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Fall 2016 Honors Seminars

First-Year Seminars

Osama Bin Laden
Jeff Kenney
This FYS will focus on Osama bin Laden (OBL) and the emergence of global jihadism in the geopolitics of the Middle East. OBL--the man and the image--will serve as a prism through which we can explore: 1) the rise of Islamism, both moderate and radical, in the Muslim world; 2) the transformation of Islamist militancy within nationalist contexts to a more global reach, culminating in 9/11; 3) the impact of Western foreign policy on the region; and 4) the continuing spread of jihadist ideals and actions, including the formation of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). We will examine these themes with the goal of understanding the religio-political challenges facing modern Muslim societies and the way these challenges have been shaped by and come to influence global politics and culture.

Ruin and Re-begetting
Andrea Sununu
Our study of the imagery of ruin and re-begetting will allow us to explore a triple theme--creation, destruction, and re-creation--and to consider how language conveys the human attempt to counter fragmentation, chaos, or oblivion.  Reading works by Plato, Shakespeare, Donne, Woolf, Faulkner, Kingsolver, and others, we will explore the longing to triumph over transience, destruction, and death. I hope that throughout this semester you will find that words matter--not only in the texts you read, but also in your own writing--and that as you hone an argument and polish your prose, you will take pleasure in your own creations. 

The Archaeology of Democracy
Rebecca Schindler
Demokratia, the idea that ordinary citizens should have the power to rule themselves, took root in Classical Athens in the 6th century BC. Underlying this movement were the principles of freedom and equality. By the end of the 5th century BC, the historian Thucydides attributed Athens' great cultural, economic, and military success to its belief in freedom. Historically, the West has looked to Classical Athens as the birthplace of Democracy. But, Democracy's ascent was neither straightforward nor inevitable. The Athenians, in fact, faced some of the same dilemmas we have today: how to curb elite influence in politics (ostracism was one solution), how to balance principles of liberty at home while maintaining an empire abroad, and whether to limit citizenship.

Through archaeology – a discipline that brings together evidence from excavations, works of art, and ancient texts – this course seeks to understand the beginnings of democratic thought in Athens and its development through the 6th and 5th centuries BCE. Our investigation begins with the Athenians themselves and the political theory of authors such as Thucydides and Plato, considering questions of liberty, equality, and citizenship. We will connect this with the archaeological evidence for democratic institutions in the Athenian agora and the monuments on the acropolis, including the Parthenon. This course challenges you to look critically at the evidence, debate it rigorously in class, and develop your own arguments about the role of Democracy in shaping cultural developments. 

Science of Relationships
Susanne Biehle
What makes someone attractive? What is the best way to meet a romantic partner? Is love really blind? How can we predict which couples will divorce? This seminar is designed as an overview of the issues and theories associated with close relationships. We will examine the literature on topics such as the science of attraction, the need for close relationships, sexuality, the development of relationships, adaptive and maladaptive consequences of relationships, and the motivations, thoughts, and behaviors of individuals in close relationships. We will examine perspectives from fields such as psychology, biology, sociology, and anthropology. 

Chicago Lives
David Gellman
Chicago has drawn to the shores of Lake Michigan men and women with tremendous appetites for life - for wealth, for power, for a more just society, for artistic greatness. Far more have simply sought dignity, a leg up, or a little adventure. In this deeply American metropolis, migrants from around the nation and the world have inscribed their stories on the city's streets while forging new individual and group identities. Through a variety of readings, we will encounter the surging ambition of politicians, the crusading impulses of reformers, the sharpened pens of poets, and the rough dreaming of American characters that great Chicago writing has brought to life.

Interdisciplinary AREA Seminars

Subversive Theologians
HONR 300A:  Humanities
Beth Benedix
“A longing for the Divine is intrinsic in Homo sapiens.  (For all we know, it is innate in squirrels, dandelions, and diamond rings, as well).  We approach the Divine by enlarging our souls and lighting up our brains.  To expedite those two things may be the mission of our existence.  Well and good.  But such activity runs counter to the aspirations of commerce and politics.  Politics is the science of domination, and persons in the process of enlargement and illumination are notoriously difficult to control.  Therefore, to protect its vested interests, politics usurped religion a very long time ago…. Religion is nothing but institutionalized mysticism.  The catch is, mysticism does not lend itself to institutionalization.  The moment we attempt to organize mysticism, we destroy its essence.  Religion, then, is mysticism in which the mystical has been killed.”
                                                                                         --Tom Robbins, Skinny Legs and All

In his tour-de-force, Skinny Legs and All (which will be the culminating text of our course), Tom Robbins describes precisely that thorny and messy space we will occupy this semester.  This is the space where belief and practice, faith and ideology, politics and principle collide.  The quote above displays a marked ambivalence; Robbins betrays at once a pronounced nostalgia for spirituality and disdain for how “politics have usurped religion.”  This ambivalence permeates the texts we will encounter together in this class.                                  

In this course, we will focus on ways in which theology is used as a form of subversion, as a means of toppling the status quo and/or devising a new basis of values. Webster’s dictionary defines theology as “the analysis, application, and presentation of the traditional doctrines of a religion or religious group.” For our purposes, we will be using the term “theology” somewhat loosely to describe projects that may or may not be deliberately religious in purpose.  The works we will explore take on a precarious and delicate task; they acknowledge that “theology” is a human construct used most often to implement particular agendas (usually driven by a will-to-power) at the same time that they provide a kind of blueprint for how to live according to a sense of an ultimate reality (even if, as some of these authors contend, “ultimate” reality means that there is no reality). 

Evolution and Human Nature
HONR 300B: Science
Kevin Moore
The Philosopher Daniel Dennett once called evolution “the single best idea anyone ever had.” If this claim has any merit, then surely evolutionary perspectives can shed light on important questions about human nature in general, and issues like cooperation, aggression, sex and gender, aesthetics, emotion, cognition, moral judgments, and environmental concerns in particular. We will look at current and historical attempts to develop scientific accounts of human nature, and examine their strengths, weaknesses, and motivations.  The course offers an opportunity to explore how the “single best idea anyone ever had” can be applied to human nature and important contemporary concerns.

Medicine and Morality: Biomedical Ethics in an Era of Rapid Technological Change
HONR 300Bb: Science
Ted Bitner
Fifty years ago, Boulding predicted that the 20th century would witness a biological revolution that would have consequences as profound as those of the industrial revolution of the 18th century. Advances in medical science since have proven his words to be prophetic. “Test-tube babies”, the cracking of the genetic code, and our increasing human longevity have each contributed to rapidly expanding human control over natural processes. Have we seized control over human nature and human destiny? The new powers linked to scientific and technological developments have raised new moral problems.   While it is vital that we understand scientific advances, it is equally vital that we grapple with the ethical implications and problems these new developments pose for practice and policy. This course will explore many of these new problems and how medical science continues in its attempts to deal with them. Questions such as “Is there a right impartial principle that can govern solutions to these problems?” and  “How can these moral and ethical problems be governed by such a principle?” exist in the scientific community today. We will look at how bioethicists study these problems and attempt to reach ethical and moral solutions through the use of case studies, discourse and life narratives.

Law and Econonomics 
HONR 300C:  Social Science
Bert Barreto
This course revolves around Posner's claim that "the common law bears the stamp of economic reasoning." We will evaluate to what extent the "economic way of thinking" explains legal rules in property rights, torts, and contract law. We will cover concepts such as the Coase Theorem and discuss how economics has expanded into legal theory and law schools. Each student will participate in a moot court reenactment of a constitutional law case.