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.
The Good Life: Religion, Philosophy, and Life's Ultimate Concerns
CLST 210; PUBPOL 229; RELIGION 210; PHIL 214; ETHICS 210
What does it look like for a human life to go well? What leads to human flourishing or “happiness” or “success”? What is freedom? Love? Justice? What is the basis for ethics? What is our relationship to the natural world? What is the significance of death? How do our beliefs (or lack thereof) about God or the gods shape how we view the world? We will examine how philosophical or religious traditions around the globe have answered life’s biggest questions. Traditions may include Confucianism, Islam, Christianity, Stoicism, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, scientific naturalism, expressive individualism, and utilitarianism. Taught by a team of Professors led by Jed Atkins (Classics, Philosophy, and Political Science), including Alex Rosenberg (Philosophy), Wenjin Liu (Philosophy), David Wong (Philosophy), Kavin Rowe (Divinity), Natalie Hannan (TI/Philosophy), and Abdullah Antepli (Public Policy).
Medicine and Human Flourishing
CLST 214; ETHICS 214; GLHTH 238
This course looks at the history and practice of medicine as it relates to our search for well-being; includes an informed, balanced discussion of important debates in contemporary medical ethics. Taught by a team of leading scholars from across the university led by Prof. González (Classical Studies), including instructors from African & African American Studies, Biology, Family Medicine, Global Health and the Trent Center.
Liberalism and Its Critics
ECON 225S; POLSCI 247S
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 (Economics) and a Postdoctoral Fellow of the Kenan Institute for Ethics.
Exploring Science and Religion
ETHICS 213; PHIL 213; NEUROSCI 233
This course explores the most important questions at the intersection of science and religion. Core topics include faith and reason; the history of science and religion; contemporary cosmology and the origins of the universe; God and time; the existence of fine-tuning; evolution, randomness and design; the neuroscience of free will; the science of the soul; the possibility of miracles; and science and morality. Taught by Dr. Alfredo Watkins (TI/Kenan), Dan McShea (Biology), Len White (Neuroscience), Katherine Brading (Philosophy) with expert guest speakers on these topics from inside and outside of Duke.
How to Rule the World
POLSCI 334; CLST 277; ETHICS 365
From Babylon and Persia to Greece and Rome, empires have risen and fallen, but they always seem to make a comeback. Their defenders point to the stability they bring to a chaotic world. Their detractors point to the harsh rule required to maintain them. This course explores arguments for and against empire, drawing on history, philosophy, and political theory, with a focus on the Greeks and Romans. Then, in light of the parallel problems of empire and global governance, we will ask what lessons we can learn for the practice of international affairs today. Contemporary topics include global institutions, international economics, foreign intervention, East Asia policy, and NATO and Eastern Europe. Taught by Dr. Alfredo Waktins (TI/Kenan).
Ecology and the Human Good: Sustainability, Community, Nature, and Belonging
ETHICS 212; POLSCI 209; ENVIRON 213
What does it mean to live in harmony with animals, each other, and nature? The fate of humanity is intricately intertwined with that of the natural world, yet we often fail to seriously consider our relationship with it. How does our relationship with nature shape our capacity to live in and build healthy communities? What is the proper role of markets and technological innovation in our quest for a sustainable and flourishing future? Examine these questions and more in an interdisciplinary course taught by Matthew Young (Kenan) with Rebecca Vidra (Nicholas School) and Norman Wirzba (Divinity and Nicholas School).
The Problem of Love
ITALIAN 225; ROMANCE 205; LIT 205; MEDREN
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 (Romance Studies).
How to Think in an Age of Political Polarization
ETHICS 203; POLSCI 208; PUBPOL 202
Americans today live in a time of deep political polarization, intellectual isolation, and intense partisanship. We are defined in terms of our differences, and our disagreements often appear to be intractable. We rarely have genuine and open interactions with those with whom we disagree; when we do, we often do so on the assumption that they are not just wrong, but are irrational, immoral, and contemptible. This class aims to explore this phenomenon in its sociological, political, ethical, and intellectual dimensions. What are the causes and costs of our polarization? Is it possible to remedy our common ailments? Are we able to call upon “the better angels of our nature” and build and maintain civic and personal friendship across our differences and disagreements? This class explores these and many other questions and will do so in an experimental fashion—testing many of these questions in the context of “case studies” in hot-button political issues. Taught by John Rose (Kenan).
Human Flourishing in a Digital Age
COMPSCI 247S, ETHICS 247S
The digital age has enhanced human life in many ways: communication is faster, medicine is better, and our knowledge of the world is deeper and broader. Yet it has also raised fundamental questions about the meaning and purpose of human life: How do digital technologies encourage us to view one another, the world, even ourselves? How have they changed the nature of work, society, and our own sense of well-being? In light of these and other challenges, this course asks what it means for humans to flourish in a digital age. As one framework for answering this question, we will consider ways in which technological advances through the centuries have impacted human flourishing. How have previously new technologies made certain aspects of flourishing easier and other aspects harder? How have they perhaps even altered our conceptions of what flourishing looks like? Together, we will ponder a range of aspects of human flourishing, some timeless and others that change over time in response to advances in technology. In all of this, our ultimate goal is to ponder together how we should practically live in today’s digital age. Taught by Alex Hartemink (Computer Science) and Aaron Ebert (Kenan, Religion).
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)
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)
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 will incorporate a living-learning community structure that will encourage co-curricular events to draw faculty and students together in more exploratory, relaxed settings. 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 (firstname.lastname@example.org).