Fall Words Sections

Fall 2024 Words Descriptions will be added mid-May.

Fall 2023 Words Descriptions are below, listed in order of class time and then by professor last name.

MWF 11:30am - 12:30pm


Politics of Love - {added 6/2}

JaDee Carathers, Visiting Prof of Sociology

  • Core 120-02 – MWF 11:30am-12:30pm

This course is also taught MWF 1:50-2:50pm. Please see the description there.

So, You Think You’re Secular? - {added 6/1}

Paul Powers, Prof of Religious Studies

  • Core 120-03 - MWF 11:30am-12:30pm

One definition of a secular person is someone whose life is shaped in almost every way by religion who pretends that this isn’t the case. This course will explore the very idea of not being religious, which today is apparently a real and growing possibility. Such a possibility, however, is arguable very new, with as-yet unknown implications. We will begin by exploring the very idea of irreligion as it emerged in Enlightenment rationalist critiques of religion—basically, the claim that religion consists primarily of a set of ideas about how the world works, and that these ideas are superseded by rational and scientific ideas. We will also see that there are other ways of understanding the nature and functions of religion than as “bad science.” Next, we will survey and assess several modern formulations of state secularism, the effort to detach religion from politics and create a religiously neutral state as a way to manage religiously diverse populations in an increasingly pluralistic and mobile world. Finally, we will consider a variety of “critical” perspectives, including efforts to question the effects of secularism on minority and vulnerable groups.

MWF 1:50 - 2:50pm

Poetry as Philosophy

Philip Barron, Post-Doc Fellow Philosophy

  • Core 120-07 - MWF 1:50-2:50pm

Can poetry be philosophical? Can philosophy be poetic? Of course, the answer to both questions is “yes.” Why, then, did Plato try to put as much distance as possible between poetry and philosophy? Why are poetry and philosophy often seen as at odds with one another?

This course will survey certain important forms of philosophy and poetry and introduce you to some techniques for achieving critical appreciation of philosophical ideas, especially as they appear in the literary arts. “Critical appreciation” means having good reasons for liking what you like, thinking what you think, and defending your interpretation of a text.

Together, we will work to answer such questions as: what does a poem mean (and how does it accomplish its meaning)? What choices did the poet make in order to achieve the effects they intended? What motivates the philosopher to solve a puzzle in a particular way? Where does art come from?

Written assignments will be a mix of analytic (prose) and creative writing (poetry).  Readings will include philosophical texts by Jorge Luis Borges, Hans Georg Gadamer, John Stuart Mill, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Martin Heidegger, and Lao Tzu as well as poetry by Emily Dickinson, Lucille Clifton, Friedrich Hölderlin, Wallace Stevens, Robinson Jeffers, Ed Roberson, Robert Hass, Linda Gregerson, Octavio Paz, and Mary Robinson.

Death and the Afterlife

Andrew Bernstein, Assoc Prof of History

Susanna Morrill, Assoc Prof of Religious Studies

  • Core 120-04 – MWF 1:50-2:50pm (Bernstein)
  • Core 120-05 – MWF 1:50-2:50pm (Morrill)

Death is universal, but how people experience and imagine it is not. In this course we will explore how humans from a wide range of times and places have dealt with death and its consequences. Topics include funeral rituals, ghosts, realms of the dead, the aesthetics of death, and the quest for immortality. Readings will include ancient texts such as The Epic of Gilgamesh and The Bhagavad Gita as well as more recent works like Jessica Mitford’s The American Way of Death and Toni Morrison’s Beloved. We will also hear from funeral providers, clergy, and physicians about their experiences working with both the dying and the bereaved. In addition, we will visit nearby Riverside Cemetery to see what gravestones from different eras tell us about changing attitudes toward death. Students taking this course should be prepared to grapple with material that can be disturbing.

Two sections of this course will be offered, one taught by Professor Andrew Bernstein and the other by Professor Susanna Morrill. Although there will be considerable overlap, some of the assignments and readings will differ.

Politics of Love - {added 6/2}

JaDee Carathers, Visiting Prof of Sociology

  • Core 120-02 – MWF 11:30am-12:30pm
  • Core 120-15 - MWF 1:50-2:50pm

What is love? How might a social ethic of love shape political action? What if love is the conceptual lens we apply to efforts toward justice? This course engages love as a dynamic social force in an examination of the normative dimensions of relationality across diverse contexts, e.g. intimate, familial, spiritual, educative, and political. To understand the powerful potentialities of love as praxis, the course centers humanizing pedagogies from scholars bell hooks and Paulo Freire. We will build a critical framework to interrogate social reality, investigate how love works as social cohesion, and consider how it motivates social action in daily encounters and global relations. We will ponder key questions about love, humanity, global consciousness, and social change through the lens of love as a power and practice.

Critiquing Critical Race Theory

JM Fritzman, Assoc Prof of Philosophy

  • Core 120-01 - MWF 9:10-10:10am

Critical race theory is in the news. Some people say that it’s being taught in schools. It’s woke ideology. It’s divisive and discriminatory. It indoctrinates and brainwashes children. It makes them feel guilty. Or so they say. This section will aim to understand what critical race theory is and to discover its strengths, limitations, and potentials.

Note: You must be prepared to engage sympathetically and critically with material that will be difficult and challenging. And you must recognize that while our positionalities might be where we begin, they do not determine where we go or who we become. If you have questions or concerns about this section, please email me, fritzman@lclark.edu

A Mind of One’s Own

Susan Glosser, Assoc Prof of History

  • Core 120-14 - MWF 1:50-2:50pm

Since grade school we’ve all been told “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 challenged their societies’ preconceptions, disregarded their taboos, and undermined their sacred beliefs. 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 should encourage and protect that freedom. 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 readings will take us from the time of Socrates to the 19th and 20th centuries, and on to the issues that preoccupy us today, such as race, religion, gender, and hate speech. We’ll conclude with readings that are likely to challenge our notions of free speech and when, or whether, we should limit it.

Who am I (without language)? Language and Identity - {added 6/13}

David Hoffman, Inst in Academic English Studies

  • Core 120-16 - MWF 1:50-2:50pm

“Know thyself” is a famous but problematic instruction: Our construct of “self” is largely mediated by our native tongue. How does that mediation affect our perception of ourselves? How does it help create that perception? If we were to speak another language natively, would we have a different identity? Would concepts and experiences be different in that language? This course will consider the many ways in which language and identity interact to affect our perception of ourselves and our world. Through textbook readings and supplemental weekly blogs and podcasts, we will explore questions like “How do our political, social, economic, sexual, spiritual or other identities interact with our language, and what are the effects of that interaction?”

Climate Change and the Liberal Arts

Rob Kugler, Paul S Wright Prof of Christian Studies (Religious Studies Dept)

  • Core 120-09 - MWF 1:50-2:50pm

Climate change is the challenge of our age—no other outstrips its importance for the human future on planet Earth. Indeed, it shapes in one way or another every other civilizational challenge we face, from poverty to war to immigration to economic justice, and more.

Because of its hegemonic claim on our lives, climate change also asserts a kind of hegemony over our thinking about how we live in the world as a civilization—it concerns not just the natural sciences, but the arts, the humanities, and the social sciences too. It is becoming impossible to think and work as a historian, a philosopher, or a sociologist without taking account of climate change. And in turn, climate change is reshaping each discipline by its demand on their attention.

In that sense, climate change is the perfect problem for a liberal arts student’s attention. It is a problem that demands that you see it through multiple, critically informed frames of reference; without that approach it defies understanding, let alone adequate solutions. And a liberal arts education is all about developing just that—the ability to see, analyze, and engage the world from a wide range of intellectually-engaged perspectives; it’s an educational approach that prepares you to live with, understand, and actively engage challenges like climate change. This course builds on these insights to offer you an introduction to the ethos of the liberal arts by taking a look at climate change through multiple disciplinary lenses.

Power and Resistance

Eli Lichtenstein, Visiting Asst Prof of Philosophy

  • Core 120-16 – MWF 1:50-2:50pm

Power is everywhere. It exists not only in public arenas of political rule and decision-making, but also across numerous more everyday contexts: in relationships among friends and family members, in cultural discourses, at the workplace, and in the classroom. Power is at once obvious and subtle; although it appears in overt acts of injustice, it also exists in the values, norms, and ideologies that lead us to accept an oppressive social order without recognizing it as such. Yet if power is a pervasive phenomenon, so is resistance. Where oppression occurs, it is often challenged by individuals and communities fighting to make a better world. In this course we will read major philosophical works that seek to better understand the nature of both power and resistance. We’ll analyze forms of power that include capitalist domination, patriarchy, and racism, as well as strategies of resistance that have charted paths to freedom. Among other texts we will read Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels’ The German Ideology, Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, and Frantz Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks. Throughout the course we will inquire into why oppressive power is so tenacious, but we’ll also collectively imagine what a world without oppression might look like.

Conceptions of Justice: God, the State, and Outcasts

Todd Lochner, Dr. Robert B. Pamplin Jr. Assoc Prof of Govt (Pol Sci Dept)

  • Core 120-08 - MWF 1:50-2:50pm

This course examines the concept of justice and its relationship to human affairs. Questions to be addressed include: Does justice flow from divine will? The state? Reason? Does it even exist? 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? What do we owe people whose actions deeply offend our sense of justice, if anything? In order to explore these questions, we will examine a variety of challenging and sometimes controversial readings from the fields of literature, philosophy, and religion.

Who can tell which stories? Identity and cultural production

Suhaila Meera, Asst Prof of Theatre

  • Core 120-10 - MWF 1:50-2:50pm

Who can play/write/wear what? Though contested from Hollywood to Oprah’s Book Club – to our own college settings – questions of identity and representation lack easy answers. In this collaborative course, we will examine cultural production that centers encounters with an Other” to formulate our own criteria for evaluating these issues. We’ll ask: how do representations rehearse and resist erasure, appropriation, misogyny, hetero-/cis-normativity, and racial violence? How do we assess authors’ positionality and responsibility? Is there such a thing as “good representation”? And even, perhaps – how useful is identity, really?

Our syllabus will be flexible and co-created, with students invited to bring in material. Texts will range from the theoretical to the theatrical, and may include Edward Said’s Orientalism, Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò’s Elite Capture: How the Powerful Took Over Identity Politics (and Everything Else), Kareem Khubchandani’s Decolonize Drag, bell hooks’s Reel to Race: Race, Class, and Sex at the Movies, Ayad Akhtar’s Disgraced, Larissa Fasthorse’s Thanksgiving Play, Claudia Rankine’s The White Card, Jeanine Cummins’ American Dirt, and Elaine Hsieh Chou’s Disorientation.

Please note: we will be engaging authors whose cultural and historical contexts will be different from ours, and our discussions may touch across a spectrum of challenging topics. I invite you to reach out to me – in advance of the course, or once we’re underway – with any questions or concerns.

Paradoxes of Reading

Michael Mirabile, Asst Prof w/Term of English

  • Core 120-11 - MWF 1:50-2:50pm

This section will be devoted to the processes and paradoxes of reading. Why do we read? What, exactly, is involved in the activity known as “reading”? According to several critics, this activity is fundamentally paradoxical: while authors often invite us to interpret their writings, they also construct or frame those writings in ways that resist totalizing or conclusive explanations. What is meant by “textual analysis,” “close reading,” “critical reading,” “symptomatic reading,” etc.? How do we understand the related tasks involved in reading for the subtexts and contexts of a work? Some of the topics we will explore are: irony, ambiguity, metafiction (i.e., fiction about fiction), figurative language, tropes, codes, narrative (i.e., narrative closure vs. narrative openness). Additionally, our class discussions will provide an opportunity to introduce and familiarize ourselves with complex concepts such as ekphrasis, semiotics, historicity, exegesis, and hermeneutics. We will emphasize literary works (but will include non-fictional, philosophical, and theoretical works) with the purpose of considering the challenges of approaching texts that may have multiple meanings and may be interpreted in many ways. Our readings will be drawn from some of the following authors: Plato, Frederick Douglass, Virginia Woolf, Toni Morrison, Franz Kafka, Alice Walker, Richard Rodriguez, Jean Toomer, and Jorge Luis Borges.

Fictions of Identity

Will Pritchard, Assoc Prof of English

  • Core 120-12 - MWF 1:50-2:50pm

In this class we will be reading, discussing and writing about texts that investigate the nature of personal identity. More specifically, we will consider works from several centuries that depict identity as arbitrary, artificial, fictional, malleable and even multiple: tales of impostors, stories of “passing,” narratives of assimilation and accounts of divided selves. Some key questions will be: To what extent are identities, in these texts and in our own lives, innate (determined by birth) and to what extent are they up for grabs (forged in performance)? Is your identity defined by who you feel you are, or is it determined by who others say you are?

Tentative reading list: William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night, or What You Will (1601-02); Eliza Haywood, Fantomina, or Love in a Maze (1725); Robert Louis Stevenson, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886); Nella Larsen, Passing (1929); Natalie Zemon Davis, The Return of Martin Guerre (1982); Julia Alvarez, How the García Girls Lost Their Accents (1991); and Danzy Senna, Caucasia (1998).

Reality and Identity

Ben Westervelt, Assoc Prof of History

  • Core 120-12 - MWF 1:50-2:50pm

“What is reality?” and “Who am I?” are two fundamental—and surprisingly related—questions we ask ourselves. 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. This course will discuss basic issues in the history of science as well as in the history of the humanities. Professors Galaty and Westervelt will each teach their own sections, but both classes will follow a common syllabus and on several occasions both sections will meet together in one group.

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. Ibn Tufayl was an Arabic scholar who imagined an isolated human constructing his own identity and ideas about reality. Galileo Galilei and Rene Descartes self-consciously initiated a revolution in thought as they developed new ways of understanding the universe and themselves. Karl Marx showed how the then new Industrial Revolution had forced people into new ways of experiencing themselves and the world at about the same time that the slave Frederick Douglass tried to escape a fate based in an obsolete way of defining reality. Both Virginia Woolf and Jose Luis Borges used fiction to examine the ways we socially define the world and ourselves. As we brush through centuries, we will learn to “read” texts, equations, ideas, art and film. By the end many of us will have discovered something about how to obey the Delphic command to “know thyself.”