University Seminars (USEMS): Fall 2018

Falling From Infinity
USEM 1570 001
R 3:30-5:20 Shannon House Room 108
Michael Palmer

This thing we call infinity fills our dreams and sparks our imaginations, yet it lies just beyond our reach, lurking in the shadows, evading our questions. Our curiosity compels us to ask: what is infinity? Whether it is something innumerable, something vast or eternal, it shapes our philosophies and religions, influences our arts and literatures, and drives our mathematics and sciences. William Blake sees infinity in a grain of sand; Vincent van Gough glimpses it in starry nights; Gregor Cantor proposes infinities within infinities; and Stephen Hawking finds it in the dark corners of our Universe. In this class, we will explore the infinite and the infinitesimal by looking through the eyes of these and other great thinkers.

The Ukraine Crisis: East and West
USEM 1570 002
T 3:30-6:00 Shannon House Room 108
Yuri Urbanovich

The Ukrainian former president’s (Victor Yanukovych) decision in November 2013 to pull out of an association deal with the European Union sparked massive street protests that eventually led to his downfall. In March 2014 Russia reacted by annexing the Ukraine’s autonomous republic of Crimea and unrest erupted in eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russian sentient is strong. The Ukraine crisis has brought relations between the West and Russia to their lowest level in a quarter century. This USEM course investigates domestic political, social and economic questions, including issues of identity based on historical glories and traumas; foreign policy orientations; relations with NATO, U.S. and the EU; the influence of Russia; and possible solutions to end the crisis in the near future.

Rise and Fall of the USSR
USEM 1570 003
M 3:30-6:00 Shannon House Room 108
Yuri Urbanovich

This course is about Russia and the Soviet Union. It is designed to explore some of this country’s major political themes of the twentieth century through an understanding of Russia’s history, culture, and politics.

Death, Dying and Bereavement
USEM 1570 004
T 3:30-6:00 Shannon House Room 109
Richard Steeves

This course is an exploration of thinking about dying, death and bereavement. Although western culture and American culture in particular has a reputation for being death denying, we do in fact confront images of and talk about death on almost a daily basis. This course will not be a study about death and dying in the news and popular media, rather it will be about those who have thought about or mortality seriously and extensively.

Contemporary Perspectives on Social Justice, Action and Change
USEM 1580 001
T 3:00-5:20 Shannon House Room 107
Lisa Speidel

This course will engage student in critical thought and discussion about social justice movements, both well-known and more obscure, which represent community and citizen-based responses to injustice and inequality. This course uses feminist theory to focus on the concept of agency and resilience and the ways in which seemingly divergent populations of people have utilized various strategies for achieving recognition and change. The course will incorporate serval themes; exploring the role of identity and difference at personal and relational levels, the historical context of these concepts, and theoretical frameworks considered from local and global perspectives. The aim of the course is to compel students to explore a sense of purpose and plan of action grounded in engaged scholarship and social responsibility. The structure of the course includes lecture, readings, interactive exercises, films, discussion, guest speakers, critical written evaluation, and personal written reflection of the weekly topics.

Journeys Through Hell
USEM 1580 002
T 5:00-6:50 Rotunda Room 150
Dariusz Tolczyk

Extreme experiences of evil and oppression – concentration camps, prisons, mass terror, and other forms of victimization – have often been presented as opportunities for personal growth and moral ascent. From archaic initiation rites of diverse cultures through ancient Greek, Roman, and Biblical wisdom, as well as many literary traditions, the point has been stressed repeatedly that being exposed to suffering and oppression not only can make us better, stronger, and more enlightened human beings but, in fact, tends to be a necessary condition of such profound ennoblement.

Is this true? Survivors of extreme historic evil of the twentieth century, including the Holocaust, the Soviet Gulag, Communist prisons of Eastern Europe, and Chinese mind-reform camps ask this question while describing their own ordeals. What can we learn from them about humanity, both in general and our own? IN this interdisciplinary seminar. We will explore and discuss diverse cultural, religious, and intellectual roots of the conviction that extreme oppression can ennoble us. We will confront these traditions with survivors’ writings about twentieth-century totalitarian atrocities. In our explorations, we will ask some profound questions: What motivates human being under extreme conditions? Are human beings good by nature? How does mass-scale evil originate in history? How do totalitarian ideologies motivate and justify atrocities? How do diverse cultural backgrounds affect ways in which people react to these assaults against their humanity? Our discussions will allow us to explore human experiences not directly accessible for most of us, and confront our own assumptions with discoveries of those who lived through extreme experiences. Reading include short excerpts from the Bible, Plato, Juvenal and some more recent thinkers, as well as prison/camp memoirs by Elie Wiesel, Aleksandr Solzhenistyn, Zhang Xianlniang, Eugenia Ginzburg, Varlam Shalamov, Gustaw Herling, Tadeusz Borowski. Films “Korczak” (by Andrzej Wajda), “Life is Beautiful” (by Roberto Benigni), and “Interrogation” (by Ryszard Bugajski) will be viewed outside of class and discussed in class.