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 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: https://wp.rutgers.edu/courses/146-301
201 Topics Spring 2024
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.
Blade Runner. The Matrix. Artificial intelligence has long been the subject of science fiction. But now—with the advent of Siri and Alexa; self-driving cars; machine learning that informs corporate decision-making; chat bots that generate conversation indistinguishable from that of a human; AI-generated art that wins awards; Elon Musk’s efforts, with his company Nueralink, toward a computer-brain interface—artificial intelligence has become a very real part of our lives. And it promises, in the future, to become even more so. In this course, students will explore a range of ethical quandaries posed by both the utopic and dystopic potential of AI. Drawing from a variety of texts, from film to philosophy, we’ll ask the question that lies at the heart, perhaps, of all fears of artificial intelligence: What does it mean to be human? And in asking this question, we’ll be asking—in the spirit of Morpheus, with his blue and red pills—what is the nature of the real.
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. Yes, 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.
JFK. Roswell. The Moon Landing. People seem to love a good conspiracy theory. Conspiracy narratives are important precisely because of the intense level of belief or disbelief that they provoke. By putting aside judgment as to whether a particular conspiracy theory is true or false, students will analyze just why certain conspiracy theories catch on so quickly and stay around for so long. Over the course of the semester, students will choose a specific conspiracy theory and examine its significance: What are the meaning-making structures that make it click? Why does it have such a hold on the popular imagination? What does this say about people who “want to believe,” as the X-Files put it? What does this say about those who refuse to believe? How do new conspiracy theories develop and what determines their future level of popularity?
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 & 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!
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 smartphone 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!
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 Full List as of 10/27/23 implications of such urban developments as urban renewal, gentrification, suburban and exurban development, urban parks such as The Highline, the new urbanism, and airbnb.
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 & 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.
FASHION AND STYLE
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 slumdog 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.
FILM & MODERNITY
This course will look at life in the 21st century as depicted in contemporary film across a wide range of genres, from drama to comedy, to horror, to satire, to documentary among 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.
HOW SHOULD ONE LIVE?
This was Socrates's question two and a half millennia ago, and whether or not we like to think about it, it's our question, yours and mine, every moment we are alive. The question isn't just about individuals, either. It isn't "what should I do?" (when the world is on fire, but I also have an exam tomorrow and laundry to do). Socrates' question is impersonal. It asks what kind of life is good for human beings to live in general. Are there duties we need to acknowledge, moral claims we simply cannot escape if we are to remain decent people? And if so, where do such ethical rules come from? Do we make them? Do we come hardwired with them? Or do we discover them somewhere outside ourselves? What does it even mean to be good, decent, or happy, and what kind of life leads to outcomes like those? And "how can it be," as the late Bernard Williams asked—indeed, can it be at all?—"that a subject, something studied in universities... could deliver what one might recognize as the answer to the basic questions of life?" We will be agnostic about the possibility of finding out, but we will ask the question in a number of interesting ways, and perhaps what we think or how we act will change in the process. At the very least we will emerge with an appreciation of the importance of asking; we are all in this difficult world ("the slaughter-bench of history," one philosopher called it) together, and we should try to figure out what it is we might owe one another.
INCARCERATION, JUSTICE & 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 & OFF THE GRID
The call of the Appalachian Trail. The crash of ocean waves. The awe of a starlit night. Why do we hike into great forests, ascend mountains, and leap into the almost magnetic pull of the wild? Do we seek healing or imagine escape? Escape from what? Emptiness? Conformity? Countless hours glued to a soul-sucking Instagram feed? This course invites students to explore such questions in a way that fascinates or inspires them. Topics may include but are not limited to: transformative journeys; pilgrimage; voluntary simplicity; alternative energy, housing, and economic practices; radical sustainability; intentional communities; survivalism; urban exploration (urbexing); traditional arts and trades; "opting out" of social/technological norms; religious influences; ethics; nature; and spirituality. The sky's the limit!
LAW & 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 to 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.
LIFE AND DEATH
What does it mean—and what has it meant—to be alive or dead? Students are invited to explore the beliefs and rituals, contests and technologies, confusion and anxiety that have surrounded the beginning and end of life in human culture and society. If the existing scholarly work on life and death illustrates anything, it is that the opposition between living and dead bodies was never absolute and that the desire to manipulate the beginning and end of life, be it through rituals or medical technology, has been a constant aspiration. Likewise, what it means to “live” and “be present” has become a hot topic in a world where many people increasingly “live” their lives online – perhaps even vicariously through others. Students, then, can consider the legal, social, political, religious, and ethical ramifications of the study of life and death and grapple with questions like: When does life begin or end and why do those questions matter? Who gets to decide what constitutes life or death and in what contexts? What is the relationship between life, death, and being human and/or being a person? When, if ever, should secular institutions embrace or condone religious definitions of life or death? What gives life meaning? How do humans understand what it means to “really” live?
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.
MUSIC DANCE & 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.
MYTH & CULTURE
“Myths,” according to the historian David Blight, “are the deeply encoded stories from history that acquire with time a symbolic power in a culture.” This course investigates the coding of myths, their relationship to history, and the symbolic cultural power that they possess. We will examine myths from a variety of historical and literary contexts, from the rich mythologies embedded in Homer, Hesiod, and other ancient authors, up to modern iterations that still hold power in America today, like the Myth of the Lost Cause. The potential projects associated with this course are broad. Students will be able to develop projects that focus on particular mythologies, on the symbolic power they wield, and on their relationship to culture and history, among other things.
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, Full List as of 10/27/23 the slow food movement, food insecurity in the developing world, government regulations and political lobbying, and so on.
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.
RESEARCH IN A POST TRUTH ERA
One thrill of research lies in seeking independent solutions to problems. While research writers must learn to recognize “disciplinary” limits that create a sense of shared standards, new solutions have often come from outside the box of what has been "commonplace." The intention to see a problem differently has become more controversial in recent years as differences have become overlaid with accusations about lying about or ignoring or reinventing facts. How might we test the lines between revision and lies? Between prophetic efforts to change the future and “fake news”? Is this a new problem? Thinking against the grain – like any good thinking – requires that a researcher not simply accept but challenge conclusions or arguments they find. They must search for motivations and values: what the ideas do or can do in the world, and how they find a purpose. We will begin by looking at thinkers who have changed their disciplinary standards by evaluating what counts as truth, lies, facts, and stories, and how these choices are motivated. You will choose your research topic independently, but your work will pay attention to questions about boundaries and their underlying purposes both in your own writing and in that of your sources.
SCIENCE & 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 FICTION & FANTASY
From Jules Verne and H.G. Wells to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, popular science fiction and fantasy narratives, marketed as entertainment that allow escape from everyday life, also are capable of shaping values and visions of new ways to live. This course examines how fantasies, whether utopian, dystopian, or somewhere in-between, inform and influence our identities, our ideas, and our real-world experiences and relationships.
SCIENCE, MEDICINE, AND 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.
SOCIAL ACTIVISM AND 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.
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.
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.
SUPERSTITION: THE WHY & THE WHEREFORE
Friday the 13th is unlucky!" "Don't walk under that ladder!" The list goes on, and we are bombarded with these sometimes bizarre and often harrowing superstitions. But why? Together we will look at the cultural origins and psychological impacts of many superstitions, and try to understand just where they came from and what we might be able to do about them.
Exploring the theater! What is theater? Why is storytelling so essential to human beings? What is the state of modern theater and where do we go from here? How does theater differ from TV and film, and how might those differences help make theater so magical? What kind of styles of writing are useful onstage? What is the history of the theater, and how did it develop, from Aristophanes to Shakespeare, right the way through to Tennessee Williams and today’s writers, like Paula Vogel and Sheila Callaghan? In this course, you’ll be free to examine and discover any inspirational path you choose in relation to the theater. Perhaps we will answer the eternal question: why are humans so compelled to both tell their stories and watch others’ stories being told? Come join us for a fun class about the theater!
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?
TABOOS AND TRANSGRESSIONS
What activities are we expected not to entertain publically 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 & 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.
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.
VILLIANS, VIOLENCE & HEROES
Walter White. Cersei Lannister. Tony Soprano. Dwight K. Schrute. We love anti heroes, 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?