The statue of a 17th-century slave trader, Edward Colston, toppled in Bristol by BLM protesters in the spring of 2020, sparked a global conversation about Britain’s attitudes to race, slavery, identity, empire, and belonging. This has also led to a renewed debate about the moral and ethical underpinnings of British and other European empires as well as highlighted the complex and interconnected legacies that were left behind around the world, from Cape Town to Washington, DC. For example, the impeachment trial of Warren Hastings, the British Governor-General of India, by the House of Lords in the late 18th century was cited as a precedent during the 2021 impeachment deliberations in the United States Senate. In this class, we use an interdisciplinary lens of theoretical readings, literature, and film, along with sources such as historical documents, print media, documentaries, and oral histories to consider the complex cultural, political, and economic legacies of colonialism that continue to shape global societies to this day.
The “Axial Age” from c.1100 BC to 400 BC witnessed the origins of most of the world’s great religions and philosophies from Europe and the Middle East to India and China. Monotheistic, transcendental, and nature religions arose and competed with idealistic, materialistic, and ethical philosophies. Reading their foundational texts of wisdom about God, creation, human nature, the good life, and the civic order will provide a comparative survey of philosophy and theology.
This seminar examines cross-cultural thinking about the nature of knowledge. In Western philosophical terminology, this is a matter of epistemology, which determines the methods and criteria for attaining reliable knowing. In turn, epistemology is significantly determined by ontological assumptions, or the determination of what actually exists when one gets beyond mere appearances to view the world correctly. A comparative examination reveals very different ways cultures have approached the nature of knowledge, revealing that there are different ways of defining it.
We will explore these different ways of framing knowledge through Western and East Asian Daoist and Buddhist sources. The first half of the course lays out fundamental differences between them, particularly as applied to the realms of social theory, aesthetics, and theories of personhood. The second half of the course looks at how these comparative epistemological traditions play out in the contemporary debate about religion and science, and whether or not they are compatible. This examination triangulates between the voices of Christian theology, contemporary Western philosophy, and Buddhism.
The examination of two different cultural approaches does not presume a neat division between them. Rather, comparison brings out innate tensions within Western tradition itself, which the perspective of a different cultural system helps to highlight. For that reason, comparative study enables greater understanding of one’s home tradition, in addition to expanding one’s knowledge base.
During the MALS Thesis Proposal course, students work directly with the Master of Arts in Liberal Studies faculty director to produce an annotated bibliography (including the state of the question and the 20 most important works on the topic) and thesis statement, which prepare students for thesis writing in the subsequent semester. Students are expected to attend all class sessions, meetings with the University librarians for research consultations and any additional meetings determined by the faculty director.
Note: This course is required for all MALS students and counts for half-time status. MALS students must complete this course before registering for MALS Thesis Writing.
The MALS Thesis Writing course must be taken upon completion of the MALS Thesis Proposal course (LSHV 800) in the subsequent fall or spring semester and is the final curricular requirement for the Master of Arts in Liberal Studies degree. In the MALS Thesis Writing course, students will work directly with their appointed thesis mentor to produce a master’s thesis and participate in a thesis defense. Students are expected to work directly with their thesis mentor and library representatives to actively write and produce the thesis argument. At the commencement of the thesis writing semester, students will develop milestones in consultation with the thesis mentor to ensure consistent progress.
Note: This course is required for and is restricted to MALS students. Only students who completed MALS Thesis Proposal with a grade of "B" or better are eligible to register.
What makes us human? How much of this is a part of our “nature” (e.g., biological hardware, chemistry, and physiological changes) and how much of it is due to how we are nurtured (our socialization, cultures, and social interactions)? This course explores some of the most central aspects of the human condition and asks, “What makes us tick?” The class explores competing paradigms derived from a combination of studies and research from biology, medicine, psychology, sociology, economics, anthropology, archaeology, and historical observation. The structure of the course is inspired by the concept of a “hierarchy of needs”—beginning with essential “lower order” aspects of the human condition moving up toward the problems and issues that are more often the focus of life once the essentials of life have been obtained. The course challenges the notion that 21st century human beings are all that different from those that existed in 100, 1,000, or even 10,000 years ago. It also seeks to understand how human behavior can vary so much across cultures now. Reading material for the course also includes a combination of original source excerpts from the world’s religious and legal texts, and philosophers and scientists such as John Locke, René Descartes, B.F. Skinner, John Watson, Sigmund Freud, Karl Marx, Charles Darwin, Adam Smith, Sun Tzu, Niccolò Machiavelli, Edward O. Wilson. Lecture and the course readings are supplemented with suggested journal articles including current research as well as multimedia excerpts on each week’s topics.
Note: Also counts toward the MALS FND: Social Sciences requirement. Open to MALS and DLS students.
Note: What we think affects how we see, and what we see affects what we believe. This course examines visual veracity and how images and the presentation of information impact our conceptions of truth, reality, and authenticity. Whether it is a fake object inserted into the art historical record, a fake social media profile intended to deceive, or fake news created to sway public opinion, the resulting attack on what we believe to be real can be devastating. Students will examine and compare empirical approaches in the behavioral and cognitive sciences that aid in opinion formation and decision-making, explaining our gullibility to misinformation, capacity for groupthink, and knowledge acquisition. We will explore social theories of cognition and why we tend to think we know more than we do, and how this belief can be manipulated. This course also explores why we are so easily deceived. Students will review empirical research and hear case studies from industry-leading guest speakers that provide explanations for these phenomena as they relate to arts and culture, religion, politics and democracy, health outcomes, and our self-knowledge. Students will
gain familiarity with Deep Fakes and how synthetic media and accompanying misinformation have emerged into a destructive political and social force. Lastly, the course will explore some of the efforts to combat our broken information ecosystem, driven largely by images and video that make it nearly impossible to tell what is real and what isn’t.