictions that fuel Marx’s critical assessment of his time are not merely within or between theories but are contradictions between these theories and actual social reality. If Marx may be considered a philosopher, it is because he broadens what it means to be a philosopher—not merely compelling us to reflect but to act. To appreciate Marx’s philosophical contribution, we will investigate the concepts he develops in analyzing the fraught condition of modern social life: alienation, class, historical materialism, human essence, ideology, and labor. Beginning with the letter Marx wrote to Arnold Ruge that has since been titled “For A Ruthless Critique Of Everything Existing,” we will read pieces that cover all periods in Marx’s development, including Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, The German Ideology, Manifesto of the Communist Party, and, of course, Capital. Throughout our investigation of his work, we will be guided by the question: How does capitalist society diminish the possibility of human fulfillment?

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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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Theories and Methods of Art History

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Spring

The focus of this course is on the theories and methods developed by art historians and philosophers in order to determine the meaning and function of “art.” We will examine foundational approaches to art—from formalism to iconology, from social history to semiotics, psychoanalysis, and feminism—and how they shaped the current discipline of art history. Students will become comfortable manipulating theoretical ideas but, in order to keep the discussion as grounded as possible, actual artworks selected early in the semester will be used to discuss the different theories and methods of art-historical analysis. Additionally, we will devote time to more recent contributions to the discipline and its theoretical model—exploring, for instance, issues of gender and postcolonialism and looking at art through the perspective of those subjects traditionally marginalized by institutional art history.

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Cultivating the Tao: Chinese Philosophy and Practice

Open, Seminar—Year

This course will look at China’s philosophical traditions—Confucianism, Buddhism, and Daoism—and seek to understand their role in shaping daily practices of self-cultivation and mindfulness. In the first semester, we will do close readings of the foundational texts in each of these traditions. Topics to be explored include: notions of the Dao (Tao) and the ways in which it might be attained by individuals and society; the essence of the mind, human nature and the emotions, and the ways in which they interact in behavior; the relationship between knowledge and action; and practices of inner self-cultivation and social engagement. In the second semester, we will look at the later development of these schools of philosophy with an emphasis on the various practices employed by people to attain the Dao in their own lives. The readings for this will include school regulations and curricula, monastery rules and ritual texts, “how-to” manuals for meditation and self-cultivations, diaries, and journals. Here, we will consider the ways in which individual and cultural practices were shaped and reshaped by the ongoing debates within Confucianism, Buddhism, and Daoism.

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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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Introduction to Computer Programming

Open, Small Lecture—Fall

This lecture presents a rigorous introduction to computer science and the art of computer programming, using the elegant, eminently practical, yet easy-to-learn programming language Python. We will learn the principles of problem solving with a computer while gaining the programming skills necessary for further study in the discipline. We will emphasize the power of abstraction, the theory of algorithms, and the benefits of clearly written, well-structured programs. Fundamental topics include: how computers represent and manipulate numbers, text, and other data (such as images and sound); variables and symbolic abstraction; Boolean logic; conditional, iterative, and recursive computation; functional abstraction (“black boxes”); and standard data structures, such as arrays, lists, and dictionaries. We will learn introductory computer graphics and how to process simple user interactions via mouse and keyboard. We will also consider the role of randomness in otherwise deterministic computation, basic sorting and searching algorithms, how programs can communicate across networks, and some principles of game design. Toward the end of the semester, we will investigate somewhat larger programming projects and, so, will discuss file processing; modules and data abstraction; and object-oriented concepts such as classes, methods, and inheritance. As we proceed, we will debate the relative merits of writing programs from scratch versus leveraging existing libraries of code. Discussion topics will also include the distinction between decidable and tractable problems, the relationship between programming and artificial intelligence, the importance of algorithmic efficiency to computer security, and Moore’s Law and its impact on the evolution on programming languages and programming style. Weekly hands-on laboratory sessions will reinforce the programming concepts covered in class.

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Yoga

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This yoga class is designed with the interests of dancers and theatre students in mind. Various categories of postures will be practiced, with attention to alignment, breath awareness, strength, and flexibility. The physical practice includes seated and standing poses, twists, forward bends and backbends, traditional yogic breathing practices, and short meditations. Emphasis is placed on mindfulness and presence. This approach allows the student to gain tools for reducing stress and addressing unsupportive habits to carry into other aspects of their lives. Attention will be given to the chakra system as a means and metaphor for postural, movement, and character choices. The instructor has a background in dance and object theatre, in addition to various somatically-based practices that she draws upon for designing the classes to meet the individual needs of the class members.

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Econometric Analysis: Structural Explorations in the Social Sciences

Open, Lecture—Year

This course is designed for all students interested in the social sciences who wish to understand the methodology and techniques involved in the estimation of structural relationships between variables. The course is intended for students who wish to be able to carry out empirical work in their particular field, both at Sarah Lawrence College and beyond, and critically engage empirical work done by academic or professional social scientists. The practical, hands-on approach taken in this course will be useful to those students who wish to do future conference projects in the social (or natural) sciences with significant empirical content. The course will also be invaluable for students who are seeking internships, planning to enter the job market, or desiring to pursue graduate education in the social sciences and public policy. After taking this course, students will be able to analyze questions such as the following: What is the relationship between slavery and the development of capitalist industrialization in the United States? What effects do race, gender, and educational attainment have in the determination of wages? How does the female literacy rate affect the child mortality rate? How can one model the effect of economic growth on carbon-dioxide emissions? What is the relationship among sociopolitical instability, inequality, and economic growth? How do geographic location and state spending affect average public-school teacher salaries? How do socioeconomic factors determine the crime rate in the United States? During the course of the year, we will study all of these questions. In the first semester, we will cover the theoretical and applied statistical principles that underlie Ordinary Least Squares (OLS) regression techniques. We will begin with the assumptions needed to obtain the Best Linear Unbiased Estimates of a regression equation, also known as the “BLUE” conditions. Particular emphasis will be placed on the assumptions regarding the distribution of a model’s error term and other BLUE conditions. We will also cover hypothesis testing, sample selection, and the critical role of the t- and F-statistic in determining the statistical significance of an econometric model and its associated slope or “β” parameters. Further, we will address the three main problems associated with the violation of a particular BLUE assumption: multicollinearity, serial correlation, and heteroscedasticity. We will learn how to identify, address, and remedy each of these problems. In addition, we will take a similar approach to understanding and correcting model specification errors. The spring semester class will build on the fall class by introducing students to advanced topics in econometrics. We will study difference-in-difference estimators, autoregressive dependent lag (ARDL) models, co-integration, and error correction models involving nonstationary time series. We will investigate simultaneous equations systems, vector error correction (VEC), and vector autoregressive (VAR) models. The final part of the seminar will involve the study of panel data, as well as logit/probit models. As with the fall class, the spring class will also be very “hands-on,” in that students will get ample exposure to concrete issues while also being encouraged to consider basic methodological questions (e.g., the debates between John Maynard Keynes and Jan Tinbergen) regarding the power and limitations of econometric analysis. The spring semester is particularly relevant to students who wish to pursue graduate studies in a social-science discipline, although it will be equally relevant for those seeking other types of graduate degrees that involve knowledge of intermediate-level quantitative analysis.

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History of Political Economy and Economic History

Open, Seminar—Year

In this yearlong seminar, the fall semester will be devoted to the study of the theoretical debates on the history of economic and legal thought. It will be shown that the study of economics is incomplete without an understanding of the relationship of the economy to law and politics. These theoretical debates will be linked to transformations in capitalism in a number of different geographic contexts, especially the United States, Europe, and Africa. The dominant approach in contemporary economics is the neoclassical school. This course will introduce students to the origins, foundational tools and questions, and analytical constructs at the heart of both neoclassical and other schools of thought in economics. In the fall, the first part of the course will deal with what is called classical political economy (primarily Adam Smith, David Ricardo, and Karl Marx). Next, given that property, contracts, and torts are at the core of markets, the course will integrate the path-breaking insights from the linked American Legal Realist and Original Institutional Economics traditions to understand the legal institutional foundations of markets. The final part of the course will deal with the perspectives of some of the major founders of the neoclassical school (Léon Walras, William Stanley Jevons, and John Bates Clark) and their debates with institutional economists during the interwar period. Finally, the contemporary New Institutional Economics framework, with its foundations in neoclassical economics, will be compared with the insights of the original institutional economists and legal realists. The spring semester will be devoted to the study of two major topics: business history (including the study of colonialism, race, and slavery) and monetary history. The goal of the spring semester is to enable students to reflect on the applicability (or otherwise) of the theoretical perspectives discussed in the fall.

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Workshop on Sustainability Solutions at Sarah Lawrence College

Sophomore and Above, Large seminar—Year

As we want to engage in individual and collective efforts toward sustainable and climate-change mitigating solutions, this workshop offers students the opportunity to explore the multiple ways in which “sustainability” can be fostered and developed at an institution like Sarah Lawrence College. Meeting once a week, students will work in small groups on a variety of projects and produce research and educational material that can lead to concrete and actionable proposals for the College and our community to consider. Students will determine their own areas of interest and research, from energy and water usage monitoring to composting solutions, recycling/reusing and consumer sobriety, landscaping choices, pollinators and natural diversity, food growing, natural and human history of the land, and/or community collaborations, to name a few. As part of their project effort, students will engage with college administrators who are actively working toward sustainable solutions, as well as with student, staff and faculty groups such as the Warren Green vegetable garden, the Sarah Lawrence Interdisciplinary Collective on the Environment (SLICE), and the Sustainability Committee. We will also explore the possibility of writing grants in coordination with other actors at the college. This workshop will meet for 1.5 hours once a week; it is offered as pass/fail, based on both attendance and a group project that will mostly be developed during our meeting time. All skills and areas of expertise are welcome, from environmental science to writing and visual and studio arts, but any interest in issues of sustainability and a strong sense of dedication will suffice!

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Readings in Intermediate Greek

Intermediate, Seminar—Fall

Qualified students will read selected passages of Homer and Herodotus in Greek. The class will meet twice each week.

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Intermediate Greek: Poetry and Prose

Intermediate, Small seminar—Spring

In this course, students of Ancient Greek will choose two texts, one by a prose author and one by a poet, for close reading over the semester. Examples of texts might be: Herodotus’ Histories and the Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite, or the poems of Sappho and Plato’s Symposium. Our goal will be to investigate poetic and prosaic literary constructs, review grammar, and to read different types of Ancient Greek texts.

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The Edgy Enlightenment

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Fall

Between the triumph of the Enlightenment in the mid-18th century and the rise of Romanticism in the 1790s lies a span of time, extending roughly from 1760 to 1800, populated by a variety of writers who foreshadowed the end of the Enlightenment without being truly “Romantic.” Many of the most exciting and influential works of literature and thought produced in the 18th century were products of this ambiguous period. For want of a better name, scholars have labeled some of these works “pre-Romantic.” It might be more useful to think of them as products of an “edgy Enlightenment”—a late, adventurous phase of the Enlightenment whose representatives had begun to question the Enlightenment’s own cherished beliefs and, in some cases, to discard them. In this course, we will read a number of the most famous texts produced by writers of the “edgy Enlightenment.” Some were originally written in French: Rousseau’s path-breaking autobiography, The Confessions; Diderot’s comic experimental novel, Jacques the Fatalist and His Master. We also will look at works by Scottish writers: Adam Ferguson’s prophetic Essay on the History of Civil Society and the racy poetry of Robert Burns. Finally, we will read a number of German classics of this period: Goethe’s pioneering novel of an actor’s personal development, Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship; several plays by his close collaborator, Friedrich Schiller; short treatises by the brilliant philosopher Immanuel Kant; and selections from the writings of the renowned explorer and naturalist Alexander von Humboldt. Students may undertake conference projects on a broad range of topics in European history.

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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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First-Year Studies: Text and Theatre

FYS—Year

This course explores the relation between the play as written text and the play as a staged event. More than any other literary form, drama depends upon a specific place and time—a theatre and its audience—for its realization. The words of a play are the fossils of a cultural experience; they provide the decipherable means by which we can reconstruct approximations of the living past. With this goal in mind, we will read and examine texts from Ancient Greece to contemporary New York (with many stops in between) in an attempt to understand the range of dramatic possibility and the human challenge of making theatre. This course will have weekly conferences for the first six weeks and biweekly conferences thereafter.

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Reading High Romanticism: Blake to Keats

Open, Small Lecture—Fall

This lecture focuses on the interpretation and appreciation of the most influential lyric poems written in English in the tumultuous decades between the French Revolution and the Reform Act of 1832. Over the course of two generations, Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Shelley, and Keats invented a new kind of autobiographical poem that largely internalized the myths that they had inherited from literary and religious traditions. The poet’s inward, subjective experience became the inescapable subject of the poem—a legacy that continues to this day. We will be exploring ways in which the English Romantic poets responded to the political impasse of their historical moment and created poems out of their arguments with themselves, as well as their arguments with one another. Our preeminent goal will be to understand each poem’s unique contribution to the language.

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The Poetry of Earth: Imagination and Environment in English Renaissance Poetry

Open, Small Lecture—Spring

One of John Keats’s sonnets begins, “The poetry of earth is never dead.” This interactive small lecture will step back from Keats—to the writing of several of his great predecessors in the English Renaissance—to reflect on how imagination shaped environment and how environment shaped imagination in the early modern period. Late 16th- and 17th-century was a time of transition between traditional, feudal society (with its hierarchical ideas of order, of humanity, and of nature) and emerging modernity (with its secularizing humanism, its centralization of political and economic power, its development of increasingly dense and complex urban centers, and its commitments to the study and potential mastery of nature through empirical science). With early modernity came all of the challenges to natural environment and its resources with which we are so familiar and by which we are challenged: urban sprawl and environmental degradation, privatization of land, air and water pollution, deforestation and exhaustion of other resources, and diminishment of local species populations. We will study how several major writers register and responded to these tensions and these changes in what we might call their environmental vision, their imagination of nature as wilderness, the "other” to civilization and its values; as chaos and threat; as liminal space of transformation; as pastoral retreat; and as cultivatable human habitation and home. Class reading will include two early plays of Shakespeare—A Midsummer Night's Dream and As You LIke It; Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene; John Milton's environmental epic, Paradise Lost, and poems leading up to it; Andrew Marvell's lyric poetry; and Margaret Cavendish's The Blazing World. Conference work will entail more extended work in any of these writers and literary modes and will provide opportunities to explore other writers of the early modern period who are engaged in theorizing and imagining nature—including studies in history, philosophy, geography, politics, or theory.

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Eight American Poets

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Year

American poetry has multiple origins and a vast array of modes and variations. In this course, we will focus our attention on the trajectories of eight American poets: Whitman, Dickinson, and Robert Frost in our first semester; Wallace Stevens, T. S. Eliot, Hart Crane, Elizabeth Bishop, and John Ashbery in our second semester. Some of the poems that we will read are accessible on a superficial level and present challenges to interpretation only on closer examination; other poems—most notably, those written by Dickinson, Stevens, Eliot, Crane, and Ashbery—present significant challenges at the most basic level of interpretation. The major prerequisite for this course is, therefore, a willingness to grapple with literary difficulty and with passages of poetry that are, at times, baffling or highly resistant to paraphrase. We will seek to paraphrase them anyway or account as best we can for the meanings that they create out of the meanings that they evade. Our central task will be to appreciate and articulate the unique strengths of each of the poems that we encounter through close, imaginative reading and informed speculation.

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Destruction as Form: Aesthetics in the Wake of Violence

Open, Seminar—Fall

As we continue to navigate the ongoing conditions of the pandemic, the threat of climate change, perpetual war, and violence against racial minorities, this course attends to the political, psychic, and ecological forces of societal affliction in which we live. In particular, it asks: what is the work of art and literature in the wake of affliction? How do works of art register the violence of historical trauma and how do they open up new ways of relating to the world? In other words, how do aesthetic mediums not only reflect societal conditions, but also serve as portals to imagine the self/collective, time and history, otherwise? Drawing mostly from a corpus of artists, writers, and filmmakers from the Middle East and Africa (as well as other global examples), the aesthetic works we will engage in this course were produced in the wake or midst of postcolonial national liberation movements, global critiques of authoritarianism, and experiences of contemporary warfare, raising questions about the limits of the nation-state, configurations of life and death, and the psychic affliction that arises from destruction. By attending to literature, film, and art that incorporates not only the subjects of destruction but also the forms they take (fractures, fragments, transhistorical senses of time, dislocated geographies, and abstract forms), we will think simultaneously about how aesthetics is altered in the aftermath of destruction and what its forms enable us to perceive differently. We will reflect on the role of aesthetics and its relationship to repair, how it registers without resolving loss, and how it can offer a critical relation to historical wounds, even if it cannot adequately redeem them.

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Romantic Legacies: Tennyson to T. S. Eliot

Open, Seminar—Spring

This course offers a survey of some of the most influential poets writing in English from the Victorian period to the early 20th century, when modernists like T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound loudly proclaimed their break from Romanticism and its Victorian heirs. Our readings are bookended by two monuments to their cultural moments: Tennyson’s long elegy for Arthur Hallam, In Memoriam: A. H. H., which Queen Victoria kept on her bedside table next to her Bible, and Eliot’s The Waste Land, of which William Carlos Williams wrote: “It wiped out our world as if an atom bomb had been dropped upon it and our brave sallies into the unknown were turned to dust.” Eliot’s debt to Tennyson is clearer in retrospect than it was to Eliot’s contemporaries. Indeed, as the course title suggests, all the poets on our syllabus can be read, productively, as heirs of Romanticism whose attempts to break with Romantic tradition only extended and enlarged it. This course presumes some familiarity with the most influential British Romantic poets or a willingness to gain a familiarity with their work in conference. Poets to be studied include, among others: Tennyson, Whitman, R. Browning, C. Rossetti, Dickinson, Hardy, Yeats, and Eliot.

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Time in Literature and Philosophy

Open, Joint seminar—Spring

Where do we turn to understand the human experience of time? Science and technology might tell us about the physical flow of time or how the units of seconds, minutes, hours, and days might help to order time. Philosophy and literature, however, broaden the question of what time really is, emphasizing its inscrutability and elusiveness. Works in these disciplines demonstrate not only the mystery of human temporality but also the ways in which language and art attempt to capture, represent, or escape time. This course will examine the abiding concern with time and the complexities of temporal experience by examining a range of philosophical and literary writings, from antiquity to the present, as well as several films. Readings will include works by Augustine, Nietzsche, Kant, Kristeva, and Heidegger, as well as literary texts by Boethius, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Wordsworth, and Woolf.

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Gothic Decay: The Literature and Science of Soils, Swamps, and Forests

Open, Joint seminar—Spring

Western literature and culture deeply influence how our country negatively perceives transitional spaces, such as the spaces between cultivated land and forest or between water and land. The need for control pushes us to reshape or eliminate marshes, swamps, thickets, and other forms of overgrowth. Similarly, we feel uncomfortable considering the soils in which we bury our dead—or we ignore them completely. Yet, a closer examination of the biology of decay reveals cycles of life that follow death, with growth, reproduction, and nutrient exchange accompanying decay at every turn. We will read excerpts of literary works that have shaped our cultural perception of decay and of these transitional states and spaces, including works by Sophocles, Mary Shelley, Alice Walker, Robin Wall Kimmerer, and others. We will also explore the ecosystems themselves through lab experiments and trips to local parks and field stations (Center for the Urban River at Beczak, Untermeyer Gardens). This joint course will evaluate the divide between culture and science and explore how cultural representations may evolve with an adequate framing of scientific research and findings. This course fully participates in the collaborative interludes in the Sarah Lawrence Interdisciplinary Collaborative on the Environment (SLICE) Mellon course cluster.

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Proof and Paradox

Intermediate, Seminar—Fall

One of the remarkable ironies of modern mathematics is that the success of its methodology has exposed its own limitations. In particular, the advances in mathematical foundations and logic of the early 20th century precipitated Kurt Gödel's incompleteness theorems—which establish that, for any effective axiomatic system of mathematics, there are mathematical truths that mathematics cannot prove. Gödel's proof is remarkable for both its philosophical implications and its very ingenuity. To prepare our study of the proof, the seminar will review basic logic, set theory, elementary number theory and the standard techniques of mathematical proof. Having completed a close reading of Gödel's proof, we will then explore the relationship between proof and understanding in more recent mathematical practice. Students will have an opportunity to strengthen their mathematical reading and writing abilities while engaging contemporary mathematical issues concerning the progress of the discipline, the role of computers in proof, and best practices in mathematical exposition. This seminar is recommended not only for the mathematically inclined but also for students interested in computer science, law, or philosophy.

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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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Astronomy

Open, Lecture—Year

On the first night, we will look up and see the stars. By the last, we will know what makes them “shine,” how they came to be, and their ultimate fates. In between, we will survey the universe and humankind’s investigations of it—from ancient navigation to modern cosmology. In addition to the stars themselves, we will learn about solar-system objects such as planets, asteroids, moons, and comets; the comparative astronomy of different eras and cultures; the properties, lifetimes, and deaths of galaxies, quasars, and black holes; and theories and evidence concerning the origin, evolution, and fate of the universe. In addition to readings and examination of multimedia material, students will conduct astronomical observation and experiments—at first with an astrolabe, then a simple telescope, and finally with the most powerful telescopes on and around the Earth. Emphasis will be placed on modes of scientific communication, so that each student will participate in debates, present posters, write papers, and participate in the peer-review process. In addition, students will experience famous astronomical debates through role-play. Since science is a collaborative process, group work—both small and large—will be a central feature of this course.

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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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Introduction to Modern Political Philosophy

Open, Seminar—Fall

Political philosophy consists of: a discourse of thinking about the nature of political power; the conditions for its just and unjust use; the rights of individuals, minorities and majorities; and the nature and bounds of political community. Rather than tackling pressing political problems one at a time, political theorists seek systematic solutions in overall visions of just societies or comprehensive diagnoses of the roots of oppression and domination in political orders. In this course, we focus on modern writers who shaped the terms and concepts that increasingly populate political imaginations the world over; that is, the conscious and unconscious ideas about rights, power, class, democracy, community, and the like that we use to make sense of our political lives. In this semester-long introduction to this field, we will concentrate on the long social-contract tradition that stretches from Hobbes and Locke to Rousseau and Kant and its critics, especially Hume and Hegel. By studying these thinkers, we will be better positioned to answer something like the following range of questions. What is the nature of political power? What is the content of social justice? Does democracy threaten basic individual rights? Is it more important to respect the individual or the community when the interests of the two conflict? What aspects of human potential and social worlds do different grand theories of political life illuminate and occlude? In answering these questions, we will be forced to test both the internal coherence and the continuing relevance of the political visions that shape modern politics.

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Justice, Care, and the Lifespan Revolution: A Community-Based Seminar

Open, Seminar—Spring

What does it mean to age with dignity? What is required, both individually and socially, to fairly and with dignity provide the special care that the elderly often require? Special urgency attends these questions today, as we are in the midst of a lifespan revolution with many people living more than twice as long as the average person did just a few generations earlier. This urgency is compounded by the fact that the organization and distribution of care labor does not yet adequately reflect this lifespan revolution or the transition to highly mobile and less traditional societies characterized by rapid social and technological changes—changes that can make aging harder and care more difficult to provide. Societies in which an ever-larger portion of their populations have entered elderhood face issues to do with justice in the distribution of care, the nature and forms of ageism, or the isolation of those deemed elderly from the rest of society. Meanwhile, the organization and distribution of care labor remains deeply structured by traditional assumptions, as well as inequalities and prejudices that occupy the intersections of age, gender, and race. Viewed simultaneously from these angles, the lifespan revolution presents new and pressing ethical issues about how best to lead a complete and extended human life. The lifespan revolution also presents issues of justice about how society can productively incorporate—while also respecting and caring for those living far longer than humans have in the past—and fairly distribute “Love’s Labor” of caring. These will be among the most urgent issues of ethics and justice in the middle of the 21st century. This course will examine these issues, in part, by drawing on a variety of academic fields, including philosophy, political theory, psychology, cognitive science, labor studies, and literature. This is also a community-based course; we will partner with Wartburg, a diverse adult care community in Mount Vernon, NY, close to the College. In the first half of the course, students will study the range of issues described above and begin to develop a more specific focus on how lifelong learning contributes to well-being in elderhood. This focus serves as preparation to offer “cognitive care” to the elderly members of the Wartburg community and will be accompanied by visits to Wartburg so that students can get a sense of its members and their interests and have an opportunity to observe lifelong learning in practice. Students will also develop short classes or workshops to offer at Wartburg as the main focus of their conference work. In the second half of the course, the study of specific issues of justice and care presented by the lifespan revolution will continue but also be supplemented by engagement at Wartburg, as students offer the courses or workshops that they have developed to the residents there.

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Community Psychology

Open, Lecture—Spring

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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First-Year Studies: The Buddhist Philosophy of Emptiness

FYS—Year

The concept of a “thing”—an entity that exists in and of itself, separate from all other things—is nothing but a useful fiction; in the real world, there actually are no “things” that meet that description. This, in a nutshell, is the startling proposition advanced by the Buddhist doctrine of śunyatā—or “emptiness,” as the Sanskrit term is usually translated. Often misconstrued by critics as a form of nihilism (“nothing exists”), idealism (“all that exists are mental phenomena”), or skepticism (“we can never know what really exists”), the emptiness doctrine is better interpreted as a radical critique of the fundamental conceptual categories that we habitually use to talk about and make sense of the world. This FYS course has several aims. In general, it is designed to help students develop the kind of research, writing, and critical thinking skills that are needed for academic success in college and in whatever career paths they may pursue thereafter. More specifically, the course aims to impart a clear, accurate understanding of the “emptiness” doctrine as it developed in the context of Buddhist intellectual history and found expression in various genres of classical Buddhist literature. Another aim of the course is to explore ways in which the emptiness doctrine, if taken seriously as a critique of the mechanisms and inherent limitations of human knowledge, may be fruitfully brought to bear in a number of different disciplines—academic and otherwise. In the fall semester, the class will read and discuss a number of Buddhist texts—primary sources in English translation from the original Sanskrit or Chinese—that advocate the philosophy of emptiness, as well as some secondary scholarship on the subject. Students will also be given a series of homework assignments that target basic academic skills in the humanities and social sciences (e.g., how to do bibliographic research and evaluate the reliability of sources; how to annotate scholarly writing). Individual conference meetings with the instructor in the fall will be devoted to learning and improving those skills. In the spring semester, the class will read and discuss a number of scholarly works written in English that deal with Western (non-Buddhist) traditions of historiography, literary theory, and scientific inquiry. The readings are designed to introduce students to some of the main intellectual trends in the humanities, social sciences, and “hard” sciences that they are likely to encounter in other college courses. At the same time, the class will learn how to use the Buddhist doctrine of emptiness as an analytical tool to critique the conceptual models employed in the various academic disciplines treated in the readings. For individual conference work in the spring, each student will be required to use that tool to analyze the fundamental nomenclature—the way of dividing up the world into “things”—employed by some particular field of human endeavor, which may be an academic, artistic, or athletic discipline or any other endeavor (e.g., political or economic) in which they are especially interested. At the end of the semester, each student will have half of a class meeting to introduce their particular field of inquiry to everyone else. They will select some representative readings that the class will do in advance, lead a discussion of those readings, and present their own critical analysis of the nomenclature used in the field in question. All students will have an individual conference meeting with the instructor on a weekly basis for the first six weeks of the course; thereafter, conferences may be held on a biweekly basis, depending on student progress.

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Introduction to Ancient Greek Religion and Society

Open, Seminar—Fall

Few people dispute the enormous impact that the Ancient Greeks have had on Western culture and even on the modern world in general. This seminar will introduce the interested student to this culture mainly through reading salient primary texts in English translation. Our interest will range broadly. Along with some background reading, we will be discussing mythology (Hesiod), epic hymns and poetry (Homer), history (Herodotus), politics, religion, and philosophy. By the end of the seminar, students should have a basic understanding of the cultural contribution of the Ancient Greeks, as well as a basic timeline of their history through the Hellenistic age.

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Readings in Early Christianity: John

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Spring

The Fourth Gospel and the epistles associated with its authors, 1-3 John, have been particularly significant for the development of Christian thought. In this course, we will study The Gospel of John closely, engaging in the hermeneutical arts with an eye to the development of Christian theology, as well as uncovering the history and growth of the early Christian community responsible for its unique prose and views regarding Jesus of Nazareth and the role of Christian discipleship. We will immerse ourselves in the Hellenistic world, especially as it relates to Mediterranean Judaism. In doing so, we will examine the roots of Christian antisemitism and the development of Gnosticism and Christian docetism.

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Sociology of the Built Environment

Open, Lecture—Fall

This course begins with a question: What is nature? Over the course of one semester, we will answer this question—drawing on insight from science and technology studies and the tools of ethnographic methods. Lectures will explore key concepts in the sociology of nature—including Karl Marx’s reproduction, Michael Bell’s natural conscience, and William Cronon’s second nature—in addition to substantive topics like the human ability to act on nature, the politics of land ownership, the relationship between humans and animals, and the conception of humans and cities as natural spaces. Group conferences will be devoted to training in ethnographic methods and peer review of ongoing ethnographic work. For their final conference work, students will craft an ethnographic portfolio of weekly ethnographic fieldnotes, memos reflecting on connections to course concepts, and a final analysis that summarizes key findings.

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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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First-Year Studies: Rigorous Action/Happy Accidents—A Laboratory for Theatre Artists

FYS—Year

This course is a hands-on testing ground for students who might have a wide range of interests in the theatre. Centered on collaborative methods for creation and performance, Rigorous Action/Happy Moments is geared toward enabling students to find their own artistic voice, creating their own solo and collaborative theatre works, while exploring various artists, influences, and approaches ranging from the New York avant-garde of the 1970s to artists working now. We will cover a wide array of multidisciplinary artists who create performance, investigating both their philosophies and their methodology. Class work will be a combination of readings/discussions and creative exercises where students try their ideas together in space. Additionally, an emphasis on the choreographic perspective will explore various methods, including: assembly, repetition, observation, deconstruction, and care of the moment-to-moment experience. Curiosity, bravery, and a willingness to make mistakes are all encouraged, as these are crucial attributes to any creative process. The course will culminate in a short solo theatre work conceived, created, and performed by each student. Rigorous Action/Happy Accidents meets once a week for two hours and will alternate individual conferences with small-group meetings/conferences to include screenings, field trips, and performances. Students will also enroll in two other theatre components of their choice to complete their Theatre Third. Students are required to attend scheduled Theatre Meetings and Think Tanks and complete a set amount of technical support hours with student productions in the theatre program.

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Painting Pop

Open, Concept—Fall

In this experimental studio class, we will explore how to digest, appropriate, reconfigure, and rewrite popular media, using mostly, but not limited to, painting, drawing, and collage and open to video, animation, sculpture, and performance. We will examine how artists operate as consumers,  catalysts, motors, and destroyers of TV, film, music, social media, and advertisement. Slideshows, readings, and presentations will exemplify the tight relationship between art and popular media throughout history and contemporary art and will serve as inspiration for students to create their own works. Students will be encouraged to deconstruct their own spectacles of adoration and critique and celebrate images that are impactful to them. We will promote generative group conversations, studio time, experimentation, collaboration, creativity, and improvisation.

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Episodes

Open, Seminar—Spring

The use of the episode is both ancient and modern and is central to storytelling in everything from The Arabian Nights to telenovelas, from Netflix to The Canterbury Tales, from comics to true-crime podcasts. Episodes differ from chapters in a novel and from short stories and can have many changing characters and plot lines. Episodes are disinclined toward resolution but love time, hunks of it, and do well depicting both the daily and the historical. We will be reading, looking at, and discussing episodes in several forms and, for conference work, writing six episodes over the semester, supported by small brainstorming groups as we go forward. This course may be taken with Words and Pictures as a year 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.

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Writing About the Arts

Open, Seminar—Fall

This class will examine and produce a range of work from the journalistic to the critical, from the practical to the mystical, in the vast landscape of arts writing. We will write liner notes, catalogue copy for gallery shows, short reviews, long reviews, critical essays, and deep and subjective interior meditations on our experience of artists and their work. We will read broadly across time—possibly including, but not limited to, Samuel Johnson on Richard Savage, Wordsworth and Coleridge on themselves, Nietzsche on Wagner, Adorno (via Thomas Mann) on Opus 111, V. S. Naipaul on Flaubert, Amiri Baraka on Billie Holiday, Virginia Woolf on Thomas Hardy, Thomas De Quincey on Shakespeare, James Baldwin on Richard Wright, Glenn Gould on Barbra Streisand, Mark Strand on Edward Hopper, Jean-Luc Godard on Nicholas Ray, Pauline Kael on Sam Peckinpah. Students should feel confident in their familiarity with one or two art forms, broadly understood, and should expect, along with the reading, to write several small and two larger (7-12 pages) pieces. Conference work will comprise research projects on those artists or works of art, or both, that class members, in consultation with the instructor, decide are their special province.

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