Course Offerings

Ortwin Knorr
Course taught by: Ortwin Knorr

Some of the most spectacular movies in film history are epic movies set in ancient Greece and Rome. "Toga movies" such as "Cabiria" (1914), "Ben Hur" (1959), "Cleopatra" (1963), and "Gladiator" (2000) were not only important milestones in film history, but still dazzle their audiences with gigantic sets, huge armies of extras, impressive action scenes, gorgeous costumes, and rousing music. In this course, we will learn to watch these and other "toga movies" closely and analyze them from many different angles, as films with a specific language and tradition, as historical narratives, and as reflections of and comments on contemporary culture.

Rachel Kinsman Steck
Course taught by: Rachel Kinsman Steck

'Camp' has been characterized as excessive, ostentatious, affected..., gay. It has been described as an aesthetic, sensibility, style, or taste where high art meets popular culture 'in' fashion. Camp is where the Tiffany Lamp meets Lady Gaga, where Judith Butler meets Susan Sontag, or where drag meets Patrick Swayze. Historically speaking, to 'read' camp is to 'know' - to finally be 'seen' within a culture that rarely 'looks.' This colloquium is an introduction to camp in its various forms. Like camp itself, we will bring together high theory and popular culture and explore our own presence and resistance within our readings of identity, performativity, and sexuality We will wrestle with such questions as: Do we always know camp when we see it? Who is able to participate in camp? Is camp always subversive?

Kathryn Nyman
Course taught by: Kathryn Nyman

Life is full of small and big decisions: from what brand of toothpaste to buy, to whom to vote for, to where to go to college, to how to Iive ethically. It is also full of people trying to persuade us to buy their brand, elect their party, choose their school, and follow their path to the afterlife. So, how do we make such decisions? And what influences us to make up or change our mind? In this colloquium, we will examine some competing theories of decision-making. Even as we strive to be rational, we are prone to some predictable irrationalities that range from dogmatism and impulsivity, to indecisiveness and procrastination. Furthermore, as consumers, voters, and jurors we are sometimes swayed by advertising, rhetoric, and persuasion. We will consider what is meant by rationality, why we become entrenched in our beliefs, and how and why we change our minds. Ultimately, we will explore ways to make better decisions, that involve learning how to keep an open mind while also knowing when and how to commit oneself. Our course materials will include Dan Arielys’ Predictably Irrational, films such as 12 Angry Men, journal articles, and the occasional guest speaker.

Haiyan Cheng
Course taught by: Haiyan Cheng

The rapid emergence of the Internet and development of computing and information technologies have brought with them many new ethical issues. How do ubiquitous computing and networking affect our sense of moral responsibility in society? What does ethics require of us as computer users and developer of programs and internet content? In this course, we will study topics including ethics in information technology, computer and Internet crimes, privacy and anonymity issues, freedom of expression, and the impact of information technology on productivity and quality of life. Our collective goals will be to develop our own ‘Ten Commandments for the Digital Age.’ We will use Ethics in information technology by George Reynolds along with other scholarly articles and case studies such as wikileaks to explore the topics and questions raised.

Jeremy Miller
Course taught by: Jeremy Miller

When asked to consider the relationship between science fiction and psychology, Isaac Asimov wrote that “In science fiction, human beings are pictured as facing unusual situations, bizarre societies, unorthodox problems. The effort to imagine the human response to such things may cast light into the shadows in a new way, allowing us to see what had not been clear before.” This course will follow Asimov’s suggestion by exploring the intersection between science fiction and the science of mind, brain, and behavior. Broadly, we will explore the ways in which popular works of contemporary and classic science fiction can help us to understand human behavior and its causes. Along the way, we will look at examples of science fiction across media: from novels like “A Scanner Darkly” by Phillip K. Dick, to movies like “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”, to episodes of TV shows like “The Twilight Zone” and “Futurama”. In each case, we will examine a work of science fiction that poses an important question about human behavior (for example, “How would society change in a world with no genders?”). We will then discuss modern scientific approaches to answering these questions and attempt to integrate knowledge gained from science fiction’s speculative treatment of the question with a scientific approach to examining mind, brain and behavior.

Josh Laison
Course taught by: Josh Laison

Games are everywhere in the world and pervasive in our lives. Just as we see games in so many different forms in the world, we can think and talk about games through many different academic lenses. From a mathematical standpoint, game designers balance complex interconnected systems of abstract rules, and players use probability and decision theory to plan a successful strategy. From an artistic standpoint, artists design beautiful and immersive graphical worlds, and players narrate stories and act out the characters who live in these worlds. From a philosophical standpoint, designers make their games to be fun, and the need for play is fundamental to our lives. From a societal standpoint, gaming societies reflect many problems that we see in the real world, and also give us tools to solve them. In this course we'll play and analyze complex designs like Agricola and Race for the Galaxy; mathematically strategic games like Backgammon and Hex; storytelling games like Ribbon Drive and But Wait, There's More; world-building games like League of Legends and Minecraft; social games like Two Rooms and a Boom and Space Team; games for change like Fold It and Superbetter. We'll design our own games, and think about what makes a good game, and why we should play them.

Barbara Stebbins-Boaz
Course taught by: Barbara Stebbins-Boaz

As with every living creature, human beings grow, develop, and change within an environment that is constantly shaping us. In our case, we are steeped in hidden chemicals that support contemporary lifestyles. Over 80,000 man-made chemicals in use have never been tested for their effects on our health. In this colloquium we will focus on those chemicals that mimic the hormones that are essential to development, fertility, immune function, and cognitive development. Questions that we will address include: How do researchers discover these chemicals? What benefits or risks do they present? How do we know what is safe and what is harmful? What roles do industry, government, communities and the individual play in causing chemical exposures? What actions can we take to promote environmental health in sustainable ways? We will approach these questions from many perspectives: ethical, economic, behavioral, spiritual, biological, sociological, psychological, political, and the unique experiences you bring to the course. Our sources will include works such as Carson’s Silent Spring, and Colborn, Dumanoski, & Myers’ Our stolen future, as well as documentaries such as Men In Danger: Environmental Effects on Fertility. We will also take a field trip or two to local organic and nonorganic forms to better appreciate how pesticides are used.

Leslie Dunlap
Course taught by: Leslie Dunlap

We live in an autobiographical age: constantly representing—and reinventing--ourselves as we update our status, announce major life transitions, capture (and delete) quotidian moments and issue commentary on news and relationships. This colloquium explores how contemporary modes of self-narration and discovery resemble and depart from earlier genres of the self. Have social media changed our understanding of the self in relation to society? How do new technologies shape our sense of our place in the world, our relationships to others, and our perception of time and change? In order to address these questions, we will read coming-of-age diaries, novels, films, and memoirs from a range of periods and places--including such texts as Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, The Diary of Anne Frank, Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic and films including Flirting (Australia, 1991), We Live in Public (US, 2009),Girlhood(France, 2014) and the Oscar-winning Boyhood (US, 2014)--together with scholarship on identity formation, the public sphere, modernization, and globalization.

Cathleen L. Whiting
Course taught by: Cathleen L. Whiting

The extent of U.S. income inequality has become part of public discourse. “The 1% May Be Richer Than You Think,” proclaimed a 2014 Bloomberg News headline. Piketty’s 700-page Capital in the Twenty-first Century was a best-seller on Amazon. The topic is highly controversial. Are the rich the “fittest” in a social Darwinian sense? Are the poor “takers,” as a former Presidential candidate suggested, or do hard-working individuals, for reasons outside their control, lack access to jobs paying a living wage? Does a social safety net encourage laziness or help sustain people until they can get on their feet? This colloquium explores arguments and evidence surrounding U.S. income inequality and the related topic of poverty, and considers the question of appropriate public policy. Students will be introduced to relevant data sources and measures, and asked to use this information to evaluate the “free-market” economic model and its prescriptions regarding the role of government. Class projects will give students experience obtaining and using data to assess a public policy proposal.

Xijuan Zhou
Course taught by: Xijuan Zhou

Journey to the West, also translated as The Monkey, is one of the masterpieces of Chinese literature. It is a story based on the journey of a famous Chinese monk named Xuanzang who traveled to India to seek Buddhist scriptures in the 7th century C.E. The novel combines elements of Chinese folk religion with Taoist and Buddhist philosophies and Confucian social values. It not only portrays adventurous fantasies but also reveals spiritual insight and serves as an allegory of the religious journey. In this colloquium, we will examine Chinese religions and folk beliefs through close reading and discussion of this classic text. Some of the questions we will discuss include: How does one interpret a text? What are the key factors in cultural integrations? What challenges does one face in one's spiritual journey? Class activities will also include writing exercises, short research reports, and class presentations, involving materials such as religious scriptures, films, and historical documents.

Melissa Witkow
Course taught by: Melissa Witkow

Why do some adolescents do better in school than others? Can we explain it just as a matter of intelligence? Or motivation? Better teachers or better schools? In this course we will explore how these different factors come together to either promote or hinder adolescents' academic success in middle school and high school.  Some of the topics we will cover include why some adolescents seem to try to do poorly, how and why characteristics of the self such as gender and ethnicity relate to academic success, how involvement in extracurricular activities can be associated with one’s identity as a student, and what can be done to counter the decline in interest in school that we tend to see across the school years.  We will also explore differences in educational experiences around the world to examine how differences in school structure and values can contribute to motivation and achievement.

Janet Lorenzen
Course taught by: Janet Lorenzen

We will begin this course with the question, how do issues – from texting & driving to economic inequality – become defined as social problems? Who decides and how are they persuaded? We will explore claims about current social problems in the form of popular bumper stickers ('No Farmers, No Food'), social movement slogans ('I am the 99%'), and political commentary (are the wealthy 'job creators' or tax evaders?). Academic work on framing political ideas, recruitment to social movements, and the social construction of social problems will guide our analysis. This includes an investigation into the way data are used (or misused) to support particular claims. Visits from a political lobbyist, a union organizer, and a social movement activist will help us better understand how persuasion works in the real world. Topics include current controversies in the United States like economic inequality, racism, climate change, the gender wage gap, immigration, marriage protection/equality, and gun rights/control. In the last third of the course students will develop a campaign to address a social problem and create their own bumper stickers (which will be produced for distribution) and public service announcement (posted on You Tube).

Melissa Buis Michaux
Course taught by: Melissa Buis Michaux

Despite having a reputation as the “land of the free,” the United States currently incarcerates about 2.4 million men, women and children. Snapshot statistics like this one, however, do not capture the churn in jails, prisons and detention centers; nearly 12 million people cycle through local jails every year alone. The 2.4 million number also does not take into account how many people’s lives are affected by our extensive system of punishment, including those on parole or probation; children of incarcerated parents; and communities that support prison systems. Furthermore, racial disparities in arrests, sentencing, and prison time call into question our guarantees of equal justice and fundamental fairness. This colloquium explores three critical questions about the American punishment system: Why is the prison population so high? What are the consequences of such a vast system of control? What reforms, if any, should we pursue?

Monique Bourque
Course taught by: Monique Bourque

The modernization of Western science since the Scientific Revolution of the 17th century has emphasized accurate observation and the collection of verifiable data. However, the history of nature study abounds with illustrations and metaphors that reflect prior imagination and categorization, such as Albrecht Dürer's 15th c. engraving of a rhinoceros that appears to be wearing armor, and 20th c. entomologists' descriptions of ants as both the 'perfect socialists' and as vicious and violent 'slave societies'. In this colloquium, we will examine how our expectations about the natural world literally shape what we see when we look at nature. We will use a wide range of primary sources including accounts of European expeditions to the New World, Renaissance and early modern anatomical atlases and medical texts, nineteenth- and twentieth-century field guides, accounts of North American explorations of the continent’s interior after the Louisiana Purchase, twentieth century nature documentaries and more, to explore the complex relationship between our understanding of nature, our passion for arranging nature into categories, and our representation of nature. We will ask, why is narrative so central to the practice of science, and how and why do ‘factual’ narratives reflect our social and political assumptions? How do our schemas and our technologies affect our actual perception and experience? How do assumptions about human organization impact our appreciation for order and function in nature and vice versa?

Gaetano DeLeonibus
Course taught by: Gaetano DeLeonibus

Well into our times, Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) remains a complex and controversial figure. In this course, we will explore some of these controversies, beginning with contemporaries of Rousseau who found a great inconsistency between his philosophical and autobiographical selves. For instance, Voltaire anonymously questioned his sincerity by revealing that he had abandoned the five children he had with his servant, while Mary Wollstonecraft decried his denial to women of the same basic rights claimed for men—a critique still echoed in contemporary feminist criticism. We will then explore views of Rousseau that emerged after his death, when he was seen as a champion of individualism, at the nexus of Revolution and Romanticism, by both counter-revolutionaries and radicals. Hippolyte Taine went further and wrote that Rousseau’s collectivism led inevitably to tyranny and despotism, only to be superseded by Cold War liberal scholars, such as Karl Popper, who claimed that his thinking contained the seed of totalitarianism. Finally, the history of modern educational theory is a series of footnotes to Rousseau. We will explore Rousseau’s continued influence on the pedagogical practice of his near contemporaries Pestalozzi and Mme de Genlis, and on later pedagogues, such as Maria Montessori and John Dewey.

Ana Montero
Course taught by: Ana Montero

This seminar will provide an overview of the subjects of sexuality and eroticism in a historic period, the so-called Dark Ages, during which such subjects were prominently expressed in the arts. Adopting an anthropological and historical point of view, we will study sexuality and eroticism as represented in medieval art, literature, architecture, and philosophy, as well as in the private histories of everyday people in medieval Western Europe. Specifically, we will re-examine some of the traditional binary oppositions that modern perspectives impose on the medieval world, such as the sacred and profane, platonic love versus carnal desire, the ideal of beauty and stereotypes of ugliness or monstrosity, and chastity versus lust. Far from being obsolete, these dichotomies continue to have relevance in contemporary culture, especially when issues of censorship and the obscene arise. Ultimately, the aim of the course is to compel us to re-evaluate the stereotypes we hold about the Middle Ages.

Catherine A. Collins
Course taught by: Catherine A. Collins

The campus, the city, the Willamette valley are a memory box of people, and events offering a visual record of who we are, what we have done, and what we value. The course examines monuments, architecture, formal spaces and informal, even temporary, markers of memory whether of achievement, grief, or historical record. We will study historic buildings and memorials, roadside shrines and cemeteries, public art, gardens, and war memorials. These visual stories of who we are celebrate, mourn and record institutions, people and events that mark Salem as place. We explore how memorialization makes space sacred. Visual memory records that we will study may affirm official narratives or offer evidence of a disputed past. By choosing what will be remembered in these ways – whether highly personal or easily forgettable and formulaic – we shape future understandings of who we are, even as we have been shaped.

Sally Markowitz
Course taught by: Sally Markowitz

Since the middle of the twentieth century, a significant number of American visual artists, musicians, and writers have turned to Zen and other Buddhist philosophies to transform their art and lives. What are the sources, significance, and effects of this attraction? And what resonances are there between Buddhist perspectives on life and contemporary Western perspectives on art and aesthetic experience? This colloquium will address these and related questions through exploring the lives and work of several twentieth- and twenty-first century American artists strongly influenced by Buddhism (including, among others, John Cage, Agnes Martin, George Saunders and Ruth Ozeki) along with the texts and practices that inspired them.