The focus of social science and liberal arts seminars becomes more specific than the core courses. Students can choose from a wide variety of different special topics developed by professors according to research interests.

The faculty teaching these seminars come from across Adelphi, but unlike many traditional classes, these seminars incorporate cutting-edge topics, methods, and teaching practices. In these seminars, our students realize that they are not simply learning facts but actively constructing the future of a field or dismantling disciplinary silos.

Spring 2022 Seminars

The stories that archaeologists tell about the past and how the past is reconstructed have real world implications for health, well-being, and social inequality. This semester we will use case studies in the material past to explore these implications.

Buddhist modernism is often described as the intersection of Buddhism and science. We will explore ways scholars believe Buddhism, rather than Christianity, is a better fit with science. We will also examine how Buddhist meditation fits with therapy and medicine.

When Egypt succumbed to Rome after the Battle of Actium , the West became fascinated with anything and everything Egyptian. We will investigate visual and literary paradigms of this obsession from antiquity through the 21st century: pseudo-Egyptian cults, notions of the afterlife, movies and tacky furniture, secret societies, grave-markers and mausolea.

Behavioral ecology is the study of the evolutionary and ecological significance of behavior. In the human context this includes culture. Explore evolutionary psychology, sexuality, and cultural studies through discussions of scholarly articles and presentations, with an emphasis on fundamental concepts and recent advances.

Students will learn to plan, facilitate and evaluate a dialogue based in the model of Intergroup Dialogue. Students will also develop a critical awareness of social identities, understand one’s own connections to power, privilege and oppression, and practice intercommunication skills such as active listening, purposeful sending and providing feedback.

Students will investigate the decade of 1910 via an examination of the student’s ancestor from that era along with its history, science and arts. Adelphi students in the persona of their ancestor will interact on relevant historical issues with foreign students posing as their ancestor, learning differences, and finding commonalities.

This seminar examines through archaeo-anthropology, humanistic lenses, and art representation the symbolic meanings of cosmo-theogonic mythology and the chronicle of the human story narrated, recorded, and experienced in the religious realm of Classical antiquity. Myth theories, ritual studies, and ethnographic studies explore the transcendence of ancient polytheistic elements into modernity.

Fall 2021 Seminars

The past is never dead. It’s not even past.
William Faulkner, Requiem for a Nun

Do you remember those wonderful days when you were young and innocent as Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, sitting around a seminar table in your Modern Condition class exchanging ideas about Darwin, Freud, and Nietzsche? In the Postmodern Condition, we will return to these subjects, and many more, we studied in The Modern Condition and Human Condition. By reading current issues of the New York Review of Books and The New Yorker, we will take them into the present and see the most recent interpretations and uses of these great ideas which shaped the 20th century and are shaping the 21st century. Any student who takes this course must love reading and writing.

How does social class shape culture in contemporary American society, in terms of identities, tastes, styles, beliefs, consumption, and perceptions of reality? This course is a sociological examination of class, culture, and power. Students will examine the ways in which high” and “low” culture is created, reproduced, consumed, embodied, and sometimes transformed in ways that both reflect and reproduce class inequality. Students will unpack contentious concepts, such as middle-class values, underclass culture of poverty, and cultural appropriation.

Principal Reading (additional reading will be assigned):
Hall, John R., Laura Grindstaff, and Ming-Cheng Lo. 2010. Handbook of Cultural Sociology. New York: Routledge.

Using oral testimonies, memoirs, diaries, films and other reconstructions, this course examines “the soldier” by looking at those who fought on both the Allied and Japanese sides during World War II. We will try to ascertain what it is to fight, and what is lost and what remains after war. The Second World War is usually talked about in narratives of the “good war” that emphasize American victory over fascism, Nazism and the “fanatical” Japanese. In this course, we will move beyond these narratives by focusing on soldiers’ experiences in the Pacific theater, and in doing so surpass the hegemonic representations and caricatures that are often presented as embodying the American and Japanese war experience. We will start by examining the problem of conveying war to those who have not experienced it. Often when war is re-told, the recreations impose order on what is an inherently chaotic experience. We will see war in its many forms– an arena where bonds of brotherhood are formed– and also a hellscape where men fight not just the enemy but turn on each other. We will examine soldiers’ experiences of war in all its sheer physicality and violence as well as the mental toll it exacts. We will follow soldiers as they return home and follow how the processes of remembering war also involve processes of forgetting.

How does research inform views on society, religion, and science? What does it mean to be a mathematician or scientist? How do scientists think and how do they solve problems? Why is science useful? Is science compatible with religion? In this course we will go beyond a basic exploration of the scientific method and try to answer these questions by examining personal views of some of the greatest scientific minds of the last 200 years, as expressed through their non-technical classic works. We will read the works of Polya, Hardy, Einstein, Dawkins, Darwin, and more.

While masculinity is often associated with ideas of “normativity” and systems of patriarchy, what it means to be a man in society is much more complex. This class will interrogate how ways of being a man and cultural representations of/about men vary across time and cultures, and between different groups of men within the same society. Some questions we will consider are: How is violence figured as a part of, and reaction against, hierarchies of male identity? How do definitions of male identity become complicated by larger changes in contemporary society? Why do some individuals see masculinity as being damaged by the conditions of the modern world, and threatened by the progress of feminists? And how can a more nuanced and pluralistic understanding of masculinity challenge its less-inclusive forms? Special attention will be given to the centrality of the male body, and its implied strength, and how the intersecting dynamics of (dis)ability, class, race, sexuality, and gender complicate conceptions of masculinity across time and cultures.

Our class will interrogate these issues and questions across a variety of literary time periods and genres. Readings will include selected literary works from Flannery O’Connor, James Baldwin and Oscar Wilde; films from Richard Linklater (Boyhood) and Chaz Palminteri (A Bronx Tale); as well as a variety of other traditional and visual texts. Assignments will include two shorter essays and a longer research project.

Past Seminar Offerings

From Mendel’s study of inheritance in peas to Watson and Crick’s determination of the double helical structure of DNA to the Human Genome Project, scientists have been striving for a detailed understanding of the molecular basis of life. We can now analyze the genetic makeup of living organisms, including humans, in unprecedented detail, and even alter genes at will. Have our knowledge and ability outstripped our wisdom? Are we using genetics for good or ill? This course will examine the basic science of genetics and genomics (at a level accessible to those not majoring in science), the related fields of biotechnology and biomedical research, the effects on and implications of these fields for society, and the ethical debate surrounding many of these issues. Topics covered will include medical diagnostics, gene therapy, genetically modified organisms in agriculture and medicine, stem cells, cloning, and the genetics of race and human ancestry. By understanding the scientific basis of the new genetics, and pondering the issues involved in its applications, we will develop our understanding of these topics and our ability to discuss and decide about them thoughtfully.

Texts (tentative):

  • Improving Nature? The Science and Ethics of Genetic Engineering. Michael Reiss & Roger Straughan. Cambridge Univ. Press, 2004
  • There will be many additional readings of relevant articles both from scientific journals and from publications for the general public such as Scientific American and The New Yorker.

This seminar will focus on photography and its relationship to art. Nevertheless, it is important to remember that photography has informed and transformed so much of our daily existence. Photography follows us everywhere. It is there when we get x-rayed at the doctor, and it is there when we run a red light. In the end, it is hard to imagine a world without photography. We have come to accept it as commonplace. How did this happen? And how did historic photographers work to further the technological and aesthetic developments of the medium — a medium which is at once expressive and factual? Through class discussions, shooting assignments, journal exercises, slide presentations, readings, and exams, we will attempt to answer these questions.

Students will critically evaluate prehistoric non-western cultures and reflect on cross-cultural comparisons. This course asks how peoples succumbed, averted or “survived” social and environmental calamities.

Topics include traditional knowledge as problem solving strategies. Students will integrate course concepts into hands-on experiences by mapping and analyzing spatial data using GIS technology.

This course aims to redeem bad taste. Using theorists such as Jack Halberstam, José Esteban Muñoz, Samuel Delaney, and Julia Kristeva, students will define Camp as an aesthetic, thinking about how failure and excess look beyond heteronormative, neoliberal, White definitions of “good” and “bad” taste to create new potentialities in literature and culture. Students will examine the post-Stonewall history of performance in New York City, looking at practitioners such as Taylor Mac, Charles Busch, Tarell Alvin McCraney, Harry Kondoleon, Qui Nguyen and Holly Hughes.

HBO’s extremely popular Game of Thrones series was a reimagining of a medieval world, one with castles, dragons, knights, ladies, and a whole lot of white people. It’s a popular way of thinking about the Middle Ages, but it’s not an accurate one, and it’s even more troubling because today’s white supremacists routinely use and adapt medieval iconography or selected narratives in an attempt to promote their agenda. In this class, we will be looking at some original medieval texts and their later adaptations to examine the way that whiteness has been routinely reinscribed in the later versions, and the use those texts have been put to by white supremacists. It’s a pretty straight line, for instance, from Volsunga Saga to The Niebelungenlied to Wagner’s Ring Cycle to Adolf Hitler and his praise of Aryanism. We will investigate examples such as Crusader texts and imagery, Celtic crosses, and Thor’s hammers to think about why today’s popular discourse wants us to continue to think about the Middle Ages as a white (and Christian) space when a) the medieval texts do not; and b) it feeds into and supports today’s white supremacists’ overt agenda.

From the texts and images of Ancient Mesopotamia through the 21st century the class explores the textual and visual depictions of an enemy, often presented as “the other.” Such images are often carefully constructed in order to influence/manipulate the opinions of the masses – and essentially play the role of propaganda.

This is the third segment of a two-year-long course offering consisting of a series of four “readings & discussion” seminars, focusing on a small number of political novels – by which I mean (as per Irving Howe’s classic definition) works “in which political ideas play a dominant role, or in which the political milieu is the dominant setting.”  In other words, this is not a course in literary criticism per se.  Therefore, a more accurate title might be, “Politics in Literature:  Confronting the Early 20th Century European Historical Experience.”

And so, through a careful reading of three works, whose story-lines deal with some of the most dramatic developments in European history during the years 1936 – 1945 – we will address a number of the most compelling political, social, and philosophical issues of our time:  nationalism, liberalism, socialism, fascism, communism, and populist nationalism.

Principal Reading (additional reading will be assigned):

  • Robert O. Paxton & Julie Hessler, Europe in the Twentieth Century (Fifth Edition:  2012)
  • Koestler. Darkness at Noon
  • Roth. The Plot Against America
  • Jünger.  Paris War Journals, 1941-1954

The Covid-19 pandemic is only the most recent, though possibly also most acute, of the numerous challenges human society confronts in the early 21stcentury. Climate, finance, inequality – social, racial, and gender – artificial intelligence, bioethics, epidemiology, and geopolitics are some of the principal areas characterized by immense uncertainty in the coming decades. This is the present-day context in which we will revisit and explore the notion of progress. What is progress? In which ways is it – or is it not – a uniquely human concern? In what ways, according to the historical record, can we say that “progress” describes our collective experience? (In what ways does it not?) And perhaps most important, do our present-day challenges represent a major departure from humanity’s historical trajectory?

Texts (tentative): Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste, Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment Now, Richard Heinberg’s The End of Growth, and Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions

In every society, there are ontological parameters and cultural assumptions about being alive and understanding the arc from birth to death. This seminar explores cross-cultural variations in human efforts to grasp, contain, and explain states of being through rituals practices.

Students will investigate from 1910 to 1920 via an examination of students’ ancestors from that era, along with the era’s history, science, and arts. Students will interact as their ancestors on relevant historical issues. There will be ancestors from many different continents.

Texts (tentative):

  • WINESBURG, OHIO by Sherwood Anderson ISBN-10: 0486282694
  • THINGS FALL APART by Chinua Achebe ISBN-13: 978-0385474542
  • THE PROUD TOWER by Barbara W. Tuchman ISBN-10: 033330645

My favorite thing about Honors courses is the high level of engagement between students and the professor. It is simply pure fun to get to share your ideas with a classroom full of people eager to listen, discuss, and interact with one another. The Honors College has allowed me to be braver and more confident in classes both inside and outside of the Honors College.

Meagan DeMaria ’20 English major and History minor
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Earle Hall, 100
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