Liberal Arts Seminar

Course Titles and Descriptions


The following sections of LAS may be offered in the fall semester of 2008.



Subversive Reading in a Totalitarian State  (Beth Admiraal)

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).


Current Issues and Enduring Questions (Greg Bassham)

The class seeks to improve students’ reading, thinking, discussion, and study skills through critical discussion of topics of both current and perennial concern. Students will explore great ideas such as freedom, justice, and happiness, as well as contemporary debates over issues such as affirmative action, gun control, capital punishment, immigration reform, drug use, evolution vs. intelligent design, and educational reform.


Baseball and the American Experience (Michael R. Berry)

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.


In Search of the American Dream (Howard Fedrick)

A study and critical analysis of major oral and written “definitions” of the American dream, its essential elements, its major advocates and “guides.”  Significant emphasis will be placed on the reading and study of materials from1600 to1990. Focus will be given to significant issues and crosscurrents in American history (e.g. liberty, exceptionalism, manifest destiny, democracy, "the melting pot", equal rights, rugged individualism, community, welfare, a nation of laws, the Horatio Alger ethos, the Puritan work ethic, leisure, cultural pluralism etc. As necessary, desirable, and available, print, audio, and visual resources will be used in the course. Tools used will combine critical thinking skills, the classical rhetorical canons and the basic factors of historical context analysis.


Volunteer Nation: The Growth of Volunteerism in America (Jennifer Fry)

This FYS course will provide an examination of community service and volunteerism in the United States.  According to David Eisner, CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service "Out of the tragedy of 9/11 and the devastation of hurricanes has come an unmistakable good: a strong interest in volunteering and community involvement." Building on the freshman CityServe experience, this course will foster a broader understanding of the historical roots of volunteerism in America and engage students in a discussion of the economic, moral, and ethical issues surrounding volunteerism and community service.  Possible topics include: Education and Volunteerism, Wartime Volunteers, Kennedy and the Peace Corps, Dorothy Day, the Environmental Movement, Habitat for Humanity and the impact of Hurricane Katrina and 9/11.  In addition to critical reading and discussion, students will engage in service learning by completing a set number of volunteer hours for a local organization.  Readings will include selections from the New York Times, Ellis, Susan J. Ellis and Katherine H. Noyes, By the People: A History of Americans as Volunteers. rev. ed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1990, and selections from the internet and scholarly journals. 


The Italian-American Odyssey (Gloria Galante)

The course will examine works of fiction, non-fiction and film that focus on times and lives of the turn of the Century Italian immigrants.  It will also look at the impact of their heritage on the  2nd and 3rd generations and the emergence of a distinct Italian-American culture.  Finally, it will examine the attitudes of the Italians, who did not leave Italy,  towards the Italian-Americans and the vast differences that exist between the two cultures.


The Bizarre Brain (Kyle Johnson)

The brain is a funny thing. Hit your head in the wrong spot, and you might perpetually think you are in 1945. Brain surgery to help deal with your seizures might make you act like you are being controlled by two different people. A tumor might make you think your wife is a hat. Seizures might even make you “see God.” In this class we will examine our growing knowledge of the brain and how it affects our view of the world. We will read some of the bizarre cases in the neuroscientific literature (Ramachandran’s Phantoms in the Brain, Sacks’ The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat and Glover’s The Philosophy and Psychology of Personal Identity) and a novel that deals with the same (Sacks’ Awakenings). We will examine what that literature teaches us about the brain (Gazzaniga’s The Mind’s Past) and how the acquired knowledge influences our view of ourselves (Restack’s Brainscapes will force us to ask: Do we have a soul? Are we morally responsible for our actions?). We will even discuss the possibility of artificial intelligence (we will read the Searl & Copeland debate and Asimov’s I Robot). Thus, this course will incorporate readings from science, philosophy and literature.


Area 51 (Mike Little)

Why are notions of secret societies, vast cover-ups, highly coordinated cabals, and international puppet masters so intriguing? More to the point, why are so many people willing to entertain their plausibility? How are conspiracy theorists able to maintain their theories in the face of overwhelming contrary evidence? How do we argue against such suspicions when they cannot, by their very nature, be proved wrong? We’ll examine the arguments for cover-ups and the hidden agendas of secret societies ranging from the trivial (Paul McCartney is dead, but Elvis Presley is not) to the repugnant (the US government is behind the 9/11 attacks) and many in between: the faked moon landings; the aliens at Roswell; the suspicious deaths of JFK and Princess Diana; Masons, Skull and Bones, and Opus Dei. Readings will include fiction, film, published arguments for and against various theories, as well as sociological and psychological examinations of the appeal and function of such theories for individual, groups, and communities.


Madmen and Evildoers (Jon Malesic)

The words “evildoers” and “madmen” are today used almost interchangeably.  But are people who commit evil acts truly different from the rest of us?  Are they demonic?  Or are they ordinary people reacting to extraordinary circumstances?  What does evil look like?  Where are the boundaries between good and evil, sanity and insanity?  To try to answer these questions, and to sharpen students’ critical reading skills, we will read, discuss, and write about texts from a variety of genres, including poetry (T.S. Eliot), fiction (Joseph Conrad and Tim O’Brien), and philosophy (Friedrich Nietzsche and Hannah Arendt).  We will spend a lot of time discussing intertextuality: how our understanding of a text changes when it becomes a part of another text.  To accomplish this aim, students will view and analyze the movie Apocalypse Now, which explores the issue of evil and madness and reflects, like a diamond, many of the other texts we will read.  Writing assignments will focus on the interpretation, comparison, and evaluation of the key texts and the ideas about evil they present to us.


American Indians in the 21st Century (Jennifer McClinton-Temple)

This class will explore the political, social, and cultural lives of the indigenous people of North America in the 21st Century.  Through an examination of tribal history, political policy, and culture over the last 100 years or so, we will seek to answer questions such as:  Are Indian tribes sovereign nations and what does that term imply? Who is an Indian?  What are American Indian lives like in the contemporary world?  How are those contemporary lives influenced by the past?  How has gaming affected the Indian world at large?  How does the state of "being Indian" differ from other ethnicities in the United States?     Texts will include Like a Hurricane:  The Indian Movement from Alcatraz to Wounded Knee, by Robert Warror and Paul Chaat Smith; Indians in Unexpected Places, by Philip DeLoria; Real Indians, by Eva Maria Garroutte; and The Toughest Indian in the World, by Sherman Alexie


Wicked Pleasures (Regan Reitsma)

Say vice has its pleasures, does a morally good life have its own?  Does envy, the supposed engine of a consumerist society, have social and personal benefits?  Does it have social and personal costs?  What are they?  More generally, are human beings made for misbehavior and selfishness, or do we have some capacity for empathy, fellow feeling, and fairness?  Is moral virtue positively correlated with happiness?  Readings from various sources—literature (Flannery O’Connor), moral philosophy (Plato, Nietzsche), evolutionary science (de Waal’s Our Inner Ape), social science research (the Milgram and the Stanford Prison Experiments), and popular magazines (The New Yorker)—will shape class discussion of the merits and demerits of a moral life.


Radicals and Revolutionaries (Margarita Rose)

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?


Reading the Visual (Cris Scarboro)

This course asks students to think of art as a product of a specific time and place and reflecting an aesthetic sensibility that can tell us much about the world of its production and ourselves as viewers. By investigating several important art movements in the European 20th century art (including Cubism, Dadaism and Socialist Realism) we will engage questions of art and artists’ place in society, the role of experts in analyzing and displaying art, and the meaning of representation.  We will read works by Orhan Pamuk, John Berger and Susan Sontag to seek to find strategies for interpreting and understanding art and the politics of reading the visual. 


Growing Up in a Time of War (Jim Wallace)

In this class we’ll read a variety of texts across a range of disciplines (history, literature, autobiography, psychology) that explore the impact of war on children and adolescents in the United States and in other countries.  We’ll analyze and discuss arguments and essays on such topics as paramilitary organizations, war-themed video games, the draft, war toys, child soldiers, media coverage of war, and the wars that today’s generation of college students has grown up with.  Students will be encouraged to share their own personal stories about the impact of war on families.  Texts may include Generation Kill, by Evan Wright; Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight, by Alexandra Fuller; My Detachment, by Tracy Kidder; and Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi.