Research in the Disciplines is a Core Curriculum certified course that allows students to earn credit for the WcR or WcD requirement in Writing and Communication. We offer topics across most disciplinary fields at the university, so students can hone the skills of writing and revision through inquiry relevant to their major or interest. Many of our topics are interdisciplinary, and all engage with important and interesting questions for research.
Students in Research in the Disciplines select their own research topic, and work to advance the conversation about it from a critical and analytical point of view. They learn the process of searching for books, journal articles, and Internet sources; develop strategies for managing notes and citations; extend their synthetic and analytical skills; respond to instructor and peer feedback; and become able to differentiate between and assess scholarly, credible, and non-credible sources.
SAS Students: 201 is Core certified for both the Revision-Based (WCr) and the Discipline-Based (WCd) Writing & Communication goals.
SEBS Students: 201 meets Core Curriculum Requirements in Area VI: Oral and Written Communication
Other Students: 201 meets requirements for most schools at RU. Please check with your advisor.
Transfer Students: If you did not take Expository Writing at RU, you must register for 301, which is designed for transfer students, rather than 201.
201 Topics - Spring 2021
Consult your Course Schedule Planner for specific times and locations.
Architecture, Design, and Public Space
From shopping malls to student centers, war memorials to community playgrounds, historic buildings to iconic structures, places of worship and relaxation, place and space has a significant influence on our lives. How we construct and design our physical surroundings reveals a great deal about both who and what we are. This course invites students to explore the relationships between "space" and "place" by examining why different factors (e.g,, history, geography, religion) impact on the way individuals perceive and design the spaces they occupy in their physical world. Possible research topics include the politics of property rights and eminent domain; the redesign of urban centers, using concepts such as "defensible space:' and the representation of buildings, public squares, and monuments as evidence of cultural memory.
Being Human: Medical Humanities
What does it mean to be human? Is it the velocity of the blood in our veins, or the poetry we write that proves our existence? And, to whom do we address this inquiry—doctors, philosophers, scientists, artists, religious leaders, spiritual guides, community organizers, politicians, architects, sanitation workers, venture capitalists, grocery store clerks, software engineers, train conductors, sex workers? In this course we will explore the question of the “human” at the intersections of medical and humanistic study. Across a broad range of topics students will consider how medicine—the study and practice of diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of disease—and the humanities—the not-entirely-quantifiable study of human thought, experience, and creativity—mutually inform one another and contribute to more complex understandings of human conditions. Possible areas for research may include: gender and medicine; race and medicine; access to care; medical photography and illustration; medical education; medicine and media; medicine and art; biomedical ethics; the business of medicine; religion and medicine; politics and medicine; histories of medicine; medicine and literature; health and urban planning; music and medicine; medicine and technology; medicine and consumerism.
Civic Society, Civil Discourse
In this course, we will ask ourselves what it means to be citizens of a democratic republic—what “civic society,” or the association of citizens, is and means, what claims it makes on us as human beings—and we will ask whether the traditions we have inherited from our remote and recent past, which have been drowned out in all the bickering, can help us achieve a more perfect union. We will look at the dynamics that have ruined republics, and at what has pulled them back from the brink. Above all, we will try to think our way back to “civil discourse,” the sane and open exchange of ideas across partisan lines in search of what binds us together: we will ask ourselves, as we steep ourselves in research, how we might seek to restore a sense of underlying identity and common interest in our fractious age. This section will aim to cultivate research projects that seek, without naivete or pollyannaism, to examine the possibility that we might once again think of each other, and speak to each other, as if we were human beings, and work together despite our differences to restabilize our body politic—but we will not shy away from the very real and deeply entrenched differences that make this so difficult. Can we “bind up the nation’s wounds”? What contribution can each of us make to this project? We will take as our keynote the much-celebrated words of Abraham Lincoln: “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
This course explores the changing meaning of college in America, with a focus on the increasing privatization of public education. Research topics might include the rising costs of college and matching student debt, the disconnect between student life and academics, the stressful competition for admission to the most selective schools, the expense of remedial education, the rise of big time college sports as a revenue stream, the history of student protest movements, the role of fraternities and sororities, and the complex relationship between faculty and corporations. As part of the class, students will be required to conduct at least one primary source interview that is appropriate to their projects. This is a hybrid course with meetings one day each week supplemented by online activities, which will include keeping a research blog and participating in
online discussion forums.
Who are you? Is your identity fixed or is it always changing? How much of what makes you “you” comes from how others see you? How does identity intersect with values, beliefs, race, ethnicity, gender, nationality, language, religion, family, music, fashion, history and so on? This course explores multiple and overlapping ways humans perceive themselves, both as individuals and as part of a collective group, and how identity affects people’s lived experiences every day. We will examine the relationship between environment and psychological and biological selves. Possible areas of research include musical preference, fashion style, race relations, self-help books, plastic surgery, and national pride.
Creative Rebellion: Art and Activism
This course will invite students to ask why and how art contributes to social change by creating counter-narratives that can inspire and ignite. And yet, while having long been a tool for self-reflection and inspiration, for building communities, as well as a medium for acute and emotive social critique, art has also been frequently undervalued as a political or ideological force. Drawing from the fields of art, literature, history, and ethics, this course will explore the ever-entwined relationship between Art, Rebellion, and Social Change. From Oscar Wilde, to Picasso, to Banksy’s Graffiti; from portraits in art galleries to painted bodies, and from defiant symphonies to underground music, students will explore how art often plays a fundamental role in challenging the status quo.
Exploring creativity! Where does it come from—the cosmos, the muses, our DNA? Do creative people think outside the “box?” What is the “box?” How do we break through to our innate originality and live it rather than conceal it in order to fit in? Are imagination, innovation, and inspiration the exclusive domain of the arts and sciences, or essential components for enriching our lives as well as our diverse profession? Those are some of the issues we’ll investigate. Research topics to consider include: creative ability and autism; effects of drugs on creative output; advertising and creative persuasion; the dark side and curse of creativity; left-handedness; the use of the Golden Mean—the mysterious number employed to establish order and beauty in art. Ultimately, you are free to follow your inspiration to discover other related topics.
Disease and Epidemics
The term Quarantine originally referred to the 40-day period that a ship from a plague-stricken land must remain offshore before coming into port to ensure they did not spread disease. Today, the term has been expanded to mean any period of isolation, often mandated by a government for the protection of public health. The COVID-19 pandemic has been an unprecedented experience in our lifetime, disrupting daily life in unimaginable ways. Yet, humans throughout history have had similar encounters with disease. From the Bubonic Plague in Medieval Europe, to Smallpox in the Americas, to the Spanish Flu, AIDS, and Ebola on a global scale, humans have always tried to understand and fight disease and epidemics. This course allows students to examine the psychosocial perceptions and biological realities of how we negotiate disease and epidemics in our increasingly global world. Other avenues of research might be the politics of disease, healthcare and public health, the psychology behind blame in epidemics, religious explanations of disease, culture-bound syndromes, challenges in epidemiology, social contagion and mass hysteria, stigma and disease, representations of disease in pop culture, the role of (mis)information or social media in perpetuating and responding to epidemics, as well as more biomedically framed projects.
The Ethics of Food
"Don't eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn't recognize as food," Michael Pollan advised in his bestselling book, In Defense of Food. In our busy contemporary society, we cram down French fries that don't grow mold if we forget to eat them for a month; foot long sandwiches stuffed with processed meats; fizzy drinks of a dazzling array of colors. This course will explore the ethics of food, in terms of its production and distribution. Possible topics of research include an investigation of the ethics of the fast food industry, genetically modified foods, factory farms, agribusinesses, organic foods, food waste, and the recent increase in interest for local produce in farmers' markets, and rooftop farming in urban areas.
The Ethics of Urban Development
Cities are dense fabrics consisting of people living in close proximity, and they are constantly changing through urban development. Ethics is the study of right and wrong, or, as applied to urban development, who wins and who loses, and do some groups seem to matter more than others? For example, using Eminent Domain, the construction of an expressway through a crowded residential neighborhood might hurt some of the residents of that area, but might give improved access to many city dwellers who use that road. Possible research topics for this course include the ethical implications of such urban developments as urban renewal, gentrification, suburban and exurban development, urban parks such as The Highline, the new urbanism, and airb&b.
What does your family mean to you? What did your family look like growing up? What does a family look like in 2021? What does it mean to be part of the modern family? This class will explore the history of the family unit, exploring how our ideas about family have changed throughout the past century. We will consider the ways in which the family unit has evolved, and the ways in which the family has stayed the same. The potential individual research topics could include family and work, family at home, marriage and family, divorce, race and family, family life during Covid, gender and family, family and finances, politics and family, family separation at the border, families around the world, the extended family, adoption, children in family life, family in literature, family in movies and television, the future of the family.
How did something as essential as clothing evolve into something as frivolous as fashion, constantly changing and regularly discarded? How did the verb "to fashion", which means, "to make," end up as a noun that describes the latest and hottest garment to be worn, a word synonymous with change? This class will explore these questions. We will also examine how fashion is used to define individuals and how fashion is a form of communication and culture with rules, values, and prohibitions. From fashion design and designers, to beauty and marketing, to subcultures and politics, this course will look at fashion as a social and cultural language today. Some possible research topics are: the cultural significance of specific designers; an examination of fashion trends as subculture; or a history of cosmetic use and its evolution in the last 100 years.
E.T. The dance of death at sunset. Gangsters, hangovers, and martial arts. A slum dog millionaire. Perhaps no other art form in the last century has left an impact on culture the way that film has. Through the images on screen, audiences engage in their hopes and fears, find their heroes, and confront their demons. Hollywood, Bollywood, the indie, the foreign film, documentaries and animation--the categories that fall under the art form have left a lasting legacy on our imaginations. This course will explore the nature of film as an art form and look at its power to inspire and enchant. Students may write about the lasting influence of a particular film, a director, or the significance of a genre.
Food, Farms, and Environment
Can we produce enough food without destroying our ecosystems? Can we respond ethically to the crisis of the American farmer and farmers throughout the world? The current industrial agro-food system creates problems of environmental degradation, animal welfare, worker safety, and consumer health. Agriculture accounts for a quarter of total carbon dioxide emissions, half of all methane emissions, and seventy percent of the nitrous oxide emissions in the atmosphere from anthropogenic sources. “Can industrial agriculture be a force for good?” as a recent headline implored. This course gives students an opportunity to research agriculture, farms and the food system in any number of ways. Research options include topics such as hunger and food insecurity; sustainable farming; soil management; local ecosystems; permaculture; genetically modified organisms; humane treatment of farm animals; apiculture, organic farming; the "local food movement"; deforestation; climate change– the possibilities—unlike our natural resources—are practically limitless.
Senet. Gladiator games. Chess. Poker. College Football. Monopoly. The Legend of Zelda. Call of Duty. Pokemon Go. Games have been an integral part of human affairs since the days of prehistoric Egypt, and although they have continuously evolved since, they are arguably more pervasive than ever. What is it about “games” and “play” that humans find so appealing? In what ways have individuals (or entities) endeavored to harness the elements of game-play, and to what ends? Research topics may include video game addiction, gamification in business or education, the use of simulation games for training, the impact of massively multiplayer online games on human behavior, and the rise of “serious games.”
Gender in the Workplace
How do your gender, sex, and sexuality affect the way people perceive your abilities? Despite advances made in gender equality through the last century, contemporary legal cases, academic studies, and popular testimonials reveal persistent inequality. How does gender affect perceptions of collegiality, leadership, and ambition?
The Global City in the 21st Century
Tokyo and New York, London and Beijing, Hong Kong and São Paulo, Mumbai and Dubai – one way to understand the contemporary world is as a network of vast urban spaces, inhabited by an ever-increasing share of the world’s population. Indeed, the United Nations projects that by 2050, 68% of the world’ population will live in urban areas (up from 2020’s not insignificant 55%). This trend demonstrates that in the years since sociologist Saskia Sassen developed the concept of the “global city” in 1991, the term has grown more apt a descriptor than ever for these metropolises around which our collective life is increasingly organized. Taking Sassen’s term as a starting point, this course will offer students the opportunity to investigate the shape of these cities themselves; the accelerating process of economic globalization that binds them together; and the cultures created by those who live there. Examples of research topics might include rural-to-urban and transnational migration; green architecture; public transit; gentrification; economic stratification; street art; protest and other uses of public space; and many others.
What does it mean to be happy? How is happiness achieved? What are the differences between “the good life” and “a good life?” What forms does happiness take and which of these seem the most desirable or elusive? Readings from philosophers, essayists, journalists, and those in the “happiness-providing industry” will guide our journey to the answers--or, perhaps, leave us with even more questions.
Human Ecology in the 21st Century
"How do humans live with our environments – both the ones that we build (the city, the suburb, the agricultural landscape) and the ones the earth provide for us? How do humans change the earth, and how does the earth change us? These are central questions for the holistic and transdisciplinary field of Human Ecology, an approach to environmental studies that invites participation and perspectives from ecology, psychology, public health, the fine arts, anthropology, literature, law, engineering, journalism, philosophy, and beyond. In this course, we’ll learn the critical research and writing skills you’ll want to write about the relationships between humans and our built and wild environments. Your topics are boundless: wherever humans live on earth, there’s a topic to discover and explore; these can range anywhere from questions about living under the Anthropocene (the end of human time forever and always?), to environmental racism and climate justice, tree-bathing, apocalyptic imaginaries, space travel and Afro-futurism, the fungal networks that cover entire states, tar sands mining and oil pipelines, sacred geometries, religious approaches to earth stewardship, women’s ecofeminist collective farms in the 1970s, the behavioral economics of climate change mitigation, sea walls and coastal restoration, representations of nature in literature, film, and art, the queer farmers' movement and gay rodeos, Indigenous rights and epistemologies. If you can find the human-nature connection, there’s nothing you can’t dig into for a truly imaginative project, unbound by disciplinarity!"
Immigration, Migration, Borders
The U.S. has more immigrants than any other country, and immigration in this country is a complex issue with a long history. In this course, you will have an opportunity to write a research paper on topics connected to immigration and identity, legal and unauthorized immigration, the history of U.S. immigration, the future demographic impact of immigration, and changes in public opinion about immigrants. You may also study topics related to immigration and migration in other countries and contexts.
Law and Culture
We sometimes think of the law and legal language as occupying its own specialized domain – law offices, courtrooms, or halls of government. In this course we will explore legal documents, like Supreme Court cases and the US Constitution, to look for the ways they represent and impact daily life. This means reading the law alongside acts of cultural expression: works of art, film, music, and protest. Our focus will be on the legal and cultural meanings of moving freely through public space in the U.S. – as well as on the protest movements in American history that have demanded freedom. We will read widely about “freedom movements,” and you will be encouraged explore your own interests by researching deeply into a particular moment in history, a particular legal or cultural document, or a particular movement.
Leaders and Leadership
The history of human affairs has been a history often defined by the decisions and actions of leaders. We think of leaders as individuals who look beyond their own narrow interests and enhance the prosperity and wellbeing of others. Great leaders emerge and can be recognized across different cultures, historical periods, and political contexts. But what are the qualities necessary for leadership? Why are good leaders esteemed so highly? How do we differentiate between good leaders and bad ones? Do we need leaders at all? If leaders are exemplars for others to follow, what is the relationship between leadership and public opinion? Students will conduct research on the significance of leadership and leaders in a variety of different contexts, including: politics, science, military affairs, business, art, religion, among other topics.
Love & Sex
Countless songs, novels, and movies focus on the same theme: love. How can we define love? What is the difference between loving someone and being in love? In this course, students will investigate the ways in which love and sex affect cultural traditions, gender norms, and the human condition. We will look at controversial issues that arise when people defy, redefine, or revisit cultural and social norms associated with love and sex. Possible topics include acts of flirtation, gay marriage, public displays of affection, serial killers and necrophilia, sexuality in comic books, female genital mutilation, Internet sex addiction, sexual predators, and pornography.
Magic & Mythos: Disney in Popular Imagination
In 1934, a little-known outfit called Walt Disney Productions, Inc., launched their first ever feature-length animated film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. It became the highest-grossing film of the decade. Flash forward almost ninety years and the American cultural landscape is transformed by the magic of Walt Disney World, Marvel Studios, Pixar, 20th Century Fox, Star Wars, Epcot Center, Tokyo DisneySea, and once-in-a lifetime Disney cruises. Disney in the American mythos has shaped not only the animation, film, and theme park industries but also cultural sensibilities from America to galaxies far, far away. What historical and social narratives does Disney convey or invent, and with what impact? How do Marvel and Star Wars films reflect and shape our attitudes about science? How do Disney parks' innovations in design, architecture, and engineering influence guest behavior and modern technology? What does Walt Disney's vision of utopia and progress reveal about his or our values? What and whose vision of America is on display in Disney films, parks, and products? Bring your lightsabers, your glass slippers, and your curiosity to go to infinity and beyond!
Media and Public Life
Examining the state of our “public life” in the present moment is a fraught exercise. Chyrons scrolling across the feeds of traditional news networks present their audiences with entirely different versions of reality, while social media has proven itself less a vigorous new kind of public square than an unnavigable sea of misinformation and hot takes. Yet for all the ways that this fractious state of affairs feels like a new kind of problem, a closer look suggests that the relationship between the media and public life has always been complicated. This class invites students to explore that complexity from a range of angles, with potential research topics relating to one or both of its key concepts. Such research topics might include the shifting nature of the news media; social media as a venue for public discourse; advertising and public relations; contemporary propaganda; political polarization; public protest; government intervention and censorship; the role of art in the public sphere; local kinds of civic infrastructure; and many others.
Beyonce. Kris Jenner. Serena Williams. Jacinta Ardern. Michelle Duggar. Octomom. Soccer Mom. Mommy-Blogger. What does it mean to be a mother in 2020? From long-standing perceptions of the “angel in the house” to the “how-does-she-do-it” parent who “works outside the home,” or stays at home and battles “mommy ways,” “having it all” in the early twenty-first century has ushered in intense study on the shifting role and responsibilities of motherhood. These new paradigms develop, of course, with the advent of social media, increasing disparities in maternal-fetal childbirth outcomes along socioeconomic and racial boundaries, and new expectations for the role of motherhood--and mothering--in the twenty-first century. Research papers for this topic could include the economics of modern motherhood, social media and motherhood, celebrity mothers, mothers and political activism, increasing number of childless-by-choice women, global politics of motherhood and adoption, shifting public images of motherhood, health issues with pregnancy or childbirth, post-partum mental health, and more.
Music, Dance, and Performance
Performance is a multi-disciplinary and multi-sensory experience that draws from a variety of intentional and unintentional forms of expression. For instance, “Cacti” by choreographer Alexander Ekman, is not only an exhilarating contemporary dance piece, but it also blends elements of percussion, mime, orchestral music, and humor to create a comprehensive performance. The broad scope of this class is designed to facilitate original and impactful research on a wide variety of topics related to music, dance, and performance.
Nutrition and Exercise Science
This course gives students an opportunity to research nutrition and exercise strategies for optimal wellness from a humanities perspective. Research options include topics such as training techniques; sports pedagogy; training and diet for athletes; diet and/or exercise as treatment for or prevention of disease; nutrition and exercise for pregnant women; childhood obesity; occupational therapy; physical therapy; sports medicine; weight management; eating disorders; food insecurity; etc.
Nutrition, Exercise, and Health
What scientific, social, cultural, economic, political, or ethical factors shape how we think about nutrition, exercise, and health in contemporary society? In this course, you can find out! Examples of potential topics include socioeconomic class and nutrition/exercise, eating disorders and body dysmorphia, childhood obesity, food and gender roles, the dieting industry, fitness and social media, the slow food movement, food insecurity in the developing world, government regulations and political lobbying, and so on.
Order, Chaos, and the Universe
There is a law of nature which says that the universe, as a whole, runs downhill from order to chaos. If this be the case, then why do we, as extremely complex forms of living organization, exist? Under the umbrella of a tug of war between order and chaos, on any scale, from up close and personal to the formation of stars, planets and evolution of intelligent life in the universe, this course offers a vast canvas for student investigation into what intrigues, concerns, amuses, or puzzles. If overall chaos always increases, is evolving life simply a more efficient means of producing chaos? If effort keeps us in shape mentally, physically, and socially, and technology sells itself on the promise of eliminating effort, does advancing technology offer us empowerment, or just the illusion? What is the role of opposites (big/small, easy/hard, breadth/depth, fast/slow, strong/weak, near/far, hot/cold, order/disorder...) in our lives and the evolving universe? Can aging and the fighting of disease be examined as a tug of war? Does climate change / global warming / weather extremes / droughts and deluges, the obesity epidemic, the opioid epidemic, smartphone / social media / video game addiction, overwhelming plastic pollution in the oceans, the "sixth extinction of species," represent chaos compensating accelerating technical order allowing too many to consume too much too fast? Does the accelerating power in artificial intelligence, machine learning, genetic engineering (CRSPR-cas9) and robotics doing more and more for us represent serious threats to our human future? If so, why are we, as a species, doing this to ourselves?
The Politics of Climate Change
Record temperatures are causing melting glaciers and extreme weather. Sea level has risen eight inches since 1880. Coastal communities are flooding. The toll from storms and fires in the US has broken all records. The Pentagon considers global warming to be a major strategic threat. There is overwhelming scientific agreement that climate change is anthropogenic, and so, logically, solutions must involve changing human behavior. Yet somehow climate science has become a partisan issue! Why, we will ask, has denial of human-caused climate change become a litmus test for Republican candidates? Why are school boards around the country, adopting requirements that climate science be taught as a “theory” and that the “other side” also be taught? This course will examine the politics of climate change.
The Psychology of Conflict
“Can we all get along?” Rodney King touched the soul of the nation in 1992 with this simple but insightful question because it poses fundamental human concerns: why do we fight with our family, friends, and loved ones? Why is argument the basis of so much of education and business? Why do gender, class, race, and ethnic groups sometimes fight over core values and backgrounds? Why do nations go to war? “Psychology of Conflict” will allow students to address these issues and more. Conflict may not always lend itself to resolution, but resolution can often be managed. Investigation of techniques for conflict resolution can provide an additional avenue for student research.
Public Health Issues
Public Health is the science of protecting and improving the health of communities through education, promotion of healthy lifestyles, research for disease and injury prevention, and development of policies that help make the home, workplace and public sphere safe. This course allows the student to research the intersection of health concerns with many other disciplines – public policy, psychology, history, sociology and science. The choices for research papers range from family planning to studying infectious disease outbreaks to biochemical terrorist attacks.
Rebels: Cause or Not?
Historically, the term “Rebel” has embodied a controversial connotation. From one perspective, rebels have functioned as ethical voices of resistance to challenge existing power structures to ignite cultural and political progression; alternatively, rebels have performed as outlaw deviants operating on the margins of society. This course investigates Rebels, in their myriad forms, and analyzes theories and case studies of resistance, while devoting specific attention to the often problematic and contradictory relationship between cultural challenges and political change. Ranging from civil rights leaders (Henry David Thoreau, Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, and Malcolm X), feminists (Mary Wollstonecraft, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and Emily Dickinson), artists (Jackson Pollack and Jean-Michel Basquiat), cultural/iconic figures and vigilantes (Robin Hood and Batman), punk and rap musicians (Minor Threat and Tupac), counter-culture representatives (The Beat Generation), professional athletes (Jackie Robinson), militants (Che Guevara and the French Resistance of World War II), and any voice contesting forms of discrimination and inequality, “Rebels: Cause or Not?”, explores how individuals and social groups have used, and continue to implement, culture as a weapon of resistance.
Religion and Politics
How do religions come into being? How are they theorized, and in relation to what? Rather than consider religions to be isolated institutions or belief systems, this course will investigate how religions interact with and participate in their surrounding worlds. If we separate the spiritual out from the worldly, temporal, or “secular,” we miss the opportunity to reflect on how religions, and their attendant beliefs, impact the sociopolitical issues and everyday lives of individuals and communities across history. Students can devise a research question that relates to (but is not limited to) the following topics: how religions inform contemporary politics or historic debates surrounding civil rights and slavery; how religions are used by persons to promote their own or contest others’ power; how religions devolve into cults and cult communities; how religion structures theories of the relationship between gender and sexuality, the private and the public, race and class.
Science and Fiction
This course invites you to research some aspect of the relationship between Science and Fiction. This includes projects that engage with Science Fiction as a literary genre, but also projects that look at the narratives that surround science in contemporary culture more broadly. In each case, we take our starting point with the premise that we cannot fully extricate science from the stories that are told about or through science. Projects can set out to illuminate particular works of Science Fiction (movies, TV shows, novels, short stories, and so on) in light of larger social, historical, political, or ethical questions. What can Star Trek teach us about ethics? What can The Matrix teach us about free will and consciousness? Other possible projects might focus on the erosion of faith in science, scientists in contemporary political culture, the dividing line between science and pseudoscience, or how science is taught in schools.
Science, Medicine & Society
“Science, Medicine and Society” focuses on ethical, social, and political controversies in a variety of medical and health fields. Research topics include biomedical engineering, nursing, pharmaceutical and insurance industries, health care, mental illness, alternative and experimental healing techniques, hospice, hospitals, and midwives. Students can also study aspects of medical training and the doctor-patient relationship.
The Search for Meaning
What role does “meaning” play in our lives? Do we actually need to live a meaningful life, or do we just want to? And why? How do we go about cultivating this meaning—through religion, political activism, participating in other “movements”? And perhaps most importantly—what happens when we feel like our lives don’t have meaning? In this course, we will explore these questions and more. Drawing on both philosophical ideas and real-world trends, students will conduct projects that explore the uniquely human need and desire to search for meaning in our lives.
Sports and Athletics
Organized athletics trace back to the Ancient Olympic Games in 776 B.C. and included sports like track and field, boxing, and wrestling. Today, skill sports like basketball, baseball, soccer, and football are played in large stadiums and arenas, and the athletes are stronger, faster, and more business minded. Additionally, technology has changed the game by allowing spectators to witness sports in ways never thought possible. For example, according to “Topend Sports: the Sports and Science Resource,” the 2020 US Open Tennis Championships implemented the next level Hawk-Eye Live that made line calls in real time (www.topendsports.com). In this course students may research any aspect of sports and athletics including sports management, social issues in sports, sports equity, coaching and training, performance enhancing drugs (PEDs), technology and sports, professional and amateur athletes, social media and branding, and sports injuries.
Stories of War
In the Iliad, perhaps the greatest war story ever told, Homer writes: “How can I picture it all? It would take a god to tell the tale.” War is profoundly difficult to convey. It reconfigures nations, separates families, destroys landscapes, and kills in terrifying numbers. These extreme conditions pose a significant challenge to men and women’s ability to communicate– whether soldier, civilian, nurse, or grieving parent. And yet, telling stories of war can be therapeutic for survivors. These stories can also function in honoring the dead and perhaps, as many believe, even promote a future peace. In this 201 class, we will draw from the fields of literature, gender studies, trauma studies, and cognitive psychology to consider how modern wars are represented across a range of textual and visual media, from diaries and letters (WWI & II), to fiction and poetry (Owen, Borden, Hemingway), to video games (Call of Duty, Battlefield), and films (Full Metal Jacket, Dunkirk). Student research topics might include an examination of war diaries and letters, poetry, protest songs, war films, soldiers’ tweets, and/or propaganda posters, among many other possibilities.
Stories We Tell
What is your personal narrative? What are the stories you tell and listen to that make you who you are? Storytelling shapes identity and can be first-person accounts about relationships, honoring the dead, journeys, adventures, faith, politics and accomplishments. It is also living history as in the thousands of stories that make a culture’s collective identity. Storytelling is digital, written, oral, image, song, and dance and never before have so many diverse fields used the power of the story in their work. Storytelling played a role in evolution, and today is practiced at every cultural level, manifest in uprisings in Africa and cover ups in boardrooms, on porches in rural America and hospitals in urban centers, in the rituals of churches, mosques, temples, the courthouse – and your house. Past research topics have included how story relates to voodoo healing, an Indian epic tale, cigarette ad campaigns, Palestinian exile, photos from the civil rights era, classical music, the paintings of Jacob Lawrence, dementia treatment, hip hop dance, and chocolate. Yes, chocolate.
Stress and Mental Health
Are you stressed out? How does stress affect your writing process? How is stress created, defined, and experienced? Using psychological and sociological lenses, students will examine the way we use and manage stress. Through independent research, students investigate a contemporary issue in the field of Psychology or Sociology.
Surveillance and Privacy
Americans often seem shocked when revelations of government snooping into citizens' phone calls and emails come to light, yet the same Americans are entertained by fictionalized TV intelligence and surveillance thrillers such as "Person of Interest" and "Homeland." Moreover, millions of Americans routinely publish their personal information on Facebook and other social media for the world to see. What expectations of privacy can we expect in a world in which surveillance has become so easy and so common? And if the government is collecting data on us, how is this different from the private corporations that do so as well? What is or should be secret today? In this course, students will explore and research the intersection between the reality of surveillance and the changing expectations of privacy.
Taboos and Transgressions
What activities are we expected not to entertain publicly or even privately? Sexual deviance, death rituals, illicit drug use—why do certain taboos both appall us and appeal to us at the same time? And who gets to decide what's forbidden? In this course we will consider how our ideas of transgressions have changed throughout the years and what new codes of conduct we're expected to abide by today. Topics of exploration include all things offensive, disobedient, and unmentionable.
Technology sells the promise of doing more and more for us: one million apps and counting, drugs for all problems, TV on demand, self-driving cars, 3D printing, Internet in your glasses. Yet side-by-side with state of the art tech, we find mounting chaos: government gridlock; epidemic obesity; environmental degradation; privacy invasions; economic stagnation; debt crises, etc. This course offers students the opportunity to read and analyze research that may help connect the dots between the promise and the chaos, to step backstage and ask: Does technical progress really equal human progress? Or is the rising technical order at the expense of human/environmental chaos? Or both?
Did you know only 1 in 50 people can identify 5 varieties of trees? Trees are a symbol of life, sacred in mythology, prominent in religion and cultures across the world. They provide food, fuel, shelter and thousands of modern products. Trees maintain our climate and protect our soil; they spark our imagination, inspiring art, poetry, metaphor, and even mathematical theorems! Trees embolden activists to live for months in their branches, and to form human chains to protect them from the buzzsaw. In this course, students will have the freedom to explore the beautiful, precarious, controversial, and formative place of trees in human life. Research approaches might include but are not limited to philosophy, religion, biology, business, ecology, or history to name a few.
People have always been driven to explore mysteries. Some turn into obsessions. Why is the power of curiosity and the need to know such a motivating force? Are some mysteries ever fully solved or do we just find new ways to understand them? Are UFOs a religion? A myth? A very real extraterrestrial phenomenon? All of the above? Are crop circles a human meme, an extraterrestrial sign, or something else entirely? Is there a hypothetical Planet X in our solar system? Or is it maybe a small black hole? What is dark matter? Why should I care? Are you the type of person who just needs to know? Is there a mystery that you have always wondered about? Then this is the course for you! We will explore a mystery together, about which you will write a short paper, and then you will develop an independent project wherever it leads.
Villains, Violence & Heroes
Walter White. Cersei Lannister. Tony Soprano. Dwight K. Schrute. We love antiheros, and we love to watch them be bad. The recent Golden Age of Television has given rise to a number of characters that fascinate us with their depravity. Beginning with the readings from Chuck Klosterman’s I Wear the Black Hat and Maggie Nelson’s The Age of Cruelty, students will develop an original research project that deals with questions such as: Why do we root for the villain? How are flaws more relatable than virtues, and what does that say about contemporary morality? Is the experience of violence and evil in entertainment dangerous, or a necessary release? How does antiheroism make available new types of fictional narrative, ethics, and subject matter? What political, technological, and intellectual trends have come to undermine our love for traditional heroism?
What’s the Point of Religion?
Do we really need religion, when we appear to have enough scientific, philosophical and social theories to answer all (or at least most) of our most pressing questions? For some, however, there remains a niggling and persistent need for something else, something for which words are insufficient, while for others, this need simply does not arise (or has not yet arisen). In this course, you will explore what drives us to embrace or reject religion, what we gain or lose from doing so, and the shifting and often precarious relationships which exist at the various junctures between religion and society.