Difficult Questions College Seminar, FALL 2016

The Difficult Questions College Seminar is a loose collection of courses grouped around the common theme of how we can talk productively and with civility about controversial and often incendiary themes like race, sex, and religion.

Difficult Questions College Seminar, FALL 2016

Difficult Questions College Seminar FALL 2016 Course List

At its best, college should offer a safe space for asking difficult questions. These courses ask difficult questions and in doing so explore how we can talk to each other across differences and other divides.  While each course is unique, they will share public fora in which students and faculty can come together to talk across our different perspectives. All students in The Difficult Questions College Seminar are required to attend parts of the Hannah Arendt Center 2016 Conference “Real Talk: Difficult Questions About Race, Sex, and Religion.” Both before and after the conference, there will be lectures, reading groups, and discussion groups. These events are open to students participating in the College Seminar courses so that students have the opportunity to talk with other students engaged in parallel but distinct explorations of the overriding question: How can college be a safe and inclusive space for asking hard and uncomfortable questions essential to our democracy?


  • ANTH101 Intro to Cultural Anthropology (A) W F     1:30-2:50, Laura Kunreuther
    (B) W F     11:50-1:10, Michele Dominy
    Cross-listed: Global & International Studies  Anthropology is the study of ‘culture,’ a concept that has been redefined and contested over the discipline’s long development. This course will trace the history of the ‘culture concept’ from the nineteenth century to the present. In doing so, it will explore anthropological approaches to ‘primitive’ societies, group and personal symbols and systems of exchange. It will examine how anthropology came to focus on questions of identity, race, gender, sexuality, nationalism, colonial and post-colonial conditions. Our ethnographic gaze will be turned inward as well as outward. We will therefore consider the reasons behind, and ramifications of, anthropology’s self-reflexive turn in and around the 1980s. Expand for more. Expand

  • ANTH265 Race & Nature in Africa T Th     11:50-1:10
    Yuka Suzuki
    Cross-listed: Africana Studies; Environmental & Urban Studies; Global & International Studies; Human Rights  Western fantasies have historically represented Africa as the embodiment of a mythical, primordial wilderness. Within this imagery, nature is racialized, and Africans are constructed as existing in a state closer to nature. Conrad’s Heart of Darkness perhaps best exemplifies this process, through its exploration of the ‘savage’ dimensions of colonialism in the African interior. Imperial discourses often relied on these tropes of savagery and barbarism to link understandings of natural history with ideas about racial difference. Similarly, by blurring the boundary between the human and the nonhuman, colonial policies created a zone of anxiety around racialized domestic relationships, particularly in the context of employers and their servants. Expand for more. Expand

  • BIO115 Genetics and Identity Th     1:30-2:50
    Michael Tibbetts
    This 2-credit seminar course will explore the biological bases of three aspects of the human condition, which are to varying degrees, also social constructs: race, gender and sexuality.  In particular, we will explore human evolution and our current understanding of how genetics and the environment interact to generate the variation we observe in these human characteristics. Readings and discussions will be used to explore the relationships among the biological concepts, how we self identify and how others categorize us. This course is part of the “Difficult Questions” cluster of courses; students will be expected to attend parts of the Hannah Arendt Center Conference “Difficult Questions: How We Talk About Race, Sex, and Religion” on October 20-21. Expand for more. Expand

  • HIST318 European Intellectual History Since 1890: Central Debates of the 20th Century M     1:30-3:50
    Gregory Moynahan
    This course will outline the central suppositions and conflicts through which twentieth-century European thought developed, using as its central theme the “great debates" of this period and their consequences. We will use these debates in turn to demonstrate recent methodologies in intellectual history. The debates include: the critique of positivism at the turn of the century, the quarrel of the new "activist" wave of Marxism (Sorel, Lucas, Gramsci) with the dogmatics of the Second International, the critique of neo-Kantianism by the German thinkers of existentialist orientation (Schmitt, Heidegger), the debate within critical theory on the essence and value of mass culture and the new media (Benjamin, Adorno), the conflict of psychoanalysis and historicism, the existentialist debate on feminism and racism (DeBeauvoir, Fanon), the conflict of liberalism with state control, and the critique of technocracy and systems theory in the post-war period (Luhmann, Habermas). Expand for more. Expand

  • HR 226 Women's Rights, Human's Rights T Th      1:30 pm-2:50 pm
    Cross-listed: Gender and Sexuality (core course)   Following a brief overview of first wave feminism, the bulk of the course engages students with second wave feminism—including, the critical appropriations and contestations of marxism, structuralism & psychoanalysis characteristic of post '68 feminist theory—post-structuralist theories of sexual difference, écriture féminine, 70s debates surrounding the NOW & ERA movements, and turning at the end of the course to the issues of race & class at the center of third wave feminism. This course provides students with a broad overview of women’s struggles for liberation from the global patterns of masculine domination.

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  • HR 349 Critical Human Rights Theory T  1:30 pm-3:50 pm

    This seminar explores recent writings that have questioned the theoretical foundations, and political performativity, of the human rights idea. The notion of universal human rights has become an unavoidable source for ethical and political thinking and practice, a resource for claims made against the powerful and a means through which power is exercised.  And yet, a clear consensus over the meaning, interpretation, and application of human rights continues to elude us. Once taken-for-granted notions bequeathed to us by the liberal and humanist traditions — man, the autonomous individual, the rational subject, citizenship, sovereignty, universality, privacy and publicity, the rule of law  — have been radically contested, on conceptual as well as practical grounds.  Expand for more. Expand

  • HR 350 Antisemitism: Anatomy of a Hatred  Th 10:10 am-12:30 pm Cross-listed: Jewish Studies  For as long as there have been human beings, there has been hatred, and antisemitism is one of its oldest and most persistent forms. What is antisemitism? How has it manifested itself in different eras, regions, political and economic systems and cultures – even in places that do not have Jews? How can it be combated? What insights can we gain about other forms of hatred (homophobia, racism, sexism, Islamophobia, etc.) from the in depth study of antisemitism? Readings will be wide-ranging, including selections from experts (Poliakov, Dinnerstein, Laqueur, Wistrich), historical figures such as Peter Stuyvesant, George Washington and Adolf Hitler, newspaper articles and social media postings, YouTube clips from antisemitic religious figures, literature from Nazis and neo-Nazis, Jewish communal internal memoranda, materials about and from court cases, and a class session with longtime Bard professor Justus Rosenberg, the last surviving member of the group that rescued hundreds of artists and intellectuals from the Nazis during World War II. Expand for more. Expand

  • PHIL234 Philosophy, Art and Culture of the Democracy M W    11:50-1:10
    Norton Batkin
    Cross-listed: Art History; Human Rights  How have philosophical conceptions of liberty, equality, freedom of expression, and representation defined our conception of American political democracy? How have they continued to challenge and shape our social and cultural conceptions of individuality, education, political responsibility, and social engagement? In what ways do the arts contribute to our political culture and education as citizens? In the 1990s, the defense of the arts as exemplary of democratic freedom and diversity failed to save the federal grant program for individual artists. Are the arts not just exemplary of, but fundamental to, our democratic culture, even essential to its continuation? How is reconsideration of the founding conceptions of our democracy a philosophical task? How is it a task of the arts and critical writing about the arts? Expand for more. Expand

  • PS122 American Politics: Issues and Institutions T Th     8:30-9:50
    Simon Gilhooley
    Cross-listed: American Studies   (PS core course)  This course introduces students to the basic institutions and processes of American government. The class is meant to provide students with a grasp of the fundamental dynamics of American politics and the skills to be an effective participant in and critic of the political process. During the semester, we will examine how the government works, interpret current political developments and debates, and consider how to influence the government at various levels.  Expand for more. Expand

  • PS142 The Political Life of Mourning M W     1:30-2:50
    Samantha Hill
    There has been a swell of interest around themes of loss, grief, and mourning within contemporary political theory. This course is designed to explore and critically engage with some of these questions. Can we transform moments of loss into an opportunity for democratic politics? Are those losses already political? How are these formative moments of loss—the death of a son, 9/11, the murder of Eric Garner—constitutive of a collective politics? The course will explore the political life of mourning within the tradition of western political thought. Drawing together texts from Sophocles, Freud, Butler, Derrida, Douglas, Du Bois, Morrison, and Moten we will look at examples from contemporary historical experience including the struggle for queer rights in Butler’s work on melancholia, the question of precarity in the attacks of 9/11 and second war in Iraq, and the tradition of mourning within the African American community from W.E.B. Du Bois to the formation of the Black Lives Matter movement. Expand for more. Expand

  • SOC233 Laying Down the Law: Legal Systems in Comparative Perspective
    T TH     4:40-6
    Laura Ford
    Cross-listed: Global & International Studies; Human Rights; Philosophy; Religion In this course, we will compare ancient and modern legal systems from a sociological perspective.  Our focus will be on Eurasian traditions, which have been influencing one another for a very long time.  We will begin in Ancient Iraq and India, and from there we will move to Israel, Athens, and Rome.  We will then travel to medieval Europe, cycling back around to the law schools of Istanbul (Constantinople) and Beirut, and glancing briefly at Islamic Jurisprudence. We will conclude with the Enlightenment, and modern legal systems. Expand for more. Expand

  • THTR342 Performing Difficult Questions: Race, Sex and Religion on Campus T Th     11:50-1:10
    Roger Berkowitz & Jonathan Rosenberg
    Cross-listed: Human Rights, Political Studies   This hybrid politics/human rights/theater seminar and studio course explores the theatrical performance of non-dramatic texts concerning racial, sexual, and religious discrimination and identities. The performance of political speeches, poetry readings, academic lectures, or courtroom transcripts requires inhabiting and emboding arguments that humanize the original author – a process that can be artistically, ethically, and politically complex, even paradoxical. Expand for more. Expand