Fundamentals Courses

Because we cross-list so many courses, it is inevitable that some courses that are advertised on the college catalog will be canceled, moved, altered, and so forth; furthermore, there are always a few grad-level courses offered through the Committee on Social Thought that do not appear in the college catalog at all. These are the courses actively offered for the academic year; it will be updated as the year progresses. To see the projected list of courses to be offered this year, see the catalog.

Autumn 2023

Course No. Title Instructor Description
FNDL 11004 Introduction to the Hebrew Bible Chavel Introduction to the Jewish/Hebrew Bible as literature with a material history. Surveys the genres in it, reviews scholarly theories about it and its sources, situates it in the history and culture of ancient Southwest Asia (Near East + eastern Mediterranean). Section features creative, mixed-modes student engagement and interaction.
FNDL 21404 Shakespeare II: Tragedies and Romances T. Harrison This course explores mainly major plays representing the genres of tragedy and romance; most (but not all) date from the latter half of Shakespeare's career. After having examined how Shakespeare develops and deepens the conventions of tragedy in Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth, King Lear, and Antony and Cleopatra, we will turn our attention to how he complicates and even subverts these conventions in The Winter's Tale and Cymbeline. Throughout, we will treat the plays as literary texts, performance prompts, and historical documents. Section attendance is required. (Pre-1650, Drama)
FNDL 21650 Kafka's The Trial M. Sternstein This very close reading of Kafka's arguably most well known unfinished novel means to move away from megalithic glosses of Kafka as a writer of allegory-of bureaucratic oppression, social alienation, and a world abandoned by God, etc.-instead to look deeply at Kafka's precision, and strategic imprecision, of language, language as trauma, wound, and axe. Knowledge of German is not necessary.
FNDL 21805 Introduction to Marx A. Ford This introduction to Marx's thought will divide into three parts: in the first, we will consider Marx's theory of history; in the second, his account of capitalism; and in third, his conception of the state. (A)
FNDL 22035 The Acts of Paul and Thecla and the Pastoral Epistles Mitchell In the early second century there were bitter battles over the legacy of Paul and his preserved letters in terms of gender, sexuality, family life, asceticism, church administration, and theological vision. We can see these well by reading the narrative text The Acts of Paul and Thecla alongside the "Pastoral Epistles" (1 and 2 Timothy, Titus), the former championing a female, cross-dressing ascetic Christ-missionary and the latter, in pseudepigraphical epistolary texts written in the dead Paul's name, insisting on patriarchal family life and women's adherence to traditional roles. In this course we shall read both sets of texts carefully in Greek, noting points of similarity and contestation, and test various models of how these sources-each of which seeks to "fix" the Pauline legacy in its own way-are related to one another. Time allowing, we shall also look at the later reception of the cult of Saint Thecla and late antique interpretations of "the apostle," Paul, on these issues of sexuality and gender roles, and their perduring influence in contemporary debates.
FNDL 22333 Cassandras: Truth-Telling in Times of Crisis Kasimis In public life, why and how are some people accepted as truth-tellers while others are not? Is truth simply a problem of and for "correct" reasoning? What assumptions about argumentation and evidence go unexplored in this way of framing the problem? What if truth were a problem of truth-telling instead? When and how do social, racial, and gender hierarchies authorize received understandings of a (credible) truth-teller? What is credible telling usually thought to sound like? What are the conditions for listening and hearing the truth? To think through these questions, we take as a lens the archetype of Cassandra, the babbling prophetess of classical Greek myth and tragedy doomed not to be believed. Cassandra has served as a resource and source of inspiration for a range of critical thinkers, including but not limited to theorists, feminists, poets, and novelists. What is a "Cassandra"? Does her "deranged" way of seeing the world - her prophetic speech - disorient or destabilize? We will consider how, in her different representations, Cassandra places questions of language, patriarchy, and sexual violence at the center of general discussions of credibility and critique. Readings range from ancient Greek thought to 21st century theory
FNDL 23202 Li Zhi and 16th Century China: The Self, Tradition, and Dissent in Comparative Context Lee The 16th century Chinese iconoclast Li Zhi (Li Zhuowu) has been rightly celebrated as a pioneer of individualism, one of history's great voices of social protest, an original mind powerfully arguing for genuine self-expression, and more. He was a Confucian official and erudite in the classics, yet in his sixties he takes the Buddhist tonsure, and late in life befriends the Jesuit Matteo Ricci. He sought refuge in a quiet monastery devoting his life to scholarship, yet invited constant scandal. His A Book to Burn "sold like hotcakes," and attracted enough trouble that reportedly readers would surreptitiously hide their copies tucked up their sleeves, and was later banned by the state soon after his death. In this seminar, we will place Li both within the context of the history of "Confucian" thought, and within the literary, religious, and philosophical conversations of the late Ming. Using his writings as a productive case study, we will think about topics including "religion," tradition and innovation, "spontaneity" and "authenticity," and the relationship between "classics" and commentaries. Throughout, we will bring our discussions into comparative analysis, considering views of thinkers and traditions from other times and places. Chinese not required; for those interested, we will read select essays of Li's in Chinese and students may choose translation as a final project.
FNDL 23600 Evil: Myth, Symbol and Reality W. Schweiker From the horrors of the Shoah to violence suffered by individuals, the question of the origin, meaning, and reality of evil done by humans has vexed thinkers throughout the ages. This seminar is an inquiry into the problem of evil on three registers of reflection: myth, symbol, and reality. We will be exploring important philosophical, Jewish, and Christian texts. These include Martin Buber, Good and Evil, Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem, Immanuel Kant, Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone, Paul Ricoeur, The Symbolism of Evil, Edward Farley, Good and Evil, Hans Jonas, Mortality and Morality and Claudia Card, The Atrocity Paradigm. There will also be a viewing of the movie Seven (1995) directed by David Fincher and written by Andrew Kevin Walker. Accordingly, the seminar probes the reality of evil and the symbolic and mythic resources of religious traditions to articulate the meaning and origin of human evil. The question of "theodicy" is then not the primary focus given the seminar's inquiry into the fact and reality of human evil. Each student will submit a 5-7 page critical review of either Jonathan Glover's Humanity: A Moral History of the 20th Century or Susan Neiman's, Evil in Modern Thought. Each Student also will write a 15 page (double spaced;12pt font) paper on one or more of the texts read in the course with respect to her or his own research interests.
FNDL 24106 Readings in Maimonides' Guide of the Perplexed J. Robinson A careful study of select passages in Maimonides' Guide of the Perplexed, focusing on the method of the work and its major philosophical-theological themes, including: divine attributes, creation vs. eternity, prophecy, the problem of evil and divine providence, law and ethics, the final aim of human existence.
FNDL 24613 God of Manga: Osamu Tezuka's "Phoenix," Buddhism, and Post-WWII Manga and Anime A. Palmer How can the Buddhist axiom "All Life is Sacred" describe a universe that contains the atrocities of WWII? Osamu Tezuka, creator of Astro Boy and father of modern Japanese animation, wrestled with this problem over decades in his science fiction epic Phoenix (Hi no Tori), celebrated as the philosophical masterpiece of modern manga. Through a close reading of Phoenix and related texts, this course explores the challenges genocide and other atrocities pose to traditional forms of ethics, and how we understand the human species and our role in nature. The course will also examine the flowering of manga after WWII, how manga authors bypassed censorship to help people understand the war and its causes, and the role manga and anime have played in Japan's global contributions to politics, science, medicine, technology, techno-utopianism, environmentalism, ethics, theories of war and peace, global popular culture, and contemporary Buddhism. Readings will be mainly manga, and the final paper will have a creative option including the possibility of creating graphic work.
FNDL 24921 Robert Musil: Altered States Salvo This course is an introduction to the work of Robert Musil, one of the major novelists of the twentieth century. We will focus on Musil's idea of the "Other Condition" [der andere Zustand], which he once described-in contrast to our normal way of life-as a "secret rising and ebbing of our being with that of things and other people." What is this "Other Condition": what are its ethics and aesthetics, and how can it be expressed in literature? We will begin with readings from Musil's critical writings and early narrative prose, then devote the majority of the quarter to his unfinished magnum opus, The Man without Qualities. Particular attention will be paid to Musil's experimentations with narrative form and his development of the genre of "essayism."\nReadings and discussion in English.
FNDL 25001 Molière: Comedy, Power and Subversion L. Norman Molière crafted a new form of satirical comedy that revolutionized European theater, though it encountered strong opposition from powerful institutions. We will read the plays in the context of the literary, dramatic, and theatrical/performance traditions which he reworked (farce, commedia dell'arte, Latin comedy, Spanish Golden Age theater, satiric poetry, the novel), while considering the relationship of laughter to social norms, with particular emphasis on sexuality, gender roles, and cultural identity
FNDL 27002 Reading Augustine's Confessions R. Miller This course will carry out a close reading of Augustine's Confessions. We will study the work not only as a spiritual autobiography-a common approach-but also as a philosophical argument against alternatives to Christian faith and practice in the late fourth century. That argument will invite us to examine the implications of religious faith for human well-being and on how religious convictions affect the quality of human relationships, self-knowledge, and the emotions. We'll thus examine how Confessions interrogates the quality of human love, fear, hatred, and regret; moral responsibilities to ourselves and others; the (anxious) awareness that we are limited in body and time; and how to craft an honest narrative of self-understanding. We will ask (among other things), Is religion a source of personal healing and health, or an obstacle to it? What sorts of problems is religion meant to cure? What problems do religious beliefs create? How does religion bear on the self's loves, its past, its mortality, its doubts? Along the way we'll ask whether it is possible to want to do evil, whether it is possible to love or grieve too much, whether we are responsible for what happens in our dreams, what it means to be a friend to others-and how Augustine's answers to these questions presuppose a wider account of divine justice, charity, and the ordering of the cosmos.
FNDL 27006 The Iliad as a Whole J. Redfield After a review of the textual history of the Iliad and a consideration of the probable conditions of its composition, a close reading of the text will explore the interrelations of the story on a collective level-military and political-with the personal stories of the leading characters. Some acquaintance with the text in the original
FNDL 27200 Dante's Divine Comedy 1:  Inferno J. Steinberg This is the first part of a sequence focusing on Dante's masterpiece. We examine Dante's Inferno in its cultural (i.e., historical, artistic, philosophical, sociopolitical) context. In particular, we study Dante's poem alongside other crucial Latin and vernacular texts of his age. They include selections from the Bible, Virgil's Aeneid, Augustine's Confessions, Ovid's Metamorphoses, and the stilnovist and Siculo-Tuscan poets. Political turmoil, economic transformation, changing philosophical and theological paradigms, and social and religious conflict all converge in the making of the Infern
FNDL 27512 Dream of the Red Chamber: Forgetting About the Author Saussy The great Chinese-Manchu novel _Honglou meng_ (ca. 1750) has been assigned one major author, Cao Xueqin, whose life has been the subject of much investigation. But before 1922 little was known about Cao, and interpreters of the novel were forced to make headway solely on the basis of textual clues. The so-called "Three Commentators" edition (_Sanjia ping Shitou ji_) shows these readers at their creative, polemical, and far-fetched best. We will be reading the first 80 chapters of the novel and discussing its reception in the first 130 years of its published existence (1792-1922), with special attention to hermeneutical strategies and claims of authorial purpose. Familiarity with classical Chinese required.
FNDL 28500 Petrarch and the Birth of Western Modernity R. Rubini This course offers a close reading of the theoretical works of Petrarch (known as the "father of humanism" or "first modern man") with the aim of pinpointing the literary and rhetorical skills, as well as the self-conscious agenda, that went into the proclamation of a new era in Western history: the "Renaissance." How do we at once pay homage to and overcome a time-honored past without severing our ties to history altogether? Is Petrarch's model still viable today in efforts to forge a new beginning? We will pay special attention to Petrarch's fraught relationship with religious and secular models such as Saint Augustine and Cicero, to Petrarch's legacy in notable Renaissance humanists (Pico, Poliziano, Erasmus, Montaigne, etc.), and to the correlation of Petrarchan inquiry with modern concerns and methodologies in textual and social analysis, including German hermeneutics (Gadamer) and critical theory (Gramsci).
FNDL 29503 Plato's Republic N. Tarcov This course is devoted to reading and discussion of Plato's Republic and some secondary work with attention to justice in the city and the soul, war and warriors, education, theology, poetry, gender, eros, and actually existing cities.
FNDL 29887 Iterations of Oedipus: Folktale, Tragedy, Theory, Fiction Richardson Engaging themes of agency and freedom, criminality and guilt, self-knowledge and identity, reason and truth, consciousness and the unseen, the story of Oedipus is among the most reworked and reimagined in world literature. This course explores a wide range of versions of the story across a variety of artistic forms. In the first half of the course, as well as reading both of Sophocles' plays about Oedipus, we will explore the traces of the story as folktale and legend both before and after Sophocles. The second half of the course will be devoted to modern adaptations of the story. These will include dramatic versions from mid-twentieth-century Egypt; the Italian film director Pier Paolo Pasolini's autobiographical Edipo Re (1967), inflected with Freudian and Marxist themes; Philip Roth's bestselling novel The Human Stain (2000); and the contemporary Chicano playwright Luis Alfaro's Oedipus El Rey (2017), set between a California state prison and South Central Los Angeles. Students will be introduced to theories of adaptation and reception, and will have a creative option for the final assignment.


Winter 2024


Course No. Title Instructor Description
FNDL 20124 The Bible Throughout History: From the Dead Sea Scrolls to King James Snoek While the collection of ancient texts found in modern Bibles appears fixed and is read by many people as a source of edification or theological insight, it has not always been this way. Though absent from most Bibles, there is an entire body of literature commonly known as "rewritten bible": early translations, retellings, or entirely new stories with familiar names and faces that update, retcon, or subvert their "biblical" sources. How might we understand these ancient forms of fan fiction? The class will introduce this corpus (including some of the Dead Sea Scrolls) and its sources, production, and historical contexts. We will confront significant problems in understanding religious texts: how is it that some texts become authoritative while other very similar texts do not? Who gets to retell foundational religious narratives, and within what social or political constraints? What does it mean to relate to sacred texts as artistic prompts or imperfect points of departure? Can a biblical text be rewritten for an entirely different religious tradition? We will consider similar questions for contemporary religious practice, asking: how did rewriting the Bible get started, and has it stopped?
FNDL 20221 Infinite Narrative: The Arabian Nights and its Global Refractions Richardson The Arabian Nights, or A Thousand and One Nights, has had a profound influence on global culture. A shaping force in the formation of European Orientalism and Romanticism in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the work has since inspired a vast array of writers, filmmakers, and artists across the world. We will begin this course by studying the Nights as a product of the medieval Arabo-Islamic world, examining the major themes and formal features of the work. We will then investigate the translation and reception of the Nights in early modern Europe, before analyzing a selection of short stories, films, and novels based on or inspired by the Nights spanning the nineteenth to the twenty-first century. These will include stories by Edgar Allen Poe and Jorge Luis Borges; films by Masaki Kobayashi and Pier Paolo Pasolini; and novels by one or more of Naguib Mahfouz, Radwa Ashour, Salman Rushdie, and Isabel Allende. The primary texts will be supplemented with readings concerning narratology and the art of storytelling, the fantastic and magic realism, and contemporary debates about world literature. All texts will be read in translation, but students with knowledge of Arabic will be encouraged to participate in additional sessions devoted to reading parts of the Arabic texts in the original.
FNDL 21204 Philosophical Prose: Cicero, Tusculan Disputations White Several months after the death of his beloved daughter and just two years before his own death in 43 BC, Cicero composed a dialog with an imaginary interlocutor arguing that death, pain, grief, and other perturbations were an unimportant part of the big picture. A reading of this famous contribution to the genre of consolation literature (all of it to be read in English, selections in Latin) affords an opportunity to weigh his many examples and his arguments for ourselves.
FNDL 21820 Italo Calvino: The Dark Side Mariani An intense reading of Italo Calvino's later works: we will contemplate the orbital debris of "Cosmicomics" and "t zero," and we will follow the labyrinthine threads of "The Castle of Crossed Destinies" and the "Invisible Cities." After stumbling upon the suspended multiple beginnings of "If On a Winter's Night a Traveler," we will probe the possibilities of literature with the essays collected in "Una pietra sopra." Finally, we will encounter "Mr Palomar," who will provide us with a set of instructions on how to neutralize the self and "learn how to be dead." The approach will be both philosophical and historical, focusing on Calvino's ambiguous fascination with science, his critique of the aporias of reason and the "dementia" of the intellectual, and his engagement with the nuclear threat of total annihilation.
FNDL 21880 The Birth of the Gods: A Close Reading of Hesiod's Theogony Lopez-Ruiz In this course we will read in Greek the Theogony by Hesiod, one of the earliest preserved literary pieces in ancient Greek and a text that became a point of reference for cosmogonic literature and thought in later centuries. We will conduct a close reading, commenting on both poetic/literary aspects and mythical tropes, and will read (in English) comparative materials from other Greek and Near Eastern cosmogonies, as well as some interpretive essays. Exams will be based on translation work as well as engagement in discussions.
FNDL 23104 Immanuel Kant's Critique of Practical Reason Schweiker Contemporary ideas about Human Rights, the relation of moral norms and the good life, the character of human freedom, conceptions of human evil, and the very definition of morality and ethics have been decisively shaped by the work of Immanuel Kant (1724-1804). This course is the examination of one of Immanuel Kant's magisterial works in moral philosophy, The Critique of Practical Reason. The course is a careful reading of Kant's text in order to grasp the argument and to assess its significance for current work in Ethics. The course ends with one of Kant's famous political essays, "On Perpetual Peace." Engaging Kant's work will enable student to engage a wide range of thinkers from the 19th to the 21st centuries who accept, modify, and reject his work. In this way, the course is crucial for further work in philosophical and religious ethics. This class will be conducted through conversation over assigned reading. Those who can read German may use those texts and bring them to class. There will be two papers for the class on topics assigned by the instructor. The papers are to be 5-7 pages in length, double spaced.
FNDL 23805 Plato on the Musicality of Politics Valiquette Moreau The ancient Greeks understood music and law to share in the same intrinsic properties of order, establishment, and restoration; the ambiguity of the word nomos, which could mean both law and song, signals a worldview according to which ethics and aesthetics were governed by the same principles. This worldview was intimately connected to Athens' understanding of herself as a democracy, where music and so-called music theorists were integrated in all aspects of civic life, and where poets, philosophers, and statesman alike theorized on the moral, political, and juridical value of music. This course will be primarily devoted to a close reading of Plato's Laws (Nomoi), We will consider fundamental questions of civic engagement, political judgment, and the rule of law, and complicate those questions in light of the aesthetic and extra-rational considerations brought to bear on them through the dialogues' preoccupations with all things musical. Some familiarity with the Platonic dialogues is preferred but not required.
FNDL 27202 Dante's Divine Comedy II: Purgatorio Steinberg This course is an intense study of the middle cantica of the "Divine Comedy" and its relationship with Dante's early masterpiece, the "Vita Nuova." The very middleness of the Purgatorio provides Dante the opportunity to explore a variety of problems dealing with our life here, now, on earth: contemporary politics, the relationship between body and soul, poetry and the literary canon, art and imagination, the nature of dreams, and, of course, love and desire. The Purgatorio is also Dante's most original contribution to the imagination of the underworld, equally influenced by new conceptualizations of "merchant time" and by contemporary travel writing and fantastic voyages.
FNDL 27203 Žižek, The Sublime Object of Ideology Sternstein  
FNDL 27523 Reading Kierkegaard Lear This will be a discussion-centered seminar that facilitates close readings some Kierkegaard texts: The Present Age, Fear and Trembling, Sickness Unto Death, and The Lily of the Field and the Bird of the Air. We shall consider both the issues and arguments as well as Kierkegaard's forms of writing and manners of persuasion. Students will be expected to write comments each week and to read the comments of others. Our reading each week will be determined by the pace of the group.
FNDL 27617 Introduction to Global Catholicism Haydt With over a billion adherents, Catholicism is both the largest Christian denomination and a global religious tradition. This course introduces students to multiple ways Catholicism shapes the moral and political commitments of believers and how it informs politics and the larger society. How does the Catholic church, at once centralized and internally diverse, exist as a multilingual and multicultural community? How has Catholicism responded to increasingly secularized cultures in industrialized nations? What place do religious beliefs have in the public sphere? We will examine the different ways Catholics approach these moral, social, and theological questions and how their answers shape and are shaped by their cultural locations. No previous coursework is required to enroll.
FNDL 27950 The Declaration of Independence Slauter This course offers an extended investigation of the origins, meanings, and legacies of one of the most consequential documents in world history: the Declaration of Independence. Primary and secondary readings provide a series of philosophical, political, economic, social, religious, literary, and legal perspectives on the text's sources and meanings; its drafting, circulation, and early reception in the age of the American Revolution; and its changing place in American culture and world politics over nearly 250 years. (1650-1830, 1830-1940) In addition to the noted class times, there will also be discussion sections to be scheduled once the class begins.
FNDL 28102 Machiavelli's Political Thought McCormick This course is devoted to the political writings of Niccolò Machiavelli. Readings include The Prince, Discourses on Livy's History of Rome, selections from the Florentine Histories, and Machiavelli's proposal for reforming Florence's republic, "Discourses on Florentine Affairs." Topics include the relationship between the person and the polity; the compatibility of moral and political virtue; the utility of class conflict; the advantages of mixed institutions; the principles of self-government, deliberation, and participation; the meaning of liberty; and the question of military conquest.
FNDL 28202 Introduction to the New Testament: Texts and Contexts of Interpretation Mitchel An immersion in the texts of the New Testament with the following goals: 1. through careful reading to come to know well some representative pieces of this literature; 2. to gain useful knowledge of the historical, geographical, social, religious, cultural and political contexts of these texts and the events they relate; 3. to learn the major literary genres represented in the canon ("gospels," "acts," "letters," and "apocalypses") and strategies for reading them; 4. to comprehend the various theological visions and cultural worldviews to which these texts give expression; 5. to situate oneself and one's prevailing questions about this material in the history of research, and to reflect on the goals and methods of interpretation; 6. to become intelligent and critical "consumers" of biblical scholarship as it appears in academic and popular media. 7. to raise questions for further study
FNDL 29020 The Shadows of Living Things: The Writings of Mikhail Bulgakov Ilieva "What would your good do if evil did not exist, and what would the earth look like if all the shadows disappeared? After all, shadows are cast by things and people…. Do you want to strip the earth of all the trees and living things just because of your fantasy of enjoying naked light?" asks the Devil. Mikhail Bulgakov worked on his novel The Master and Margarita throughout most of his writing career, in Stalin's Moscow. Bulgakov destroyed his manuscript, re-created it from memory, and reworked it feverishly even as his body was failing him in his battle with death. The result is an intense contemplation on the nature of good and evil, on the role of art and the ethical duty of the artist, but also a dazzling world of magic, witches, and romantic love, and an irresistible seduction into the comedic. Laughter, as shadow and light, as the subversive weapon but also as power's whip, grounds human relation to both good and evil. Brief excursions to other texts that help us better understand Master and Margarita.
FNDL 29900 Reading Courses: Fundamentals Cheney Open only to Fundamentals students with consent of faculty supervisor and program chair