Self and Society in the Liberal Arts
the few common denominators in the history of the arts, humanities, and
sciences has been the questthrough creative, rational, scientific, and
spiritual approachesfor understanding the relationship between the individual
and the larger world. Fittingly, the very root of the word used to describe
both the private and public self, identity, has always entailed a
tension between sameness (in Latin, idem) and difference (if I am x, then I
am not y). Whether through philosophical inquiry into what constitutes the
person, scientific debates about when life begins, theological disquisitions on
the nature of the soul, or the literary construction of the autobiographical
persona, thinkers and artists throughout history have explored the moral and
ethical dimensions of self-representation while gesturing toward its unsolvable
mysteries and productive tensions. In the words of the
In this edition of First-Year Seminar, we will ponder the relationship between private and public narratives and forms of representation in a range of texts and cultural traditions. While it is impossible to reduce a matter of such complexity and breadth to a set of goals and procedures, we will read core texts that, individually and collectively, engage in a vigorous dialogue over such questions as: What are the claims that political and social responsibilities make upon an individuals quest for self-understanding? At what point should the conscientious citizen sacrifice such a quest in the name of a collective identity? How does scientific inquiry into the nonhuman natural world connect with what are felt to be deeply human issues? How does the link between a private and public understanding of the self also implicate a spiritual exploration, especially the question of the eternity of the soul or the lack thereof? Finally, how do study and close reading, the foundational activities of First-Year Seminar, shape those personal and public narratives that are the focus of our attention? Together, we will explore these and related questions during a yearlong conversation about singularly demanding textstexts defined as much by their differences as by their common drive toward fathoming how individual narratives can move beyond the self and into the realms of citizenry, community, country, even identification with humankind writ large.
See First Year Seminar website for required reading list.
First Year Seminar Symposium meets on selected Mondays throughout the semester. Schedule and topics to be announced. Attendance is mandatory.