Freshman Seminars

Spring 2021 - FRS 148 Conspiracy Theories in Context (EC)

It is often said that we are living in an age of conspiracy theory; critics rue the noxious impact these theories seem to have on our social relations, our democracy, and our public health. In this seminar, we will trouble the category itself. What are conspiracy theories? How do they differ from other ways of knowing about the world? Do they even exist? Who are the 'they' who believe them, as opposed to the 'we' who do not? We will consider how conspiracy theory has been defined and analyzed by an array of experts, focusing on American culture while also learning to think comparatively across cultural contexts. Instructor: Elizabeth A. Davis

Fall 2017 - FRS 111 Trumpland (SA)

This course will examine the areas of the United States that went heavily for Donald Trump, and the factors behind the election of 2016. We will examine the decline of the working class, the Rust Belt, conspiracy theory, the “post-fact” world, and the social construction of whiteness. Instructor: Andrew A. Johnson

Fall 2015 - FRS 125  Culture and the Soul (EM) 

The American Psychiatric Association released the fifth edition of its “bible,” the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, in May 2013 – the result of fourteen years of planning, research, and debate concerning new developments in the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness. Many psychiatric professionals take the new DSM, which will be used in clinical settings worldwide, as a definitive shift away from a traditional psychological approach to mental illness, and toward a neurobiological approach invested in pharmaceutical treatment. What exactly does this manual tell us about mental illness today – and what doesn’t it tell us? How universal are its categories of symptoms and syndromes? How effective are its diagnostic procedures at comprehending the varieties and causes of mental suffering? This seminar addresses mental illness as a medical problem, a spiritual problem, and a social problem that has taken on radically different forms and implications in different cultural contexts. Instructor: Elizabeth A. Davis

Fall 2015 - FRS 165  Self to Selfies (EC)

In 2013 the Oxford Dictionaries declared “selfie” the Word of the Year. It grows out of new forms of technologically enabled communication, which includes new games such as chat roulette, and new forms of public exposure such as sexting. What is this about? How have we arrived here? This course explores transformations in understandings of the self in science and popular culture. In many cultural traditions, from Buddhism in Asia to psychoanalysis in the West, the “self” is an important object of speculation, analysis, and power. From anthropological and psychoanalytic perspectives, it examines three questions: How is the self formed? Under what conditions can the self change? What is the self’s relationship to culture, society, politics, and economy? It will explore these questions with literature from ethnography, literature, television serials, and film. Most of the focus will be on American culture, but the course will also include material from other culture areas. Instructor: John Borneman

Fall 2014 - FRS 165  Self to Selfies (EC)

In 2013 the Oxford Dictionaries declared “selfie” the Word of the Year. It grows out of new forms of technologically enabled communication, which includes new games such as chat roulette, and new forms of public exposure such as sexting. What is this about? How have we arrived here? This course explores transformations in understandings of the self in science and popular culture. In many cultural traditions, from Buddhism in Asia to psychoanalysis in the West, the “self” is an important object of speculation, analysis, and power. From anthropological and psychoanalytic perspectives, it examines three questions: How is the self formed? Under what conditions can the self change? What is the self’s relationship to culture, society, politics, and economy? It will explore these questions with literature from ethnography, literature, television serials, and film. Most of the focus will be on American culture, but the course will also include material from other culture areas. Instructor: John Borneman