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Exploration and Discovery

Fall Section Descriptions

Common Works for E&D Fall 2017

All sections of fall E&D read a set of common works in addition to the individual texts assigned by each instructor.

The Fall 2017 E&D Section Preference Form is now CLOSED.

You will receive an email to your “” email address with your E&D Placement on July 7th.  You will be able to see your E&D Placement in WebAdvisor before July 11th.

If you didn’t submit preferences by the June 25th deadline you were randomly assigned to an open seat in a Core 106 section.  You may email a list of your preferences to to be placed on the waitlist.  

Please contact the E&D Administrative Specialist at or 503-768-7208 if you have any questions.

After assignments are made it is important to note:

  • Changing sections is limited to open seats.  Changes have to be made before the start of the third class day; the deadline to change your E&D section is Thursday, September 7th.
  • All changes must be approved by the E&D Program Coordinator, no add/drop slip needed.
  • The standard add/drop policy, timing, and process does not apply to Exploration and Discovery.
  • Your account must be free of registration holds by the September 7th deadline.

Please email if you have questions.


Fall 2017 Section Descriptions 

(Listed alphabetically by last name of instructor.)

Sara Appel Ph.D., Literature, Feminist & Queer Studies

  • Core 106-29 MWF 1:50-2:50pm
  • Core 106-33 MWF 3-4pm

Nailed It: Failure and Success in Thought and Practice

We’ve all seen the memes. The Cookie Monster cupcakes, blue-frosting mouths perfectly molded to hold a miniature chocolate-chip cookie. But cut to the next photo: “NAILED IT” stamped on the resulting DIY monstrosity, frosting oozing off the pan in a sad, inedible mass. We laugh; it’s a cathartic, low-stakes brand of “Fail.” But there’s also rebellion in that laughter. We resent that a task presented as “easy” might include few instructions. We recognize that often, this implied ease masks access to specialized tools and training.

Featuring classics texts in philosophy, literature, and history, this course explores the nature of success and its perhaps more provocative underside, failure. What are the stakes of framing the success-failure binary as a product of individual effort? What happens if we instead conceive of success and failure as the results of a system rife with “goals” that may not be readily accessible to all? What does success look like when, as Frederick Douglass knew well, failure implies the continued absence of human freedom? What might it mean to fail spectacularly at a bare-life level—as Socrates does on the day of his execution—while becoming one of the most “successful” influences on western thought? We’ll read works by Plato, Douglass, Karl Marx, and Virginia Woolf, among other texts that challenge us to rethink our assumptions about failure and success—Arthur Miller’s play Death of a Salesman paired with the TV series Breaking Bad; Roxane Gay’s essay collection Bad Feminist; and Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ graphic novel Watchmen.


Jon Arakaki Ph.D., Communications

  • Core 106-11 MWF 12:40-1:40pm
  • Core 106-31 MWF 1:50-2:50pm

Discovery, Courage, and the Heroic Life

What, exactly, does it mean to be courageous?  What does it mean to be a hero?  Who is a hero?  It is these types of questions that we will be addressing this semester, as well as exploring what it means to stand and fight, to express and follow one’s beliefs, to explore the unknown, and sometimes, to merely endure.  Susan Drucker and Robert Cathcart (1994) noted, “All cultures have heroes, but the hero and the heroic varies from culture to culture and from time to time.  What constitutes the heroic and who becomes the hero is a function of cultural priorities and values…” (p. 2).  As we survey the selected works listed below, we recognize that taking risks and holding firm to values often frame our experience.

This course will explore various aspects of discovery, courage, and heroes through the core texts that all sections of E&D will be reading together: the dialogues of Plato, the slave narrative of Frederick Douglass, the Communist Manifesto of Marx and Engels, and the twentieth century cultural criticism of Virginia Woolf.  In addition, our section will be reading Stephen Ambrose’s Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West, Lauren Kessler’s  Stubborn Twig: Three Generations in the Life of a Japanese American Family, and I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai.

One of our main intentions is to ask why we can often attain insight, truth, and knowledge only after challenging and courageous journeys of discovery.  The course is also intended to develop your skills as a critical thinker, writer, classroom participant, and close reader of texts.


 Susan Cohen Ph.D., Political Science

  • Core 106-05 MWF 10:20-11:20am
  • Core 106-21 MWF 1:50-2:50pm

The Good Life and the Good Society

What does it mean to live a good life, to flourish?  And what kinds of social and political structures best facilitate human flourishing?  Our focus will be on ethics and political philosophy as we explore these questions.  We’ll ask whether there are universal moral truths that constrain our choices as we search for a good life.  We’ll attempt to understand what it means to be an ethical person:  Is ethics primarily a matter of respecting the rights of others?  Cultivating emotions like empathy and compassion?  Honoring cultural traditions?  Obeying, or loving, God?  What responsibilities do we have to family, friends, community, nation, humankind, the divine?  What do we owe to the poor and the marginalized in our own country and abroad?  How might government, and we as individuals, negotiate the tensions among our various responsibilities, and how do we remain true to ourselves as we try to carry them out?  Can one even have a good life if its path is not of one’s own choosing?  Through close reading of and engagement with philosophical, religious, and literary texts we will wrestle with these and other questions.  Readings will include, among other works, Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do? (by contemporary political philosopher Michael Sandel), and selections from the Hebrew Bible.


Chana Cox Ph.D., Philosophy

  • Core 106-12 MWF 12:40-1:40pm

Ghost Dancing

In Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig claims that “Laws of nature are human inventions, like ghosts… .The whole blessed thing is a human invention, including the idea that it isn’t a human invention… . Our minds are nothing more than the voices of thousands and thousands of these ghosts from the past … . Ghosts trying to find their place among the living.” In this course we will travel across the country with a writer of computer manuals as he is pursued by a ghost from his past, and as he himself pursues the ghost of reason itself.  We will ghost dance with Plato, Karl Marx, Frederick Douglass, Virginia Woolf and others who were themselves pursued by ghosts and in pursuit of ghosts of their own making.   _______________________________________________________________________________________

Ben David Ph.D., Art History – Italian Renaissance

  • Core 106-20 MWF 1:50-2:50pm

Visual Perspectives on Verbal Representation/Narrative in Visual Art

What kinds of knowledge do visual works of art produce about literary texts? This section of Core 106 explores spaces of “illusion” and spaces of “allusion” in some key Classical and Modern texts. In this course, we will define “texts” as more than just words on a page to include works of art, film, and “graphic” novels. Themes to be considered include: the relations of representation and reality; the stories we tell about history and about ourselves; memory as representation; the body as a metaphor; mimesis and metamorphosis; the discernment of civilization from barbarism and justice from injustice; the truth value of science and allegory. Why should we care about representation? These questions will link the works to be discovered: Plato’s Apology,Crito, and Euthyphro; Frederick Douglass’s Narrative; Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s OwnThe Communist Manifesto of Marx and Engels. In addition to these common works, which all sections will consider, ours will also explore Ovid’s Metamorphosis (and visual responses to it); Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series; Colson Whitehead’s Underground Railroad; selected works by Édouard Manet; the Koran; Sandow Birk’s visualizations of the Koran; Mary Szybist’s Incarnadine (in conversation with works by Botticelli and Fra Angelico); Giorgio Bassani’s Garden of the Finzi Continis and Vittore de Sica’s filmic response to it; Kazuo Ishiguro’s, Never Let Me Go; Art Spiegelman’s In the Shadow of No Towers


Kristin Fujie  Ph.D., English – Modern American Literature

  • Core 106-14 MWF 1:50-2:50pm

Traversing Boundaries

This course is all about boundaries and their traversal.  To “traverse” means to cross through or over, but it also means to move back and forth, to cross and recross.  In our readings for this course we will traverse boundaries of all kinds, temporal, disciplinary, and thematic.  Our texts will take us from the ancient world to a dystopian version of our recent past.  They will touch upon the lives of philosophers and scientists, slaves and artists, heretics and human clones, all of whom test, transgress, or transcend the boundaries that define who they are, what they know, or where they belong.  By urging us across those limits that seem the most absolute—between the human and the divine, life and death, bondage and freedom, nature and culture, pleasure and suffering, self and world, to name just a few—they will compel us to consider both the possibilities and the limitations, the expansiveness and the boundedness, of human knowledge, belief, agency, imagination, and love.  Students in this course will be encouraged throughout the semester to draw connections between texts that go beyond our designated section theme.  At the semester’s conclusion you will be asked to reimagine the boundaries of this course by proposing your own course theme, title and description. 

In addition to the core texts shared by all sections of E&D, we will also read all or most of the following:  Euripides’s Bacchae; Sigmund Freud’s Civilization and its Discontents; Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go; and Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me.


David Galaty Ph.D., History of Science

  • Core 106-03 MWF 9:10-10:10am
  • Core 106-07 MWF 11:30am-12:30pm

Reality and Identityshared syllabus with Ben Westervelt

“What is reality?” and “Who am I?” are two surprisingly related questions. We seem to live in a world of constant change, yet we also experience uncanny structure in the world and in ourselves. We experience chaos and we strive for order. In this course we will examine these intertwining questions as they have echoed in the works of some of the greatest thinkers of our species.  We begin with Plato, who famously said that the unexamined life is not worth living.  Plato also sought to distinguish between eternal truth and evanescent illusion, arriving at a conclusion that continues to reverberate in our 21st century world.  What would it mean to live an examined life? How can we discern the structure of the cosmos? We will watch Augustine of Hippo struggle to define his identity and his place in the Cosmos. Galileo Galilei and Rene Descartes self-consciously initiate a revolution in thought as they develop new ways of understanding the universe and themselves.  Karl Marx shows how the then new Industrial Revolution has forced people into new ways of experiencing themselves and the world at about the same time that the slave Frederick Douglass tries to escape a fate based in an obsolete way of defining reality.  Both Virginia Woolf and Jose Luis Borges use fiction to examine the ways we socially define the world and ourselves.  As we brush through centuries, we will learn to “read” texts, ideas, art and film. By the end many of us will have discovered something about how to obey the Delphic command to “know thyself.”


Joseph Gantt, Director of Forensics, M.A., Communication Studies

  • 106-01 MWF 9:10-10:10am

Oppression and Resistance

Former Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas once said, “As nightfall does not come at once, neither does oppression. In both instances, there is a twilight when everything remains seemingly unchanged. And it is in such twilight that we all must be most aware of change in the air – however slight – lest we become unwitting victims of the darkness.” In this course, we will explore the darkness that is systemic oppression from a variety of perspectives while also examining methods of resistance to that oppression. Through the examination of works common to all E&D sections- works from Plato, Frederick Douglass, Virginia Woolf, and Karl Marx, as well as works from W.E.B. DuBois, Saeed Jones and Vaclav Havel, our journey will give us opportunities to read, speak and write on injustice both past and present and how to respond to such injustice.


Susan Glosser Ph.D., History – East Asian History

  • Core 106-16 MWF 1:50-2:50pm

Speak Up!: The Importance Of Free Speech And Civil Discourse

Since grade school we’ve all been told that the pen is mightier than the sword, but over the centuries many have died or been ostracized for what they have had to say. In this class we’ll read biographies, essays, and fiction by and about people who have challenged their societies’ preconceptions, disregarded their taboos, and undermined their sacred beliefs. We’ll begin with the common readings by Plato, Frederick Douglass, Karl Marx, and Virginia Woolf, and then proceed to our own list. The underlying assumptions of this course are that freedom of thought and speech are essential to the health of all communities and polities, and that college is the place to put them into practice. In each of the readings we will consider who or what the author challenged, how opponents and critics reacted, and what thought and action the author’s iconoclasm made possible. Our discussions will take us from the time of Socrates to the 19th and 20th century, and on to the issues of gender, sexuality, race, and religion that preoccupy us in 2017. We’ll conclude with readings that are likely to challenge our notions of free speech and discussions about whether, or when, we should place limits on free speech.


Mo Healy  Ph.D., History - Modern Europe

  • Core 106-15 MWF 1:50-2:50pm

Exile and Belonging

In this course we will explore works that dramatize and theorize the condition of exile: enforced residence in a foreign land. In some texts the journey into exile is metaphor; in others it is an escape, a physical ordeal or a psychological odyssey. Beginning, as all the sections of E&D do, with Plato, we will encounter several authors who articulate the challenge of belonging and the drama of exile. Plato prefers death to exile from his beloved Athens. Frederick Douglass asks what it takes for an African slave to become an American. Virginia Woolf struggles to belong to a world that excludes her, and Karl Marx asks a question highly relevant to our political lives today: Do you “belong” to a nation or a class? Which of these two aspects of belonging is more essential? We will follow these common works with several classic texts of banishment and repatriation: the biblical books of Genesis and Exodus and Virgil’s Aeneid. We will conclude with some more contemporary works about exile, including Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy, a book that examines conditions of mass incarceration in U.S. prisons, and Marjane Satrapi’s graphic memoir, Persepolis.


Rob Kugler  Ph.D., Religious Studies – Jewish & Christian origins

  • Core 106-23 MWF 1:50-2:50pm

The sources of the modern self and its present crisis: Learning how to be a liberal arts student

Liberalism’s understanding of the self that lies at the heart of much western political, moral, and social imagination and practice is arguably in crisis. One might even say it is this crisis that has opened the way for populists to gain so much traction in such bastions of liberal democracy as Great Britain, France, and America. If that’s true, there is considerable value in learning the origins, nature, and recent fate of the liberal self; such an understanding equips a person to appreciate her own place in society and in relationship to the other, and his responsibility to both.

In this course, we set out to acquire precisely that understanding, and not just to equip each other as suggested. Wrestling with a topic like this one in a community of scholars is also to become acquainted with what it is to be a student of the liberal arts.

To achieve both aims we will read texts from a wide range of authors, including Plato and Sophocles, Aquinas, Occam and Mirandola, Luther and Erasmus, Descartes and Hobbes, Marx and Douglass, Woolf and Lahiri, Baldwin and Coates, and Lilla and Rorty. Our reading will be guided by an appreciation of the intellectual horizons within which these authors lived and worked, and will issue in an appreciation of how we live and work within the extended arc of those same horizons. And with luck, our semester’s study together will also provide something of a framework for thinking about the liberal education that lies ahead of you at Lewis & Clark. 


Todd Lochner Ph.D., Political Science – Constitutional Law

  • Core 106-18 MWF 1:50-2:50pm

Conceptions of Justice: God, the State, and Deviance

This course examines the concept of justice and its relationship to human affairs.  Questions to be addressed include:  Does justice flow from divine providence?  The state?  Reason?  What is the relationship between society and justice?  How do we balance the desire for justice with other values such as love or compassion—or are the latter an intrinsic element of the former?  Is justice as a concept fixed, or does it change depending on time and culture?  How should we approach people whose actions offend our sense of justice? In order to explore these questions, we will examine readings from the fields of literature, philosophy, and religion. 


Read McFaddin M.A. (ABD), History of Art and Architecture

  • Core 106-32 MWF 1:50-2:50pm
  • Core 106-25 MWF 3-4pm

The City

What defines a city? Shakespeare believed it to be defined by the people. Sixteenth-century French jurist Jean Bodin believed the city to be defined by its laws and social bonds, while contemporary Italian architect Aldo Rossi recognizes the city through the architecture that gives voice to its history. De Certeau and Baudelaire proposed that the city is understood via movement through urban space. With these approaches in mind, our course considers the city a living and dynamic organism, both a human construct and ever-present agent shaping urban social performance. We will explore the visual and textual image of the city, both in its civitas (the people) and urbs (the structure) characterizations, as a crucial actor in the polemics of Plato, Frederick Douglass, Karl Marx and Virginia Woolf (E&D common works). Works from Sir Thomas More, Michel de Certeau, Jane Jacobs, and Italo Calvino will complement our core readings, and we will consider our local “cities” of the L&C campus and Portland. Participating students should be interested in the study of images and occasional off-campus site visits.


Michael Mirabile Ph.D., Comparative Literature

  • Core 106-04 MWF 10:20-11:20am
  • Core 106-26 MWF 1:50-2:50pm

Critique of Institutions

This section of E&D will address the influential role that various institutions play in our lives.  Through the close reading of selected texts, we will examine how they describe, stage an encounter with, and / or subject to criticism a number of social institutions.  The critical perspectives we will engage take many forms and are concentrated on distinct institutions in the writings of our authors, such as Plato (the court), Frederick Douglass (slavery), Virginia Woolf (education), and Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels (economic institutions).  In discussions of these and other authors we will also consider religious institutions, modern bureaucracies, colonial institutions, prisons, and contemporary globalization.  Over the course of the semester, we will gain valuable insights into the traditions of modern social thought and critical theory.  Although our readings will cover a range of disciplinary and historical contexts, there will be a focus on twentieth-century literature (especially fiction) and its relation to the many-sided significance of modernity and globalization – both keys to understanding the formation of our contemporary institutions.  Additional readings for the course may include texts chosen from the work of some of the following authors: Franz Kafka, Toni Morrison, E. M. Forster, Jean Toomer, Edward W. Said, Frantz Fanon, Saskia Sassen, and Don DeLillo.    


Will Pritchard Ph.D., English - 17th/18th Century British Literature

  • Core 106-13 MWF 1:50-2:50pm

Outside Agitators

In “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” Martin Luther King rejects the charge that the civil rights protests in Alabama were being incited by “rabble rousers” and “outside agitators.” He writes, “[n]ever again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial ‘outside agitator’ idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.” Despite his attempt to retire the phrase, however, it retains its currency today. When political protests, candidates’ town halls or lectures on college campuses turn violent, outside agitators often get the blame – or the credit.

In this section of Exploration and Discovery we will encounter a number of figures who could be considered rabble rousers or outside agitators. Beginning with Plato’s Socrates, who describes himself as “a kind of gadfly” sent by the god to annoy the city of Athens, we will turn to other authors who offered spirited critiques of racial hierarchy (Frederick Douglass), gender discrimination (Virginia Woolf) and class inequality (Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels).

In addition to these authors, who will be read by all sections of E&D, we will study works by and about several other real people or fictional characters who served as irritants to their respective societies. A tentative list of texts includes selections from the bible (Exodus, Matthew), Sophocles’ Antigone, Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, essays by Emma Goldman, Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, Michael Moore’s film Roger and Me and Marjane Satrapi’s graphic autobiography Persepolis.


Megan Pugh Ph.D., English – Modern American Literature

  • Core 106-19 MWF 1:50-2:50pm

We Tell Ourselves Stories

“We tell ourselves stories in order to live,” wrote Joan Didion in “The White Album,” an essay about the struggle for order within the tumult of 1960s and 70s California. But Didion was skeptical about storytelling, too: was it just an attempt to find meaning that didn’t exist? In this section of E&D, we’ll consider the powers and shortcomings of narratives. What stories do we tell ourselves? Are there other, better stories we ought to tell? How do stories do cultural, political, psychological, and artistic work? As we ask these questions, we will pay close attention to the intersections of race, class, gender, art and politics. 

In addition to reading the works common to all E&D sections—by Frederick Douglass, Karl Marx, Plato, and Virginia Woolf—we will study Robert Frank’s photography collection The Americans, Junot Diaz’s novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Claudia Rankine’s experimental poetry book Citizen: An American Lyric, and Joel Oppenheimer’s documentary The Act of Killing. We’ll also read shorter pieces by Didion, Herman Melville, Alice Walker, and others. Along the way, we’ll devote a great deal of time to improving your skills in composition, analysis, and argument, so that you can become more confident and careful writers and thinkers.


Christopher Roberts Ph.D., Religious Studies – Religion & Culture

  • Core 106-24 MWF 8-9am
  • Core 106-02 MWF 9:10-10:10am

Discourse and Narration as Contestation and Creation

This section of Exploration & Discovery will analyze transgressive instances of reality contestation and world creation in works of literature and socio­cultural critique. For the first half of the course we will read texts by Plato, Galileo, Marx, Douglass and Woolf that foreground individuals who take a critical perspective on received ideas, stereotyped images and “common sense” notions of “reality” in general. In each text we will examine the relationship between voice, expression and contestation, with a particular focus on the various rhetorical strategies of argumentation and narration that we encounter. For the second half of the course we will shift from texts centered on an individual voice or perspective to others where, as the scope widens, an entire world is brought into being. Though each of these texts (Genesis and Exodus from the Hebrew Bible, Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”, Jean Rhys’s “Wide Sargasso Sea” and Patrick Chamoiseau’s “Texaco”) is replete with compelling characters, these works stand out for the singular way each brings a lifeworld into being. With these counterfactual life­worlds each of these texts contests “reality” and takes distance from the everyday world in ways that offer the reader an opportunity to reflect upon it in critically significant ways.


Catherine Sprecher-Loverti Ph.D., German

  • Core 106-06 MWF 10:20-11:20am

Knowledge, Power, and Responsibility

In public discourse, you often hear the expression ‘Knowledge is Power.’ Yet what does this really mean? What is knowledge and how does it lead to power? Does this raise ethical questions about knowledge, the power that derives from it, and the consequences this power has for individuals, groups, and society at large? In this course, we will look at different forms of knowledge and how writers envision the power, as well as the responsibility, that comes with it. In some texts, knowledge is a means of power that leads to the liberation of individuals and whole groups (e.g. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass). In other texts, knowledge leads to a very different form of power, namely a power that reaches beyond its creator and threatens to destroy him or her (e.g. Frankenstein or Dr. Strangelove). The texts we will be reading all explore how knowledge leads to power, and how the individual is faced with the responsibility resulting from this power. We will investigate these ideas by studying works ranging from the Bible to the movie Blade Runner.


Joel Sweek Ph.D., Religious Studies

  • Core 106-08 MWF 11:30am-12:30pm
  • Core 106-22 MWF 1:50-2:50pm

Praise, Blame, and Responsibility

When we desire autonomy, we must embrace its necessary prerequisite: personal responsibility, that opening equipoise between approval and disapproval, praise and blame, those things that carve the ground we cover in our lives, contoured by our having brought to others benefit, distress, and even, occasionally, delight. The texts we read in this class endure in their fundamental handling of the connected themes of praise, blame, and responsibility. College is largely about assembling the tools for close reading, analytical thinking, and incisive writing, tools realized only in hours of careful study and conversation. This course affords the opportunity for these across a broad range of genres and periods, reading: Sappho, Plato, Virgil, Beowulf, Shakespeare, Douglass, Marx, Woolf, and Freud.


Don Waters M.F.A., Fiction M.F.A., Creative Writing

  • Core 106-10 MWF 12:40-1:40pm
  • Core 106-30 MWF 1:50-2:50pm

Documents of Change: Visionaries and Outsiders

The written word can not only alter our perceptions but also change the course of human history. Change in social and political spheres often arises from outsider voices seeking truth, justice, and equality. In this course, we will read and discuss the ways various “documents of change” inform, educate, influence, entertain, and impact our shared human experience. Our investigations will feature the course-wide readings, including powerful texts by Plato, Frederick Douglass, Virginia Woolf, and Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.

We will intersperse the course-wide readings with a compilation of other documents and manifestos written by visionaries and outsiders that further examine race, class, power, the environment, gender, and art. Texts will include Orwell’s totalitarian dystopian novel 1984, samplings from Roxanne Gay’s Bad Feminist, Rachel Carson’s prophetic Silent Spring, Andre Breton’s Surrealist Manifesto, as well as shorter, rousing pieces by Ta-Nehisi Coates, Joy Williams, Joan Didion, Jonathan Lethem, Walt Whitman, Henry David Thoreau, and Banksy, among numerous others. Along the way you should develop ample questions, such as: What are these visionaries and outsiders asking of us? How do such disparate artistic, personal, philosophical, and political documents achieve similar goals? How do these writers’ views conform or conflict with their historical backdrops and with current ideology? How do these writers’ narratives challenge your ideas of the human experience? We will end the semester by briefly touching on our new, ever-changing techno-reality, where a single symbol can transform language, where accepted narratives can quickly shift, and where outsiders can easily tweak recognizable symbols to create powerful new ideas about the human condition.


Ben Westervelt Ph.D., History – Medieval and Early Modern Europe

  • Core 106-09 MWF 11:30am-12:30pm

Reality and Identityshared syllabus with David Galaty

“What is reality?” and “Who am I?” are two surprisingly related questions. We seem to live in a world of constant change, yet we also experience uncanny structure in the world and in ourselves. We experience chaos and we strive for order. In this course we will examine these intertwining questions as they have echoed in the works of some of the greatest thinkers of our species.  We begin with Plato, who famously said that the unexamined life is not worth living.  Plato also sought to distinguish between eternal truth and evanescent illusion, arriving at a conclusion that continues to reverberate in our 21st century world.  What would it mean to live an examined life? How can we discern the structure of the cosmos? We will watch Augustine of Hippo struggle to define his identity and his place in the Cosmos. Galileo Galilei and Rene Descartes self-consciously initiate a revolution in thought as they develop new ways of understanding the universe and themselves.  Karl Marx shows how the then new Industrial Revolution has forced people into new ways of experiencing themselves and the world at about the same time that the slave Frederick Douglass tries to escape a fate based in an obsolete way of defining reality.  Both Virginia Woolf and Jose Luis Borges use fiction to examine the ways we socially define the world and ourselves.  As we brush through centuries, we will learn to “read” texts, ideas, art and film. By the end many of us will have discovered something about how to obey the Delphic command to “know thyself.”

Exploration and Discovery

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