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West Chester University of Pennsylvania (West Chester, PA 19383-0001)
Margarete J. Landwehr (Project Director: September 2013 to October 2016)
NEH Enduring Questions Course on Cultural and Scientific Understandings of Empathy

The development of an undergraduate course on empathy.

The development of an undergraduate course on empathy. The director, a professor of German at West Chester University, develops a course that examines the question, What is empathy? through eastern and western philosophy and religion, evolutionary biology, psychology, and the arts. In the first section, students read works by Mencius, the Dalai Lama, Khalil Gibran, and Rumi as they consider the ways that Eastern religious and philosophical thinkers have conceived of empathy. They then turn to the Western religious and philosophical tradition, reading selections that include excerpts from the Bible, Wolfram von Eschenbach's Parzival, David Hume's A Treatise of Human Nature, Adam Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments, Max Scheler's The Nature of Sympathy, and Martin Buber's I and Thou. In the third section, students read selections from Darwin's The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, Frans de Waal's Age of Empathy, Marc Behoff's The Emotional Lives of Animals, and Marco Iacoboni's "Neural Mechanisms for Empathy in Primate Brains" to learn how biologists view empathy. They then take up psychology, reading essays by William James, Alvin Goldman, and Pinchas Noy. The final section of the course explores some of the ways that the arts have dealt with empathy, with readings that include Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman, Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol, selections from Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin and Ivan Turgenev's Sportsman's Notebook, Friedrich Schiller's "The Stage as a Moral Institution," Martha Nussbaum's Love's Knowledge, Aristotle's Poetics, and poems by Shelley, Wordsworth, Maya Angelou, Pablo Neruda, and Walt Whitman. Students also view and discuss several films, including To Kill a Mockingbird, Oliver Twist, Salaam Bombay (India), Central Station (Brazil), and The Lives of Others (Germany), and visit local museums and theatrical performances. Students write research papers and critical responses to the readings.

[Grant products]

Project fields:
Interdisciplinary Studies, Other

Enduring Questions: Pilot Course Grants

Education Programs

$21,970 (approved)
$21,970 (awarded)

Grant period:
5/1/2014 – 6/30/2016