Liberal Arts Seminar

Course Offerings for Fall 2009


What’s True about Us?  Full Moons, Prozac, Booze, Kids, and Dogs: Answering questions about everyday human behavior

In this course we focus on questions we ask each other regularly, questions like, “Does playing violent video games lead to violent behavior?” “Do other racial groups all look the same?”; “Can the alcoholic drink socially?”; “Do children raised by gay parents turn out OK?” We will evaluate information on these and many other issues and move toward reasonable and critically-based positions on these questions about everyday behavior. (See g drive “Brooks” for a more complete list of topics.)  Books may include Autism’s False Prophets, by Paul Offit; Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, by Malcolm Gladwell; and How Psychology Applies to Everyday Life, by Charles Brooks & Michael Church.  Dr. Charles Brooks, Section A: Tues/Thurs 8:00


Flourishing: The Positive Psychology of Well Being

For the last 50 years psychologists have often focused on what’s wrong with people and which therapy and self-help techniques are effective in improving their ailments.  This course will focus on what positive psychologists have identified through theory and research that help people flourish, lead happy and fulfilled lives, feel a sense of well-being and meaning, optimism, and openness to experience.  We will also peek at some of what filmmakers, philosophers, and popular media have to offer on these topics.  The course is highly interactive and hopefully will contribute to your own well-being and happiness.  In fact, research indicates positive psychology interventions have a positive effect on psychological and physical health, academic persistence, personal relationships, and athletic and work performance. Dr. Jean O’Brien, Section B: Tues/ Thurs 11:00


Texts from Underground: Subversive Reading in a Totalitarian State

What kind of writing is subversive in a state where total control rests with the Party?  This course examines some of the books, articles and poems that were forced underground by the Communist Party in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Readings may include Mikhail Bulgakov, The Master and Margarita; Alexander Solzhenitsyn, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich; Anna Akhmatova, various poems; Vaclav Havel, The Power of the Powerless; Solidarity (Polish Underground Press). Dr. Beth Admiraal, Section C: MW 2:00


Myth Busters: The Origins of Santa and Other “Weird” Traditions

We all systematically lie to our children, making them believe that an all-knowing all-seeing rosy checked fat man in a red suit will come down the chimney and give them presents on Dec 24th–but only if they are good and only if they are sleeping. But why? (And why can’t he use the front door?) And why are there 12 days of Christmas? (There is only one Dec 25th.) Why does Santa wear bishop’s ropes in Europe and travel with a little dude named “Black Peter?” Was Jesus really born on Dec 25th? And why won’t these people leave my house until they get some figgy pudding? In this class we will exercise our critical thinking and reading skills by looking at the origins of Christmas traditions, along with as many other myths and traditions as we can get our hands on, including: Easter bunny/eggs, tooth fairies, Halloween and even marriage.  Dr. David K. Johnson, Section D: WMF 9: 00, Section F: MWF 10:00


Hey! Watch Your Language!

In this seminar we’ll read and talk about talking and reading —about the English language and how it is used to convey information, express emotion, influence opinion, and provide entertainment.  We’ll examine the power of language in advertising, politics, and the media and look at how language shapes and manipulates our perceptions and values.  We’ll explore several topics of current interest including political correctness, hate speech, censorship, and whether English should be declared the official language of the United States.  We’ll consider gender differences in language; listen to dialects; look at prejudicial language, slang, and cursing; and examine the variety of English that shows up in text messages and on line.  Readings will include classic and contemporary essays and arguments about the nature and use of language and one novel, Apex Hides the Hurt, by Colson Whitehead.  Dr. James Wallace, Section J: MWF 11:00, Section I: MWF 10:00


Creating Communist Supermen: Socialist Realism and the New Soviet Man and Woman

Socialist Realism was the single artistic genre allowed under socialism.  Stalin believed that artists were “engineers of the soul,” and engaged them to create a vision of appropriate socialist citizens.  Artists were to paint or write visions of happy, beautiful workers heroically building the new bright, shining, future world of communism; audiences were to understand this art as a guide for correct behavior.  This course will investigate the meaning and message of Socialist Realism, its installation and transformation over time.  Reading officially produced narratives from authoritarian states will allow us the question the nature of reading and writing itself as a product: in the Soviet sphere art was a tricky conversation between authors, censors and audiences in which multiple unofficial interpretations and readings were possible.  We will discover belief and acquiescence, solace and resistance, and the power and malleability of narratives in the art of the Soviet world. Dr. Cristofer A. Scarboro, Section K: MWF 11:00


Radicals and Revolutionaries

What do Karl Marx, Jesus Christ, and Betty Friedan have in common?  You could add to the list Albert Einstein, Rachel Carson, Nelson Mandela, and Mahatma Ghandi.  Each of these individuals challenged the power structure of their time by offering a radical way of viewing the realities around them.  Their thinking sparked revolutions in how humans interacted with one another and in some cases how humans interacted with the natural environment.  By taking a critical look at the writings by, or about, these radical thinkers, we may begin to challenge our own worldview and the power structures and cultural influences that have shaped us.  Additionally, we will consider what it means to be a revolutionary and how thinking “outside the box” can impact our place in society. Are there issues on which we take a radical position?  Are we willing to be marginalized for our beliefs and/or our actions to bring about positive social change?  Dr. Dr. Margarita M. Rose, Section L: MWF 12:00, Section M: MWF 1:00


Baseball and the American Experience

This class will examine the phenomenon known as “Baseball.” This course will use a variety of written material to explore how baseball has paralleled the experience of America.  The course will focus on how baseball was founded, its impact and reflection of various social movements such as the labor union movement and civil rights to modern concepts such as drug use in society (steroids) and capitalism (player salaries).  Texts will include The Boys of Summer by Roger Kahn, Baseball and Philosophy, edited by Eric Bronson, and a variety of other sources including selections from the Sporting News.  Mr. Michael R. Berry, Section N: TT 9:30


Unruly Women

Sarah Palin, Hillary Clinton, Queen Elizabeth, Cleopatra, Joan of Arc, Medea, Lady Macbeth, and maybe your mom. This course investigates the strong female in literature, history and society and explores the attitudes and anxieties about power that smart, assertive women generate.  Dr. Megan S. Lloyd, Section P: TT 11:00, Section O: TT 9:30


From Woody Guthrie to Woodstock

In this class, we'll respond to music, film, poetry, novels, plays, and critical essays spanning from the Great Depression to the Vietnam War.  Our group will share the responsibility of contributing to a free exchange of ideas and continue the dialogue with iconic writers (John Steinbeck, Tennessee Williams, J.D. Sallinger, Arthur Miller, Sylvia Plath, Allen Ginsburg, Jack Kerouac, Martin Luther King, Daniel Berrigan, David McCullough, Toni Morrison, and more) and musicians (Odetta, Woody Guthrie, Hank Williams, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Johnny Cash, Arlo Guthrie, John Lennon, Simon and Garfunkel and more).  We'll listen to lyrics, interpret music as poetry, and place the stories being told into their historical contexts.  We'll also read some of the toughest critics of these icons and explore the validity of arguments being presented.  Research projects include analytical interpretation and interaction with the critical reviews of the musicians and writers covered in class.  All research topic selections will be student-based.  Possible texts include Bound for Glory, by Woody Guthrie, and On the Road, The Dharma Bums, or  the Subterraneans, by Jack Kerouac.  Mr. Marlon S. Alber, Section R: TT 2:00