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.
- Otherness and the Encounter with the Other. Aitel
In this course we will take an interdisciplinary, multimedia, and focused approach to a fundamental aspect of human experience, that is, the encounter with the “other”, and, implicitly, its corollary, the recognition of the same. From, the earliest texts and visual representations men and women have grappled with the other-difference-whether as a matter of distinguishing who is a member of the social/racial /gender group, or as a division of labor, etc. As a collective experience, this course addresses an essential aspect of all communities and societies, namely the way we organize ourselves with or against, the “other”. From the map of Odysseus’ world in The Odyssey to the latest sci-fi films, humankind has struggled to understand and represent the “other” in a multitude of ways. This struggle to represent the “other” is a productive or constitutive process, however, as it will also allow for the emergence and full identity of the “same” and the demarcation of the boundaries of the collectivity or community.
- Evil. Basu
What is evil, and what distinguishes the merely bad from the evil? In this course we explore the nature of evil and consider how we should respond to evil when we confront not only seemingly obvious cases of evil, but also other more insidious forms of evil that are harder to see. Questions we will address include: Do we, as part of our nature, inherently have a capacity for evil? What implications does a positive answer to this question have for issues concerning moral responsibility and holding people accountable for their actions? Further, in the face of evil, especially great evil such as genocide, how should we respond? Is forgiveness psychologically possible? How can we forgive, how can we have hope?
- Race, Diversity, and Higher Education. Basu
In this class, we will take up questions surrounding the goals and goods higher-education education, and the place of race, diversity, and merit in college admissions. Some of the questions we’ll explore include the following: What is diversity and why does it matter? What is merit and what does it mean to evaluate candidates according to merit? Are college admissions fair? If they’re not fair, is there any way they could be made fairer? In addition, we will also explore the idea of the university itself, what it is for, and whether education serves to free the mind or to indoctrinate it.
- 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, 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.
- 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.
- What Does It Mean to Be Modern? Farrell
This course will follow the transition from the dominant culture of the premodern West-idealizing, religious, authoritarian, patriarchal, martial, and aristocratic-to the dominant culture of modernity-empirically oriented, liberal, secularizing, market-driven, individualistic, and aspirationally democratic. Authors will include Homer, Plato, Dante, Rochester, Locke, Pope, Rousseau, Adam Smith, Wordsworth, Mary Shelley, Balzac, Marx, Dostoyevsky, Nietzsche, and T. S. Eliot.
- The Graphic Novel and Middle Eastern Studies. Ferguson
This course explores how visual narratives from medieval manuscript illustrations to the contemporary comic strip and graphic novel provide an alternative lens on Middle Eastern history. Students will first be introduced to the art of visual narratives and their importance to the region more generally, and then use the visual form to asses the reverberations of major turning points from the 19th to the 21st centuries on the social, political, economic, and cultural dimensions of everyday life in the Middle East. The course relies on a combination of scholarly approaches to the art of storytelling and key historical movements in the Middle East, paired with graphic memoirs, novels, and popular comic strips. Students will address questions related to imperialism, national identity, revolutions and revolutionary theory, social and gender norms, as well as patterns of forced and voluntary migration, and explore a geographic terrain that encompasses North Africa, Egypt, Israel, Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, Iran, Turkey and Iraq.
- 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.
- Criminality, Prisons, and Justice. Green Rioja
This seminar explores the questions of criminality, prisons, and justice systems in early modern and modern society. It uses two key writings by the French philosopher Michel Foucault as the philosophical and historical basis to explore these issues more deeply. Students will examine through Foucault’s writings how the state, church, and society developed discourses that constructed the abnormal and criminal body, as well as the modern arguments that formed present-day ideas about punishment and justice. Course readings, podcasts, and films will probe students to consider how biopolitics and state institutions informed racial, gendered, and class realities.
- 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.
- 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.
- Religion and Poetry. Martinez, C.
Why have mystics and religious thinkers so often expressed themselves poetically? How and why have modern poets drawn upon the language and techniques of sacred texts? How have poetry and religion been used to critique society and frame ethical problems? This course will explore the relationship between the religious and the poetic, introducing key sacred texts from a variety of religious traditions alongside poetry from the 18th century to the present. Assignments will include both critical and creative writing.
- Music, Identity, and Politics in the Middle East and North Africa. Matsushita
This course will study the music and history of the Middle East and North Africa region from the early 20th century to the present. It will demonstrate how music can be a window into a broader understanding of a region’s political and social history, while also showing how to be mindful and reflective to the cultural study of a region. In this course, we will not only earn an understanding and appreciation of Middle Eastern and North African musical traditions, and how those traditions have shaped and been shaped by regional political and social developments, but will also be consistently attentive to how “hearing” music is itself a political act and necessitates an engagement with how knowledge about music is produced within these same sociopolitical and historical contexts. In the process, students will develop a broader conceptual framework for studying and engaging with other cultures.
- 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.” This 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.
- 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.
- 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?
- Caste, Race, and Equality. Panda
This course will explore the bodies of knowledge surrounding the politics and practices of caste in South Asia. We will study the emergence and development of radical social movements in the colonial and postcolonial periods that were opposed to caste oppression, along with scholarship that seeks to understand how such a form of social hierarchy and difference operates within regional and national communities. We will also examine how caste interacts with forms of identity such as class, gender, and religion. Caste has often been compared to race: we will study historical parallels as well as present scholarship and activism that aligns political struggles against caste and racial injustice.
- 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.
- Vampires, Zombies and the African Diaspora. Sarzynski
In popular culture and myths, vampires and zombies have often been depicted as monsters that return from the dead to exploit the living or to be exploited as forced labor. This course examines early representations of vampires and zombies in popular culture to recognize the racialized origins of the genre. We then analyze how locals in Africa, the Caribbean, and the U.S. South interpreted vampire and zombie stories as related to the transatlantic slave trade and their experiences with colonialism. We continue our examination of vampires and zombies in the modern era, recognizing historical legacies and changes in representations in U.S. and global popular culture.
- 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.
- 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.
- Conceptions of the Good Society: Defining Development. Uvin
For the past sixty years, millions of individuals worldwide have donated their money and time to “do development” in the “South.” Development work reflects dominant conception of the good life and the good society, and not surprisingly these have changed much over time. This course chronologically analyzes the evolution of mainstream definitions: from economic growth to basic needs, from sustainability to freedom, from efficiency to rights. We then discuss critical current critiques of mainstream development: that it is disempowering, neocolonial, or racist; that it neglects community, culture, self-respect, spirituality, etc. We also discuss the role of politics, gender, and participation.
- 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.
- Sacred Grounds: Coffee, Power, Religion. Velji
Drinking coffee is one of the most common of human experiences. Yet most of us don’t really spend much time thinking about what goes into our cup or how it gets there. Taking an interdisciplinary approach to one of our most quotidian of drinks, this course illustrates how coffee is anything but ordinary. Our exploration begins with a discussion of coffee’s early history and how that history is tied to religion. We then examine global trading patterns and the flourishing of the coffeehouse. After examining the material cultures of coffee, we trace the development of coffee from industrial product to global commodity, highlighting along the way questions concerning labor, race, and representation.
- 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.
- Drug Development, Policy, and Innovation. Wenzel
This seminar provides students with an in‐depth perspective into the pharmaceutical industry, particularly the process by which a drug candidate transitions from the laboratory to patient. Discussions will also focus on public policy and ethical debates surrounding the pharmaceutical industry and the commercialization of science. Topics include: innovators, the link between academic research and industry, the clinical trial process by which a molecule becomes a drug, the origin and role of the FDA in protecting the consumer, the concept of informed consent in ethical drug development, societal bias in the drug development process, and the economics associated with the pharmaceutical industry.
- 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.