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ESF 13 & 13A Rebellious Minds | Paula Findlen

The struggle to know began long before you entered the university. The university as an institution has its origins in the late Middle Ages; it has been reinvented repeatedly as our ideas about education have changed. People have been rebelling against how institutions define learning (and for whom) ever since. This course introduces you to some of the most thoughtful and interesting reflections on the nature and purpose of an education, on knowledge and ignorance, at the birth of the modern world. Understanding the quest to discover the mind and to embrace learning as a lifelong endeavor is a starting point to reflect on the goals of your own education, as an engaged intellectual citizen of the world. This course satisfies the Aesthetic and Interpretive Inquiry or Social Inquiry Way (AII or SI).

Selected Source Material

  • Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, Poems, Protest and a Dream
  • Benjamin Franklin, Autobiography
  • Olaudah Equiano, Interesting Narrative

ESF 14 & 14A The Challenge of Choice | Rush Rehm

Often the choices facing us seem trivial and uninteresting; at other times, we seem to be making life-changing decisions. Sometimes we confuse one with the other –thoughtless choices we make loom large in retrospect; others that appear earth-shattering at the moment prove of little lasting significance later on. In what ways can a liberal arts education help inform this decision-making process? In this course, we address these questions by engaging key texts that explore decisions and their consequences, exposing the multi-faceted nature of choice. The course will involve learning to read and think critically, interpret and analyze texts (plays, films, essays) and articulate your ideas and arguments in conversation and in writing. Distance from our own subjectivity – the stories are not ours, but they could be – allows these works to shed light on the dilemmas that face us as we go about ‘choosing’ the life we think we would like to live. This course satisfies the Aesthetic and Interpretative Inquiry Way (AII).

Selected Source Material

  • Noam Chomsky, “Language and Freedom” (essay)
  • Shakespeare, Hamlet (play)
  • Athol Fugard, John Kani, Winston N’tshona, The Island (play)
  • Seven Beauties [Pasqualino Settebellezze] (film, dir., Lina Wertmuller)
  • Bill McKibben, Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out

ESF 17 & 17A What Can You Do For Your Country? | Russell Berman

What does it mean to serve your country? All ethical systems train the individual to relinquish self-interest in favor of a larger communal good. When you applied to Stanford, you answered many application questions designed to elicit evidence of your ability to serve others, which is considered a sign of good character, leadership, and the ability to thrive beyond the confines of your family and private world. Knowing you’ve wrestled with this question at length, showing sacrifice, endurance, empathy, and understanding of higher goods, this course asks you to examine the nation’s view. How can the nation present itself as worthy of your personal sacrifice? Do you need to believe in the greatness of your nation to serve? What kind of cause demands your devotion? Nations have differently articulated such a commitment. Some make modest demands and promise you your own sovereignty. Others request only that you dream of national greatness as your own and that you lend a hand. But all nations require at some point, everything from you. What and when are you prepared to give? This course satisfies the Aesthetic and Interpretative Inquiry Way (AII).

Selected Source Material

  • John F. Kennedy, “What can you do for your nation”
  • Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom
  • Hannah Arendt, “We Refugees” and Early Zionism
  • Achebe, Chinua, Things Fall Apart
  • American Sniper (film, dir. Clint Eastwood)


ESF 18 & 18A | Between Gods and Beasts |  Sarah Prodan

Centuries ago, Plotinus famously wrote that humanity was "poised midway between gods and beasts" (Enneads 3.2.8). Some individuals 'grow like to the divine", he asserted, and "others to the brute". Since antiquity, many different societies, east and west, have understood education as a fundamental factor in determining whether individuals became fully realized as human beings, or something less. Considered a civilizing force for individuals and societies, education aimed not only at the acquisition of knowledge and skills, but also at the cultivation of goodness, the attainment of wisdom, and the achievement of happiness. In short, the goal of learning was to live well. What does it mean to live well? How does one cultivate one's nature or become one's best possible self? What kind of personal and intellectual development does this presuppose? Are there limits to the human capacity for self-development and change? In this course we will ponder such questions as we reflect critically on human nature and on historical and contemporary ideas regarding education, self-development, and living well. This course satisfies the Aesthetic and Interpretive Inquiry Way (AII).

Selected Source Material

  • The Four Books: The Basic Teachings of the Later Confucian Tradition
  • Coetzee, John Maxwell, The Lives of Animals
  • Della Casa, Giovanni, Galateo: Or, The Rules of Polite Behavior
  • Haidt, Jonathan, The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom
  • Pope, Alexander, An Essay on Man

ESF 20 & 20A | Science as Culture |  Duana Fullwiley

When have you been made aware of how comfortable you are in your cultural views about the world? It often takes traveling abroad, being forced to speak and think in a new language, or encountering beliefs quite different from our own, to shake up our passive acceptance about "how things work." In this course we will not actually travel to any distant lands. Instead, we will venture into the worlds of scientists to explore how cultural norms shape scientific understandings. We will see how the historical conditions and political climates where discoveries happen can influence how scientific facts come to cohere. Why, for example, was sickle cell anemia posited as a 'black' disease that was seen as genetic proof of African ancestry in the 20th century United States, but not in India where it is also prevalent? In another context, how did the cultural revolution in China and its purge of certain types of scientists create the conditions for cybernetic experts and aerospace engineers (rather than demographers) to largely shape the country's one-child policy? And more recently, how have instances of recorded climate change and environmental degradation drawn on human-centric scientific interventions? And when have more species inclusive methods been offered by global indigenous groups who might help us rethink planetary sustainability? This course satisfies the Exploring Difference and Power Way or Scientific Inquiry (EDP or SI)

Selected Source Material

  • López Durán, Fabiola, Eugenics in the Garden
  • Greenhalgh, Susan,  Just one Child
  • Minna Stern, Alexandra, Eugenic Nation

ESF 21 & 21A | Decolonial Thought |  Partha Shil

In recent years, the Rhodes Must Fall movement in South Africa has spurred on a vibrant and difficult discussion across the world, about the legacy of colonialism in the modern university. When we enter the university, do we really enter a space of a pure pursuit of knowledge? How do we make sense of the colonial foundations of the modern world?

What is it to decolonize our institutions, minds and politics? We will begin the course by developing a basic understanding of the contemporary call for decolonizing the university and of the field of postcolonial and decolonial scholarship.This course is designed as a deep engagement of contemporary struggles to decolonize, thinking critically about structures of power and injustice, and to search for languages of liberation. This course satisfies the Aesthetic and Interpretive Inquiry or Exploring Difference and Power Way (AII or EDP).

Selected Source Material

  • Walter Rodney, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa
  • Nawal El Saadawi, The Hidden Face of Eve

ESF 23 & 23A | Heroes and Heroism | Yiqun Zhou

Drawing upon Chinese, Greek, and Roman literary, philosophical, and historical writings, the seminar would examine, in a comparative light, concepts of heroism and models of courage, fortitude, and leadership in these paradigmatic ancient traditions. Possible authors: Mencius, Sima Qian, Liu Xiang, Guan Hanqing, and Ji Junxiang; Homer, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Plato, Aristotle, Plutarch, Virgil, and Seneca. This course satisfies the Aesthetic and Interpretive Inquiry or Ethical Reasoning Way (AII or ER).

ESF 25 & 25A | Development and Dispossession | Nora Barakat

Many students come to Stanford hoping to “make the world a better place,” but what does that mean? Where do our ideas about human development, progress and improvement come from?  This class asks you to consider this goal from a global historical perspective, including but not limited to the Middle East.  How do ideas about human progress intersect with the development of nonhuman landscapes, built environments and infrastructure?  What are the intended and unintended consequences of the projects and plans these ideas inspire? In particular, we will examine how projects aimed at improvement have legitimated and shaped colonial expansion, large-scale infrastructure schemes, and population exchanges, alongside human experiences of dispossession, loss, and exile.  This course satisfies the Exploring Difference and Power or the Social Inquiry Way (EDP or SI).