Divine Epics [3]: The Qur’an and The Aeneid

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Both the Aeneid and the Qur’an can be viewed as the culmination of divine trilogies — the Aeneid completes the story begun in the Iliad and Odyssey, and the Qur’an follows the Hebrew Bible and New Testament (or, more precisely: the Torah and the Gospel).  This course will examine these “sequels,” both as independent works and in terms of their relationships to their precursors.  In addition, we will also compare and contrast Virgil’s account of the “Trojan exodus” of Aeneas, which culminates in the foundation of Rome, with the Exodus from Egypt, which culminates in the foundation of Israel. Continue reading

‘The Holy Trible’: Coordinated Readings from the Hebrew Bible, New Testament, and Qur’an

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From a literary perspective, the Hebrew Bible, New Testament and Qur’an constitute an “Abrahamic scriptural trilogy” in which the later works build upon — and depend upon — the earlier works. Yet, although the paired “Old and New Testaments” are often read together (as “The Holy Bible”), the trilogy as a whole (which might be termed “The Holy Trible”) rarely is. This course will be devoted to the close reading and literary analysis of coordinated selections from all three of the major Abrahamic scriptures in an effort to better understand each of the works in its own right and in its relationships to the other two as well as the “Abrahamic scriptural trilogy” as a whole. No prior knowledge or experience of any kind is required. All readings and discussions will be in English. Continue reading

Before The Audacity of Hope: Selected African-American Classics

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Although issues of race and slavery have long been a prominent subject of American writing, the classic works of African-American authors are often unknown beyond the African-American community. This course will examine a selection of such classics in order to understand the works themselves, the canon of which they form a part and their relationship to comparable Euro-American works. Texts will include: David Walker’s Appeal, Frederick Douglass’s autobiographical Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington’s Up From Slavery, W.E.B. DuBois’s The Souls of Black Folk, and the writings of Martin Luther King Jr. Continue reading

Why They Hate Us: Cinematic Visions of ‘The Other Side’

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“O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!”
– Robert Burns, “To a Louse” (1786)

Since September 11, one of the pressing questions of our time has been: why do “they” (Arabs? Muslims? Terrorists?) hate “us” (America? The West? Infidels?). Is it because they hate our freedoms? Or because they want to share our freedoms and hate our policies? Or something else? Through a careful consideration of 6 films (some made by “us”, some made by “them”) supplemented by selected readings (including al Qaeda communiqués), we will seek, in Robert Burns’s words, “to see oursels as ithers see us”. Continue reading

Shakespeare and His Others: Comparisons across Time and Space

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Reading Shakespeare’s plays in the context of similar plays by other great (and not-so-great) playwrights allows one to better appreciate the genius of both Shakespeare and his “others”.  In this course we will look at four pairs of plays in order to examine the similarities and differences in each pairing as we seek to understand the plays themselves in particular and “Shakespeare” in general.  After beginning with The Merchant of Venice and the contemporaneous The Jew of Malta by Christopher Marlowe, we will consider Romeo and Juliet in conjunction with Nizami’s rendering of the medieval Arabian/Persian love story of Layla and Majnun and Antony and Cleopatra in conjunction with Kalidasa’s medieval Indian play The Recognition of Sakuntala.  We will conclude with a close reading of Hamlet alongside Tom Stoppard’s modern Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. Continue reading

Apologies of Socrates and Gospels of Jesus

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The lives and deaths of Socrates and Jesus had some remarkable parallels. Both were charismatic teachers claiming to be on divine missions. Both were executed by the ruling elites they challenged. And both were vindicated in the writings of their disciples. This course will explore these and other parallels by reading and discussing two Apologies (Defenses) of Socrates, one by Xenophon and one by Plato, and a number of gospels, some that made it into the New Testament and some that didn’t. In addition to examining the teachings of each figure, we will consider how each one’s calling and legacy is portrayed in the various accounts. The two Apologies of Socrates will be supplemented by selected other dialogues by Xenophon and Plato related to the death of Socrates. Continue reading

Freud on the Human Condition

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Although Freud has been primarily known for his theories of individual psychology, Freud himself never saw his work in such narrow terms. Rather, Freud constantly strove to develop a comprehensive theory of the human condition by using his psychology to explain fundamental features of human evolution, history and modern social life. In this course, we will approach Freud’s worldview, which often equated children, neurotics, “primitives” and proto-humans, through some of his lesser-read works which put his psychological theories in a larger context. Continue reading