Let Transformative Ideas Shape Your Second Year at Duke

A new program for Duke sophomores will offer students the opportunity to participate in courses that promote open and civil cross-disciplinary dialogue about “Transformative Ideas” – those enduring questions and big ideas that change lives, link cultures, and shape societies around the world.

Launched in Spring 2022, the Transformative Ideas program will equip students to complete their general education requirements and prepare for their majors while exploring the deep questions of meaning, value, purpose, and spirit that confront us as human beings and citizens. It welcomes students from diverse backgrounds and viewpoints into an intellectual community where they can learn and grow together as they tackle the questions they will continue to ask throughout the rest of their personal and professional lives.

Building on opportunities like Focus and the What Now? offerings that are available for Duke first-year students, this program serves as a strategic next step for undergraduates who would like to continue thematically-based studies through their second year at Duke.

Courses will also provide avenues for pre-professional students to incorporate humanities thought and questioning into their lines of study.

Fall 2022 Courses:

The Good Life: Religion, Philosophy, and Life's Ultimate Concerns (CLST 210; PUBPOL 229; RELIGION 210; PHIL 214; ETHICS 210)
T/Th 1:45PM-3 PM

What does it look like for a human life to go well? What leads to human flourishing or “happiness” or “success?” How do our beliefs (or lack thereof) about God or the gods shape our answers to life's big questions? We examine how the following philosophical or religious traditions around the globe have answered these questions, beginning with their founders: Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Confucianism, Buddhism, and Stoicism. Taught by instructors from Classical Studies, Philosophy, Religious Studies, the Sanford School of Public Policy, and Duke Divinity.

Medicine and Human Flourishing (CLST 214; ETHICS 214; GLHTH 238)
M/W 1:45PM-3 PM

This course examines the nature, ends, and practice of medicine as it relates to the human condition. How can medicine foster human flourishing and well-being -- individual and social -- against the experience of injury, pain, and suffering? Students will explore answers to this question within a variety of historical and contemporary contexts. Taught by instructors from African & African American Studies, Biology, Classical Studies, Family Medicine, Global Health, and the Trent Center.

The Problem of Love (ITALIAN 225; ROMST 205; LIT 205 / MEDREN)
M/W 12PM-1:15 PM

Boccaccio’s Decameron occupies a crucial place in the multi-millennial discourse about love for a simple reason: it transforms love into a verb. Boccaccio’s often-censored stories show love in action, as a transformative experience that can delight, degrade, deceive, derange, destroy, and even divinize. Exploring love in its many forms—carnal lust, familial affection, platonic friendship—Boccaccio challenges and subverts ideas found in Dante, Virgil, Ovid, Catherine of Siena, and Petrarch. During the semester we will analyze censored editions and translations to understand the political consequences of Boccaccio’s revolutionary stories whose attention to the body, desire, language, gender, cultural difference, and freedom both shaped social thought from Machiavelli to Pasolini—and continues to provoke new ideas about the problem of love today. Taught by Martin Eisner of Romance Studies

Science and Society (PHIL 280S; ETHICS 281S)
T/Th 10:15AM-11:30AM

What is science? How is it conducted, and who takes part? What are the legal, ethical, and political considerations that accompany scientific inquiry? We will examine such questions in this course, which will investigate the relationship between science and the people that participate in it, whether they be experts or members of the public. Taught by Jennifer Jhun of Philosophy. 

Power, Theater, Politics (THEATRST 225S; ENG 278S)
T/Th 1:45PM-3 PM

What is power? Must violence create and maintain it, or can culture alone do some of that work? We will explore how cultural formations have understood and even shaped the relationship between power and politics on public stages of all sorts, from theater to the battlefield. Reading include Aristotle, Machiavelli, Sophocles, Shakespeare, Wole Soyinka, Alfred Jarry, and Caryl Churchill, among others. Taught by Douglas Jones of Theater Studies and English.

Moral Literacy: An Introduction (ENG 290-7 Section 2)
M/W 12PM -1:15PM

All of us routinely make use of a whole range of moral categories in our everyday lives. But do we really have a clear conception of, say, friendship, justice, or sin? If pressed, can we tell the difference between remorse and regret or self-awareness and self-recognition? Could we explain even to those most dear to us the link between evil and suffering or love and forgiveness? Drawing on a wide range of short philosophical, religious, and literary writings from Plato to the present (as well as some film selections), our aim will be to understand moral concepts of which we routinely make use, through too often with little or no clarity. Taught by Thomas Pfau of English

Liberalism and Its Critics (ECON 225S; POLSCI 247S)
M/W 10:15AM - 11:30AM

Underlying many current debates about social and economic policy are three fundamental worldviews, imperfectly captured by the labels conservatism, liberalism, and progressivism/socialism. While the course will focus on the development of liberalism in its various instantiations through time, by examining the arguments of its critics and their various interactions, we will gain a better understanding of all three traditions. Taught by Bruce Caldwell of Economics and Alfredo Watkins of the Kenan Institute for Ethics

Composers of Influence (MUSIC 240)
M/W 5:15PM-6:30PM

Who helped transform the musician from servant to seer? Is it possible to love the art and abhor the artist? Who put the “modern” in musical modernism? Is the teaching of music still largely governed by a man who was born more than 330 years ago?

The arts embody feelings and ideas and in the history of the arts, certain creative individuals have exerted an enormous influence on the trajectory of their art form. In Western music, specific composers during different style periods have been profoundly influential on music and culture, transforming the ways music is made and culturally perceived. This course examines the influence of Bach, Beethoven, Wagner and Stravinsky on their own time periods and subsequent generations of musicians and artists. Taught by Harry Davidson of Music

In addition to these courses, the Transformative Ideas program plans to incorporate a learning community structure that will encourage co-curricular events to draw faculty and students together in more exploratory, relaxed settings. Students may choose to take one or more of the three pilot courses. Students in each course will enjoy opportunities to engage with guest speakers inside the classroom and outside over meals. Select talks, a field trip, and co-curricular activities will be open to students in all courses. All courses will count towards distribution, minor, and major requirements. To participate, just register for one of the courses; there is not need to apply separately to the program. For more information on this program, contact Jed Atkins (jed.atkins@duke.edu).

Transformative Ideas is offered in partnership with The Purpose Project, a collaboration between the Kenan Institute for Ethics, the Office of Undergraduate Education, and Duke Divinity School.