The Freshman Humanities Seminar (FHS) program aims to give first-year students an introduction to some of the questions fundamental to individuals in their relationship to society and the world. Each section engages one or more critical themes such as the notion of the self, the community, individual and communal values, modes of understanding, and creative expression, and the relationships each one has with the others. In doing so, all FHS courses include historically significant texts: texts that have become objects of academic discourse in part because of their enormous impact in non-academic contexts. All CMC students are required to take a section of FHS in their first year at Claremont McKenna College.
All FHS sections share the following common methodology:
- The seminars are not introductions to any specific discipline, even though the perspective of a given discipline may dominate a given seminar. Thus faculty may somewhat relax disciplinary orthodoxy and encourage active exploration via which students will develop their own, yet still informed, voices.
- The seminars are intensely participatory, with a clear emphasis on expression via writing, oral presentation, and class discussion.
- The course materials of many seminars include a diversity of media besides readings, such as music, film, and the visual arts.
- Civic Leadership and Ethics in Business, Politics, and the Economy. Areshidze
This course introduces students to the moral challenges and ethical responsibilities of leadership in the private and the public spheres. We focus on three dimensions of leadership: 1) leadership and ethics in the private business community, 2) statesmanship in modern constitutional democracies, and 3) political leadership on the economy and immigration in an era of globalization. Topics include: the leading role of private enterprise in confronting global challenges (focusing on Google and Facebook’s embrace of democratic causes around the globe), American political statesmanship (Lincoln, Wilson, and FDR; and post-9/11 leadership of Presidents Bush and Obama), the class closes with a comparative study of the challenges of immigration and the welfare state in Europe and America. Readings include: Selections from the Federalist Papers, Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, Woodrow Wilson’s Congressional Government, Christian Joppke’s Citizenship and Immigration. Additional readings may include: Samuel Huntington’s Who Are We? The Challenges to America’s National Identity.
- Religion and Humanity in the West. Areshidze
What is the role of religion in human civilization? What moral demands does religion place on individuals in their political and familial lives? Are these demands in harmony or in tension with human nature and flourishing, and how do human beings adjudicate between the requirements of faith and justice and morality? This course explores these questions through an examination of philosophical, poetic and literary writings from ancient and modern worlds. Major works explored include Homer’s Iliad, Sophocles’ Antigone, Plato’s Apology of Socrates, the Book of Genesis and the Book of Job, Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, Locke’s Letter on Toleration, Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, and the writings of Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr and Mahatma Gandhi.
- Identity and Society in Ancient and Medieval Culture. Bjornlie
This course offers a thematic approach to ancient and medieval culture by examining various strategies for portraying the self in literature. Students examine a variety of biographical material in order to consider how political, social and religious realities combined to shape the way individuals constructed their own identities in different historical settings, often in opposition to historical conditions which they viewed as antagonistic. In this sense, the course is a study of the rhetoric and reality of the ‘self’ in ancient and medieval contexts. Periods studied include Classical Athens, the Roman Republic and Empire, Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages, and the High Middle Ages.
- Tales of the Heroic. Bjornlie
This course offers a thematic approach to understanding societies by examining various strategies for portraying the ideal individual. Students will examine a wide range of literary and artistic sources, including epic, biographical and semi-biographical material, histories, sculpture and painting, in order to consider the political, economic, social and religious elements ascribed to the ideal individual and the roles that they have been assigned in various ancient and medieval societies. Along the way, the course will consider a number of core cultural themes - status and power, sexuality and gender, religion, family and education-connected to the portrayal of the ideal individual in an ancient and medieval context. More generally, the course will also introduce students to various strategies for conducting research in a humanities or social science course.
- Liberty and Excellence: The Great Books. Blitz, Martin, Nadon, Nichols
This course has several purposes. One is to examine several of the major thinkers who have guided Western understanding. A second is to explore the basic issues listed in the course outline. A third is to begin to understand the origin, nature, and differences among several fundamental ways to comprehend human experience and the world around us: religion, philosophy, moral and political practice, art and poetry, and science.
- Poverty, Wealth, and Social Change. Chung-Kim
This seminar examines some of the most important religious, secular, and political thinkers in human history and their reflections on poverty, wealth, and social change. It also explores their strategies and methods for social change and why their views on wealth and poverty remain influential around the world to this day. Key thinkers analyzed include Moses, Confucius, the Buddha, Aristotle, Jesus, Mohammad, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Adam Smith, John Locke, Max Weber, Karl Marx, Mao Zedung, John Stuart Mill, Walter Rauschenbusch, Dorothy Day, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Desmond Tutu, Leonardo Boff, Dalai Lama, Aung San Suu Kyi, Rigoberta Menchú, and Muhammad Yunus.
- Self, Society, Freedom, and Faith in Western Arts, 1500 to present. Cody
This seminar examines how artists of the last 500 years have understood and represented the individual and peoples’ relationships to society, politics, and religion in the western world. By focusing on the theme of the self in relation to others, to the environment, and to the spiritual realm, this course uses the western visual tradition to explore historically transcendent questions about political rights and obligations, the role of religion, and interpersonal social relations. By focusing on the visual arts in the west, the course also emphasizes how these questions and their representations have been shaped by specific historical conditions of the last 500 years.
- Sickness and Healing. Cooper
This course explores paradigms and practices of health and disease, and approaches to healing in the Greek and Greek-inspired traditions, from the Greco-Roman and Islamic worlds up to the present. Students will examine primary texts from the history of medicine, including theoretical and practical treatises, as well as biographical works and literary sources. They will learn how cosmologies of each era fundamentally shaped physicians’ approaches to medicine, and how health crises such as the Black Death caused a breakdown of the paradigm and led to progress in understanding disease. Alternative approaches to healing, such as herbs, magic, and divination will also be discussed.
- Women in Science. Edwalds-Gilbert
This course examines the role of women in science, including the biological definitions of gender and the roles of women as practicing scientists. We will analyze how scientists have studied sex differences, and how those views have contributed to the careers of women scientists and have affected women as scientific subjects. Through these readings, we will discuss the false dichotomy of nature/nurture in the understanding of sex and other differences.
- Mystics, Prophets, and Social Change. Espinosa
This seminar introduces students to religious and secular mystics, prophets, and social radicals whose revolutionary ideas continue to shape civilizations around the world: Moses, The Buddha, Confucius, Jesus, Augustine, Mohammad, Martin Luther, Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, William James, Mircea Eliade, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, Mary Daly, Gustavo Gutiérrez, and/or Osama bin Laden. It explores how their notions and critiques of God, sin, justice, and/or salvation shaped their attitude towards religion, politics, and strategies for revolutionary social change.
- Science and the Human Condition. Fucaloro
This course will focus on the nature of modern science and its implications for understanding man’s place in the universe. It will address such questions as: What is nature? How do the techniques of modern science uncover the laws of nature? What does modern science teach us about the biological and physical world and man’s place within it? Do the findings of modern science point to an “accidental universe” that is the result of change and physical laws, or to a universe of purpose and design? In modern public policy debates, does ideology trump modern science? Should it?
- Natures of the Self. Gilbert
The course examines the Self as represented and understood during various periods and in different intellectual frameworks within western civilization. Through important works of literature, philosophy, and science, we will examine how the Self is constructed and contested, the relation between independent Self and social Self, between the Self and the story of the Self, and whether or not these exists and identifiable, irreducible Self.
- Contesting Science. Gilman
Modern science has brought human civilization new opportunities, but also new challenges. What is the role of science in human society? Are scientific truths any different or more privileged than those derived from religion, philosophy, or literature? How do individuals balance science with other factors when making personal decisions? This course will explore these questions through an examination of texts in
science, philosophy, literature, and other fields. It will focus on case studies of science in conflict with other human beliefs or actions, as well as the use (or misuse) of science by individuals in their daily lives.
- Islam & the West: Cultural Encounters. Hamburg
This course analyzes Islam in certain of its religious, cultural and historical dimensions. After considering the emergence of Islam as a religion from the Age of the Prophet to the twelfth century, we shall focus on Islamic encounters with the European West. At the center of our attention will be Muslims’ religious self-understanding; Christian understanding of, misunderstanding of and hostility toward Islam; and the current rupture between Islamists and the West.
- Trial and Ordeal in the Ancient World. Hamburg
This course will focus on the experiences of trial and ordeal in antiquity. After considering Homer’s notion that overcoming some physical or mental challenge is a marker of virtuous life, we shall examine how the trials of Antigone, Socrates and Jesus turned on contending definitions of the moral good. Finally, we shall examine the ways in which Augustine understood inner struggle as central to the human personality.
- Transcending Humanity. Humes
Philosophers, theologians, historians, and others have long speculated about the nature of the human being, the “good society,” and how humans can achieve the ideal society. Sir Thomas More gave a name to this ideal society that has now become part of our common English language: utopia. Since More wrote Utopia, huge changes in society-including enormous advances in science and technology-have opened up new possibilities for a Utopian society that More and his predecessors could not have envisioned. This seminar will consider how visions of society have evolved with the progress of science and technology, and most specifically, how society has evolved via the technology behind the Information Age, leading some to suggest that we are now poised to transcend humanity as we have known it.
- The Virtues. Hurley
The virtues are traits of character that are taken to allow human beings to do well in every aspect of their lives. This course will trace the development of accounts of the virtues in the Western tradition from the Greeks to the present day. Authors to be covered might include Homer, Aristotle, St. Paul, Aquinas, David Hume, Adam Smith, Benjamin Franklin, Jane Austen, Alasdair MacIntyre, and Gilbert Harman.
- Life, Death, and Meaning. Kind
The Sisyphus of myth was condemned to an eternal punishment of rolling a stone up a hill, only to have that stone roll back down so that he was forced to begin his task anew. While Sisyphus’s fate thereby epitomizes meaninglessness, many writers have thought that we are in no better of a position. Do our lives have meaning, or are we no better off than Sisyphus? If we’re doomed to meaninglessness, what kind of attitude should we take our existence? And regardless, how should we view death? Course readings, both classical and contemporary, will be drawn primarily from philosophical, religious, and literary texts.
- Freedom. Kreines
What makes human life worth living? One possible and popular answer is: freedom. This seminar focuses on two clusters of issues raised by that answer. The first cluster concerns politics: Perhaps individual freedom is of central political importance, so that any restrictions on such freedom would require special justification. The second cluster of issues concerns what freedom of the will is, and whether our wills really are free. This seminar approaches these two clusters of issues by reading classic works of philosophy and literature, and viewing some films as well.
- Reason, Morals, and Reality. Kreines
This class focuses on two clusters of issues. First, would the most reasonable person recognize moral constraints? A skeptic might propose that reason requires acting in self-interest without constraint. Someone even more skeptical might propose that the most reasonable life is not in any case the best human life at all. The second cluster of issues concerns similar optimistic and skeptical views about whether we can gain knowledge of reality by means of reason. We will attend to philosophy, literature and film, and ask whether literature and film are in a better position to advance skeptical views about reason.
- Bollywood: Social and Economic. Kumar
This course looks asks how we may answer the question: how does a civilization dream? We will approach the historical-philosophical questions of how “dreams” - also translatable as “values” - work in their social contexts, using the rich resource of Indian cinema and the critical attention given recently to it. We will study the 100 year old history of Hindi/Urdu films and ask critical questions such as: What are “Indian” values? What is the role played by the state and the citizen? What are gender divisions and politics? How do caste, class and religion tussle and negotiate? Finally, what is popularity and stardom, versus the craft of acting and realism? Students are not required to have prior knowledge of India; they will do reading and research to be grounded in Indian philosophy, history and politics. We will watch and discuss movies as much as we will read, and as spectators, further reflect on our response to screenings: our criticism, pleasure, amusement, or distaste.
- Individual and Society in South Asia. Kumar
This course examines South Asian civilization by looking at the problems of the individual and society, discipline and freedom, culture, the arts and science in comparative perspective.
- Revolutions and Their Legacies. Livesay
This course examines periods of revolutionary change, how they transform societies and social relations, and how they become remembered. Three types of revolutions - political, technological, and cultural - will be explored over the course of the semester. Students will study the background of those events to understand how societies change through revolution, as well as how individuals conceive of themselves and their communities in the midst of such unsettling. They will then critique contemporary discussions of those revolutions’ meaning in the present day. Readings and assignments will help first-year students to analyze a range of material in order to build a strong foundation in the humanities.
- Fact, Fiction and Simulation. Locke
Fictional and virtual worlds play a fundamental role in modern life and will no doubt play an even greater role in our future. These ‘unreal worlds’-and our uses of them-raise questions that drive at the heart of the human condition. How, if at all, do we know what really is? Why do humans, apparently unlike any other species, spend so much time engaged in fantasy? And what is it that we value about real human interactions, and, more generally, the real world? Through essays, novels, television shows, simulators, and video games, this course will explore these questions and the many questions they lead to.
- Theism, Naturalism, and Morality. Locke
Debates between theists and atheists typically focus on (1) naturalistic evolution and (2) the problem of evil (i.e., the tension between the existence of suffering and an all good god). These issues raise difficult questions concerning morality. Naturalists charge that any god willing to allow suffering is too immoral to be worthy of worship; theists counter that naturalistic evolution leaves no place for morality at all. This course will explore the moral implications of theism and naturalism. We will look at historically important religious/naturalistic accounts of morality, and we will explore the recent research on the (alleged) evolution of morality.
- Literature and History in Opera and Ballet. Martin
Viewing of four operas based on literature and four based on historical circumstances, with appropriate original source readings. Viewing of two ballets based on literature and two on historical episodes, with relevant readings in the original sources of the ballets. Works will include: La Traviata, Carmen, La Boheme, Cyrano de Bergerac, Samson and Dalilah, The Clemency of Tiberius, Boris Godunov, Medea, Anna Karenina, Spartacus, and Ivan the Terrible.
- Autobiography and the Construction of the Self. Michon
This seminar explores how the self is constructed through the act of writing one’s own life story. Students will read both classic works, for example St. Augustine’s City of God, and contemporary works, for example Nawal El Saadawi’s A Daughter of Isis. Key themes include the impact of modernity on the sense of self, ethnic identity in the post-colonial world, and the gendering of the self. The reading list includes not only autobiographies but also key theoretical essays on the literary genre of autobiography and historical essays to place the works in context.
- Religion and Modernity. Michon
As Dilip Parameshwar Gaonkar argued in 2001, “modernity is inescapable…[and we must]…desist from speculations about the end of modernity. Born in the West some centuries ago under relatively specific socio-historical conditions, modernity is now everywhere” [Gaonkar, Alternative Modernities, p. 1]. The first half of the course, then, does the important work of tracing the story of the birth and development of modernity in the West, and it pays particular attention to the role of religion in this process. The course moves from the religious foundations of modernity to religion’s impact on modern philosophy, science, politics, and economics. The second half of the course takes Gaonkar’s claim that Western modernity has “specific socio-historical conditions” seriously, and it explores both the impact of Western modernity and the subsequent configurations of non-Western modernity through a case study of India.
- Human Responses to Climate Change. Morhardt
The climate has been changing for most of the four billion years of the Earth’s existence, but this is the first time that the changes are caused by human activities-and the first time that humans can do anything about it, should they decide to try. It is arguably the great issue of our day. This seminar will examine what is known about earlier responses of humanity to climate change, our current responses, and what we might do in the future. We will examine the issues from anthropological, political, economic, ethical, perceptual, and artistic perspectives.
- Ideas of Church and State. Morrison
The role of church and state is a time-honored political issue, but the question of the social and cultural relation of these two domains has also infused many traditions of the humanities. This course finds a new lens on the topic through a detailed study of two key figures-Antigone and Joan of Arc-whose stories have been often retold in a variety of contexts as parables of a clash between civic responsibility and personal faith.
- Encounters with the Alien. Naftilan
In this course, we will explore encounters, real and imagined, between different cultures and different creatures. In the first half of the class, we will examine historical accounts of contacts between different cultures. Issues that we will discuss include the possibility of communication between different cultures, the tolerance of one culture for another, and if contact with others eventually destroys a culture. In the second half of the course, we will examine imagined contact between ourselves and aliens from outer space.
- Was the Enlightenment a Failure? Naftilan
We begin by reading a sample of Enlightenment writings and try to establish what the goals and expectations of the Enlightenment thinkers were. Reading selections will include Locke, Condorcet, Rousseau, Voltaire, and Kant. The role of science in the Enlightenment and the exalted position that Science enjoyed during the Enlightenment will be our next topic; readings will include excerpts from Galileo, Newton, Bacon, Lyell, and Darwin. Our next topic will be the role of race, gender, and class in and following the Enlightenment, including Colonialism and Imperialism. Readings will include Wollstonecraft, Dubois ,Gilman, Kipling, and Marx. We will read Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Achebe’s critique of it. Several readings from the Romantic reaction to Enlightenment will be read, including Shelley’s Frankenstein. Moving into the modern and post-modern, we will read works by Foucault, Kuhn, Said, Rorty, and Fanon.
- Socratic Questions. Obdrzalek
Socrates is considered the father of Western philosophy. This course will offer students the opportunity to engage in depth with Socrates as a philosopher, and as a historical and literary figure. We will read Plato’s dialogues, which recount Socrates’ philosophical conversations with his fellow-Athenians. Some of the core questions we will address include: What is the meaning of life? Should I primarily seek pleasure? To what degree am I obliged to obey the law? Why do we sometimes do what we know is wrong? How do we learn to be good? How do we learn to apply concepts?
- Nature, Environment and the Human Imagination in Asia. A. Park
This course examines how individuals and societies in pre-modern and modern Asia have defined nature and environment, how definitions of nature and the environment have guided everyday life, and how theories of nature and environment have inspired new forms of design and social movements. Using a historical and comparative approach to analyze how people in Asia have imagined the relationship between humanity, nature and society, this class explores topics such as Taoist, Shamanistic and Buddhist concepts of nature, geomancy and architecture in traditional Korea, antipollution campaigns in modern Japan, industrialization and agrarian ideology in 1930s Asia and environmental politics in present day China.
- Culture and Politics in Europe since the Renaissance. Petropoulos
This course examines the interplay of culture and politics in Europe over the past six hundred years. “Culture” will be defined fairly broadly, so as to include a wide range of human behavior, but students will focus primarily on works of literature and political philosophy, visual arts and music, and for the twentieth century, film. The course will explore several key themes, including new conceptions about the individual’s place in society, the formation of the nation-state, and the articulation of power through cultural forms.
- Unconventional Thinking. Rajczi
One goal of a liberal arts education is to develop the ability to think unconventionally-that is, the ability to critically examine the presuppositions of one’s society. This course focuses on improving this particular skill. We study psychological and philosophical information about unconventional thinking, historical material on great unconventional thinkers of the past, and arguments that are critical of our society’s current presuppositions. Rather than attempting to cover all sides of an issue, the course focuses on a selection of radical challenges to the conventional wisdom. Thinking through these challenges expands our ability to evaluate views that are very different from our own.
- Individual and Society: East Asian Values and American Ideals. Rosenbaum
Individual and Society, explores changing East Asian views of the relationship of individualism to the creation of well-ordered society and looks at counterexamples from the United States. The assigned readings address such issues as human nature, the sources of moral behavior, the path to personal fulfillment, and duty to family, culture, and ruler.
- Gender and Society. Selig
This course explores how influential writers have analyzed the social roles of women and men. We will consider a set of questions: How have thinkers understood the interplay of nature and culture? What arguments did they make regarding education, economics, citizenship, and family life for men and women? What social and political changes did they advocate? We will examine, as well, how their writings were received, what influence they had, and how authors responded to each other’s ideas. After some readings from the ancient and medieval world, our focus will be on Europe and the United States in the 19th and 20th centuries.
- Economic Development: Views from Individuals, Communities, and Governments. Sinha
This course introduces students to broader and diverse ways of thinking about economic development. How does development differ from economic growth? Who defines development? The course analyzes how individuals and communities conceive of economic development and how they participate in the processes of material development. When development programs displace communities, how do they respond? We look at diverse perspectives from the marginalized and peripheral populations, as well as development programs of states and international organizations. The course pays attention to anthropological and historical perspectives on development in addition to the traditional economics and political science theories and case studies.
- Identity and Nation in Latin America. Skinner
How do people understand themselves both as individuals and as members of larger communities (religious, racial, regional, linguistic, national, etc.)? How are such multiple identities constructed in the face of challenges to the very understanding of the self? This FHS examines how these questions play out in Hispanic cultures and societies over the last few hundred years and focuses on the crucial works - both fiction and non-fiction - in which Latin Americans have explored, constructed, and critiqued the idea of what it means to be “Latin American”. By so doing, we investigate the processes by which identities in general are constructed and undermined.
- Democracy and Leadership. Thomas
The problems and tensions in democratic leadership have a long history in political and philosophical thought. Direct rule by the people is difficult and opens itself to ambitious politicians that flatter the people. All too frequently, the result has been tyranny. The course seeks to explore the peculiar challenges democratic leadership, which seeks to avoid demagoguery, on the one hand, and servile pliancy, on the other.
- The Individual, Community and Culture. Valenza
A transdisciplinary examination of the constitution of the individual and his or her role in community, including the development and influence of culture. Sources include classic texts from Plato to Freud and an extensive use of novels, film, music and the visual arts. Topics range over the meaning of being human, the nature of good and evil, the nature of science and knowledge, and fundamental questions of art and religion. At its heart, the course seeks to develop a deep understanding of how the tension between the individual and community defines cultures or entire civilizations.
- Nature and Society. Venit-Shelton
This class explores how societies have interacted with the natural world from roughly the fifteenth century to the present day. We consider nature not only as physical forces and spaces but also as the meanings and values ascribed to them. We will ask how nature has affected practices and policies and vice versa as a departure point for thinking about the historical roots of contemporary environmental thinking and problems.
- The Effecting of All Things Possible. Williams
Today, we take it for granted that our children will see a world with technologies of which we could never dream, that innovation will deliver year after year of economic growth, and that our culture will be profoundly shaped by the work of scientists pursuing, as Bacon put it, ‘the effecting of all things possible’. This reality has many roots in a series of developments in the 17th century often called the “Scientific Revolution.” These developments were not independent of the social, political, and economic context of their time. This course will investigate how cultural change in Northwestern Europe gave rise to what we now call science, and how this new science turned around to change the culture of Early Modern Europe. The course will close by asking how our 21st century culture affects the way that we do science, and the way that the fruits of contemporary science are shaping our culture today.
- The Enlightenment and the Birth of Political Economy. Wright
An exploration into the influence of Enlightenment ideas upon the founding of modern economics, originally identified as Political Economy. Our primary interest will be in the development and use of such ideas as self-interest and human behavior, nature and role of private property, the nature of markets, and the influence of certain ideas from philosophy upon the development of Economics, and the economic functions of government.