Course Offerings

Amadou FofanaCourse taught by: Amadou Fofana

What is Africa and who are Africans? How is Africa a colonialist construct? What is colonialism, and how does colonialism differ from imperialism? What is globalization? How is it that poverty, war, epidemics, hunger are so readily associated with Africa? Why does global media perpetrate these stereotypes? How globalized is Africa in the twenty first century, and what is the significance of globalization for Africans? To better understand the nature of globalization and its implications in Africa, we will read across literary genres and examine such issues as colonialism, independence movements, post-colonialism, international trade, media and telecommunications, and population movements between Africa and Euro-America. We will consult books such as Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers by Kwame Anthony Appiah and Henry Louis Gates, Black Skin, White Masks by Frantz Fanon, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa by Walter Rodney, and Decolonizing the Mind by Ngugi wa Thiong’o. We will also watch visual illustrations of current social, economic, and political challenges facing Africa, and reflect on how African directors address these challenges in films including Africa, I will fleece you by Jean-Marie Teno (Cameroon), and Guelwaar, Faat Kine, and Moolaade by Sembene Ousmane (Senegal).

Shatha AlmutawaCourse taught by: Shatha Almutawa

This course examines a tenth-century Arabic philosophical narrative, The Case of the Animals versus Man before the King of the Jinn, in English translation. In this colorful literary masterpiece, the animals sue the humans for maltreatment, and the two parties face each other to make arguments in favor of their respective positions. While the animals complain about their imprisonment, torture, and murder at the hands of the humans, the humans defend their rights to use animals for food, clothes, travel, and farming. Written by anonymous Iraqi authors who formed a secret society and called themselves Ikhwan Al-Safa, or the Brethren of Purity, the text exhibits a unique worldview, both Qur’anic and Greek, and inspired by the thought of Plato, Aristotle, and Plotinus, as well as their Greek, Chrisitan, and Muslim commentators. A text that examines the human’s place in the world, it inspired medieval Jewish and Christian thinkers who translated it into Hebrew and adapted it into Latin. By studying this work, students will consider the exchange and cross-fertilization between Muslim, Christian, Greek, Indian, and Persian cultures. Some questions we will discuss in the course include: How have Muslims thought about justice throughout their history? What is ethical action in Islam? What are the rights of animals? What is the relationship between reason and revelation in Islam? And what is Shari’ah, or Islamic law?

Bobby Brewer-WallinCourse taught by: Bobby Brewer-Wallin

The clothes we wear tell stories about our life’s journey and are embedded with memory and meaning. From a Victorian frock coat or our favorite jeans to an early 20th century evening dress, how do our clothes communicate identity, offer protection, and celebrate the past? How do we read or interpret the performance of ourselves and others by the garments we inhabit? How have the rapid changes in fashion and technology since the 16th century altered our physical bodies and rewritten the narrative of our clothing choices?  Through the reading of fiction and plays, personal narrative and letters, ordinary and extraordinary garments, we will explore and make sense of the meaning and memories created by the clothes hanging on our bodies and in our closets.

Omari WeekesCourse taught by: Omari Weekes

Atlanta, Georgia has always held a prominent space in American popular culture but we are in the midst of a cultural moment in which international audiences are tuning into a number of TV shows, novels, podcasts, and songs that take the ATL as their origin and setting all at the same time. In this class, we will explore what it is about Atlanta that has made it an important site of black cultural production and global intrigue over the course of the 20th and 21st centuries. How and why does Atlanta come to represent black southern space over the course of the last century or so? What does this attention to Atlanta tell us about the relationship between blackness and the nation? By reading a novel like Toni Cade Bambara’s These Bones Are Not My Child on the Atlanta child murders of 1979-1981, listening to podcasts like Atlanta Murder and music by groups like Outkast and TLC, and viewing recent TV shows like Atlanta and The Real Housewives of Atlanta, we will try to make sense of the pull that Georgia’s largest city has had and continues to have on our cultural imagination.

Yan LiangCourse taught by: Yan Liang

The global economic growth in the past few decades has been dependent on the distinctive roles played by the US and China and the dynamics between them. The US has acted as the “consumer-of-last-resort”, providing the world with insatiable consumer demand. On the other hand, China has become the “world factory”, supplying the world with vast amounts of manufactured products. On average, the US buys over $1 billion worth of goods from China every single day; while China takes up the largest share of global supplies of coal and primary metals to produce these goods and spends twice as much energy as the US for each unit of output. It appears that the Americans are happily enjoying the low-priced wide-selection of Chinese goods and the Chinese are happily building factories, creating jobs and making money. But is this seemingly mutually beneficial relationship sustainable? Can the finite resources on this planet support ubiquitous consumerism? Should consumer demand be the primary driving force for the American economy and society? Will China’s resource-intensive and energy-inefficient production continue to drive its growth? Can China afford the “pollute now, clean later” development strategy? What will it take for both countries to make changes and achieve more sustainable global consumption and production? Through critical reading, informed discussions and thoughtful writing, we will together investigate some of these significant and pressing issues.

Meredyth Goldberg EdelsonCourse taught by: Meredyth Goldberg Edelson

What is reality? Is there a single reality reflecting the “truth?” Philosophers and scientists have identified characteristics of things that are “real” in nature, but most human experiences are not easily defined by these characteristics.  If that is the case, then what we believe is “real” might actually be a socially constructed reality that humans create and shape.  How do we socially construct our reality?  What are some examples of how we can come to believe “truths” that aren’t real? Are some of the most salient parts of our own identities, such as gender and race, actually socially constructed realities rather than “real” characteristics of ourselves? How does time and place affect our notion of “reality?” In this course, we will consider each of these questions as we explore how much of our reality may not actually be “real.”

Colin StarrCourse taught by: Colin Starr

What myths did Tolkien draw on for his vision of Middle Earth, and what was purely his invention? How did good and evil develop in Middle Earth, and what form did they take?  What roots of The Lord of the Rings can we see forming in the stories of The Silmarillion?

We will explore the world of Middle Earth from its creation up through the Third Age through a collection of Tolkien works compiled in The Silmarillion, setting the stage for The Lord of the Rings. Along the way, we will explore themes of good and evil, mortality, and corruption.  We will also encounter several important characters who appear in The Lord of the Rings and see how their roles develop.  Familiarity with The Lord of the Rings is recommended.

Marva DuerksenCourse taught by: Marva Duerksen

How can the arts support meaningful conversations about issues of gender/sexuality, race/ethnicity, and religious expression? In engaging these issues, how might the arts simultaneously explore tensions between freedom of expression and societal censorship of such expression, between notions of “high” and “low” art and their possibly conflicting purposes, and between expanding our perceptions relevant to such issues and simultaneously limiting them? We will debate such questions using as a springboard art works in a range of genres—plays, slam poetry, videos, visual collage, and music—together with a selection of germinal theoretical writings. A central component of the course will be student-generated artworks that explore those debates.

Juwen ZhangCourse taught by: Juwen Zhang

As China becomes more significant on the world stage, how might we use the study of everyday life to better understand Chinese culture?   This course will draw on such folklore forms as jokes, tales and myth, as well as material culture and belief-behavior to gain a deeper understanding of Chinese cultural and ethnic identity at national, group, and individual levels from both Chinese and non-Chinese perspectives.  How are different ways of doing things (e.g., eating, dressing, celebrating festivals, conducting rituals, and playing games) expressing different cosmos and values?  What does eating a whole fish at a round table mean?  Why does a wedding have to be red and a funeral white?  What has enabled Chinese culture to continue for five thousand years?  How are the classics such as The Analects by Confucius and Dao De Jing by Lao Zi revealing the roots of Chinese culture?  Ultimately, how should we understand cultural differences among different peoples as practiced in everyday life?   We will pursue such questions through examining texts, public media, arts, and films like Eat Drink Man Woman.

Catalina M. de OnísCourse taught by: Catalina M. de Onís

Whether it be in everyday talk, policy discussions, or in news media, this concept and its materiality is as ubiquitous as it is integral to debates about the future of life on this planet. In this course, we will draw on communication studies, the energy humanities, anthropology, and history to approach the topic of energy in three interrelated units: energy in pop culture (e.g., energy drinks and energy bar ads, song lyrics, and films); energy and its ties to labor, consumption, and cultures of overwork; and energy’s role in fueling and resisting contemporary extractivist economic systems and logics. This course is animated by questions such as: What are some of the different and shared connotations of energy, including its relationship to power, based on various disciplinary perspectives? How do pop cultural, political, social movement, and industry uses of the term shape understandings and responses to our energy challenges, including their interconnection with global climate disruption and environmental degradation? How might the texts, case studies, and experiences we engage move us to individually and collectively (re)consider how we exert our energies and with what effects? To approach these guiding areas of inquiry, this course invites class members to study, document, and participate in various energy-related discourses in class discussions, readings, written assignments, place-based activities, and media productions.

Catherine A. CollinsCourse taught by: Catherine A. Collins

The Willamette campus, Salem, and the state of Oregon offer a visual record of who we are, what we have done, and what we value. The course examines monuments, architecture, formal and informal spaces, even temporary markers of memory whether of achievement, grief, or historical record. We study historic buildings and memorials, roadside shrines and cemeteries, public art, gardens, Portland’s ghost bike tributes and war memorials. These visual stories of who we are celebrate, mourn and record institutions, people and events that mark Willamette, Salem and the state as distinctive places. We explore how memorialization makes space sacred. Visual memory records that we study at times confirm and at times contest official narratives. 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.

Danielle Cadena DeulenCourse taught by: Danielle Cadena Deulen

Our culture loves to talk about love, and there’s good reason for this: some of the most salient parts of our own identities are based on who and how we love.  For this reason, aesthetic representations of romance proliferate in all forms of entertainment and everyone seems to be selling their strategies for finding and cultivating love: through self-help books, advice columns, astrology, dating sites, talk shows, and even reality television. Yet, we rarely have the opportunity to discuss, analyze, and critique these representations with scholarly fervor, or consider questions surrounding love that might complicate our understanding of it.  For example, how is love socially constructed? How have ideas about love evolved over time? Are contemporary American ideologies surrounding love guided by capitalist aims? How does the language we use about love affect our notion of it?  In this course we will consider the topic of love from three perspectives—Literature, History, and Psychology—to begin a deeper, more nuanced exploration of how love affects us, and vice versa.

Monique BourqueCourse taught by: Monique Bourque

Humans have perhaps always envisioned our own end: divine wrath, epidemic disease, natural events from floods to asteroid collisions, man-made disasters from wars to monsters created by nuclear waste, and the scientifically- and politically- contested apocalypse of climate change. In this course we will examine why humans are always predicting our own demise, studying a series of specific, apocalyptic events to understand the social, political, and religious forces that have shaped our expectations of the end of the world. We will read primary sources including medical and religious texts and newspaper accounts; fictional narratives including movies, novels and poetry, and artistic productions like paintings and plays. Specific topics we will examine include the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the Black Death in fourteenth-century Europe, the consequences of nuclear proliferation and bomb testing in mid-twentieth century America, “reports” of alien invasions in the twentieth century, and climate change in the twenty-first century.

Mary R. BachvarovaCourse taught by: Mary R. Bachvarova

The modern Western novel, an extended prose narrative telling of a hero's often life-changing experience, has its roots in the Mesopotamian epic of "Gilgamesh", first recorded on clay tablets ca. 2100 BC. The figure of Gilgamesh, a historically attested Sumerian king who chose friendship over family, who failed in his quest to achieve physical immortality but left behind one of the most enduring monuments to man's search for the meaning of life in the face of inconsolable grief, was a major influence on Homer as he composed the story of Odysseus. And, Homer's Odyssey, considered by many to be the "first novel" of Western civilization, has proved to be a formative influence on Western literature. We will explore how the development of the familiar literary form of the novel over the course of millennia was a product of man's developing sense of self, changing understanding of the relationship to the divine, and desire to understand the purpose of life, through these two "proto-novels" and a series of key works such as Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment and Hermann Hesse's Rosshalde.

Ellen EisenbergCourse taught by: Ellen Eisenberg

The overwhelming majority of Americans are either immigrants or the descendants of immigrants; it is no surprise that we frequently celebrate our identity as a “nation of immigrants.” Yet the social, cultural, economic, and political questions surrounding the arrival of immigrants, their legal status, and their incorporation into the nation have long been hotly contested. In this course, we will use history, social science, and media analysis to examine questions of immigration, past and present. What are the forces that drive individuals and families to leave their homelands? What challenges do they face as newcomers to a foreign land and how do they fare? How do Americans already here respond to newcomers, and how do these responses shape evolving immigration policies? Students will compare contemporary migrations to those of the past, and will engage policy debates over current immigration policy issues.

Anthony ColemanCourse taught by: Anthony Coleman

Plato is arguably the most important philosopher who ever lived. His writings are thousands of years old, and yet they still have the power to provoke and captivate. His influence on the development of Western intellectual history is so great that some have said that it consists of "a series of footnotes to Plato." This course will be a study of several major works by Plato, works that stand out not only as wonderful examples of philosophy but also as examples of great literature. Some of the questions we'll address are: What is the nature of reality? Do we have souls, and is there life after death? What does a just society look like? And what is the nature of love?

Jeanne ClarkCourse taught by: Jeanne Clark

Gandhi and Martin Luther King demonstrated the power and the perils of nonviolent resistance in promoting political and social change. This course will explore how varied nonviolent resistance strategies have been utilized in a one of the world’s most intractable conflicts, a conflict typically reported in the news as a “cycle of violence,” i.e. Israel/Palestine.  From slingshots to hip hop, tax resistance to tree planting, refusing military service to rebuilding homes, monitoring checkpoints to painting walls, milk production to cultural boycotts, Palestinian and Israeli activists have engaged a range of nonviolent methods to promote what they understand as a peaceful end.  The methods are often controversial; their “nonviolence” is sometimes disputed; their potential for efficacy is uncertain.

Together we will ponder what constitutes “nonviolence” and what may be required for such strategies to work. We will examine media coverage of the “cycle of violence” and consider what a “peace journalism” coverage of events might look like. We will review documentary accounts of nonviolent resistance groups.  We will evaluate the use of the social media by Palestinian and Israeli nonviolent activist groups. In addition to analyzing the nonviolent strategies employed by others, you will develop messages and strategies to promote your own chosen cause through nonviolent resistance.

William T. SmaldoneCourse taught by: William T. Smaldone

This course centers on the lives of historical figures whose actions transformed their worlds, including Jesus Christ, Martin Luther, Emma Goldman, Rosa Luxemburg, and Ernesto “Che” Guevara.  Using biography, autobiography, film, and other materials we will examine the forces that led these individuals to act in ways that gave meaning to their lives and to the lives of others. Among the questions to be explored are: What factors transform individuals and groups from passive acceptors of their condition or the condition of others into dynamic actors who make it their mission to effect radical change?  To what extent does the example of others drive a person to act?  How do familial and broader social contexts shape a person’s desire to mobilize others?  To what extent can an individual’s urge to transform the world come from within? By addressing these questions as they relate to individuals operating in very different historical circumstances, we will strive to better understand the stuff of which revolutionaries are made.

Melissa MarksCourse taught by: Melissa Marks

Why do humans tell stories? We are all familiar with old wives’ tales, urban legends, family customs, or traditional folklore and fairytales that warn of specific dangers, encourage particular behaviors, or otherwise provide guidance in our lives. Can these stories keep us safe? Could they put us in danger? Will they guide or mislead us? How can we tell the difference? In this course we will investigate the intersection of storytelling and science. We will closely read and analyze examples of stories and folklore from around the world and throughout history that seem scientifically plausible or have validated explanations. We will also examine how scientific discoveries and the stories about them influence human health, policy, and science itself.

Maria Blanco-ArnejoCourse taught by: Maria Blanco-Arnejo

The films of Spanish contemporary director Pedro Almodóvar represent a landscape of Spanish modern history and popular culture. We will concentrate on three constants of his films: art, sex, and transgression. As we watch and study several Almodóvar’s films we will discuss questions such as: How is his particular conception of art understood by the audience? Is Almodóvar reacting to social and political pressures? Is the constant presence of uninhibited sex in his movies a means of expression, or liberation? Does Almodóvar use transgression as an instrument to shock people, or as a way to reach out and engage the audience? How did his films develop as he evolved from a bold, unpolished director to a sophisticated master filmmaker? Why have his films captured the imagination of both Spanish and global audiences? How has Almodóvar influenced filmmakers in Spain, throughout Europe, and globally?

Katja MeyerCourse taught by: Katja Meyer

Today the climate is warming due to the addition of heat-trapping gases to our atmosphere from human activities. The harmful effects of climate change already impact human health, society, and the global biosphere. Yet, many people remain unaware of the magnitude of the problem or how to respond to it. In this colloquium, we will explore climate change solutions through the lens of science, social science, and literature. We will begin by examining how people experience climate change today by listening to and reading personal narratives. Are rising sea level, frequent droughts, and disease outbreaks related to climate change? If so, what are the scientific, moral, and social arguments for responding to climate change? What are climate change solutions? What is the evidence that these measures can reduce climate warming? What can you do to mitigate climate change as a college student and engaged citizen? We will consider how to translate the global to the local as we develop a proposal to reduce the carbon footprint of an aspect of Willamette’s campus or the local Salem community.

Daniel Borrero EcheverryCourse taught by: Daniel Borrero Echeverry

Space and time play a central role in how we experience the world. Despite centuries of study by some of humanity’s greatest minds, many fundamental questions remain unanswered. For example: Why does time only go in one direction? Can time have a beginning and an end or must it be eternal? What would the world look like if space was not three-dimensional? Can the universe be infinitely large? In this colloquium we will explore some of the ideas that scientists and philosophers have put forward to understand space and time and the relationship between them, as well as how these concepts have been explored in works of fiction. Along the way, we will discuss into a variety of esoteric topics such as non-Euclidean geometry, entropy, and Einstein’s theory of relativity.

Raechelle MascarenhasCourse taught by: Raechelle Mascarenhas

As you start your undergraduate education, have you ever wondered about what the job market will look like when you graduate from college and how you might make choices in college to shape that future? The Gig Economy is rapidly redefining the meaning of work, innovation and prosperity in post-industrial capitalist economies. How has employment evolved over the last century and what are the prospects for workers in the twenty-first century? What are the arguments of seminal theorists in political economy about capitalism, property ownership, profits and inequality? How are technological innovations and recent starts-ups transforming the nature of work and eliminating traditional nine to five jobs? What is the role of public policy in the Gig Economy? Through critical reading and discussions we will construct informed opinions on how to address issues like economic regulation, competition, inequality and the welfare state in this transformed work environment.

Susan CoromelCourse taught by: Susan Coromel

What is the nature of comedy? What makes something funny? Why do some people laugh when others don't? What is a sense of humor? What is a killer joke? Through readings, screenings, discussions, and performative exploration, we will boil down the common denominators of universal comedy. Students will visit a local comedy club, they will explore physical comedy and have a master class with a clown. Students will utilize this newfound knowledge to develop their own unique comedic voices though improvisation and sketch writing and essay.

Greg FelkerCourse taught by: Greg Felker

Why work?  To earn a living, of course.  But work has a range of social, cultural, and psychological meanings that differ among individuals and across cultures and historical epochs.  Some people derive a sense of personal identity from their work, while others find more meaning in their jobs’ social or professional interactions, and still others mostly aim to be useful to the community – a ‘productive member of society’.  In contrast to these meanings, for some people work is drudgery or oppression: their work makes them miserable, harms their health, or even threatens their lives.  Work’s broader, social meaning also varies.  It is supposed to enhance economic wealth or social welfare, but some types of work seem counter-productive or even destructive.  Our culture values some work highly and sees other work as dirty or undignified even when it is necessary and productive.  Why does the value or meaning of work – to individuals and society - vary so widely?  For example, why do we call some activities work and other activities leisure, hobby, or family activity?  Moreover, the multiple meanings of work are ever changing.  How has our understanding of work changed historically?  What are the implications of the enormous changes to work life that many see coming in the next few years, including artificial intelligence replacing many white-collar jobs, mobile technology fully erasing the home / work boundary, and the “gig economy” making the idea of a coherent career obsolete?  What can we do to prepare for, and find meaning in, the new “world of work” that is dawning?  This colloquium will pursue these questions through close reading of, and writing and speaking about, several sorts of texts: social science studies, ethnographies or collections of interviews, fiction, and explorations of the technological and other forces currently transforming work, as well as some television or cinematic “texts” (aka movies).

Michael Lockard, Ph.D.Course taught by: Michael Lockard

Diet and fitness are multi-billion dollar industries in the United States that are aiming to profit from America’s increasingly common sedentary lifestyle.  With the bombardment of advertisements, blogs, and “expert” testimonials, it can be difficult to discern fact from fiction, science from pseudo-science.  In order to evaluate these fantastic claims, this course will explore the impact of America’s physical inactivity and growing waistline on people’s personal health and well-being as well as the broader impact on the healthcare system and the welfare of society as a whole.  Students will then investigate the “science” and psychology of diet fads, popular workouts, and popular weight loss programs in order to critique and, in some cases, debunk the alleged scientific foundation of modern snake oil remedies.