IHON Program & Courses

100-Level Courses

During your first year, you’ll take two courses – IHON 111 in Fall Semester and IHON 112 in Spring Semester. These courses introduce you to crucial texts from various cultures, from ancient worlds to the present, interconnected ones. We don’t ask you to read religious texts like the Mayan Popol Vuh, philosophical texts like Platonic dialogues, or novels like Mario Vargas Llosa’s The Storyteller, because ‘that’s what you do in an honors program.’ Instead, we read these works because we think they offer perspectives that you can’t find anywhere else on enduring questions of human existence.

IHON 111 explores how issues such as the order of the universe, political authority, justice and dissent, gender relations, and the human relation to nature manifested themselves in texts emerging from different peoples and regimes from the pre-modern world (ancient Egypt, Sumer, Greek city-states, the pre-Columbian Maya people, the Empire of Mali, ancient Rome, the Warring States period in China, etc.).

IHON 112 also engages in a dialogue with a wide variety of voices and texts from across the globe, but this time against the backdrop of the gradual emergence of a modern world-system which not only connects societies in Europe, Asia, and Africa with the Americas, but which also increasingly connects rural with urban areas, and creates global metropoles where new identities and distinctive cultures emerge.

200-Level courses

You’ll choose a total of four 200-level courses to taken during your 2nd and 3rd year. These classes are not organized around learning one way of seeing many problems (which is what you do when you take a class in a conventional academic department, like economics, political science, biology, etc.), but which instead use many ways to analyze one theme or problem.

Uses multicultural, international, and feminist perspectives to examine issues such as socialization and stereotypes, relationships and sexuality, interpersonal and institutional violence, revolution and social change in the U.S. and in other selected international contexts.

The British Empire changed its subject peoples, but those peoples ended up also changing Britain and the British themselves. However, the complexity of these changes is not always visible through analytic perspectives which gaze down on this history from 10,000 feet high, and which focus (either positively, or negatively) on the imperial center. In this course, we’re going to explore the problem from the opposite side — from below and from the ‘outside.’ We will make use of the experiential immediacy of the novel form — the fact that novels can narrate history and society from the standpoint of individual characters’ thoughts and perceptions. And we’ll explore what Britain looked like and looks like from the supposed ‘margins,’ by focusing on novels written by migrants (Salman Rushdie, V. S. Naipaul), or their descendents (Hanif Kureishi, Zadie Smith, Berdardine Evaristo).

A city is not just a physical collection of buildings, but a space which is experienced by its residents or visitors through their particular histories, imaginations, thoughts and dreams. In Andrade’s novel Macunaíma, an indigenous person enters São Paulo in the early twentieth century and sees not a modern city, but a strange place in which machines have asserted their authority over human beings. In this course we will examine various representations of the city in narrative, philosophy and film throughout the 20th and 21st century, from Woolf’s postwar London, to Borges’ cosmopolitan Buenos Aires, to Wender’s Berlin of the late 80s, to filmmaker Fernando Meirelles’ urban segregation in Río de Janeiro, with particular attention to how the urban space is refunctioned in times of political upheaval or oppression.

Friendship is one of the oldest subjects of humanistic inquiry. Egalitarian in its ambitions yet exclusive in its effects, friendship reshapes the cultural norms that continually shape it. In this course, you will examine enduring questions about friendship and apply them to the contemporary world. How does friendship shape the self? When did friendship come to be defined in opposition to romantic/sexual relationships? Does friendship create equality or cause social stratification? How do some cultures institutionalize friendship? When does the mourning of friends turn political? Work for the course includes both individual and group projects, creative and analytical assignments.

What makes a Jew Jewish? In this course, students will study the construction of Jewish identity during the Second Temple Period (515 B.C.E. – 70 C.E.), with a focus on the different ways that Jewish identity was understood by various groups of Jews. Students will also study the expression of Jewish identity in Jewish interactions with Gentiles (non-Jews), as well as Greco-Roman perspectives of the Jews.

In 19th-century Britain, the industrial revolution and biblical scholarship shook the established world order. The very meaning of life was up in the air. This course will illuminate the theme of rationalism and faith in Victorian England through fiction, poetry, and nonfiction prose. We will explore how the Oxford Movement and dissenting (non-Anglican) denominations reshaped religious practice, and how scientific rationalism shifted attention from transcendent to material concerns. Along the way, we will come to appreciate the Victorian antecedents of many contemporary issues and movements, including social justice and environmental activism.

This course examines the question, “what does it mean to be human?” Because such a broad question invites innumerable responses, we will focus in particular on two phenomena that shape humanity: religion and violence. Like all IHON 257 course offerings, this course will introduce you to several academic disciplines in the humanities. In particular, we will use the insights and methodologies of theology, cultural studies, religious studies, and history to examine the intersection of religion and violence. The course has two broad sections. In the first half of the course, we will read scripture, theology, and social theory as we work to define religion, to understand the origins of violence motivated by religion, and to analyze terrorism associated with religion. In the second half of the course, we will read historical essays and ethical arguments about the role of religion and violence in American history. Students will write two major essays, contribute regularly to online and in-person class discussions, and lead a seminar discussion.

Political and moral theorists have long wrestled with questions of individual responsibility: how should we balance the need for individual liberty and fulfillment with our responsibility to others? When and how, in the complex webs of human interaction, is on obligated to others? How far is one responsible for the indirect consequences of one’s actions? What forms or processes of social interaction, and what habits or traits of selfhood, encourage just and responsible relationships? Increasingly, writers in both philosophical and literary traditions have considered what happens when we extend such questions of ethical obligation to then non-human animals with whom we share our planet. To what extent do non-human animals – or even the environment itself – deserve ethical consideration? How are our individual lives directly and indirectly connected with the lives of animals on our planet, and what types of ethical challenges and obligations are implied in those connections?

What counts as “work” in our society? What is its purpose? What are the ideas, emotions, and experiences we associate with the different kinds of human activity we call work? Why are these questions relevant today during our current economic recovery? As we will explore in this course, the notion of work is constantly changing: it not only depends on the economy but also on cultural values and representations as well as the ways in which different members of society interact with one another. In particular, we will examine how work has been theorized since the Industrial Revolution, from Karl Marx and German sociologist max Weber to recent philosophy, sociology, and anthropology. Then, we will explore how different art forms have responded to these, many time oppressive, working conditions as well as imagined more just alternatives. We will look at a variety of literary texts, painting, photography, and film from Britain, the US, and Latin America, from the early 20th century until today: from George Orwell’s literary ethnographies of service and industrial workers during the Great Depression to Diego Rivera’s murals of Detroit autoworkers to Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman to Paul Schroeder’s 1978 film Blue Collar.

This course is an in-depth, inter-disciplinary, and multi-media examination of the year 1968. Global in scope, it is based on written accounts by participants and witnesses, and makes extensive use of music, film, and television resources. Its themes include the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, anti-war protests, the counter-culture and the drug scene, and the revolution in youth culture.

Much of what many U.S. Americans know, or think they know, about the idea of ‘race’ is derived from North American contexts. But the idea of race is a historical one, which was employed as a tool of domination in different ways in different historical times and contexts. There is therefore not one modern idea of race, but many. In this course, we will explore some of the different forms which the idea of ‘race’ took in the modern period, focusing in particular on North America, the Caribbean (in particular Cuba), Mexico, and Great Britain. In these different places and times, what were the criteria for being ‘raced’? How was race used as a tool in these different contexts? Examining the historical emergence of these different categories of ‘race’ will position us to explore various context-specific strategies for addressing the continuing, and very real, affects of this invented category.

This course is a social science based investigation into poverty, drawing primarily on the disciplines of sociology, economics, and history. Students will examine, interpret, compare and discuss quantitative measures of poverty, and both scholarly literature and popular press works by a variety of social scientists on various aspects of poverty. Students will engage with the conceptualization and measurement of poverty, multiple perspectives on why people are poor, and the behavioral economics of living poor. Throughout the course we’ll consider various policies that governments could or do use to help those who are poor. Applications will be primarily to the United States and India, will range from the local to the global, and will be both historical and current.

There has been a long global history of genetic modification of domesticated plants and animals. From corgis to corn we have always modified pets and crops to manipulate them to our whims and desires. Food and the genetic manipulation of our food have become a highly politicized and controversial topic. Policies on patenting and labeling of GM foods are distinctly different around the world. We will explore modern genetic engineering in global agriculture. We will use a scientific lens to discuss risks, benefits, ethical concerns, and food security issues.

In this course, we will explore ecology by designing a hypothetical starship to bring humans to another star, probably Proxima Centauri, our nearest interstellar neighbor. This class will culminate with an actual starship design. Importantly, this is a course about asking big questions and pursuing insightful answers. Although we will be using some scientific methods of inquiry and exploring scientific ideas, this is not a science course, but rather a “big questions” course with scientific themes. It is not meant to be an introduction to any scientific field. It is meant to be a platform for thinking across disciplinary contexts, imagining alternative futures, using dialogue and reflection to re-evaluate the nature of the world we live in, and, perhaps, drive authentic change. In fact, as we work to design our starship, we will find that many of the lessons we learn can be directly applied on Earth. The course is roughly divided into three portions. The first portion deals with basic physical elements that must be part of our design: propulsion, energy, artificial gravity. The second investigates the life support systems: How will we feed the ship’s crew and recycle air and water? The last looks at our on-ship industry: How will we maintain our ship’s machinery and build other items needed in our daily life?

This section of The Arts in Society will examine the role of music in society and its relationship to the other arts, presented in the context of an historical and cultural survey of Western Music with some examinations of world music. “The Arts in Society: The Red Violin” will accomplish this by giving a special emphasis to string music in the Western tradition and string music in other-‐than-‐Western cultures. Students will be introduced to historical terminology used for music and the arts, learn to recognize the stylistic characteristics of different musical styles and musical eras, and to explore the relationship between music and the time, place, and ideological context in which it was produced. Students in this section of “The Arts in Society” will work from an historically based survey text in music (with ancillary recordings), as well as readings in aesthetic philosophy exploring the relationship between the arts, history, and society.

This course explores why humans make, value, and leverage visual art. We’ll examine how art has expressed and reinforced social ideals, political systems, and personal identity in a variety of historical contexts from the 19th century to the present.

300-Level Course

Taken during your third or fourth year, this culminating class asks you to formulate your perspective on enduring questions that human beings continue to engage in the 21st century in small student-driven research groups.

Students will wrestle with complex contemporary social problems, evaluate multiple responses to those problems, and develop and articulate their own positions and commitments. Class themes vary, but every section includes cross-cultural and interdisciplinary analysis and a final culminating project.