Humanities 201/Third semester of the Search Course
Course descriptions Fall 2020
HUM 201-01: Slavery and Capitalism
Prof. Gordon Bigelow (English Dept.)
The birth of modern global society is typically understood as a parallel process of political and economic growth, with a rapid increase in economic productivity (as in the industrial revolution) running alongside the expansion of political freedoms (as in the French Revolution). These “twin revolutions,” as they have been described, are said to have freed human society from grinding economic necessity and from the political tyranny of the past. But how should we understand the role that slavery played in this process? A substantial proportion of the wealth of this period was created by the labor of enslaved people, and research on this issue by recent historians has begun to challenge common assumptions about the rise of global capitalism and the spread of democracy. In this course, we will read some of this recent historical research, while also considering related questions about slavery and freedom in the work of a variety of philosophers, economists, writers and artists. Counts as an Africana Studies elective.
Hum 201-02: The Making of the Modern Self
Prof. Daniel Cullen (Political Science Dept.)
The third semester of Search explores many of the same questions that arose in the first two semesters: What is the right way to live? What are my obligations to God? To my family, my country and to strangers? You will be struck throughout this third semester by the way “modern” answers to the question: What does it mean to be human? represent a shift away from both traditional religious and philosophical assumptions about the good life, a shift toward “individualism.” This intellectual and moral transformation is encapsulated in a new term: “the self,” which has markedly different connotations than “the soul” and signifies different understandings of freedom, equality, justice, and human identity itself. The course will explore these radically new visions of being human, concluding with the prospect of a “Posthuman” future ushered in by biotechnology. Readings will be drawn from seminal thinkers such as Hobbes, Locke, Smith, Rousseau, Marx, Nietzsche and Freud, and literary depictions of the human situation in works such as Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, short stories by Melville and Hawthorne, and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. The politics track of 201 also counts as a political theory course in the political science major.
Humanities 201.03: Religious Doubt and Dissent
Prof. Bernadette McNary-Zak (Religious Studies Dept.)
Religious doubt and dissent are often depicted as problematic components of a religious tradition. However, they are also powerful, constructive factors in religious change. How are religious doubt and dissent defined and who defines them? To what extent do these categories inform religious affiliation and identity? We'll consider these questions from the perspectives of those at the margins of institutional power. We look specifically at works by, and ideas about, women that challenge religious authority from the Middle Ages to the present day. Our readings and discussions focus on the Western intellectual tradition (including Judaism, Islam, and Christianity). This course may count for elective credit toward the RELS major/minor.
HUM 201-04 and HUM 201-05: Monsters, Cannibals, and the Body Politic
Prof. Judith Haas (English Dept.)
HUM 201-04 MWF 9-9:50
HUM 201-05 MWF 10-10:50
This section of Search looks at “western civilization” as a fiction that maintains its integrity through the invention of monstrous, diseased, and “uncivilized” others. We will explore a set of European, American, and colonial texts from the Renaissance to the present that have shaped our current debates about political and social equality, and about difference and “otherness” in relation to race, class, and gender. The course begins by looking at the notion of disease and the social body in Boccaccio’s Decameron. We end with Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower, a meditation on the collapse of the social body and the stigmatization of particular bodies as diseased or contaminated. In addressing the philosophical and ethical questions raised by our readings, we will be attentive to the power and value of literary language and artistic representation to challenge settled notions. Issues we will address will include: the New World in the European imagination, the emergence of the Atlantic slave trade in the context of liberal conceptions of liberty and the individual, and the rise of feminist discourses. Counts as Gender and Sexuality Studies elective.
HUM 201-06: Search and the Fine Arts
Professor Vanessa Rogers (Music and Theatre Dept.)
This third semester of the “Search” course carries forward the study of Western literature, philosophy, politics, religion, and other aspects of intellectual inquiry from the Renaissance through the modern era, with a focus on music, theater, art, and aesthetics. This course will address the rise of humanism, the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, the Enlightenment, Romanticism, modernism and post-modernism; students will study influential literary and musical texts from these eras as a means of exploring the ways in which art expresses Western emotions and values. Students will develop an understanding of these texts and their contributions to Western intellectual and artistic traditions, and to develop critical thinking and writing skills through discussion and analysis of the texts.
HUM 201-07: Search: Environmental Studies track
Prof. Geoff Bakewell (Greek and Roman Studies Dept.)
Like other sections of third-semester Search, this one covers important historical, literary, philosophical, scientific, and theological works from the Renaissance to the present. But our track will be Environmental Studies. And our particular focus will be on how natural, economic, and historical forces, among others, combine to shape human choices, both individually and collectively, in particular places at particular times. Numerous out-of-class activities, film screenings, and journal entries will complement our readings. ENVS elective.
HUM 201-08: Art at This End of Modernity
Prof. Dave Mason (Music and Theatre Dept.)
I’m worried about the search. When we discover the invention of the printing press in the fifteenth century, don’t we also discover the violent destruction of the Memphis Free Speech newspaper in the nineteenth century? The search in this HUM 201 section especially follows art, because, from the start of the modern period, aesthetics helped to build the racist ideologies of Western culture that are still with us and because, here in the twenty-first century, art might help to undo them. Examples of material to which this course attends include Frederick Douglass’s discourses on photography, W. E. B. Du Bois’s photograph exhibit for the Paris Expo in 1900, and Adrienne Kennedy’s Obie-winning play Funnyhouse of a Negro.
Humanities 201-09: Humanism to Postmodernism: Great Ideas that Changed the World
Prof. Jonathan Judaken (History Dept.)
The third semester of Search continues an interrogation of key themes in the great conversation that defines the Western tradition: our understanding of nature, human nature, God, truth, reason, freedom, justice, gender, and race. This course is designed to make you familiar with the major intellectual movements and thinkers in the modern period from the Renaissance to the present. We cover both the towering, canonical figures and those critical of the canon. We look at the main schools of thought, the major political doctrines, key literary and artistic groups, and the most significant conceptual categories that have defined the European world in the modern period, including humanism, Protestantism, rationalism, romanticism, realism, nationalism, liberalism, capitalism, socialism, racism, feminism, colonialism, impressionism to surrealism, fascism, existentialism, and postmodernism. In short, this class will give you a background on the history of the ISMS that will help you to understand the major intellectual currents of the modern world, completing your backbone understanding of the liberal arts.
HUM 201-10: Diverse and Contending Voices
Prof. Kenny Morrell (Greek and Roman Studies)
This section of Humanities 201 begins in the aftermath of the conflicts between Christians and Muslims and the European Black Death of the 14th century. As a Bible-related course, it will trace the conflicts among the Christians (for example, in the Reformation and Counter-Reformation) the conflicts between the Christians and indigenous cultures in the Americas, and the application of ideas based on biblical materials in subsequent religious and political movements. It will place these conflicts within the context of four global phenomena: (1) the European "discovery," invasion, colonization, and extraction of wealth and resources (natural and those created by human labor) from the Americas, (2) the Atlantic slave trade as a result of the Ottoman’s eliminating access to slaves from Black Sea region and the loss of indigenous, enslaved or subjugated populations in the Americas, (3) the rise of the European nation state and capitalism, which emerged from colonialism and slavery, and (4) authoritarianism in Europe and the Americas before and after WWII, which contributed to the rise of many resistance movements in the 60s and beyond.
HUM 201-11: Revolutions in Modern Thought
Professor Stephen Wirls (Political Science Dept.)
This third semester of Search explores the same questions that arose in the first two semesters: What does it mean to be human? What is the right way to live? What are my obligations to God? What is the meaning of freedom, equality and justice? You will be struck throughout the course by the way the “modern” answers differ radically from those studied in the first two semesters. We begin with the protests against given ways of thinking, some of which arise within Christianity (Luther and Calvin) and others, such as Machiavelli’s astonishing new morality, explicitly in opposition to it. We will concentrate on the new notions of natural rights, individual liberty, and constitutional democracy, which were foundations for the American political order, but we will also consider problems with the principles of equality and individualism, including arguments for natural inequalities. Readings will be drawn from political philosophers such as Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Marx, and Nietzsche as well as literary depictions of the human situation.