Course Descriptions

Comparative Humanities Major – Core Courses


HUM 101: Critical Inquiry and the Humanities

Team taught introduction to transdisciplinary approaches to the humanities. Students will learn the methods, aims, and styles of inquiry practiced by distinguished scholars within our CH faculty.  Following is the course description in fall 2020 semester with central theme: Love And Desire.  This is the first course in the core sequence of the Humanities and Critical Inquiry major. The course is team-taught and consists of four units, one for each of the major concentration areas in the program: History, Literature, Philosophy and Religious Studies. Using the central organizing theme for this course, which is love and desire, students will explore how each of these disciplines frames and examines some aspect of a broad complex issue that transcends a single academic discipline. Using the love and desire meta theme of this course, students will consider what sorts of questions historians, scholars of literature, philosophers and religious studies scholars ask about love and desire, and how they analyze the topic and pursue answers to the questions they ask. By bringing together these four major disciplinary fields in the humanities, students will both learn something about how each discipline works and also about how intellectual discourse crosses traditional disciplinary boundaries. This facility for interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary inquiry is an important outcome for this major and yields the distinctive abilities in critical thinking for which the graduates of humanities programs have long been distinguished and valued. Through this course students will also develop a deeper appreciation for differing perspectives.

HUM 201: Conceptual Genealogies Master Slave Dialectics 

Transdisciplinary engagement with the historical and cultural formations of modernity across world traditions. Students will learn to think comparatively about cultures and traditions using the methods, aims, and styles of inquiry practiced by distinguished scholars within our CH faculty.

This course will begin with the 5-week literature module, followed by the 5-week philosophy module, and then the 5-week history module. Starting with fiction and storytelling will get students affectively involved with the genealogy and interpretation/hermeneutics of the master slave dialectic. This structure creates an affect concept-event rhythm, which the students can then carry into their comprehensive final projects.

Following on HUM 101, which was themed on love and desire, HUM 201 shifts attention to power and desire, and specifically the master and slave theme. The first unit in the course taught by Ryan – will treat more or less metaphorical examples of the slave master dialectic. In Shakespeare’s The Tempest we will examine the power structure inherent in Father/Son Father/Daughter relations, as well as the relation between the colonizer and the colonized. In Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, we will consider racial relations in America in the 1950s, the power dynamic between Americans of European descent and Americans of African descent, and the power of education to engender equality. Throughout this module student will be asked to make connections between the texts and concepts treated and their own lived experience, as well as those around them.

The second module of this course creates focus on the master and slave dialectic, as engaged in some influential philosophical texts, that is, a) Nietzsche, Genealogy of Morality, First Essay: Good and Evil, Good and Bad; b) Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, Independence and Dependence of Self-Consciousness: Lordship and Bondage; c) Marx, Critique of the Hegelian Dialectic and Philosophy as a Whole (from Economic & Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844), and Fragment on Machines (from Grundrisse); d) Judith Butler, Desire, Rhetoric, and Recognition in Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit; e) Gadamer, Hegel’s Dialectic of Self-Consciousness; and f) Habermas, Labor and interaction. There are three main objectives of the philosophy module. First objective: introduce conceptual genealogy as a mode of investigation in philosophy, by showing how different philosophers took up the master-slave theme in their respective philosophical projects, thereby reorganizing existing thought and generating new thought on the theme. Second objective: engage readings ‘a’ through ‘f’ in the philosophy module so as to think about how the genealogy of the master slave theme gives us perspective and insight into the origin and subsequent development of two different kinds of philosophical hermeneutics, a hermeneutics of suspicion and a hermeneutics of affirmation and openness, and the dialectical tension between these two kinds of hermeneutics in the writings of Nietsche, Hegel, Marx, Butler, Gadamer, and Habermas. Third objective: think about how the Nietzsche-Hegel-Marx perspective on the genealogy and hermeneutics of the master slave theme might help us gain insight into contemporary struggles and insecurities around the politics of class, race, identity, multiculturalism, gender, and sexuality. This last objective would also motivate discussion on relevant struggles within the field of philosophy, as seen in the appropriation and interpretation of the master slave theme in contemporary poststructuralist and postmodern philosophy.

The final module of this course will be taught by Marcelo and will provide us with a historical view of the slave-master dialectic. Firstly, we will be discussing the History of slavery in the Ancient World, especially in the Greek and Roman societies. The ethnical diversity of slavery in the Classical World, the slave uprisings, and the decline of slavery in the late Ancient Age are all relevant issues. The module will later proceed to analyze the main aspects of slavery in the Modern World and the main differences and similarities between ancient slavery and modern slavery. Special emphasis will be placed on the role played by slavery in the American continent during European colonization. The module will then tackle the religious and moral dilemmas faced by Spanish and Portuguese colonizers regarding the enslavement of the Native Americans, their decision to enslave Africans, and how slaves resisted. Readings encompass Dale Tomich’s Through the prism of slavery: labor, capital, and world economy; Ira Berlin’s Many thousands gone: the first two centuries of slavery in North America; Boris Fausto’s A Concise History of Brazil, Gilberto Freyre’s The Masters and the Slaves, as well as academic articles.

HUM 301: Comparative Hermeneutics I (Major Works and Traditions Seminar)

Third year seminar will continue work with major thinkers and traditions in dialogue, but plunge students deeper into more localized tensions within the field. The goal is to examine an academic debate or problem of some sophistication within the discipline, or between several disciplines. Students will work with one or two key figures to help deepen their understanding of that debate, or attempt to initiate their own related line of inquiry based on close work with one or two central figures.

HUM 401: Comparative Hermeneutics II (Major Works and Traditions Seminar)  

HUM 401 will serve as a senior seminar, ideally as a preliminary study or complement to the capstone research seminar (HUM 402), which will challenge students to define a compelling problem, project, or line of inquiry that requires extended critical analysis and working with several texts, traditions, or disciplines in conversation.

Sample deepening seminars may include studies of Marx, Agamben, Poststructuralism, Gadamer, Feminism, The Anthropocene, Postcolonial theory, James Joyce, Environmental Writing, Sufism, etc., depending on faculty interest and availability.

Students will isolate a central thinker, key work, major period, influential religious movement, school or doctrine for close examination.

HUM 402: Capstone Research Seminar 

Final course of the deepening sequence in the CH core curriculum. This is a workshop course for the capstone projects and senior theses.

HUM 200: World Historical Figures: Statesmen, Leaders, Authority, and Judgement Arendt & Gandhi

CH students requires a 200 – level leadership course to study the mechanisms of authority and power in world history. This course will be taught in spring 2021 semester. Following are the description of this course.

Hannah Arendt and Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi respond to a key feature of modernity that they hold responsible for the destruction of political life: bio politics – the reduction of politics to the management of bare life, or modern survivalism. In their attempt to restore genuine political activity, Arendt and Gandhi not only offer striking and resonant descriptions of modern life and our political predicament, they also devise highly original philosophies of democratic thought and action located in the space between a potential past and a possible future.

In this course, we will closely read two major works by Hannah Arendt – The Human Condition and Between Past & Future – as well as Faisal Devji’s path-breaking interpretation of Gandhi’s politics, The Impossible Indian. Through sustained and critical engagement with these works, by the end of the course, students will have a systematic grasp of two powerful accounts of the space of modern politics, as well as the qualities of thought, disposition and practice that may yet salvage judgment and authority, and heal our world.

Engagement with great works and ideas in the humanities are key to developing the capacity of judgment that is so needed in today’s world – this course, through our readings of some of the most important ideas in history, politics, and philosophy will help hone students’ critical judgment skills, cultivated through engagement with ideas in the humanities.

HUM 300: Criticism, Dissent and the Ethics of Disagreement

This course is a 300-level course on social responsibility and the ethics of disagreement through the figure of the public intellectual.

NB: the program maintains >Micro Canon for Core CH Courses that would act as an archive of texts (and assignment sequences) that faculty could draw from in future terms.