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General Education

The Lower College

The core curriculum requirements include three general education seminars. All students take First-Year Seminar in the fall and spring of their first year, and Sophomore Seminar in the fall of their second year. These courses continue the development of students’ writing and thinking skills through close reading, discussions, and expository writing about classic texts that reflect Western cultural traditions and their precursors. First-Year and Sophomore Seminars promote critical understanding of the values, assumptions, and ideologies represented within these major works.

First-Year Seminar I: Origins: Self and Cosmos
First-Year Seminar 100 Staff
4 credits
This course interrogates the origins of Western civilization by exploring a wide variety of primary sources from the Mesopotamian, Greco-Roman, Judeo-Christian, and Islamic cultures, within the Levant, Mediterranean world, and Europe. Drawn from antiquity through the 15th century, the course materials encompass a wide variety of media, including fragmented and intact written texts; architectural structures, sculptures, paintings, and other visual representations; musical selections; and recited sacred and secular texts. Writing-intensive in nature, this course helps students discover what they themselves think about the materials and situate their views in relation to those of their classmates. The key skills for this course are developing critical reading skills, including the “reading” of non-textual materials, and expressing ideas gained from such reading in oral and written forms.
First-Year Seminar II: Knowing: Revolution and Enlightenment
First-Year Seminar 101 Staff
4 credits
This course centers on changes in the nature of knowledge and knowing, as various revolutions—the Scientific Revolution, political revolutions (American, French, and others), and the Industrial Revolution—swept the world. Initially centered in Europe, the geographic range of this course expands into the New World as the notion of Western civilization changes with the colonization of the Western Hemisphere. Drawn from the 16th century through the year 1850, course materials present the theories of the era and their manifestations in a wide range of forms, including poetry, drama, autobiography, and the novel; sacred hymns and secular opera; and paintings, photographs, and other forms of visual expression. Students also investigate critical secondary articles in conjunction with the primary sources. Building upon First-Year Seminar I, students in this writing-intensive course work to raise their skills of critical reading, thinking, writing, and discussion to greater levels of complexity and sophistication.
Sophomore Seminar: Voices Against the Chorus
Sophomore Seminar 251 Staff
4 credits

Sophomore Seminar explores the development of some of the ideas central to our definition of the modern world. It focuses on how 19th- and 20th-century thinkers confronted the accepted order of things, how they challenged accepted ideas, and how they constructed the radically different conceptions of the world that we have inherited. Texts include Darwin’s The Descent of Man, Marx and Engels’s The Communist Manifesto, Nietzsche’s The Genealogy of Morals, Freud’s Civilization and Its Discontents, Tagore’s The Home and the World, Du Bois’s The Souls of Black Folk, Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, and Mead’s Coming of Age in Samoa. Class sessions are supplemented by lectures that provide some context to the readings, presented by faculty and by guests.

The Upper College

The general education curriculum in the Upper College centers around the Senior Thesis project. The Senior Thesis is the capstone of the Simon’s Rock BA program. It is a year-long project in which students demonstrate and integrate the skills and knowledge they have gained in the previous three years. In addition to the Senior Thesis, students in the Upper College are expected to complete an interdisciplinary program of study consisting of two concentrations or one concentration and an associated plan of coursework broadening the scope of their studies. Students are also encouraged to enroll in one of the advanced interdisciplinary seminars offered regularly as part of the BA curriculum.

Senior Thesis
BA Thesis 404-405 Staff
8 credits
The focus of students’ senior year is the Senior Thesis. A year-long, eight credit project, it offers seniors the opportunity to complete a significant, extended study that is the culmination of their baccalaureate work at Simon’s Rock. Drawing on the background and skills of analysis and synthesis acquired during the previous three years, students are expected to work independently on thesis projects they have defined and developed themselves. Students are required to enroll full-time at Simon’s Rock for both semesters of the senior year. The responsibility for selecting and organizing the Senior Thesis project rests largely with the student. Faculty members serve as advisors and meet regularly with the student to evaluate progress and provide guidance. Independent thinking and the process of developing a project from idea to realization are emphasized. All projects conclude with a substantial written thesis that is bound and placed in the permanent collection of the College library.
Ad Infinitum: Controversy, Paradox, Perplexity, and the Idea of the Infinite
BA Seminar 310 Conolly/Shields
4 credits
What, really, does it mean to be infinite? Is any actually existing thing really infinite? This course will explore the role that the notion of the infinite plays in such diverse disciplines as philosophy, theology, mathematics, logic, physics, and computer science. We will examine both the different kinds of problems that arise in the distinct contexts of these disciplines, and how these diverse disciplines have affected and influenced each other with respect to the concept of infinity. The course will be both historical and topical, as we examine how the concept of “infinite” was transformed from originally meaning “indefinite”—and thus as entailing imperfection—into a concept that entailed transcendent super-excellent perfection; how Aristotle’s distinction between potential and actual infinity led to the solution of a number of problems concerning time, space, and motion; how the development of the notion of the infinitesimal in the 17th century led directly to the discovery of the calculus by Newton and Leibniz; and how Georg Cantor’s discovery that infinite sets come in different sizes was initially more welcomed by theologians than by other mathematicians.
This course is generally offered once every two years. Last taught S12.
Fatal Progress: Fact and Fiction
BA Seminar 352 Holladay
4 credits
This course will use dystopian novels dealing with scientific and environmental subjects as a starting point for a scientific examination of such issues as genetic engineering, global warming, endangered species and loss of biodiversity, environmental pollution, and pandemics. Class time will be divided between discussions of the novels’ literary merit, imaginative and prophetic power, and presentations and discussions of the science underlying the concerns identified by the novels. Readings from scientific texts and peer-reviewed journals will be assigned as necessary. We will read novels including such works as John Brunner’s The Sheep Look Up, Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, T. C. Boyle’s A Friend Of The Earth, and Albert Camus’s The Plague. Selections from Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, Richard Ellis’s The Empty Ocean, and other nonfiction books may be assigned.
This course is generally offered once every two years. Last taught F10.
Human Rights, Activism and the Arts
BA Seminar 375 Beaumont/Browdy de Hernandez
4 credits
This seminar will explore the ways in which the precepts of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights have been strengthened and extended by activism in the arts. After a general introduction to the UDHR, we will focus on several of the rights by looking at specific contexts in which these rights have been contested, violated or upheld. In these case studies we will examine how various artistic modes have represented or advocated for these rights. These modes will include, film, theater, music, visual arts, poetry and prose that employ activist as well as aesthetic strategies. Students will work in groups on a semesterlong project that may take the form of a research paper or a substantial work of art accompanied by a detailed artist’s statement.
This course is generally offered once every two years. Last taught S12.
Literature and Film
BA Seminar 380 Burke/Holladay
4 credits
By studying a selection of literary works and the films that are based on those works, the students expand their critical and analytic skills in the territory of narrative, focusing particularly on the ways in which narratives are organized and expressed differently in the mediums of literature and cinema. Examples of works considered include Strangers on a Train, The Sheltering Sky, and The English Patient. Through close readings of the selected texts, both written and filmed, and through reading and discussion of critical readings on the study of narrative, the class seeks to develop a deep understanding of the formal strengths of each medium. The comparative study of literature and film provides the opportunity for students to explore for themselves the process of adapting complex prose the screen.
This course is generally offered once every two years. Last taught F11.
Environmental Ethics
BA Seminar 383 Conolly/Roeder
4 credits
Environmental ethics is the study of the nature and extent of our moral obligations with respect to the environment as well as of the theoretical justification for such obligations. In this course we shall be especially interested in examining various theories about whether and how various regions of the environment can have an intrinsic moral value, and how such value should affect our attitudes and actions toward our natural environment. We shall also be concerned with the question of whether and to what extent the ethical questions can be and should be informed by environmental science, as well as with gaining a clear understanding on the limits of science with respect to problems and questions of ethics and morality. Among the specific topics to be covered are animal rights and the conflicts that arise between animal rights theories and environmental ethics; various extensionist approaches to the assignment of intrinsic moral value to the environment; deep ecology and ecofeminism as radical alternatives to the extentionist approach to environmental ethics; ethical issues in the restoration and preservation of wilderness areas; whether and how environmental ethics can be reconciled with demands for social justice; and whether and to what extent religion contributes to or helps to resolve the current environmental crisis. Special attention will be given to the ethical issues stemming from global warming and climate change, especially in light of the United Nations Copenhagen Agreement, currently being negotiated.
This course is generally offered once every two years. Last taught S10.
Making Art in a Dangerous World
BA Seminar 384 Faculty in the Arts
4 credits
This team-taught seminar examines the origins and processes of artists in a variety of creative modes who are working in the 21st century. Held in conjunction with the Arts Division’s Bridges/Visiting Artists Signature Program, we will focus on the work of a group of contemporary artists who will engage in short residencies on campus. Both the overall theme of the seminar and the specific artists who visit the campus will change from year to year. Past artists/groups have included the Tectonic Theater Group, the Hilary Easton Dance Company, performance artist Tomas Kubinek, pianist Frederic Chiu, photographers Shana and Robert ParkeHarrison, composer and musician Shahzad Ismaily, installation artist Kristin Jones, the Bread and Puppet Theater, and visual artist Portia Munson. Students will be expected to attend the formal presentations, performances, and receptions for these guest artists. Readings, presentations, and discussions will introduce and respond to each artist’s work. Students will write an essay on the ideas or work of each artist/artist group, and a final project or paper will synthesize the semester’s work.
This course is generally offered once a year.
Desde la Tierra Caliente a la Tierra Nevada: Land, Life, and Literature in Latin America
BA Seminar 385 Coggins/Roe
4 credits
This seminar explores the connections between Latin America’s varied cultural landscapes and the ways in which its peoples and others have written about them. Readings will include fictional and nonfictional works in translation that range from ethnographic and geographic studies, to travel essays, to novels and poetry. We will also examine myths, oral culture, films, maps, architectural monuments, and other seminal readings of culture, place, identity, and history. By exploring works that represent a broad spectrum of disciplinary and cultural perspectives, we will develop a deeper appreciation of regions such as Amazonia, the Andean Highlands, Patagonia, the Pampas, the Caribbean and Pacific coastal zones, and the interior of Meso-America and Central America. Texts of greatest concern for our purposes will both limn the joys and sorrows of everyday life, on the one hand, and provide a richer view of geography and history on the other. By the end of the term, we will have examined aspects of pre-Columbian cultural ecology and trade systems; the colonial encounter and the transformation of peoples, landscapes, and sense of place; and a multiplicity of readings surrounding the ideas of “globalization,” accommodation, and resistance. Prerequisite: Junior or senior standing.
This course is offered when there is sufficient student interest. Last taught F08.
Eros and Thanatos: A Study of Sexuality in the West
BA Seminar 399 Yanoshak
4 credits
This course focuses on the ways that human sexuality has been described and interpreted in the West. Situated at the boundary between the biological and the social, human sexual connection has been feared for its explosive potential to disrupt all other forms of human organization, and has been interrogated as the key to understanding “human nature” and individual identity. Sexual behavior has long been the object of religious and state proscription, and concerns about it arguably underlie most methods of state control. Sigmund Freud, the quintessential theorist of modern sexuality, argued that Eros and Thanatos (Love and Death) ruled the world—humans are perpetually caught between elemental drives toward connection and reproduction on the one hand, and dissolution and the destruction of all life on the other. In classical Greece, sexuality and sexual practice were inextricably bound to the education of the male citizen, and love was an aesthetic, spiritual, and corporal experience, which, in Plato’s view, was crucial to the “right and true order” of the Polis. While medieval Christians emphasized the association of sex with sin but insisted on the linkage of love with the divine and life everlasting, 19th-century Victorians have been accused of linking humans only by the callous “cash nexus.” Many contemporary Western scholars argue that “sexuality” itself is a historically contingent phenomenon, enacting shifting power relationships of all sorts, and question the privileged place it has been accorded in the explanation of human affairs. This course provides a historicized discussion of sexuality in the Western tradition and examines the ways that law and social policy have manipulated this crucial dimension of human activity. It features a close reading of classic “texts” of Western sexuality, including works by Caravaggio, de Beauvoir, the Marquis de Sade, Freud, Krafft-Ebing, Mozart, Adrienne Rich, and Shakespeare. Prerequisites: Sophomore Seminar or permission of the instructor.
This course is generally offered once every three or four years. Last taught F11.