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Ethics Reading Courses at DePauw

Take a deep dive into ethics, one book at a time

Each semester, the Prindle Institute sponsors a number of quarter-credit reading courses. Each course focuses on the ethical issues in a single text for eight weeks.

Each course will meet for the first eight weeks of the semester. Class meeting spaces are noted below. If the class meets at the Prindle Institute, transportation will be provided each evening the class meets. The transportation will depart from the Union Building each Thursday at 6:50 pm. After the courses end at 8:30, students and faculty will be returned to the Union Building.

Fall 2017 courses

UNIV291A: Karl Marx, Capital (Volume 1)
Instructor: Derek Ford (
Location: Harrison Hall 106
Meeting Times: First eight Wednesdays of Fall 2017, 7-8:30pm
Course description: The first volume of Capital is a book that is often referenced but rarely read. It is a book that, although it was published in 1867, explains a good deal about our world and how we might go about fundamentally changing it. In this class, we will engage in a collective reading of Capital, paying particular attention to how it can help us understand our contemporary moment. 

UNIV291B: Lynn H. Nicholas, The Rape of Europa: The Fate of Europe's Treasures in the Third Reich and the Second World War
Instructor: Craig Hadley (
Location: Peeler Arts 211
Meeting Times: First eight Thursdays of Fall 2017, 7-8:30pm
Course description: The Rape of Europa chronicles the "monuments men"—a team of male and female curators, artists, architects, and historians—tasked with saving European art and cultural heritage in the midst of the second world war. Together, we’ll discuss the ethical implications of war, art, and the fragility of human life, efforts to repatriate artwork decades later, and contemporary case studies involving war and cultural heritage. Even today, many museums and families are still trying to make sense of what happened to European art collections during World War II. This course will introduce students to the immense complexity associated with rebuilding personal, national, and cultural identity following armed conflict.

UNIV291C: The Bhagavad Gita
Instructor: Tamara Pollack (
Location: Prindle Institute
Meeting Times: First eight Mondays of Fall 2017, 7-8:30pm
Course description: The Bhagavad Gita opens on an ancient battlefield, as rival armies are about to engage in a devastating civil war that will set relatives and family members against each other. The warrior-prince Arjuna finds himself torn between conflicting duties and moral codes: his duty as warrior and prince to defend the kingdom against injustice and chaos, and his duty to his clan, with family and friends on both sides. How can one act ethically in a situation in which both choices, to act or to withdraw, require one to break a moral code and bond of duty? Arjuna’s crisis of choice sparks the message of the Gita. Through the counsel of Krishna, his charioteer and friend, whom he discovers is the great god Vishnu in human form, Arjuna is led to a new spiritual understanding of life, death, selfless action, and dharma or sacred duty. Part of the power of the Gita is its ability to unite what we might call today “philosophy” and “practice:” understanding the nature of the soul and the universe is not a purely mental exercise, but one that illumines daily living and how we arrive at the choices we make.

Probably written around the second century BCE, the Gita has been revered in India since ancient times and, today, is considered by many one of the greatest philosophical and spiritual texts of the world. It appears as a short chapter in the vast epic the Mahabharata, which is the longest poem in the world (it is roughly nine times the length of the Odyssey and Iliad combined, with more than 100,000 slokas or couplets). The Gita is considered the quintessence of the Mahabharata, the way pollen contains the essence of a flower, but it is also treated as an independent treatise on philosophy, ethics, and spiritual understanding, which is how we will be reading it in this course.

We will consider the Gita in the light of some of the traditional commentaries, the oldest of which, by the great philosopher Shankara, dates all the way back to the eighth century. We will also think about some more recent interpreters, such as Mohandas Gandhi, who called it his “Gospel of Selfless Action" and “spiritual dictionary,” and drew from it inspiration for his practice of non-violent action (ahimsa), as well as western thinkers like Ralph Waldo Emerson, who called it “the first of books,” and Henry David Thoreau, who took a copy with him to Walden Pond.

UNIV291D: Jason De León, The Land of Open Graves: Living and Dying on the Migrant Trail
Instructor: Angela Castañeda
Location: Prindle Institute
Meeting Times: First eight Tuesdays of Fall 2017, 7-8:30pm
Course description: The Land of Open Graves unpacks the human consequences of US immigration policy. It addresses ethical issues at the heart of migration: Do nations have an ethical obligation to do the least harm to migrants when establishing and enforcing immigration laws? What role does our country have in encouraging, discouraging, or limiting migration? How should discussions about migration be conducted? And whose voices should be included in such discussions? In addition to these question, this course will also discuss the ethics of fieldwork by addressing how De León used a four-field approach to anthropology to document the stories, objects, and bodies left behind in the Sonoran Desert.

UNIV291E: Wole Soyinka, Myth, Literature, and the African World
Instructor: Tim Good
Location: Prindle Institute
Meeting Times: First eight Tuesdays of Fall 2017, 7-8:30pm
Course description: Myth, Literature, and the African World, by Wole Soyinka, a world-renowned playwright and Nobel laureate, offers specific lenses for reading and understand a contemporary Yoruban/Nigerian worldview. Instead of seeing a "clash of cultures," Soyinka shows a way to see differently, instead of in opposition.

UNIV291F: Michel Houellebecq, Platform
Instructor: Marius Conceatu
Location: Prindle Institute
Meeting Times: First eight Wednesdays of Fall 2017, 7-8:30pm
Course description: Michel Houellebecq’s Platform (2001) firmly established the French author’s reputation as a master provocateur. A scandalous narrative mixing sex tourism, terrorism and anti-Muslim sentiment with a complex aesthetic and philosophical discourse raises questions ranging from the ethics of reading and travel to freedom of expression and the value of offensiveness in art. The course highlights the many ethical issues brought up by or in relation to Platform, particularly the ambiguous role of the author, narrator and reader, the relationship with the other, and political correctness. In addition to Houellebecq’s novel, readings include excerpts from the author’s other works, articles and book chapters discussing relevant ethical problems, interviews with the author and other media coverage.

UNIV291G: Mini-colloquium on important books: Pre-modern ethics
Coordinators: Keith Nightenhelser and Humberto Barreto
Location: Julian 300
Meeting Times: First eight Tuesdays of Fall 2017, 7-8:30pm. There will be three class meetings outside the usual Tuesday 7-8:30 pm time: 1) Wednesday, September 23 7-8:30 pm, our first class, for which students will need to spend a couple of hours in preparation. 2) Tuesday October 10, attendance at Measure for Measure 7:30 pm to roughly 10 pm; and 3) Wednesday October 11, 11:30 -12:30 pm lunch discussion of Measure for Measure.
Course description:  In this seminar students will discuss each week a different historically influential pre-modern text about what human beings value and have valued; key themes will be ideas about erotic relationships, justice, law, and death, leading up to the final text, Shakespeare's play Measure for Measure. There will be two co-instructors present, changing each week, to supervise student discussion, but not to teach. Texts will include works such as the Bible, writings from Buddhist, Hindu, and Judeo-Christian traditions, Plato's Apology and Crito, and of course Shakespeare's Measure for Measure. There will be no written work, so student grades will entirely depend on their participation in discussion. Students who miss a class will write a paper as make-up work. For more information about the course, contact Keith Nightenhelser,