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.

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SAS Students: 201 is Core certified to meet either the Revision-Based (WCr) or the Discipline-Based (WCd) Writing & Communication goals. The course may be taken to fulfill either of these requirements, but not both.

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 may wish to register for 301: College Writing and Research, which is designed specifically for transfer students and meets all the same core requirements as 201.  Information on 301 may be found here: 


201 Topics Spring 2023

Consult your Course Schedule Planner for specific times and locations.


Activism and Social Change

How can citizens, individually and collectively, accomplish social change? Social movements are forms of collective action in response to inequality, oppression, and unmet needs. What do movements and social change look like? We will engage with readings, speakers, videos, case studies, social campaigns, music, and other visual media to study how change occurs. Students will have the opportunity to explore questions related to the history of social movements in the U.S., how movements begin, how they maintain momentum when opposed, and how traditional media and social media influence and facilitate policy change. 


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.


Building a Sustainable Society

Climate change means melting glaciers; extreme weather; wildfires; rising sea levels; droughts and floods; extinction of species; pandemics. And there is a heavy human toll, counted in the millions of climate refugees, as people lose their homes, farms and livelihoods, especially in the developing world. Understandably, many despair. Yet, disasters like these, paradoxically, invite us to imagine more “sustainable” ways of organizing our world. “Sustainable” is not just a fashionable buzzword. According to the United Nations, it means a world without poverty and hunger; with “decent work and economic growth”; “quality education” and “gender equality.” The UN’s Global Goals envision a world with “clean water” and “clean energy”; “climate action” and “responsible consumption and production.” Students in this course will explore the possibilities of living in more ecologically sound and just ways and how to achieve these ideals.


Civil Discourse and Debate

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.” 


Constructing Identities

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.


Culture & Custom: Ethnography of Everyday Life 

Do you have a family recipe that dates back several generations? Did you have a quinceañera, a bar mitzvah, or a sweet sixteen? Do you wear the same shirt to every Rutgers home game? From ethnic customs to daily cultural practices, ethnography is the study of everyday life as we experience, live, and enliven it. Based on first-hand observations and primary interviews, ethnography explores daily life, social needs, and cultural habits and behaviors through a critical lens. In this course students are invited to explore local customs and practices in the United States, across cultures, and around the world. Research topics might include (but are not limited to) hometown rituals, local festivals, ethnic enclaves, dance clubs from Kansas to Korea, traditional forms of medicine, Greek life on campus, Halloween costumes and customs; crafts from Chinese calligraphy to Amish quilting and Ukrainian pysanky; roadside shrines, local icons, folk medicine, urban legends, and sacred spaces.  What do the places and practices we hold dear say about our connection to the past, the present, and the future?  What do they reveal about ourselves and our place in community?  Bring your curiosity and explore! 


Digital Personas

What lies hidden behind the TikTok haircut, or behind the humble brag? This course explores the frontiers of selfhood in the wake of the digital revolution. To what extent is modern personhood defined by smart phone ownership, or social capital by social media curation? In this age of finstas and AI-generated content, what counts as authentic personhood or self-expression? Who among us truly belongs to cringe culture, cancel culture, or toxic fandoms? What traces of digital identity lurk within shadow data or the dark web? In what ways are algorithms shaping our behavior or conceptions of reality? How are virtual avatars transforming human embodiment? What impacts does the digital world have on subcultural affiliation, social organizing, and political activism? And what does digital selfhood look like in popular sci-fi movies, anime, or comics? 


Disney, Star Wars, Marvel, & Beyond

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!


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. 


Exploration, Adventure & Curiosity

Take this class.
I dare you. 



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.


Fans and Fandom  

What does it mean to be a fan or to be part of a fandom? How do fandoms work? How do fans signal their places in the fandom? How are the different approaches to fandom gendered? In this section, we will look at fandoms of all kinds from Bronies to the BTS army to football hooligans from cultural, psychological, and literary perspectives. As you write your research project, you will gain a new perspective on your favorite or not-so-favorite fandom.



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.



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!"


Humans and Animals

What is our role in our ecosystem?  Humans are animals. And yet we insist we are not only at the top of the food chain but that we are separate than the rest of life. No species has had a greater impact on its ecosystem than homo sapiens. We are animals, and we also eat other animals, and wear other animals, enslave animals, protect animals, domesticate animals, study, worship and celebrate them. Humans tend to consider themselves separate or distinct from animals, but we are simultaneously and continuously humbled by the natural world. We have evolved with animals and our continued survival is interdependent on the species that share a home with us. 

Students will develop research projects in such disciplines as, but certainly not limited to: zoology, conservation, biology, domestication, agricultural science, veterinary science, epidemiology, climatology…husbandry.


Incarceration, Justice, and the Law

Americans make up only 4.22 percent of the world’s population, yet we house 22% percent of the world’s prison population. Our nation’s prisoners are majority black and Hispanic, nearly all come from poverty, and 45% suffer from mental illness. How can we as a nation commit to meaningful legal reform? What principles guide--or should guide--our judicial philosophies and legal statutes? How can we address violent vs. non-violent offenders and those suffering from addiction? What models exist for successful rehabilitation? In this course, we will analyze the mechanisms of law enforcement, the causes of mass incarceration, judicial interpretation and application of criminal law, and the rhetoric of criminal justice. Topics that students can explore in individual research projects include the economic incentives behind the carceral state, race and policing, the death penalty, drug offenses, prison abolition, ethical philosophies of justice, the reality of violent crime and its victims, wrongful conviction, mental health and prisons, the political and popular rhetoric of crime and incarceration in the United States, and more.


Into the Wild

"Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in event of success." – Ernest Shackleton, London Times, 1913 Whatever possessed 5,000 men (and a few women) to respond to this newspaper advertisement over one hundred years ago? Why do we hike thousands of miles, ascend mountains, disappear—or dream of disappearing—into the wild? This course, which borrows its title from Jon Krakauer's acclaimed 1996 book, invites students to explore exploration in a way that fascinates or inspires them. Topics may include but are not limited to: transformative journeys, pilgrimage, extreme environments, life off-the-grid, conservationism, agrarianism and back-to-nature movements, survival and survivalism, homesteading, urban exploration (urbexing), bushcraft, endurance, spirituality, and psycho-social inquiries. Bring your curiosity and explore!


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.


 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.


Media and Public Life

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.


Modern Motherhood

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.


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.


Science & Fiction

This course invites you to examine a multitude of speculative worlds created by diverse minds within the genre of science fiction. Taking this genre's promise to alienate us from our world to be able to cognize it with pleasure, as Darko Suvin suggests, we will explore today's questions with the guidance from our imagination of diverse tomorrows. The topics that we will explore will include colonization and decolonization, separation of the human from other species and cyborgs, novel and shifting tales of worldmaking, and ecocritical thought. Paying attention to the language, form, and the rules of the medium that we are offered to reside in, be it a novel or a film, we will explore the limits of different technologies and universes. In addition to asking questions pertaining to science, technology, cyborgs, you are also invited to explore anthropocentric thought and its limits, ecocritical approaches to worldmaking, cybernetics, AI, racial futures, ethics and politics of science fiction.


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 ( 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.


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.


Stories We Tell: The Uses of Everyday Life

How do we use stories? This topic has become more urgent in the current moment of divide and inflamed “news.” Is a story a personal narrative?  A form of testimony? A fiction to entertain? To deceive? A meta-fiction used to designate social group or status? A national identity?    We will consider how “stories” have been used by writers and produces as ways of making sense of their world and their “selves.” We will focus examination at the start on how the role of “everyday” routines, habits, ideas, and images become the basis for claims about collective identities, dreams, values, policies, and historical events. 

You will develop independent research projects that in some way intersects with this topic. Questions that you might consider in this process: How are stories used to build arguments (scholarly, political, in social media)? What kinds of information do they provide? Is that information reliable? Do they conserve, archive, illustrate, or invent information? Do they present scientific data?  Do they contribute to religious practices and help elucidate faith?  Do they persuade readers to believe an idea that is otherwise too abstract, or too dull, to grasp? Do they put a human face on more mechanical forms of data?  Do they unite people into forms of communities? Or do they cause divisions and tribal battles?  


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.


Tarot, Witchcraft, and the Occult

In this class, we will use Tarot cards and their mythopoetic origins as an entryway to classical literature, philosophy, psychology and art. Together, we’ll read Arthurian legends, learn about Egyptian gods, explore Greco-Roman mythology, Christian mysticism, Jewish Kabbalah, and the Norse and Celtic pantheon. Students will take a deep dive into histories of the occult in Western literature and art, including the Order of the Golden Dawn, Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, Plato’s Theory of Forms and Karl Jung’s collective unconscious and the wisdom of archetypes. We will read queer, indigenous and anti-capitalist interpretations of the Tarot, exploring how this ancient divinatory practice lives on today in socio-political activism.  



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?


The Unexplained

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! 


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.