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Franklin and Marshall College (Lancaster, PA 17603-2827)
Lee Aaron Franklin (Project Director: September 2013 to November 2019)
NEH Enduring Questions Course on the Examined Life

The development of a first-semester interdisciplinary seminar on the examined life.

The development of a first-semester interdisciplinary seminar on the examined life. A four-member faculty team develops a course for first-semester students that explores the question, What is the examined life? The course is organized into three historical units, framed by a prologue and epilogue. In each unit, a relevant example of period art supplements the core readings and a biographical case study encourages students to assess an examined life. With a deliberate focus on close reading, analytical writing, and group discussion, the course immerses students in the very practice they are studying. The prologue invites students to compare Ancient Near Eastern cosmology and Michelangelo's "Genesis" in the Sistine Chapel. In Unit 1, on antiquity, readings of Hesiod, Sophocles, Aristotle, and Polykleitos address themes of happiness, fate, and freedom. A study of Greek and Roman portraiture shows idealized versus realistic conceptions of physical beauty, and Socrates' trial and death provides the biographical lens. Unit 2, on the medieval world, uses Augustine's Confessions as the biographical case study. Students read the Rule of St. Benedict and Chaucer's Canterbury Tales to compare monasticism and pilgrimage, and a study of monastic and pilgrimage architecture elucidates the different traditions. Students also compare the emerging liberal arts of al-Ghazali with the scholasticism of Aquinas. In Unit 3, on the modern era, Shakespeare and Rembrandt illustrate a new interiority and Nietzsche and Freud its later iterations. The social emphases of Austen and Marx are contrasted with the reclusiveness of Dickinson and Thoreau. Landscape painting shows nature as a place of solace and terror, and Darwin's letters supply a biographical view. Finally, in the Epilogue, students consider the contemporary world by comparing the ubiquitousness of self-representation ("selfies" and social media) with Foucault's portrayal of individuals in institutional settings. The faculty meet weekly to integrate the perspectives of their four disciplines (philosophy, religious studies, art history, and anthropology) into the final syllabus. They also develop a series of colloquia with guest speakers, films, and faculty debates as a means to bring the intellectual community of the course to the rest of the campus. They envision the course as a model for the new "Connections" curriculum, and work with faculty to develop additional courses in this vein.

Project fields:
Interdisciplinary Studies, General

Enduring Questions: Pilot Course Grants

Education Programs

$38,000 (approved)
$38,000 (awarded)

Grant period:
5/1/2014 – 4/30/2019