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The Power of Tradition, Forces of Change: Confucianism and the Succession Crisis of the Wan Li Emperor (1587); Henry VIII and the Reformation Parliament, 1529-1536
FYS 010, CRN 6481
Elizabeth Robertson
MW 12:30-1:45pm

This course examines two different cultures, China in 1587 and England in 1529, at points of crisis in leadership and compares their ideas and debates on how to preserve unity, national identity and authority, and yet accommodate changing views of social, economic and religious justice. What are the sources of power of those who govern the society, and what constraints exist on that power?  How are the demands of the community (political, religious, or class) balanced with a growing sense of individual liberty? What tensions exist because of differences in wealth and status and attitudes toward economic inequality? Students will explore these questions and attempt to articulate some tentative conclusions about how traditional structures of authority are or are not to be maintained in the face of challenges from new ideas.

Class is conducted not through lecture or discussion but through an elaborate role-playing pedagogy known as “Reacting to the Past,” which seeks to introduce students to major ideas and texts by replicating the historical context in which these ideas acquired significance. Students read classic texts, set in particular moments of intellectual and social foment, which inform the roles they are assigned e.g. The Analects (Confucius), Utopia (Thomas More), The Education of a Christian Prince (Erasmus). They conduct debates, write Parliamentary legislation and propose written bills (Henry Game) or advise the Emperor and write "memorials" (China).  Confucianism and the Succession Crisis of the Wanli Emperor introduce students to the suppleness and power of Confucian thought. The game unfolds amidst the secrecy and intrigue within the Forbidden City, as scholars struggle to apply Confucian precepts to a dynasty in peril. Henry VIII and the Reformation Parliament takes up the King’s “great matter” (his desire to divorce Catherine of Aragon) during the tumultuous years 1529-1536. Sir Thomas More has just been named Lord Chancellor after the dismissal of Cardinal Wolsey, while Thomas Cromwell conspires to lead the king’s party to his own ends. Four ideas/issues clash and contend for dominance: medieval Catholicism, Lutheranism, Renaissance Humanism, and Machiavellian statecraft. Students will read works representative of all traditions in each game, will write papers in role, and reflective essays outside of role once the game debates have concluded, in order to explore and reflect upon major issues and perspectives.

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