Questions about the meaning and purpose of life are central to human existence. Every area of the Rhodes curriculum touches in some way upon such questions, whether directly as in moral philosophy, epic poetry, and political thought, or indirectly as in studies of the history of medieval Europe, economic theory, and the physical structure of the universe. The programs Life: Then and Now (“Life”) and The Search for Values in the Light of Western Religion and History (“Search”) help students think about these issues and so provide the foundation for the entire curriculum.
Life and Search students meet in small groups led by faculty members to analyze challenging and controversial texts that have shaped and reshaped thought, particularly in Western societies. Because of its prominence in world history, these courses pay special attention to the Bible and the traditions that have emerged in relationship to it. Life and Search courses endeavor to make the familiar unfamiliar by examining critically the logical and historical foundations of received opinion and texts. They also make the unfamiliar familiar by studying traditions, artifacts, and issues that most students have not yet encountered. Through both programs, students learn to appreciate the role of historical context in shaping values, beliefs, and practices and to reflect critically on their own values, beliefs, and practices. Life and Search stress skills that are central to the whole curriculum: careful reading, analytical writing, critical thinking, and discussion.
At the start of their first year in the College, students choose to pursue either Life or Search and generally remain in their chosen program until they have completed it. The two programs share many features but also are distinctive. The following descriptions clarify the differences between Life and Search.
Life: Then and Now
The student who chooses the Life: Then and Now program completes a three semester sequence of courses. The first courses are taken in the fall and spring semesters of the first year. The third course may be taken at any time in the remaining three years of the student’s college career.
The first two courses in the Life sequence are Religious Studies 101-102, The Bible: Texts and Contexts. These courses introduce students to the academic study of the Bible and the traditions of interpretation and reflection based upon it. This two semester sequence follows a basic chronological development, from the earliest biblical sources to modern interpretations. The first semester of the course is taught by members of the Department of Religious Studies with primary competence in the study of the Bible and the second semester by members with expertise in theological reflection and the disciplines of the history of religion. Both courses emphasize careful textual analysis, clear and effective writing, and active discussion with peers. Complete descriptions of these courses may be found in the Religious Studies section of the catalogue.
The third Life course is chosen from a variety of offerings in Religious Studies, Philosophy, and Greek and Roman Studies. These courses build on the skills and base of knowledge developed in first year Life and further refine and augment them. The third Life course is selected from an array that includes advanced study of the Bible, theology and ethics, philosophy, and the history of religions. The spectrum of upper-level Life courses will change periodically to reflect student and faculty interests but includes staples such as “Archaeology and the Bible,” “King David,” “Sex and Gender in the New Testament,” “Paul,” “Contemporary Theology,” “Holocaust,” “Islam,” and “Religious Traditions of Asia,” “Religion in America,” “Medieval Philosophy,” and “Ethics.” With a wide variety of choices, students may select a third Life course that suits their interests and best complements their overall academic plan.
The Search for Values in the Light of Western History and Religion
Throughout its sixty-six year history, Search has embodied the College’s guiding concern for helping students to become men and women of purpose, to think critically and intelligently about their own moral views, and to approach the challenges of social and moral life sensitively and deliberately. Students are encouraged to engage texts directly and to confront the questions and issues they encounter through discussions with their peers, exploratory writing assignments, and ongoing personal reflection. Special emphasis is given to the development and cultivation of critical thinking and writing skills under the tutelage of a diverse faculty drawn from academic disciplines across the Humanities, Fine Arts, Natural Sciences, and Social Sciences. Students in this course are challenged and invigorated by intimate encounters with the voices of culture and the pinnacles of thought, develop a respect and understanding of great moral, political, historical, and religious principles and quandaries, and become better prepared to understand and respond to the diversity of human values in a complex world.
In the first year, the syllabus is centered on the biblical and classical traditions. An ongoing and intensive study of the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament explores the faith, values, and ideals of the ancient Israelites as well as early Christians. Interwoven with this exploration is an examination of the epic tradition of the ancient Near East and the rich and varied wellsprings of the ancient Greek and Roman civilizations, including epics, historiography, philosophy, poetry, and drama.
In the third semester of the sequence, students choose from among a number of disciplinary tracks, including literature, religious studies, politics, philosophy, history, and fine arts. The third semester covers the Renaissance, the Protestant and Catholic Reformations, the Scientific Revolution, the Enlightenment, and the Modern Era. The course concludes with study of a number of revolutionary thinkers and movements of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries that challenge the basic principles of Western thought, culture, and religion.
In all courses of the sequence students read original source texts (in English translation) that encourage them to grapple first-hand with ideas as presented by the author, rather than relying on interpretation by secondary sources. Continuous effort is made to bring to light the influence and impact of ancient values on the contemporary world, as well as the cross-fertilization of ideas between Western culture and world civilization as a whole.