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Course Descriptions

PREC 100-199 First-Year Preceptorial
First-Year Preceptorial introduces students to liberal learning by teaching them the skills of intellectual synthesis, academic honesty, and resourcefulness -- skills necessary for creative thinking, responsible choice, and problem solving. Each year, entering students can choose from a selection of ever-evolving topics, such as "Cinematic Visions," "Creating Monsters," "Love," "The American Dream," and "Human Rights." See the courses. Students examine issues through reading, writing, critical analysis and, most importantly, class discussion. Preceptorial teaches students how to analyze objectively and to discuss competing explanations and contradictory beliefs, how to question or affirm a viewpoint, when to be persuaded by a new idea, and how to interact in good faith with those whose opinions differ from their own. The course meets MWF in individual sections for discussion; Tuesday afternoons are set aside for films, one-on-one writing conferences, and writing workshops.

PREC 105 The Challenge of Sustainability
All human societies live in relationship with their surrounding natural environments. They draw on them for resources and in doing so inevitably change them. Today, as human populations have grown and modern societies have become more materially productive and interconnected, our impact on the global environment has increased dramatically. What does it mean for a society to be in a sustainable relationship with its environment? What can we learn from past societies? What are the challenges to sustainability at local, national and global levels? What changes might sustainability entail? STAFF

PREC 106 Cinematic Visions: Movies & the Meaning of Life
In this course we will use films to explore a variety of questions: What does it mean to be human? Who are we, and how do we know? What do we want out of life, and how should we go about getting it? What are our responsibilities to others? What does it mean to live "the good life?" We consider the ways in which film addresses these questions. Does film reflect the answers, or does it create them? In addition to film, we will use works from psychology, philosophy, and film studies to explore these issues. STAFF

PREC 107 Creating Monsters
One becomes a monster either by committing some "monstrous" act or by possessing some properties that designate them as essentially "other." This course examines and evaluates the psychological, sociopolitical, and ethical processes through which this occurs and will attempt to answer the question: What does the status of monsters tell us about what it is to be human? To do so, we will look at Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, William Shakespeare's Othello, and a number of shorter readings and films. STAFF

PREC 108 Creativity input - innovation output
"Creativity input - innovation output." This course will explore the phenomenon of creativity as an aspect of human behavior and culture across a wide range of professional and academic fields, including the arts, social sciences, sciences, and the humanities, as well as an occurrence within nature. It will study creative thinking in relationship to critical thinking, both in theoretical and practical terms, and will investigate contemporary neuroscience findings that illuminate how the brain functions in relationship to the creative process. It will engage questions about imagination, intuition, insight, inspiration, improvisation, empathy, creative problem solving, innovation, invention, and entrepreneurship. STAFF

PREC 110 Happiness
While it is likely that most people would agree that happiness is a central goal in life, we vary on what we believe happiness is and how to achieve it. This course will consider how happiness has been defined though time and different cultural and academic traditions. We will consider both empirical and normative questions of what leads to happiness. In our readings we will consider both Eastern and Western philosophical conceptions of happiness as well as contemporary scientific explorations of happiness and wellbeing. STAFF

PREC 113 Love
It may be true that "all you need is love," but why do we feel that need to love and be loved? This course explores four types of love (Affection, Friendship, Romance, and Unconditional Love) as they are expressed in both the arts and sciences, including literary/artistic and critical/theoretical perspectives, clinical research findings and movies and songs -- and whatever else students bring to the course via individual projects and presentations. STAFF

PREC 115 Science Fiction & Human Identity
Do humans differ in a fundamental way from thinking machines? What is the relationship of the body to our conception of the human, and how might it change with the advent of genetic or cybernetic augmentation? What is the likely endpoint or destiny of humankind? Science fiction stories can be read as thought experiments designed to explore deep questions about what it means to be human. Drawing on a variety of readings and films, our goal in this course will be to explore the issue of human identity as seen through the lens of science fiction. DV; STAFF

PREC 122 Gender on Film: Reality & Representation
How do we act out our gender roles in the real world? In what ways are they reproduced or exploited in art? This class looks at the presentation of gender in film and investigates what it can tell us about the way we act out our own gender roles. The overarching discussion analyzes aspects of gender that are accepted as “natural,” as well as those that seem to be “constructed” by society. The class will use the ideas found in our films and discussions to study the trajectory of changing notions of gender in society from the past into today. STAFF

PREC 124 Human Rights
While most people today profess support for "human rights," difficult questions emerge if we press deeper. What, exactly, are the rights that we all share? Are these rights universal or are they specific to certain cultural traditions? How should human rights violations be prevented? Once such violations have occurred, how should societies pursue justice and promote social reconciliation? We will examine these questions looking at specific human rights cases and drawing on readings from a wide variety of perspectives. STAFF

PREC 126 Ancestral Journeys
More than sixty thousand years ago, bands of our African ancestors embarked on journeys of discovery to the farthest corners of the world, bringing with them the foundations of modern language, symbolic thought, innovative technology, aesthetic expression, mythology and spirituality. This course explores their world and its legacy from various perspectives including archeology, genetics, cultural anthropology, psychology, musicology, art history and neuroscience. In addition to films, slides and scholarly readings, the course includes demonstrations and hands-on exercises in art, music and technology. Students learn details of their personal and family genetic history through participation in the National Genographic DNA project. STAFF

PREC 127 Human-Animal Relationships
Animals have played important roles in the lives of humans from prehistoric times to the present day. They are our friends, our foes, and our food. This course will examine human-animal relationships from a variety of perspectives, including historical, biological, psychological, and cultural. We will study opposing views of how domestication evolved and will learn how domesticated animals influenced the histories of different human societies, providing food and transport on the one hand, but causing diseases on the other. We will consider how animals are portrayed in literature and film, asking: What is the purpose of anthropomorphism? We will also think about animals in the context of religion and slaughter, where one culture may revere a particular species, but another might eat it on a daily basis. An examination of such "speciesism" will lead to the ethical question: Is animal welfare sufficient, or should we have animal rights? STAFF

PREC 128 Athens, Rome, and the (American) Idea of Freedom
John Adams famously asserted that, "democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy that did not commit suicide." Is this an accurate forecast of America's future? If so, what may accelerate, hinder, or even prevent this outcome? When the founders set down to "ensure the blessings of liberty" for America, as they put it, they looked back to the great experiments in self-government conducted at Athens and Rome. This course explores these foundational governments in an attempt to understand better the nature of freedom and representative government. STAFF

PREC 129 The American Dream
The American Dream is an elusive idea that has been threaded into fabric of American political discourse and literature. Each generation has reinterpreted ideals, values, and material rewards associated with its pursuit. Equally important, each generation has redefined the requirements for membership in terms of who can pursue it. This course follows a chronology of American history through which we examine the various ways in which the American Dream has been articulated in political, historical, and literary texts. In doing so we consider the general expansion (as inconsistent and imperfect as it may be) of the American Dream to encompass the hopes and ideals of new populations of Americans. Among the themes we discuss are the rags to riches narrative, the promise of the West, the vision of the house with the white picket fence, and the fear that the American dream is dead. STAFF

PREC 130 (In)sanity: Power, Reality, and the Problem of the Other
What does it mean to be insane, or, conversely, sane? From the earliest documented cases of "madness" to the millions of people worldwide now taking antidepressants, how are we to understand the concept, experience, and industry of "abnormal" mental and emotional states? In this course, we investigate sanity and insanity from multiple vantage points: from personal narratives of mental illness to artistic, literary, and theatrical representations of madness; from historical cases of "melancholy" to the booming pharmacological business of today. How have the distinctions between sanity and insanity developed over the course of time? How have divisions of gender, race, class, and sexuality intersected with distinctions between the sane and the insane? How do the changes in what counts as insanity, madness, and irrationality help us to understand differently what currently counts as rationality? STAFF

PREC 131 Heroism
What does it mean to be a hero? Is the concept of heroism determined by the dominant surrounding culture, or does it have universal aspects? What causes people to be heroes? Is there anyone today who can withstand the level of public scrutiny that now exists so as to be considered an enduring hero? Does it take more than heroic acts to be a hero? Why do we continue to be drawn to portrayals of heroes in film and literature? These and other questions are studied in this course using a variety of scholarly articles, literature, and films. With The Lord of the Rings as an anchoring text in which the stark portrayal of good and evil permits clear discernment of heroism (or does it?), we study changing perspectives on heroism with time and situation, the portrayal of heroes in literature, the psychological traits of heroes, the classic heroic journey, and the notions of heroic flaws and anti-heroes. STAFF

PREC 132 Leadership and Social Change
Social change movements can be large and organized (civil rights movement) or subtle and unorganized (the notorious online hacking group, Anonymous), but most are born from issues around privilege and require some kind of leadership. This course will explore the social change model of leadership and the privilege (or lack of privilege) inherent in social change movements. Several case studies of leaders will be read and discussed. Students will not only compare and contrast those studies but will be asked to examine their own identities and engage in critical discourse around leadership styles and ethical dilemmas. The goals include gaining a richer understanding of leadership, power and privilege; to develop a deeper knowledge of leadership skills that lead to social change; and to engage in constructive discussion and debate on these issues. STAFF

PREC 134 Who Laughs and Why?
This course asks a question that no two people will answer the same. In pursuit of variable answers, we'll explore perspectives, cultural influences, and frames of reference that inform what we laugh at, who laughs and why. We will track the evolution (or devolution) of literary humor through the ages with readings that range in era from ancient (Aristophanes) to classic (Shakespeare, Wilde) to more modern and uniquely American (Twain, Rogers), even venturing into pop culture (Sedaris, Allen). Readings and discussions will investigate why humans possess the unique ability to process humor while working toward a broader understanding of the symbiotic relationship between humorist and audience. We will also endeavor to create humor by exploring its use in particular contexts such as political (satire/parody), within certain socio-economic strata (high brow, low humor, "red neck") or within a particular cultural setting (Woody Allen, Chris Rock). Course work will include two major analysis papers and one final project incorporating the analytic and the creative. STAFF

PREC 248/348 Advanced Participation in First-Year Preceptorial
(Student Co-Leaders) Selected upperclass students may participate in the First-Year Preceptorial at an advanced level. Students chosen assist a faculty member who is teaching in the Preceptorial and provide an upperclass perspective in class discussions. In addition, each student co-leader undertakes additional study related to the course, as agreed upon with the instructor. Prereq: upperclass standing and selection by the First-Year Preceptorial staff; May not be repeated for credit. Graded S/U; STAFF

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