A central mission of the College of Arts and Science, within the premier research institution that is New York University, is to put its undergraduates into direct contact with great ideas and great thinkers. One way the College has done so is through its Seminar program, which gives students the opportunity to participate in small, intellectually stimulating classes on important topics taught by distinguished professors drawn not only from the College’s faculty but also from NYU’s professional schools and from among New York’s professional, cultural, and governmental leaders.
In spring 2005, the College of Arts and Science launched the Advanced Honors Seminar program, which extends the basic principles behind the very successful Freshman Honors Seminars, offered since 1992, to upper-level courses. These small classes are taught by faculty from across the University and from the wider New York community. In some instances students may count the classes toward their major or minor, if the departments consider this appropriate; other classes will count simply as electives.
Advanced Honors Seminars have as their goals to put undergraduates into contact with leading thinkers, to introduce them to important subjects, to challenge them intellectually through demanding standards of analysis and oral and written argumentation, and to prepare them to conduct their own research. In sum, these courses are meant to foster an environment in which learning is an exciting experience for students and faculty alike.
- Dean Matthew S. Santirocco
The History of Disbelief
(V28.0113; call # 75084)
Instructor: Mitchell Stephens
Thursday, 12:30–3:00 p.m.
This seminar will take up an extended history of atheism and doubt (in the context of a history of religion). It will begin in Greece and then move on to a brief discussion of anthropological perspectives on belief, before returning to Greece, to the Hebrews and Rome, to India and Baghdad, and then back to Europe during the Renaissance, the Scientific Revolution, the Enlightenment, and the Romantic period. Time will be spent in England and America in the 19th century, when disbelief was being tied to radical politics, before moving on to the connection between disbelief and realism, modernism and postmodernism. The main arguments for and against the existence of God will be considered. However, the main purpose of this course will be to force students to confront and grapple with some of the most sophisticated and profound human expressions of disbelief. Authors whose works will be read may include Cicero, Hume, Holbach, Paine, Shelley, Dostoevsky, Nietzsche, Woolf, and Freud, among others.
Mitchell Stephens is Professor of Journalism and Mass Communication. He is the author of, among other books, The Rise of the Image the Fall of the Word and A History of News. Articles by him on media issues, philosophy, anthropology, physics, and other subjects have appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, FEED, and other publications. He has recorded radio commentaries for Marketplace and On the Media.
Past and Present in Irish Archaeology
(V28.0134; call # 75085)
Instructor: Pam Crabtree
Tuesday and Thursday, 11:00 a.m.–12:15 p.m.
Ireland has a rich archaeological heritage that includes hunter-gatherers of the Mesolithic Period, Megalithic tombs at Knowth and Newgrange, the Hill of Tara, early Christian monasteries such as Clonmacnoise, and the Viking settlements in Dublin itself. This course will consider how the Irish past has been constructed and what role that this construction of the Irish past has played in the modern world. We will review the archaeology of Ireland from its initial settlement in the Mesolithic through the British colonization of Northern Ireland in the early Modern Era. The course will also examine the impact of rapid economic development on Ireland’s archaeological resources, including the current debate surrounding the site of Tara.
Pam Crabtree, Associate Professor of Anthropology, is a zooarchaeologist whose research interests center broadly on the uses of faunal remains to study past animal husbandry patterns, hunting practices, and diet. She is also interested in the use of archaeologically recovered animal remains to study trade, social status, ethnicity, and prehistoric ritual. Her primary area of interest is later prehistoric and early medieval Europe, but she has also worked on Natufian settlement and subsistence in the Southern Levant and 18th- and 19th-century sites in eastern North America. Crabtree is currently a member of an archaeological team that is surveying the Irish royal site of Dun Ailinne in Ireland. Her work has been published in a number of edited volumes and journals, including the Journal of Field Archaeology and World Archaeology. She and her co-author Bradley Adams recently completed a book entitled Comparative Skeletal Anatomy.
Abortion: Examining the Issues
(V28.0142; call # 72917)
Instructor: Evelyn Birge Vitz
Tuesday and Thursday, 2:00–3:15 p.m.
This multidisciplinary course takes as its purpose a careful and thought-provoking examination of many issues surrounding abortion today. In a seminar setting, we will read about and discuss legal, medical, historical, psychological, political, religious, ethical, and gender questions in a balanced manner, considering both—indeed, sometimes several—sides of the issues involved. We will also look at the representation of and attitudes toward abortion in contemporary literature and popular culture. This seminar will provide a forum for civil, informed, and open discussion of this difficult issue. This course will count towards the major in Gender and Sexuality Studies.
Evelyn (Timmie) Birge Vitz is Professor of French, and Affiliated Professor of Comparative Literature, Religious Studies, and Medieval and Renaissance Studies. She has published widely on many aspects of medieval literature and culture. She has also been researching and writing about abortion for several years, and has held workshops of a dramatic script about abortion in New York and Washington, D.C.
“Varieties of Religious Experience” Revisited
(V28.0144; call # 72918)
Instructor: James Gilligan
Wednesday, 2:00–4:30 p.m.
This seminar will utilize but also update William James’s pioneering approach to interpreting and understanding religion in psychological rather than theological terms. We will examine how the term “religion” is more confusing than helpful when it fails to differentiate between a wide variety of utterly incompatible beliefs and practices at different stages of cognitive and emotional development. We will discuss the phenomenon of “political religions” (nationalism, racism, totalitarianism, apocalyptic fundamentalism) as attempts to reject or distort modernity (the worldview of modern science), in order to fill the vacuum that Sartre called “the God-shaped hole in the soul of modern man” that resulted when the traditional sources of moral, legal, and political authority (God, religion, pure reason) lost their credibility as sources of knowledge. We will consider the political religions as resulting from psychological regression, and contrast them with the current moment in the evolution of religious consciousness, in which the challenge is to find progressive forms of religious expression, understanding and experience that are consistent with the modern scientific mentality, while not being reducible to it. The seminar will conclude by examining whether this is the context in which the next major step in the evolution of both culture and personality will need to occur.
James Gilligan, Collegiate Professor, headed the Institute of Law and Psychiatry and directed mental health programs for the Massachusetts prison system while on the faculty of the Harvard Medical School Department of Psychiatry. He has also served as President of the International Association for Forensic Psychotherapy, and as Chair of the Committee on prevention, which was part of President Clinton’s National Campaign against Youth Violence. His books include Violence: Reflections on a National Epidemic, and Preventing Violence: An Agenda for the Coming Century. He has been a consultant to the World Health Organization’s Department of Injuries and Violence Prevention, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, the Law Lords of the House of Lords, and other groups and individuals throughout the world.
The 14th Century—When Europe Was Transformed
(V28.0147; call # 72919)
Instructor: Jill N. Claster
Thursday, 2:00–4:30 p.m.
The century covered in this course saw disasters of many kinds, some all too familiar to us in the 21st century. It was the century of the Black Death and the decimation of the population on an enormous and unprecedented scale; a time of an economic recession that changed the pattern of prosperity that had existed in the preceding two centuries; a time when the papacy and the Roman Church were faced with the rise of heresy and challenges to religious authority; a time of wars and of rebellions. Yet, in the same era, there was a march forward—toward new ideas, new political forms, vernacular languages, a reawakening that brought changes of immense consequence for all of Europe . . . and for our own culture. Through the darkest periods, the great and beautiful changes that are the beginnings of the Italian Renaissance emerged. This was the age of Petrarch and Boccaccio, among many others, and the great Italian painters and writers who transformed the nature and conception of literature and art and who informed our own worldview. Overall we will study a century that many historians have understood as the most creative and the most terrible of all the centuries until the 20th century. This course will count towards the History major or minor.
Jill N. Claster is Professor of History Emerita with a specialty in the Middle Ages. She has served as Dean of the College of Arts and Science and as Director of the Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies. She has been the recipient of a Fulbright grant and was honored with the Great Teacher Award by the Alumni Association of NYU. She has recently published Sacred Violence: The European Crusades to the Middle East, 1095–1396 (2009).
Reading The Dream of the Red Chamber
(V28.0149; call # 72920)
Instructor: Jing Wang
Monday, 4:55–7:25 p.m.
The Dream of the Red Chamber is an epic literary classic produced by Cao Xueqin in the middle of the 18th century. Following the traditional form of Chinese fiction, known as “the chaptered novel,” it covers a vast terrain of Chinese culture and social life and is widely regarded as the culmination of the vernacular novel of imperial China and a synthesis of Chinese aesthetic and philosophical traditions. With the tragic love story between two teenage members of an aristocratic clan in southern China at its dramatic center the novel intimately explores the questions concerning what is eternal and what is ephemeral; love and affection, or “qing,” as the heart of being that both animates and destroys life; the nature of individual talent and its fragility; the excesses and decadence of the privileged; as well as the growing, if hidden, social and class tensions. Its manifold structure, intricate plot development, coupled with its dazzling array of memorable characters, makes this novel the most complex and colorful of all times. Both reading and discussions are conducted in English.
Jing Wang is Assistant Research Scholar in the College of Arts and Science and the Department of East Asian Studies, where, from 1999 to 2006, she was Lecturer in Chinese. She is the editor and translator of Anthology of Short Stories by American Women Writers in the 1990’s (2002). In 2000, she was the featured columnist/translator on foreign literature for the literary magazine Shanghai Literature. Her teaching and research interests include women writers in China and the West, literary translation, modern Chinese social thought, and comparative studies of cities and urban culture. In addition to literary translations, she also publishes personal essays.
Transdisciplinary Investigations across Multiple Evolutionary Scales
(V28.0154; call # 75909)
Instructor: Tyler Volk
Monday, 3:30–6:00 p.m.
This TIMES seminar will consider the most basic patterns across the realms of nature and mind, and search for common functional principles that create those patterns. The guiding context is the fact that evolution is a form-generating process. In a general sense, evolution occurs on multiple scales: biological (Darwinian evolution), cultural (invention and social selection), and cognition (learning and creativity). All these scales possess unique but also similar subprocesses of replication, variation, and selection. Therefore, where the functional advantages of certain solutions are the same to the challenges of existence across the realms, we should expect to find common patterns as those solutions. (See the instructor’s book and papers on “metapatterns” for more.) Students will find this an exciting area of inquiry, and will enlarge their intellectual horizons as they engage in research that becomes more self-chosen during the course. Students from all disciplines are encouraged to enroll. Indeed, we seek a diversity of interests and knowledge skills.
Tyler Volk is Professor of Biology, Director of Science for the Environmental Studies Program, and a recent recipient of the University’s Distinguished Teaching Award. He is the author of Metapatterns across Space, Time, and Mind and of recent papers that provide reasons for the generation of common functional principles at different scales. Several relevant papers can be accessed at http://pages.nyu.edu/~tv1/Volk.htm. Volk conducts research on the global carbon cycle and Earth’s future and has written books on death-and-life as a scale-transcending pattern and on the multiple systems of our biosphere. He plays lead guitar for The Amygdaloids.
Reconstructing World Violence: A Hobbesian Approach
(V28.0156; call # 72924)
Instructor: William Klein
Wednesday, 2:00–4:30 p.m.
Humans are as violent as any creature, but we have something in abundance that others may lack: the ability to sustain and glorify our violence by justifying it. After attempting to develop coherent accounts of this phenomenon, students in this seminar consider ways in which pacifist systems of thought have interacted with violent systems of justification, often but not always with genocidal results. It was in the midst of such a violent crisis that Hobbes initiated what remains an undeveloped approach. If one can extrapolate from Hobbes’s nationalist agenda and redirect his approach in a democratic way, one can arrive (as many have) at the following claim: only when globally sovereign conflict-resolving institutions are fully authorized will any subordinate system justifying violence lose its force and coherence, except in the case of violent revolutionary movements which challenge the global authority itself. Partly by examining various fledgling attempts to operate aspects of a future sovereign system, we ask of this claim not so much whether it is practical as whether we resist its implications or suspect its grounding.
William Klein teaches social foundations in NYU’s Liberal Studies Program. In the College of Arts and Science he has also taught in both the Morse Academic Plan and the Freshman Honors Seminar Program. Before coming to NYU, he was at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, where he taught the history of Western social thought. He writes on a range of topics, from Renaissance political thought to constitutional history and (under a pen name) modern crime.
Literature of the Absurd
(V50.0160; call # 75378)
Instructor: Tom Bishop
Tuesday, 2:00–4:30 p.m.
The absurd sensibility has profoundly marked writers of many countries and languages since the start of the 20th century. The notion of the absurd is most closely associated with the Theater of the Absurd, launched in the 1950s in Paris by, notably, Beckett and Ionesco, and continued worldwide by such playwrights as Pinter, Albee, Havel, and Frisch. But the preoccupation with the absurd was not limited to the theater; in the immediate post–World War II period, the Existentialists already had posited the absurdity of the human condition, and works by Sartre and Camus brilliantly explored this philosophic position. The metaphysical anguish at the base of absurdist attitudes stemmed from what Martin Esslin, the author of the seminal Theater of the Absurd, called the disappearance of “the certitudes and unshakable basic assumptions of former ages.” Kafka’s work is exemplary; many other writers view the world as fundamentally absurd, including Pirandello, Stein, Gombrowicz, Grass, Heller, Cortázar, Vonnegut, Pynchon, Kertész. Many filmmakers shared these perspectives, including Antonioni and Godard. In a century that witnessed two unbelievably destructive worldwide conflicts, that made possible the Holocaust and other genocides, that produced Hiroshima and the capacity for humankind to destroy itself and the entire world, it is no surprise that the absurd was a dominant stance, even if often treated with devastating humor.
Tom Bishop is the Florence Gould Professor of French Literature and Professor of Comparative Literature and Director of the Center for French Civilization and Culture. He chaired the Department of French for 33 years. He has written extensively on European and American theater and on contemporary French fiction and civilization. His books include studies of Beckett, Sartre, 20th-century theater, and French cultural and political life. His most recent book, From the Left Bank: Reflections on Contemporary French Theater and Fiction, appeared in 1997. He has organized many literary conferences and festivals in New York and Paris, and has received numerous decorations from the French government as well as the Grand Prize of the Académie Française. He earned an OBIE award for achievement in Off-Broadway Theater.
Beginnings and Endings (and Middles) in Music and the Other Arts
(V28.0161; call # 76098)
Instructor: Michael Beckerman
Tuesday and Thursday, 11:00 a.m.–12:15 p.m.
What are the strategies and approaches used to begin pieces of music? What gestures signal conclusion in jazz, pop music, or African drumming? How do we understand genres, such as opera and concerto, that, in effect, begin more than once, when the curtain opens or the soloist enters? This course looks at a broad repertoire of music, from Beethoven’s Fifth to “I Heard It through the Grapevine,” and from worldbeat to hip-hop, in order to explore the way musical compositions are started and stopped. But we also explore a realm stranger still: the middle. For while middles have a reputation as expendable transitions between points of importance, they are also places of great mystery, where material too strange, too delicate, or too sexy to touch the rest of the world finds a home. Although music will be at the “core” of the course, we will also look comparatively at strategies in Shakespeare and experimental theater, in films such as those by David Lynch and the Coen Brothers, at examples from modern dance, and at storytelling ranging from the Bible and Moby Dick to manga. This course is designed to give students tools with which to ask new questions about what kind of stuff goes where and why that might be. There are no prerequisites for this course. It will count toward the Music major or minor.
Michael Beckerman is Professor and Chair of Music. He has written books and articles on such topics as Gypsies, Film Music, Dvořák’s “New World” Symphony, Music and War, Czech Jazz, Historical Soundscapes, and Mozart’s “Turkish” Rondo. He was for several years a special guest on PBS’s Live from Lincoln Center, appears frequently on national radio, and writes for the New York Times.