Arts of Affluence [2]: (Passive) Investing on Wall Street


Modern financial research suggests that investing success is generally unrelated to investing skill — and therefore that the best way to “win” the investing “game” is not to “play” it at all. This course will examine the “passive investing thesis” through the close reading and discussion of contemporary investing classics alongside a consideration of Tom Wolfe’s The Bonfire of the Vanities and Oliver Stone’s Wall Street. Texts will include: Benjamin Graham’s The Intelligent Investor, Burton Malkiel’s A Random Walk Down Wall Street and William Bernstein’s The Four Pillars of Investing. Continue reading

Arts of Affluence [1]: Wealth and the American Dream


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

Sweet Homer, Chicago: A Summer Reading of the Iliad


Homer’s Iliad has inspired audiences for nearly 3,000 years. This course will provide students with a rigorous but relaxed opportunity to study this seminal epic through close reading and discussion. Students will better understand the work itself, the culture that produced it, and the Iliad’s role as the “starting point” for all that came after. Continue reading

Delivered from Destruction: The Bible’s Exodus and Virgil’s Aeneid


Origin or foundation epics are common to many cultures. In this course we will examine two such epics side-by-side: the Exodus epic (Exodus-Joshua) from the Bible, in which the Israelites are transformed from slaves in Egypt into masters in Canaan, and Virgil’s Aeneid, in which the vanquished at Troy are transformed into the victors at (what will become) Rome. Through careful consideration of both stories we will seek to better understand each epic in its own right as well as what the two stories have in common and what makes each story unique. Continue reading

Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice as Christian Comedy


Although modern interpretations of The Merchant of Venice often focus on the play’s characterization and treatment of the Jewish moneylender Shylock, both the play’s title and plot suggest that Shakespeare’s focus was on the Christian merchant Antonio. Through a careful reading and discussion of Shakespeare’s play in conjunction with selections both from Christopher Marlowe’s roughly contemporaneous The Jew of Malta and from the New Testament, this course will explore Shakespeare’s exaltation of “graceful Christianity” in both the major and minor plot threads of one of Shakespeare’s most controversial plays. Continue reading

Fighting Theater with Theater: Plato’s Dialogues as Philosophical Dramas


“The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.”
               – Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality

“There is another art which imitates by means of language alone, and that either in prose or verse … but this has hitherto been without a name.  For there is no common term we could apply to the mimes of Sophron and Xenarchus and the Socratic dialogues on the one hand; and, on the other, to poetic imitations in iambic, elegiac, or any similar meter.”
                      – Aristotle, Poetics 1447a27-1447b12

Although there is an ancient and venerable tradition of reading Plato’s Socratic Dialogues as “philosophy” to be analyzed primarily (if not only) in terms of their logical propositions, there is an even older (although today, much less venerable) tradition of reading the Plato’s Dialogues as dramas that embody a certain type of philosophical activity. In this lecture, we will consider what it means to take a “dramatic approach” to the Dialogues and explore some of the insights into Plato’s work that such an approach can yield. In particular we will consider that it means to think of Plato primarily as the revolutionary successor to Homer rather than primarily as the evolutionary successor to Socrates. Or rather, how it is best to think of Plato as the incomparable union of the two, fostering “Better Souls Through Better Shadows”. Continue reading

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


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

Primary Texts: Personal Empowerment


“The function of the university is not simply to teach bread-winning, or to furnish teachers for the public schools, or to be a center of polite society; it is, above all, to be the organ of that fine adjustment between real life and the growing knowledge of life, an adjustment which forms the secret of civilization.”

The function of this class will be to put these words into practice as we read, discuss and write about a range of important primary texts with a variety of perspectives on the theme of personal empowerment: what it is, what it’s not, and how to get it (both inside and outside of school).  One of the authors we will read wrote the words just quoted; another author we will read disagreed.  Other authors put the emphasis elsewhere entirely.  Along the way, we will also focus on the development of critical thinking skills, including the ability to understand, assess and formulate logical arguments. Continue reading

Divine Epics [2]: Homer and the Bible


This course is a rare opportunity to compare four foundational texts that are usually read independently or in pairs, yielding surprising insights into the texts and ourselves. Beyond extending an existing story, sequels comment upon, reinterpret, and at times even repudiate the events and values of the original. This course examines the Odyssey as a sequel to the Iliad and the New Testament as a sequel to the Hebrew Bible in an effort to understand the later works both as independent works and in terms of their vital relationship to their predecessors. Continue reading

Divine Epics [1]: Hebrew Bible, Iliad, and Qur’an


This course is a rare opportunity to compare three foundational texts that are usually read independently or in pairs, yielding surprising insights into the texts and ourselves. Reading the Hebrew Bible with the Iliad illuminates the polytheistic elements of the Bible and the ways modern readers are conditioned to misread it as a purely monotheistic work. Reading the Qur’an alongside the Hebrew Bible illuminates the Biblical foundations of the Qur’an and the reasons many readers of the Bible assume the Qur’an “got it all wrong.” Through close, coordinated readings participants will understand three divine epics in a new light. Continue reading