Religion

Religious traditions identify themselves with, and draw sustenance from, the texts that they hold sacred. In Sarah Lawrence College religion courses, those texts command and hold our attention. As students explore the sacred text of a particular religion—whether studying Buddhism, early Christianity, or the origins of Islam—they gain insight into the social and historical context of its creation. Using critical, hermeneutical, and intellectual historical approaches, students enter into the writings in such depth as to touch what might be the foundation of that religion. In addition, work with contemporary texts (such as those by religious activists on the internet) gives students insight into what most moves and motivates religious groups today. The College’s religion courses provide an important complement to courses in Asian studies and history.

Religion 2021-2022 Courses

The Holocaust

Open, Small Lecture—Spring | 5 credits

The Holocaust raises fundamental questions about the nature of our civilization. How was it that a policy of genocide could be initiated and carried out in one of the most advanced and sophisticated countries of Europe, a country that produced many of the greatest thinkers and artists the world has seen? In this course, we will attempt to explain how those events took place, beginning with the evolution of anti-Semitic ideology and violence. At the same time, we will look at how victims chose to live out their last years and respond to the impending catastrophe through art, diary writing, mysticism, physical resistance, hiding, and so on. Finally, we will attempt to come to grips with the crucial, but neglected, phenomenon of bystanders—those who stood by while their neighbors were methodically annihilated. We shall inevitably be compelled to make moral judgments; but those will be of value only if they are informed and based on a fuller understanding of people and perspectives in this dark chapter of European history. This course will be run as a lecture/seminar hybrid.

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Readings in Christian Mysticism: Late Antiquity

Open, Seminar—Year | 10 credits

This course will focus on the intersection of Jewish theology and Greco-Roman philosophy in the early Christian texts commonly seen to contain “mystical elements.” We will define these elements as texts that have to do with the desire on the part of the reader to “know,” experience, or “be with” God and with the author’s attempt to properly demarcate the boundaries within which those desires can be fulfilled. Christian mysticism is perhaps best thought of as erotic theology—theology that involves the desire for God. Recognizing this, we must also acknowledge that inherent to this theology is a profound paradox. What is desired must be conceived. It must be held in the grasp of one’s understanding in order to be attained. While this is fine for an orange, or even for wealth and power, it is much more problematic when the object of desire is God, the creator of the universe. Theologians in the early church developed a language of desire and specific sets of practices involving one’s lifestyle and prayer in order to resolve this paradox and fulfill their desire. They began to ponder this paradox with a synthesis of a biblical theology of divine revelation (i.e., the revelation of God as preserved in the biblical canon, symbolized in both the revelation of YHWH on Mt. Sinai and in the incarnation of the divine logos as Jesus of Nazareth) and Platonic expression of a desire for the ultimate good, truth, or beauty. In order to better grasp these ideas, we will be reading parts of the Hebrew Bible and the Gospels and will contemplate the anthropology of desire set forth by Plato in The Symposium and his Phaedrus. Educated in the Hellenistic world, the early church fathers took these ideas for granted and attempted to find common ground with their Christian inheritance. We will study the phenomenon of Gnostic Christianity, an early attempt at synthesis of biblical material and Greek philosophy. We will then move on to encounter the great early Christian writers like Origen and Athanasius of Alexandria, Gregory of Nyssa, Psuedo-Dionysius, and Ambrose of Milan. We will conclude our study with a lengthy look at what, for Western culture, is the seminal work of Augustine of Hippo.

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The Emergence of Christianity

Open, Seminar—Year | 10 credits

Perhaps no one has not heard the name of a seemingly obscure carpenter’s son executed by the Romans around 33 CE. Why? The religion that we call Christianity shaped the Western world for at least 1,500 years. In this course, we will study the origins of that tradition. As we study those origins, we will explore Judaism in the strange and fertile Second Temple period (515 BCE–70 CE). We will encounter the learned societies of holy men like the Pharisees and the Qumran sectarians, as well as the freedom fighter/terrorists called the Zealots. Our main source will be the New Testament of the Christian Bible, though these sources will be supplemented by other primary materials. Excerpts from the Dead Sea Scrolls, rabbinic literature, as well as other Hellenistic texts from that period provide the cultural backdrop in which Christianity has its roots. We will learn about the spread of the new movement of “Christians,” as they were called by their detractors in Antioch, from its roots in the Holy Land into the greater Greco-Roman world. How did that movement, which began among the Jews of the Eastern Mediterranean, come to be wholly associated with Gentiles by the end of the second century? Who became Christian? Why were they hated so much by the greater Greco-Roman society? What did they believe? How did they behave? What are the origins of Christian anti-Semitism? What kind of social world, with its senses of hierarchy and gender relations, did these people envision for themselves?

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Jewish Life in Eastern Europe: A Diaspora Case Study

Open, Seminar—Fall | 5 credits

Nearly three-fourths of the world’s Jewish population once resided in Poland and Russia, producing a vibrant culture that has been celebrated in the paintings of Marc Chagall and plays like Fiddler on the Roof. Thanks to extensive self-government, economic niches like tavern-keeping, educational institutions like yeshivas, and spiritual subcultures like Hasidism, many Eastern European Jewish men and women enjoyed a stable, prosperous, and confident existence. The 19th and 20th centuries, however, witnessed a steady breakdown, manifested in interethnic tensions, violent pogroms, expulsions, and genocide. This course explores the ways in which East European Jews promoted their own self-empowering discourses about gender, law, spirituality, magic, the arts, and politics (e.g., radicalism, nationalism, orthodoxy), often in the face of cultural coercion, exclusion, or violence. At the end of the course, we follow the mass migration to America and then return to confront The Holocaust from the perspective of its four million Eastern European Jewish victims. Throughout, the sources of Eastern European Jewish history will be examined in light of foundational readings in postcolonial and diaspora theory.

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Modern Jewish Literature

Open, Seminar—Fall | 5 credits

As Jews were emancipated in Europe and freed from the “ghetto,” many began to grapple with modernity through literary genres. Writers like Franz Kafka, Isaac Babel, Primo Levi, S. Y. Agnon, and Sholem Aleichem (whose short stories formed the basis of the play, Fiddler on the Roof) achieved universal acclaim. But the path of the modern Jewish writer was rarely smooth. It usually entailed alienation, rebellion against tradition, bouts of nostalgia, longing, regret, and confrontations with increasingly virulent forms of anti-Semitism, culminating in the Holocaust. In new centers in America and Israel, the Jews’ improved and inverted power status yielded a different, but no less acute, sense of ambivalence, as witnessed in works by authors such as Philip Roth, Cynthia Ozick, Grace Paley, Amos Oz, and David Grossman. Despite the tension and anguish that runs through modern Jewish literature, we will discover works of beauty and poignancy by men and women whose outsider, “pariah” status gave them a unique perspective on the world.

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Japanese Religion and Culture

Open, Seminar—Fall | 5 credits

This historical survey of religious beliefs, practices, and institutions in Japan, from ancient times down to the present, covers all of the major religious traditions and movements—Shinto, Buddhism, Shugendo, Confucianism, and the so-called New Religions—as well as various elements of religion and culture (e.g., Noh theatre, Bushido) that are not readily subsumed under any of the preceding labels. Readings include many primary sources (Japanese texts in English translation), and audio-visual materials are used whenever possible to provide a fuller picture of traditional religious art, architecture, and ritual performance in Japan. Prior study or experience of things Japanese (language, literature, history, etc.) is desirable but not required.

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Storytelling and Spirituality in Classical Islam

Open, Seminar—Fall | 5 credits | Hybrid Remote/In-Person

One of the greatest rock songs of all time, “Layla,” was written by Eric Clapton after he read the story of the star-crossed lovers Layla and Majnun. This tale of a Bedouin poet who went mad, after he was cut off from his beloved, circulated widely in Arabic sources for hundreds of years before being expanded into a long narrative poem in Persian by Nizami in the 12th century. By this point in time, telling compelling stories had become a means by which Sufi writers (the mystics of Islam) described their particular vision of being Muslim, which was that of the pitfalls, despairing moments, and ecstasies of the spiritual quest and search for closeness to the divine Beloved. Layla and Majnun were just one of several couples in allegorical stories that were understood as teaching vehicles for disciples on the path. On the opposite end of the plot spectrum, there is Ibn Tufyal’s famous story, Hayy ibn Yaqzan, a mystical-philosophical work in Arabic also written in the 12th century. It describes an abandoned baby growing up on a desert island, raised first by a deer and then by his own devices, as he slowly discovers the nature of the human-divine relationship. Other classical works dispensed with this format of the singular narrative opt, instead, for nesting stories within stories and mixing animal stories with stories about humans. We will look at examples of these literary techniques in translations of Farid ad-Din Attar’s Conference of the Birds and The Thousand and One Nights. What is common to all of the works that we will be reading in this class is the way in which storytelling here is rooted in a deeper dimension that explores the human potential for more refined behavior and ethics, as well as for higher spiritual states.

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Perspectives on 9/11: Religion, Politics, and Culture

Open, Seminar—Fall | 5 credits

It has now been 20 years since the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. How have perceptions changed about the events that occurred that day in 2001? Shortly after the attacks, then-President George W. Bush insisted that Islam was not to blame and, instead, framed the battle ahead as “the war on terror.” But what about those who insisted that what had happened was an almost inevitable result of the “clash of civilizations”? How did Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda frame the narrative and their part in it? What kinds of arguments were presented to justify the attack and the US military interventions that followed? In the wake of the attacks on 9/11, what has been called the “Islamophobia industry” developed and flourished, taking full advantage of new forms of media. What role has mainstream and alternative media played in how Muslims have been portrayed and the discrimination that they have faced in the years since 9/11? Ten years after the attacks, the 9/11 Memorial and Museum opened in New York City. How has that site and other memorials shaped the collective memory of the events, as well as the curriculum being taught to a generation born after 2001? In addition to the architects of these memorials, artists, writers, and filmmakers have explored the many religious, political, and social dimensions of the 9/11 attacks and their aftermath. How have those works of imagination expanded the ways in which people have made sense of, and found meaning in, painful events? While this seminar is being offered as a religion course, the approach is an interdisciplinary one that draws upon readings and other materials from a variety of academic, artistic, and literary fields.

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Buddhist Meditation

Advanced, Seminar—Fall | 5 credits

Throughout history, most branches of the Buddhist tradition have embraced the idea that a deluded apprehension of one’s “self” and of the “things” that make up one’s world is the root cause of all suffering experienced by humans and other living beings in the round of rebirth (samsara). On a more mundane level, Buddhists have generally held that regulating the “mind”—the deep-seated nexus of habitual responses, proclivities, and beliefs that filters our perceptions and directs our actions—is the key to achieving individual satisfaction and social harmony and justice. Thus, whether the aim is ultimate salvation, happiness in this life, or simply the attainment of material benefits, Buddhists have often prescribed some program of sustained mental discipline—some kind of “meditation” practice—as the best means of working toward the goal. But “Buddhist meditation” is only a loose rubric that covers a wide range of different practices—as, for example, techniques for calming the mind and entering into trance; procedures for the systematic philosophical analysis of ultimate reality; mental exercises meant to suppress negative emotions (e.g., anger) and foster positive ones (e.g., loving kindness); the cultivation of “mindfulness,” in which one strives to maintain a constant, detached awareness of one’s own physical and mental states without trying to change them; mental exercises for recalling and repenting bad deeds done in the past; the visualization of deities, performed in conjunction with devotional prayer; the “investigation of words” attributed to Zen masters, also known as koan practice; and so on. In this course, we examine a selection of texts deriving from the Indian, Southeast Asian, East Asian, and Tibetan Buddhist traditions that treat these different types of meditation. Readings are in English translation.

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Jewish Autobiography: Between History & Literature

Open, Seminar—Spring | 5 credits

Autobiography is among the most contentious literary/historical genres, compromised by the fallibility of memory and the human tendency toward self-fashioning yet unique in the insights it affords into the lived experience of history. This course employs personal narratives as windows onto the Jewish transition to modernity. We begin with narratives by “traditional” Jewish men and women. We then proceed to the wrenching accounts of early detractors from tradition and then to writings by Jewish leaders of modern political movements like Zionism, Jewish Socialism, Communism, Orthodoxy, and Ultra-Orthodoxy. We conclude with individual perspectives on The Holocaust, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and American Jewish feminist, queer, and transgender self-narratives.

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The Qur’an and Its Interpretation

Open, Seminar—Spring | 5 credits | Hybrid Remote/In-Person

To watch a Muslim kiss the Qur’an is to recognize that this not a “book” in the ordinary sense of the word. There is an art to reciting its verses and an art to its calligraphy. The uncovering of its meanings has been variously understood by Muslims to be a matter of common sense, diligent scholarship, or profound inspiration. In this seminar, we will begin by studying the style and content of the Qur’an. Some of the themes that may be discussed are the nature and function of humans and supernatural beings, free will and determinism, the structure of this and other worlds, God’s attributes of mercy and wrath, gender and family relations, other religions, and the legitimate use of violence. We will also look at the types of literature that developed in response to the Qur’an in texts ranging from the entertaining stories of the prophets, to scholastic theological and philosophical analysis, to poetic mystical insights. Contemporary writings written by Muslims will be included that mine the riches of the classical heritage of Qur’anic exegesis while grappling with the difficulties of dealing with a text that originated in seventh-century Arabia.

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Sufi Sciences of the Soul

Open, Seminar—Spring | 5 credits

Muslim mystics have left us with a vast body of literature that explains the faculties and capabilities of human beings. These theoretical writings go hand-in-hand with the experiential dimension of Sufi practice, which includes the careful and diligent cultivation of spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical disciplines. The purpose of their path, as they often label their thought and practice, goes beyond that of religious salvation—at least as understood in the usual sense. Their goal might be best described as a desire to attain intimate knowledge of the true nature of reality, as in the saying of the Prophet Muhammad, “Our Lord, show us things as they really are.” Following another saying of the Prophet, “He who knows himself, knows his Lord,” Sufis have insisted that this deeper knowledge can only be accomplished by a greater understanding of oneself, which necessarily involves the deconstruction of any solid or static notions about what is perceived to be the self. According to Sufis, what we think of as ourselves is really a cacophony of forces from within and without that flow through, and interact with, different faculties within us. The spiritual disciplines in which Sufis immerse themselves are intended to destabilize the false self by enabling the practitioner to become more conscious of those forces and faculties. Furthermore, according to Sufis, there is a strong relationship between our level of awareness, our attitudes and behaviors, and the way in which we perceive reality. Changes within us change the reality that seems to be outside of us. Through a series of readings from Sufi figures in the past and present, this course will explore their systematic exposition of the “sciences of the soul.”

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Ethnographic Research and Writing

Advanced, Seminar—Year

Javanese shadow theatre, Bedouin love poems, and American community life are but a few of the cultural realities that anthropologists have effectively studied and written about. This is no easy task, given the substantial difficulties involved in understanding and portraying the concerns, activities, and lifeworlds other than one’s own. Despite those challenges, ethnographic research is generally considered one of the best ways to form a nuanced and contextually rich understanding of a particular social world. To gain an informed sense of the methods, challenges, and benefits of just such an approach, students in this course will try their hands at ethnographic research and writing. In the fall semester, each student will be asked to undertake an ethnographic research project in order to investigate the features of a specific social world, such as a homeless shelter, a religious festival, or a neighborhood in Brooklyn. In the spring, she or he will craft a fully realized piece of ethnographic writing that conveys something of the features and dynamics of that world in lively, accurate, and comprehensive terms. Along the way, and with the help of anthropological writings that are either exceptional or experimental in nature, we will collectively think through some of the most important features of ethnographic projects, such as interviewing others, the use of fieldnotes, the interlacing of theory and data, the role of dialogue and the author’s voice in ethnographic prose, and the ethnical and political responsibilities that come with any attempt to understand and portray the lives of others.

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Home/Nation: 20th-Century Asian Art–via New York

Open, Seminar—Fall

This seminar is an introduction to modern and contemporary art from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Japan, China, Taiwan, and Korea. The course takes its title from Indian artist Rummana Hussain’s “Home/Nation” (1996), a multimedia installation reflecting on rising political violence in India at the end of the century—especially against minority groups. In 1998, Hussain completed a residency at Art in General in New York and was one of numerous artists from across Asia showing in the City during the “global” and “multicultural” 1990s. This seminar elaborates on this global turn by tracing prior histories of Asian art in the City; however, our discussion and reading will also spend equal time in Asian and New York-based histories of modern and contemporary art, looking across continents to consider parallels, inversions, connections, and disconnections between and among them. We will, therefore, examine artists like Hussain, who might have visited New York only briefly, along with those who have lived in the City for all or most of their lives. Artists examined will include Toshi Shumizu, Rabindranath Tagore, Chao Chung-hsiang, F. N. Souza, Isamu Noguchi, Zainul Abedin, Yoko Ono, Tehching Hsieh, Zarina Hashmi, and Shahzia Sikander. We will consider how artists grappled with splits between “home” and “nation,” both in Asia and in the United States, during the 20th century, taking into account major events in Asian history that include decolonization, the Cold War, and neoliberal globalization. We will also explore the impact of World War I and World War II on Asian minorities in the United States, the civil rights movement and related passage of the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act, the Vietnam War, and, more recently, the aftermaths of 9/11 and the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Artistically, we will examine diverse trajectories of realism and abstraction, photography and performance, and new media and avant-garde strategies. Students will have the opportunity to visit New York-based museums, galleries, and archival collections, including the Asia Art Archive, as part of in-class and individual assignments. Seminar discussion and final papers will focus on primary documents: institutional correspondences and historical newspaper and magazine reviews, artist writings and interviews, and archival photographs, among other documentary forms. These records will be used to build on existing histories of Asian art in/via New York and, if possible, to rediscover new or forgotten ones.

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The Emergence of the Modern Middle East

Open, Seminar—Year

This course provides a broad introduction to the political, social, cultural, and intellectual history of the Middle East from the late 18th century to the present. After a brief conceptual overview, the course draws upon a wide array of primary and secondary sources to illuminate the manifold transformations and processes that have contributed over time to shaping what has meant to be “modern” in this remarkably diverse and dynamic region. Particular attention will be paid to the following themes: the question of modernization and reform within the Ottoman and Qajar empires; the experience of different forms of European imperialism in the Middle East; the integration of the Middle East into the world economy; World War I and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire; state-building in both colonial and postcolonial contexts; transformations in religious thought; changing family norms and gender roles and the genesis of Middle Eastern women’s movements; nationalism; class politics, social movements, and revolution; Zionism and the Israel-Palestine conflict; post-World War II geopolitics and the Cold War in the Middle East; Nasserism and pan-Arabism; the role of US power in the Middle East; the origins and spread of political Islam; the political economy of oil; globalization and neoliberalism; and the impact of various new cultural forms and media on the formation of identities across the region.

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Winds of Doctrine: Europe in the Age of the Reformation

Open, Seminar—Year

In the 16th century, Europe entered upon a religious crisis that was to permanently alter the character of Western Christianity. Between 1520 and 1580, the religious unity of Catholic Christendom was destroyed, as believers throughout Central and Northern Europe severed their ties with the papacy to form new “Protestant” communities. But the impact of the religious crisis was by no means confined to the emergence of the churches of the Reformation. Luther’s revolt against the Roman church ushered in an era of soaring religious creativity and savage religious conflict that lasted for nearly two centuries and revolutionized thought, art, music—and politics. The modern state is ultimately a product of the Reformation crisis, as is the system of international law that still governs the relations among sovereign states. Students in this course will examine multiple aspects of the religious, intellectual, and political history of Europe during the 16th and 17th centuries. The readings will focus attention on the diversity of religious thinking and religious experience in this era. Besides tracing the rise of the Lutheran, Calvinist, and Anglican churches and the complex history of the “radical Reformation,” we will consider forms of belief independent of any church and new varieties of skepticism and doubt. We also will devote considerable attention to the reform movements that transformed Roman Catholicism during those two centuries and the upsurge of missionary energy and mystical spirituality that accompanied them. We will investigate the effects of the Reformation crisis on politics and the state and on the social order that Europe inherited from the Middle Ages. As part of this investigation, we will examine the most important political struggles waged in the name of religion between 1524 and 1689: the Peasants’ Revolt and Thirty Years’ War in Germany, the Dutch revolt against Spain, the French Wars of Religion, and the English Revolution. Texts we will read include works by Luther, Calvin, Ignatius of Loyola, Teresa of Ávila, Queen Marguerite of Navarre, Rabelais, Montaigne, and Pascal.

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Theatre and the City

Open, Large Lecture—Year

Athens, London, Paris, Berlin, New York...the history of Western theatre has always been associated with cities, their politics, their customs, their geography, their audiences. This course will track the story of theatre as it originates in the Athens of the fifth-century BCE and evolves into its different expressions and practices in cities of later periods, all of them seen as "capitals" of civilization. Does theatre civilize, or is it merely a reflection of any given civilization whose cultural assumptions inform its values and shape its styles? Given that ancient Greek democracy gave birth to tragedy and comedy in civic praise of the god Dionysos—from a special coupling of the worldly and the sacred—what happens when these genres recrudesce in the unsavory precincts of Elizabethan London, the polished court of Louis XIV, the beer halls of Weimar Berlin, and the neon “palaces” of Broadway? Sometimes the genres themselves are challenged by experiments in new forms or by performances deliberately situated in unaccustomed places. By tinkering with what audiences have come to expect or where they have come to assemble, do playwrights like Euripides, Brecht, and Sarah Kane destabilize civilized norms? Grounding our work in Greek theatre, we will address such questions in a series of chronological investigations of the theatre produced in each city: Athens and London in the first semester; Paris, Berlin, and New York in the second.

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Milton, Blake, and the Bible

Open, Small Lecture—Fall

John Milton in the 17th century and William Blake in the late-18th and early-19th centuries forged fiercely independent poetics of visionary resistance to the trends toward intellectual materialism, religious conformity, economic mercantilism, and political authoritarianism that dominated the England and Europe of their periods. Both represented themselves as visionary teachers and prophets in a line of prophetic succession that began with Moses and included Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jesus, and John, the writer of the Apocalypse. They founded their prophetic imaginations on what Blake called, “the sublime of the Bible,” the great epic of human liberation and imaginative inspiration. This course will provide readings of central biblical narratives and poetry and examine how Milton and Blake read, understood, and rewrote scripture in their major poetic texts in their prophetic expectation of changing the world and how we see it.

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Conscience of the Nations: Classics of African Literature

Open, Seminar—Fall

One way to think of literature is as the conscience of a people, reflecting on their origins, their values, their losses, and their possibilities. This course will study major representative texts in which sub-Saharan African writers have taken up the challenge of cultural formation and criticism. Part of what gives the best writing of modern Africa its aesthetic power is the political urgency of its task: The past still bears on the present, the future is yet to be written, and what writers have to say matters enough for their work to be considered dangerous. Political issues and aesthetic issues are, thus, inseparable in their work. Creative tensions in the writing between indigenous languages and European languages, between traditional forms of orature and storytelling and self-consciously “literary” forms, register all of the pressures and conflicts of late colonial and postcolonial history. To discern the traditionalist sources of modern African writing, we will first read examples from epic, folk tale, and other forms of orature. Major fiction will be selected from the work of Tutuola, Achebe, Beti, Sembene, Ba, Head, Ngugi, La Guma, Dangaremgba, and Sarowiwa; drama from the work of Soyinka and Aidoo; poetry from the work of Senghor, Rabearivelo, Okigbo, Okot p’Bitek, Brutus, Mapanje, and others. Conference work may include further, deeper work on the writings, writers, and genres that we study together in class; aspects of literary theory, particularly aspects of postcolonial and womanist theory relevant to readings of African literature; or readings of more recent writers out of Africa whose work draws on and develops the “classical” works that will be the foundation of our work together.

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Theories of Agency and Action in Science Studies

Open, Lecture—Fall

This course surveys a rich historical debate in science, technology, and society studies on the nature of agency—or the motivation behind, and responsibility for, action. The lecture course begins with an exploration of the nature of scientific fact, including how discoveries are made and how they become accepted in society. We will pay special attention to the concepts of co-production, the idea that humans and technologies work together, and situated action, the reality that actions are rooted in social context, to study how technologies become central to social interaction. This grounding theory will lay a foundation for students to consider an ongoing debate on the distinction between human and nonhuman action. The course culminates with an exploration of three contemporary discussions on the nature of agency with respect to automated weapons systems, assistive technologies for people with disabilities, and the use of algorithms to order social life. For each topic, we will consider how technologies influence social interaction and who or what is responsible when things go wrong. In group conference, students will practice analyzing how technologies shape social interaction through a series of “object readings,” short analyses of a single technological object. These assignments are designed to prepare students for a final group analysis of a technology of their choice.

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Measuring Difference: Constructing Race, Gender, and Ability

Open, Seminar—Spring

In this seminar, we will explore the sociology of classification, a subfield that critiques the ways in which society measures differences like race, gender, ability, and other social categories that communicate social worth. Three questions guide our inquiry: How does society construct and understand categories of difference? How do people experience and resist categories of social difference in themselves? How does social difference shape institutions like the family, education, employment, and government? Each week, students will engage a selection of texts that put theory, substantive research on social categories, and critical responses to them in conversation with one another. For a final class project, students will explore one area of social difference through individual and group writing assignments. Those assignments will provide training in documentary analysis, a qualitative method often used in historical and ethnographic research. Students will leave the course with the ability to identify areas of social difference, the practices through which these are produced, and a systematic critique of the ways in which measurement creates inequality in the social world.

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First-Year Studies: Two Lenses on Writing

Open, FYS—Year

The first semester of this FYS course will be focused on words and pictures, with its central lens on stories: how to find them, tell them, and make your listener, viewer, or reader come along with you. The course includes adding a visual element, photography, drawing, paste-ups, collage, animations, anime. We will read and then make a few of the following: a collective graphic novel, some children's books, adult books with pictures, illuminated manuscripts, comics. Your conference work will be a finished version of a project of your choice. The second semester of the course will be a class in episodes: pieces of a continuing story that follow a thread but may have different leading characters in each episode; or a frame, with many peoples' stories inside; or movement from one time, place, and set of characters to another. We will bring in and discuss episodes that we love in books, TV, podcasts. We will do exercises until we come upon something that engages us and then start our conference work, which will involve six episodes, more or less. In both semesters, we will have an extra meeting every other week to discuss whatever comes up: paper writing, social issues, food, procrastination. These sessions may be led by the professor, outside speakers, or a rotating group of students.

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