Courses for First-Year Students
Green Day's words, "Don't want to be an American Idiot," reflected contemporary America in important ways. Yet how do we avoid this fate, being an American Idiot? In this interdisciplinary seminar, we will think beyond the media, for ourselves, examining and re-examining our beliefs and assumptions in significant ways. We will use our time together to get outside the lines, to question our views of the world in new and challenging ways. What are your views on contemporary slavery? Are we implicated in the death of Sudanese in the Sudan? What do we think about such global issues, and, more importantly, how do we decide what to think about these issues?
So often, we concentrate on what we know, the accumulation of material, rather than the perspectives we bring to this material. No matter how old we are, we tend to see things the same over and over, forgetting to recognize how different people, or just different perspectives, can lead us to enact different realities. This course will challenge us to achieve something better. We can gain new perspectives that enable us to change both the world around us and ourselves. We can examine new ways of thinking and see what these ways can offer us. Finally, we can decide what we want to accomplish in our world and use these ways of seeing to help us develop innovative ways of acting in the world.
Team-Taught Course for second-year students
There are precious few instances of consensus in today's political climate, but one of them seems to be that our visual culture is overrun with sexually objectifying images. Most people, whether conservative or liberal, seem to agree that such images are harmful; yet few can defend this position with clarity and coherence. Perhaps this difficulty has its roots in the confusion surrounding the concept of objectification itself. This course will explore the social, cultural, visual, philosophical, and ethical aspects of the phenomenon of sexual objectification. As we explore images from a variety of sources, both classical and contemporary, as well as a diverse set of texts, we will also investigate questions concerning gender inequality, the relation of sexuality to identity, and the Western tendency to marginalize, ignore, or vilify the body. We will wonder: who is sexually objectified, and why? Is sexual objectification always ethically unacceptable? Are there ways of representing bodies that do not constitute objectification? Students will complete a variety of assignments, ranging from short daily papers to a semester-long research project, and will be expected to take a lively part in class discussions.
While much scientific literature exists on substance abuse, interpretations of this literature to the general public are often oversimplified and inaccurate. The most effective safeguards from personal and societal disruption due to substance abuse are reliable scientific research and data collection, accurate interpretation of information, accessible and accurate education and ongoing research that addresses the myriad of controversial issues related to abuse, addiction, treatment, laws and public policy. This course will focus on investigating and exploring substance abuse issues both in the United States and abroad and teaching the skills to look critically at relevant research and how statistics can be used and abused in debating controversial issues. We will concentrate on abuse, addiction, prevention, treatment, policy strategies and continued good scientific inquiry.
Course for Upper-Class Honors Students
This seminar will study the environmental, social and global dimensions of modern food production, focusing on major issues of American food culture, including industrial vs. sustainable food production, food safety, obesity and other health issues, fast foods, organic foods, meat vs. vegetarian diet and the Slow Food Movement. Does America have a distinctive national cuisine? How has the American diet changed? What would a seasonal and regional cuisine look like? How has food production been globalized? What are the environmental implications of industrial food production? What is the future of food?
Seminars for First-Year Students
The nature of science includes both knowing how science works (the process of science), as well as knowing what science understands about the natural world (scientific knowledge). The process of science is a way of explaining the natural world by asking questions and collecting data through experiments and observations, by using logic, imagination, and curiosity. This process results in the construction of scientific theories and laws. However, scientific knowledge is the result of hypotheses that have been tested, evidence that has been scrutinized, and conclusions that remain tentative, pending new evidence. In other words, science must also be able to justify its knowledge claims. This course will explore the nature of science by addressing science as a process to gain knowledge about the natural world and as an enterprise that must be held responsible for those knowledge claims.
This course will offer a selective survey of American religious history, from pre-Columbian times to the present. Using the disciplinary tools of an historian, we will address together three related questions: (1) What is religion? (2) What is the relationship between American religious belief and American culture? (3) How do we evaluate some Americans’ persistent determination to identify their country as a “Christian” nation, despite the presence of overwhelming religious diversity? Examples of course content that engage these questions include: European Americans’ religious motivations for colonization; the religious character of settlers’ interactions with Indians and Africans; the durability of African religious systems; secular causes and counterparts to the First and Second Great Awakenings; America’s legacy of anti-Catholicism; religion, ethnicity, and local identities in the urban north; the distinctive American iteration of the contest between religion and science; the rise of “seeker” churches; and the recent [re]politicization of religious belief.
Team-Taught Courses for Second-Year Students
DNA is often called “the blueprint of life,” but is this really accurate? We often think of a blueprint as a detailed plan for how to put a building together, but living things are more complicated than buildings. In biology, a genome contains all the information needed to create and maintain a copy of a living organism. The genetic code is carried in the DNA. Genome sequencing can decipher the code to provide a “blueprint” of how the DNA is organized, but once the “blueprint” is defined, the biggest challenge still remains – understanding what it means and how it can be used to improve our quality of life. Biologists and computer scientists are closely collaborating in the field of bioinformatics to do just that.
This course introduces students to bioinformatics, the use of computers to gather, store, search, and analyze biological data. The goal of bioinformatics is to discover knowledge about organisms for use in such fields as human health, agriculture, energy, and the environment. In this course, students will use biological databases and Internet tools to analyze DNA, RNA and protein sequences; compare sequences; predict molecular structure related to function; and develop evolutionary family trees. Throughout the course, problem-solving techniques will be applied to real-world scenarios that consider the societal, legal, and ethical issues surrounding bioinformatics applications. No prerequisites are needed.
Gaining an understanding of the nature of human consciousness is one of the great intellectual problems faced by both science and religion. For centuries, philosophers, scientists, and theologians have debated the unitary nature of human experience. In the past 100 years, remarkable advances have been made in the study of the human brain, and the biological underpinnings of many psychological processes related to consciousness are beginning to be understood. Although correlations between neural activity and certain facets of conscious experience have been documented, the precise characterization of human consciousness remains an elusive goal. This course will discuss current and historical theories and research on consciousness (from the fields of religious studies, philosophy, physics, and neurobiology) in an attempt to formulate an integrated view of the differing and competing conceptualizations of the nature of consciousness and self-awareness.
In this seminar we will examine how three very different societies (Puritan New England, Ming China, and contemporary U.S.) answer the question: What is permissible for people in our community to believe and to do, and what is not? By looking across time and culture, we will explore how people have attempted to resolve enduring dilemmas at the intersection of religion and politics. Although we will begin and end the semester in a traditional seminar format, most of the term we will play simulations that are part of the Reacting to the Past project. In each game, every student will assume the role of a figure during a time of historical conflict. To win a game, a student must understand and apply ideas from important historical texts to persuade other students that a particular view of law, faith, and tolerance should prevail. The fundamental goal of this class is to help all of us think in more complex, critical, and reflective ways about the relationships between law, faith and tolerance.