EXAMPLES OF RECENT COURSES
T.S. Eliot is, by common consent, the most significant English language poet of the 20th century. His work ranges from easily accessible poems (including The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock) and verse plays (including Murder in the Cathedral) to poems worthy of intensive study and discussion (including The Waste Land and Four Quartets) to essays dealing with religion, literature and current issues. He deals with many of the contemporary issues, including tradition vs. modernity, religion vs. humanism, the use of “poetic” language vs. colloquial speech, and the abstract vs. the more concrete. Despite the seriousness of these issues, his works are full of humor, jazz rhythms and clever uses of language. He set modern poetry on a new course.
Creating Modern American Life: 1870 – 1920
Following the Civil War and Reconstruction, America entered a new age. Technological and industrial revolutions changed how and where Americans lived; large numbers of immigrants changed the American population and culture. It was the age of Robber Barons and Progressives, of Imperialists and Nativists, of Suffragettes and Prohibitionists; of strike breakers and Anarchists; of Jim Crow and the “New South.” Some embraced change and some fought it. But from all the turmoil and disagreements about America’s future, a new America – modern America -- emerged by 1920. The changes wrought in this period were as great, if not greater, than those in any other period of American history.
The Web of Life
Recent science has developed a new understanding of the biology of life that encompasses more of its vital integrative actions, complexity, and processes of self-organization and self-generation. This discussion group aims to put these new discoveries into a single coherent context and understand how they impact the biologic, physical, psychological, and even the social and cultural aspects of our lives. Come and explore and get entangled in The Web of Life.
Income Inequality: Capital in the Twenty-First Century
Upward mobility is more myth than reality, whereas downward mobility and vulnerability is a widely shared experience. Those at the bottom are only a short step away from bankruptcy with all that it entails - illness, divorce or loss of job often is enough to push them over the brink. Income inequality is one of today’s most widely discussed and controversial issues. But what do we really know about its evolution over the long term? Do the dynamics of private capital accumulation inevitably lead to the concentration of wealth in ever fewer hands, as Karl Marx believed in the nineteenth century? Or do the balancing forces of growth, competition, and technological progress lead in later stages of development to reduced inequality? We will use two books “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” by Thomas Piketty and “The Price of Inequality” by Joseph Stiglitz to understand income inequality.
The Open Empire: China Before 1600
The Chinese have been writing history almost from the beginning of Chinese civilization about 4,000 years ago. The history has been invariably viewed through the artificial chronological boundaries of dynastic cycle that exaggerates the importance of the emperor and minimizes the contribution of other social groups. Stunning evidence from recent archeological finds has caused historians to rethink the past, resulting in a view of China before 1600 as an empire that incorporated different regions and peoples as it was taking shape and that remained open to outside influence. We will follow other trends in Chinese history that had a far greater impact on daily life, such as the introduction of Buddhism, the exchange of ideas and technology along the Silk Road, the evolving role of women, the changing views of the afterlife among ordinary people, and the Mongol conquest.
Tchaikovsky: His Life and Music
Tchaikovsky wrote music that could break your heart. He also wrote finely crafted symphonies, concerti, concert pieces, and gorgeous ballets, some of the most beloved music in the world. His life story was the stuff of Russian tragedy. His music often has the distinctive feel of folk tunes and songs, and always the power and passion of his country. In this discussion group, we will return to late 19th century Russia to see how Tchaikovsky, together with his contemporaries, led Russia out of its music backwardness to an international audience. We will listen to his pieces and bring selected excerpts to class to enjoy and discuss. Tchaikovsky was the first Russian composer to attend a music conservatory and be trained in the European [German] composition style. He was the first to be widely known in Europe and America. Today in the 21st century, Tchaikovsky’s music is esteemed and critically acclaimed for its wide stylistic and emotional range.
Postwar: History of Europe Since 1945
At the end of World War II, Europe lay in ruins. Today, Europe is enjoying a level of peace and prosperity un- imaginable in 1945. In this discussion group, we will focus on the recovery and growth of Western and Eastern Europe after World War II. We will explore the hard decisions about ways to avoid any return to the dictatorships, violence, and wars of the earlier Europe. We will see how a “European model” emerged slowly and painfully, while ushering in decades of peace and prosperity. We conclude with assessment of current economic, political, and social difficulties and prospects for the future.
Genetic engineering, including gene manipulation, gene cloning, recombinant DNA technology and gene modification, has radically altered the study of diseases, the development of disease resistant plants, forensic analysis, and the production of drugs, to name a few applications. It has brought about entirely new phenomena – the cloning of organisms, as well as the creation of new genes and even new life forms.
This SDG looks at the ethical and legal dilemmas and potential dangers that are growing out of current research in this field, as we explore the contributions by academic and corporate scientists.
Movies and the Moral Adventure of Life
Through the purposeful or unintentional development of each film we will study, we will explore our own moral boundaries, reflecting on the meaning of life, love, beauty, sexuality, violence, faith, religion and custom, good and evil, nuclear holocaust, and terrorism to name a few of the subjects. While doing so, we will also examine the individuals (writers, actors, producers and directors) and the film productions that raised these questions. The movies have been selected and reviewed by Alan Stone, a noted film critic and author, who wrote our source book Movies and the Moral Adventure of Life. We will watch each of the films selected, read the core source book reviews and bring to the weekly discussions of the films our own perceptions and insights forged by our own lives and experiences. The result should be a lively thought provoking discussion that just may affect the way we confirm, revise or refine how we perceive certain aspects of the moral adventure of life.