The Content of Our Character: Lessons from Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire Volume One

LECTURES > Upcoming

Besides being an object of general intellectual curiosity, the decline and fall of the ancient Roman Empire has long held a special fascination for those concerned with the health and well-being of a subsequent empire. After all, if the later empire could understand the mistakes of the former one, perhaps they — and the attendant imperial decline — could be avoided. Edward Gibbon, who wrote his monumental, six-volume History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire as the British Empire was arising and the American Empire was aborning, certainly seems to have thought so. This lecture will survey Gibbon’s account of “the beginning of the end” for Rome as told in volume one of his work, with special attention to the lessons Gibbon believed he had gleaned from that pivotal period — most of which deal with a perceived decline and fall of the Roman national character.
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Pirsig’s Progress: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance as a Modern Spiritual Journey

COURSES > LIFELONG | COURSES > ONLINE

Since its publication in 1974, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values (ZAMM) has been widely hailed as a modern classic as well as a work that defies conventional characterization. Part novel, part diary, part manifesto, ZAMM relates the thoughts and experiences of a philosophically-oriented unnamed middle-aged narrator as he progresses along a number of simultaneous personal journeys, all of which facilitate an overarching spiritual journey toward wholeness and wellness. Overall, though, ZAMM appears to be a special kind of “Chautauqua” designed to induce analogous journeys in readers. This course will undertake the ZAMM journey through close reading and discussion of this modern masterpiece along with related Platonic dialogues that lurk in the background. Continue reading

‘Rags to Riches,’ American Style: Classics from Horatio Alger and Andrew Carnegie

COURSES > ONLINE

Although the “rags to riches” motif is ancient and widespread, the American version has attained a unique place in world culture. This course examines two of the most well-known — but often little-understood — American embodiments of the “rags to riches” motif: the fictional characters of Horatio Alger, Jr. on the one hand, and the decidedly non-fictional Andrew Carnegie (who rose from poverty to become one of the richest men in the world) on the other. Readings include Alger’s all-time best-selling novel Ragged Dick; or, Street Life in New York with the Boot Blacks and Carnegie’s “Gospel of Wealth” essays. Continue reading

‘We Must Not Be Afraid To Be Free’: The Trials of George Anastaplo

LECTURES > PREVIOUS

George Anastaplo (1925-2014) has long been a legend for his decade-long Cold War fight against the State of Illinois’s refusal to admit the young World-War-II veteran to the practice of law on the basis of Anastaplo’s assertion of fundamental rights he believed enshrined in the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence. This lecture will combine a review of Anastaplo’s case (from its obscure 1950 Chicago beginning through its famous 1961 U.S. Supreme Court culmination) with a survey of Anastaplo’s understanding of the constitutions of the United States in an attempt to illuminate both the man and the myth.
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‘It Can’t Happen Here’? A (Frightening) Look at American Dystopias

LECTURES > PREVIOUS

Although a long line of American authors have written about the United States in positive and even utopian terms, others have written about a darker place, even imagining a dystopian America. For example, in 1935 Sinclair Lewis published a novel depicting a fascist dictatorial takeover of the United States along the lines of Mussolini’s Italy and Hitler’s Germany. For many the very notion of an “American dictatorship” is a contradiction in terms and thus too absurd to merit serious consideration: America is often believed to be self-evidently “exceptional” and thus immune to ills that can befall other nations. As Lewis’s title somewhat mockingly put it: It Can’t Happen Here. This lecture surveys several 20th-century works whose authors thought that political evil can indeed “happen here” and that Americans ought to be vigilantly on their guard against “it.” Continue reading

“We Must Not Be Afraid To Be Free”: The Trials of George Anastaplo

COURSES > LIFELONG | COURSES > ONLINE

George Anastaplo (1925-2014) has long been a legend for his decade-long Cold War fight against the State of Illinois’s refusal to admit the young World-War-II veteran to the practice of law on the basis of Anastaplo’s assertion of fundamental rights he believed enshrined in the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence. This course will combine a study of Anastaplo’s case (from its obscure 1950 Chicago beginning through its famous 1961 U.S. Supreme Court culmination) with a study of Anastaplo’s views on American fundamental rights.  Readings will include key documents from the case at its various stages as well as selections from Anastaplo’s scholarly works on the U.S. Constitution (plus relevant historical documents), and will be supplemented by an audio recording of Anastaplo’s pro se oral argument before the U.S. Supreme Court and the film Judgment at Nuremburg. This course is open to all.
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Arts of Affluence [1]: Wealth and the American Dream

COURSES > LIFELONG | COURSES > ONLINE

For better or worse, one version of the American Dream has long equated “success” with “material wealth”. This course will explore that equation through the close reading and discussion of important fiction and non-fiction works from America’s Gilded Age and the consideration of two films on wealth in America (Citizen Kane by Orson Welles and Born Rich by Jamie Johnson). Texts will include: Horatio Alger’s Ragged Dick, Sinclair Lewis’s Babbitt and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby as well as Andrew Carnegie’s “The Gospel of Wealth”, and Thorsten Veblen’s The Theory of the Leisure Class. Continue reading

Book of Mormon

Teaching > Congregation

Even with Mormon Mitt Romney’s presidential candidacy and Tony Awards for the musical, “The Book of Mormon,” the Mormon faith remains a subject about which admittedly many people know relatively little. This class will read and discuss selections from the Book of Mormon. By the end of the course participants will have a better appreciation for the foundational scripture of what is sometimes called a fourth Abrahamic faith. Continue reading

Strategies for ‘Negro Advancement’: Booker T. Washington’s Up from Slavery vs. W.E.B. DuBois’s The Souls of Black Folk

LECTURES > PREVIOUS [→ ONLINE ARCHIVE MATERIAL]

Although often pigeonholed as “African-American intellectuals”, Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois thought deeply about the nature of man and America when developing their programs for “Negro advancement”. This lecture will examine their analyses and conclusions as reflected in their two best-known works, Up from Slavery and The Souls of Black Folk, as well as consider how and why they arrived at what are often understood as diametrically-opposed and mutually-exclusive perspectives and programs — for African-Americans in particular and human beings in general Continue reading

Before The Audacity of Hope: Selected African-American Classics

COURSES > LIFELONG | COURSES > ONLINE [→ ONLINE ARCHIVE MATERIAL]

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