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Spring 2023 Course Offerings

HONR 054: Apocalyptic America
The dramatic end of the current world order remains a fascination in American culture. From the Puritan desire to establish a Christian utopia prompting the return of Jesus and the expansionist mandates of Manifest Destiny to the Left Behind series and 2012, many Americans continue to anticipate an imminent end of the world. Apocalyptic America will examine this trend in popular culture by exploring the ancient religious documents (the biblical books of Daniel and Revelation, along with portions of the Gospels and the Letters of Saint Paul) on which this vision is based. The role of the "Millennial Kingdom" in American history and culture will then enable students to analyze contemporary incarnations of the theme. The course will conclude with student projects and group presentations that examine current cultural productions including apocalyptic religious movements, cultural productions ("The Road" and "2012"), and apocalyptic language in political discourse.

HONR 062: Religions of India
This course serves as an introduction to the history of religious beliefs and practices in India (and to a lesser degree South East Asia and Tibet) with special attention to the religions of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, and Islam. It will make some effort also to observe the contemporary practice of some of these religions in the greater Des Moines area.


HONR 077: Reading Gender
This course explores literature from the perspective of the cultural work it performs with regard to constructing or challenging gender identities. The course varies but may examine particular literary traditions (e.g., literature by women of color) or particular critical issues (e.g., (de)constructing masculinity in the writings of women).


HONR 078: Grief and Loss
In this course, students will learn how narratives of grief are constructed, experienced, debated, politicized, and pathologized. We will examine various aspects of grief including cultural difference, social policing, media portrayals, and theoretical debates. Students will learn how tragedy and grief are used to sell politics and products and what implications this has on individual and cultural understandings of loss.

HONR 081: AI in Fiction

This course allows students to both read and write fictions about "artificial intelligence." We will examine past and present cultural beliefs and anxieties about conceptions of artificial intelligences, looking at popular works that have spoken to audiences' fears of, and hopes for, intelligent machines that interact with humans and participate in human life. From calculating murderers (eg: HAL 9000) to protective companions (eg: Baymax), how have we viewed these artificial "persons," and what have we imagined becomes of natural, biological humans who live lives integrated with AI? Students will explore their own visions of present and future by writing their own stories about conceived "AI."

HONR 082 - What's Love Got to do with it?

Most humans say they love many things: cookies, cake, football, God, and other persons. But what is love? Can this one concept cover these very different things? Other questions arise. Is love always good for us or for the things or people we love? Do human beings put too much stock in love? Is love saddled with expectations of human fulfillment that are impossible for it to meet? This course seeks to examine some of these questions by looking carefully at what some of the great poets, novelists, and philosophers in the Western philosophical tradition have had to say about love.


HONR 083 - Social Context of Urban Schools
This course provides students with an introduction to urban education. We engage the philosophical, social, economic, and political contexts of urban schooling. We begin by examining the utility and demarcation of space (e.g., urban, suburban, rural, etc.). We then explore historical and contemporary understandings of the notion of "urban," focusing on how "urban" has been constructed and evolves over time. We focus on the impact on schools and communities, in particular, urban educational reform and pedagogical strategies. In addition, we engage the intersections of urban education with questions of political economy, immigration, militarization, and racism. Finally, we discuss how students experience urban schools -- the challenges they may face in urban contexts as well as practices of hope and humanization.


HONR 086: U.S.-Mexico Borderlands
The US-Mexico borderlands are defined by more than a political line. The borderlands are a region with an environmental, social, cultural and economic history. Current border issues overshadow our understanding of this region and historical context will help us understand migration, race, culture and politics. Likely subjects include war and violence, the long reach of colonialism, agriculture, mining, industrialization, urbanization, labor, water resources and public health. Readings will focus on the Borderlands from the 19th to the 21st century with special attention paid to Indigenous peoples. Students will learn to think historically and critically about this region over time by reading, discussing, and writing. Readings will be augmented by films and visual sources.

HONR 089 - History of Cosmology
Cosmology is the study of the origin, fate and nature of the universe on its grandest scales. Over the millenia, it has had a powerful influence on our thinking about the significance of the Earth and human civilization. It is a rich topic with many different flavors, ranging from the poetic to the technical, from the mundane to the truly bizarre. Historically, cosmological ideas have evolved with and influenced the philosophy, art, psychology, culture and ego of humankind. In this class we will examine the human investigation of the Cosmos on its largest scales. We will take an historical perspective of the development of cosmological ideas from flat Earth to inflation, studying how these ideas have developed and changed since antiquity and how these developments have resonated through our societal and cultural experience. We will also explore the modern scientific view of cosmology and discuss how observational results either support or conflict with theoretical ideas about the cosmos. We will employ both descriptive and mathematical approaches to see how these work together to deepen our understanding.

HONR 090 - Microcosm, Macrocosm
This is an unusual course that looks at the intersection of visual language and the study of natural history. Students will explore the fundamentals of art making through the lens of organic form and function. We will take a critical look at artists as scientists and naturalists throughout history -- those who used drawing to hypothesize about living systems. We will gain a better understanding of our own relationship with the natural world as we explore their processes of visualization in studio. The course will consist of seminar, art studio, and experimental field trips to important resource sites locally and statewide.

HONR 106 - Religion and Mind Sciences
Broadly speaking, this course is part of an experimental, team-taught effort in exploring topics and issues at the intersection of religious studies, philosophy, and the “mind sciences” (which include neuroscience, cognitive science, computer science, and artificial intelligence). Although the “team” that teaches this course includes Profs. Kliethermes (neuroscience), Knepper (religious studies), Porter (artificial intelligence), and Roth (cognitive science), Prof. Knepper will be the instructor of record for S23. More narrowly, this instantiation of “Religion and Mind Sciences” explores the philosophical foundations of transhumanism and its thematic resonances with religious traditions. It shows how transhumanists are motivated by an initial optimism in the power and potential for technology to solve many human problems through direct intervention in the human species. Students taking this course will learn about the idea of the singularity and about transhumanist advocacy for radical life-extension and other forms of human enhancement. Students will be able to compare transhumanist ideas and themes with those within religious traditions, especially those related to human nature, identity, death, and immortality. We are fortunate in that this instantiation of the course is accompanied by a 2022–24 lecture series on “Transhumanism, Religion, and Immortality.” In S23, we will attend three lectures as part of this series.

HONR 112 - Atheism
This class will survey the genealogies, forms, contexts, practices, and goals of “atheistic” ideas and arguments over the course of “Western” history as well as across the the globe. The class is philosophical in the sense that it will examine arguments for atheism and against theism (or other institutionalized positions that defend the existence of non-human, trans-empirical beings and/or post-mortem, salvific ends). But the class also takes a sociological, historical, and phenomenological approach in attempting to understand the socio-historical contexts, rhetorical-political objectives, and lived- communal practices of “atheism.”

HONR 116 - Community Writing: Writing for Social Change
Work with the Drake Community Press writing about environmental justice in Iowa. Students in this course will interview Iowans in urban and rural communities across the state about the local effects of climate change. Using the DCP’s theoretical foundation of “writing with” students will work closely with the Iowa Environmental Council as we shape stories for inclusion in the first book of its kind dedicated to raising Iowans’ awareness about environmental justice. Some local travel will be required.


HONR 117 - Monsters and Monstrosity
From ancient myth to nineteenth-century freak shows, from medieval maps to modern conspiracy theories, monstrosity both frightens and fascinates. What makes someone monstrous, and what role do monsters play in our culture and society? This course will explore religious and and philosophical interpretations of monstrosity; social and psychological functions of monsters; and the role of race, gender, disability, and other forms of "otherness" in deeming certain bodies to be monstrous.

HONR 119 - Material World in Art
What would cause someone to physically attack an artwork? What does science tell us about the unanticipated changes in artworks over time? How difficult is it to move an artwork from one location to another? In our digital age we have become distanced from the material dimensions of making, transporting, encountering, and conserving artworks. This interdisciplinary course re-grounds visual art in the physical world, taking seriously the properties and interactions of art materials and the impacts of first-hand encounters with it. It also reveals specific aspects of art’s social significance that are not captured effectively in photography, such as the ways in which art’s materiality connects to spiritual, political, or technological practices. Looking at these issues in earlier periods of time sheds light on our own ideas about material, labor, time, and space.

HONR 129 - Philosophy of Science
The course will examine the major topics and issues of contemporary philosophy of science, including (but not limited to) the demarcation criteria of science, the rationality and objectivity of scientific theories, the verification and falsification of scientific theories, and the claims and merits of realism, pragmatism, empiricism, and constructivism. The course will also consider the ways in which various contexts of scientific activity (technological, social, historical, economic, political, personal) affects the practice and aims of science.

HONR 135 - Law & Society in a Changing Climate
This course will address the overlap between law, society and climate change with a specific focus on how and to what extend law can or could respond to "ruptures" of this magnitude. Broadly the course is structured around the way we use law to make cultural meaning, to structure access to resources and to allocate or resist power. Topics to be addressed in-depth include physical displacement of humans and other animals and the legal and social responses to those movements; the idea of displacement of responsibility and the deferring of crisis management from older to younger generations, and from wealthier, more powerful states to those with less; and the role of law and hope.

HONR 137 - Medical Anthropology
Medical anthropology examines affliction and healing in a cross-cultural perspective. It emphasizes the understanding of how health and healing are shaped by cultural and biological processes. It also analyzes the relations among health, illness, social institutions, power, and cultural representations. Medical anthropologists examine the ways in which global processes—health policies, epidemics, war and violence, inequalities—affect the life of individuals and communities.

HONR 139 - Victorians in Color
Bright dresses. Multiracial crowds. Lots of sex. Murderous wives. Tea. Labor activists. Those 6 bullet points encapsulate many complexities of the Victorian period. The Victorian era was not gray or sleepy. Rather, it was full of contradiction, debate, and rebellious figures. In this class, we read 19th-century British literature with a focus on understanding how the Victorians questioned and developed concepts that remain central to human experience. How did Victorians represent and define race? How do stories about scandalous marriages comment on restrictive laws? What do rebellious fictional wives tell us about feminism in the nineteenth century? What do we learn from studying Victorian pornography? How does detective fiction interrogate race? What do domestic servants reveal about family structures and labor dynamics? Students in this course will investigate those questions in a wide range of texts, and the reading list will include Lady Audley’s Secret (Mary Elizabeth Braddon), Jane Eyre (Charlotte Brontë), and The Moonstone (Wilkie Collins).

HONR 140 - Mass Incarceration
The United States incarcerates more people than any other country in the world. Scholars use the term “mass incarceration” to understand this phenomenon. We will look at how scholars from different disciplines have answered the most fundamental questions surrounding mass incarceration, including: Why does the US incarcerate so many people? Why are there such profound race, class, and gender-based disparities within the incarcerated population? And, what would a world look like that incarcerated less, or maybe even did not incarcerate at all? We will also consider the impact of mass incarceration on people and communities, including families, landscapes, and local economies, as well as how incarceration has been a site of cultural production, including writing, art, and music.

HONR 144: Health & Development

Certainly, a desire to "give back" and help make the world a better place is a noble ambition. Unfortunately, the road to perdition is paved with such good intentions. The data is clear that health development aid can do harm as well as good. In this course, we will explore why countries are poor, what can be done to alleviate their poverty, and some of the results of health and development aid schemes. This is a reading and discussion intensive type course that will familiarize students with current theories, and controversies in health and development. Working in this area is not easy. Idealists and do-gooders burn out quickly. Having an awareness of the major issues in development will assist you in being as effective as possible in your volunteer work or career as an aid worker. It will also make you a better informed citizen and voter. If you finish the course more confused than when you started the course, it simply means you now understand how complex health and development aid actually is.


HONR 145: Global Reproductive Politics
This course will explore reproductive practice, policies, and politics throughout the world. We will consider local practices of human reproduction and production -- the bearing and raising of children -- in a transnational context, exploring the ways power relations shape social practices of family formation across the globe in varying ways. We will consider this issue through a range of interdisciplinary sources including media, literature, ethnography, history, and public policy. This course will address such issues as sexuality, birth control, pregnancy, abortion, adoption, and child rearing in the context of particular social and cultural traditions as they are affected by global power relations.

HONR 150: Ritual and Myth

Myth and ritual are aspects of all human societies, ours included. What roles do myths and ritual play in human experience and everyday life? Why do we need them? Are myths and rituals ways of responding to existential questions? Or reflecting on the fact they can’t be responded to? Do they reproduce or subvert social orders? This course will address these questions by drawing on readings from history, religious studies, anthropology, sociology, and film studies. By way of case studies, we will examine theoretical approaches to ritual and myth (e.g., psychoanalytical, structural, feminist, symbolic). This course has prerequisite anthropology or sociology entry level coursework, or instructor consent. We begin with an overview of classical and postmodernist interpretations of ritual and myths, looking holistically at myth and ritual in relation to power, gender, religious authority, and history. We look then at some specific cases of societies experiencing turmoil and violence that cannot possibly be understood except in reference to local myths and rituals. We then conclude with a look at mythical and ritual phenomena in American society, focusing on urban myths, vampire legends, and UFO stories to reflect on what these stories tell about “us.”

HONR 161 - Africa/Africans/Atlantic/Slavery
The immense growth of slavery and slave trade research in the last quarter century has made examinations of unfree labor a major issue for world research. Studies of Atlantic slavery have generated the bulk of that research, and as a result have challenged many traditional perceptions of that trade and its associated system of slavery. However, despite the unquestioned value of these recent analyses, most of these studies have looked at Atlantic slavery from the American side of the ocean. Consequently, the African nature of Atlantic slavery has often lacked close scrutiny. This course has two goals: 1) to root Atlantic slavery and its trade in its African context, and 2) to help incorporate recent research findings into popular understandings of the Atlantic trade. The major argument of this course is that one cannot know why the Atlantic trade happened as it did nor how Atlantic slavery developed as it did without understanding the context which produced the people who were sold into slavery. Therefore, the course looks at the influence political, social, economic, and cultural factors in Africa had on the making of slavery and the slave trade both in Africa and the Americas. In doing so, the course will challenge students to rethink their own notions of Atlantic slavery as they analyze and critique the ideas encountered in this course.


HONR 163 - History of the Environment
The environmental history of the continent and nation stretches from geologic time to the present. This course begins by defining different aspects of environmental history and introduces ways that the environment has been influential in shaping past human experience, as well as how humans have in turn shaped the environment. As we survey the sweep of American history through the lens of environment, special attention will be paid to historicizing present-day topics. Themes include the interconnectedness of people and nature, ecological and social health, and the link between local and global. The course balances the physical environment (rocks, conservation and ecology) and the cultural environment (ideas, perceptions and images).

HONR 185 - Monuments and Memory
Monuments are the official memory sites of nations. This course investigates national monuments and the ideas of nationhood they address. It asks what memories are important to particular nations and how these are expressed in public monuments. The definition of monuments is extended and transformed by examining other nations and asking what objects or spaces serve the function that monuments serve in Euro-American culture. Through this class, students will understand monuments as part of lived public space, and investigate how they relate to national struggles and issues of power. Further, the course demonstrates that public art and public memory is always political. We will look at the possibility of a global world of art, and what that means in terms of individual culture and national identity.

HONR 191: Women & Hebrew Scriptures
The basics of the course include reading Biblical accounts involving women and various commentaries on those Biblical accounts with a critical eye. These accounts will include "Genesis", "The Red Tent", and "The Five Books of Miriam". The goal is to come to an understanding of how the Jewish Bible deals with issues involving women and how such an understanding can help us understand issues today.


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February 23, 2024