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Sophomore Residential Seminars - Course Descriptions

Find your course of interest below, and apply for this truly immersive experience by January 31, 2016.

Challenges of Modernity: Istanbul (CORE 152)

Professor David McCabe - Philosophy

The challenges of modernity are often seen in terms of a set of sharp contrasts: West versus East, equality versus hierarchy, secularism versus religion, and so on. While these dichotomies can sometimes be helpful, they are overly tidy and potentially misleading. This section of Core 152 explores the challenges of modernity by concentrating on the city of Istanbul, a city that straddles Europe and Asia and is today the object of a self-conscious attempt to modernize (economically, politically, culturally) without diluting its distinct identity and traditions. It thus offers an especially interesting prism through which to explore the familiar tensions that mark modernity. Turkey's relation with Islam also offers an opportunity to think through the relation between norms of liberal democracy and claims for religious distinctiveness, an especially important question today. 

Existentialism (PHIL 216)

Professor David Dudrick - Philosophy

Who am I? How should I live? For what may I hope? In this course, we will confront these fundamental questions in our investigation of the philosophical movement known as existentialism. Existentialism came of age in 1940s Paris with the work of Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, and Albert Camus, but its roots extend at least to Pascal, Dostoevsky, Nietzsche, and Kierkegaard in the 17th through 19th centuries. While they insist on rigor, these authors are no friends of abstraction: for them, philosophy must reflect our actual, concrete, everyday lives. As a result, they make use of literary forms uncommon in philosophy, including plays, novels, and short stories. Whatever means they employ, however, their goal is always to challenge readers to confront these questions for themselves, a challenge that we will seek to meet – individually and collectively – in this course.

Over the winter break, we will travel as a group to Paris, France, in an effort to better understand existentialism concretely. Doing so will take us to Lycée Henri IV and the École Normale Supérieure, where Sartre studied philosophy, and to the Cimetière de Montparnasse, where Sartre and Beauvoir were laid to rest. We’ll consider on the importance of the experience of the French Resistance to existentialism and visit sites celebrating its fallen heroes. We’ll think through existentialist themes in works housed at the Louvre and the Musée d'Orsay. And we’ll journal our reflections while sitting in the cafés where so much existentialist work was produced.

Upon returning from Paris, we’ll use the spring semester to broaden and deepen our understanding of existentialism by considering its relevance in contemporary life. We’ll examine current work being done in philosophy, read recent novels, and see films new and old that explore and/ or challenge the assumptions of existentialist thought. Students will pursue projects that they will present to their peers in a salon.
In Professor Dudrick's own words
View Dudrick's comments at an information session

I love philosophy – it’s both my vocation and my joy. Philosophy poses some of the biggest questions human beings can ask: does God exist? Are we free? Is morality objective? Because there are no settled answers to these questions, one might think that philosophy makes no progress. In a certain respect, this is true. There is no “instructor version” of the text with the answers in the back, no database that you can access to discover what philosophers know. If the discipline doesn’t make progress, though, individuals who practice it certainly do: by reading and thinking about these issues, our answers come to be supported by reasons. And because these reasons are our own, the beliefs in question become our own as well. Philosophy isn’t a body of knowledge, it’s an activity – it’s something you do. Doing it allows you to take hold of your beliefs and, in doing so, your self. It allows you, in Nietzsche’s words, “to become who you are.”

But if philosophy is deeply personal in this way, it is also fundamentally communal. How do we assess whether there are good reasons to think that God exists or that we’re free? We can do so only by putting them into conversation, by talking through them. Our conversation partners span time and space – we engage with thinkers from Socrates to Sartre to see whether their ideas are worth taking seriously and let them respond through their texts. Most importantly, though, we talk with each other – our class is like a lab where these big ideas get put to the test. And here’s the thing: we won’t agree! But one of the purposes of a liberal arts education is to come to see that you can regard another’s position as reasonable and wrong at the same time. Philosophy is one way that the liberal arts train us not to agree all the time, but to disagree well.

It’s because I think of philosophy in this way that I’m so excited about teaching Existentialism in the SRS program. The existentialists aren’t simply interested in changing your mind – their interested in changing your life. Better put: they offer you the chance to your life. For them, philosophy is far from a disinterested pursuit of the truth: these issues matter.

I remember being disappointed as an undergraduate that the exciting ideas I was thinking through in class didn’t translate into the rest of college life. I wanted to be in a community where conversations didn’t stop at the classroom door, where the people I was hanging out with were also the people who I wanted to think with. That’s just what this program generally and this class specifically is designed to do: to allow you to be in a community where you don’t just learn the liberal arts, you live them.

Part of living the liberal arts – and of living existentialism more specifically – will involve traveling in Paris in January of 2017. When I directed the St. Andrews Study Group recently, students reported that as much as they loved being in St. Andrews, they valued the community they formed there just as much as any travel experience. We will have had a semester of living and learning together before we embark on our Parisian excursion. This will not be a sightseeing trip; we’ll be engaged in the project of trying to determine the effect this city and its culture had on existentialist thought and whether such thought is relevant, especially germane, or even possible today. When we return, we’ll continue our conversation in a .25 credit class in the spring semester.

Temples, Caves, and Stupas: The Art & Architecture of India before 1300

Professor Padma Kaimal - Art & Art History

Humans fill our world with visual signs that carry meaning.  Some may be instantly legible, some are deliberately disguised (think of viagra ads), and some are unintentionally obscure because they function at a cultural or chronological distance.  This course teaches methods for crossing those distances by becoming visually literate in South Asian contexts. As an SRS, this course will let students cross cultural distances in actuality during January, exploring the sculptures, rock-cut caves, and Hindu temples at Mahabalipuram in Tamilnadu and Bhubaneshwar in Odisha (Orissa), and nearby the Buddhist stupa, rock-cut edicts from the 4th century BCE, and a temple dedicated to yogini goddesses.

Focus in the Fall will be on South Asia’s sacred architecture from the Buddhist, Hindu and Muslim traditions from prehistoric times to 1300, and also its sculpture which has taken the human body as its primary expressive vehicle. The objects and readings and discussion topics in this course explore lively current debates about primitivism, religious conflict, gender, power, colonialism, and stereotypes. Indian art history has been a site of radical critique for the past two decades. Class conversations and individual research topics will lend themselves to cultural critique, compassion, and self-reflection. Experiencing those together will help us forge community together.

Crete: Imaginary Pasts (CLAS)

Professor Naomi Rood - Classics

This course focuses on the Greek island of Crete to consider how the construction of identity depends on an imaginary past. One needs to know one’s past, to some extent, in order to understand one’s present. But the past is always mediated through memory, narrative, and images – and thus becomes at least in part imaginary. Both a person and a people necessarily construct for themselves such a past. In this course, we will look at how ancient Greece, in its growing pan-Hellenic identity, posited for itself an even more ancient past located on the island of Crete. The myths and stories sited on Crete (e.g. the births of Zeus and Hera, the stories of Daedalus and Icarus, Pasiphae and the Minotaur, Theseus and Ariadne) ponder the nature of the divine, the polity, creativity, and eros – topics crucial to the fashioning of a self. While the course will focus on this imaginary past place, a goal of the course is to form an awareness of how we also – individually and communally and politically – construct necessary imaginary pasts. Course readings include selections from Hesiod’s Theogony, Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, Xenophon’s Symposium, Plato’s Laws, Euripides’ Hippolytus, Euripides’ Bacchae, Diodorus Siculus’s Library, and Plutarch’s Lives. We will also look at ancient and modern imagery. In January, we will visit Crete to gather a sense of its varied geography and landscape – coastline and interior, mountains and gorges – that allowed for its varied stories. In addition to visiting the ancient palace sites, we will also consider the later history of Crete – its Roman, Arab, Venetian, Ottoman, and modern pasts.