In this course, we position ourselves with our feet on the UW-Madison campus and ask questions about the energy we use to heat and cool our buildings, the food we eat, the air we breathe, the electricity to run light bulbs and appliances, the goods we purchase, and the waste we create.
In this course, we position ourselves with our feet on the UW-Madison campus and ask questions about the energy we use to heat and cool our buildings, the food we eat, the air we breathe, the electricity we use to power lights and appliances, the goods we purchase, and the waste we create.
Ultimately, the goal of this course is to give you the tools to see the world around you in new ways, noticing things you may have missed and encouraging you to seek paths that both care for yourself and for all with whom you share this planet.
Through concrete, contextualized experiences (lab investigations and field trips), we'll make the invisible visible. Using the campus as a microcosm, you will encounter global environmental problems and solutions at the scale of our campus, which can then translate to the wider world.
This course is about how scientists figure things out. To put it more formally, it is about how people make sense of the natural world in the past, understand the present, and make predictions for the future. An integral (and interesting) part of this process is the different methods scientists use, the ways they work as a community, and how that community interacts and reflects the larger society. These aspects of science rarely get addressed in a traditional science class – in fact, it generally falls through the cracks of any college curriculum. So in this class we will emphasize the commonalities between different sciences and how scientific knowledge is generated rather than worrying about memorizing formulas or scientific facts.
The essence of criticism is the willingness to treat ideas as problems – that is, open to contestation and revision. ILS 200 examines the idea of “critical thinking,” surveying the forms it might take, the ways in which it might be employed (or subverted), and the significance of critical thinking in the daily life of the average citizen of a contemporary mass democracy.
What does it mean to think critically? In an 1894 report defending the freedom of professor
Richard Ely to promote a Socialist agenda on campus, then-President of UW-Madison, Charles Kendall
Adams, wrote: “Whatever may be the limitations which trammel inquiry elsewhere, we believe the great
state University of Wisconsin should ever encourage that continual and fearless sifting and winnowing by
which alone the truth can be found.” This process of “sifting and winnowing” is a great metaphor for
critical thought and has a distinguished tradition at UW-Madison. The aim of this course is to continue
this tradition. In other words, we will learn what it means to “sift and winnow” and how to express the
fruits of this process persuasively.
This course will achieve these goals by exploring the arguments of famous political speeches.
We will observe critical thought and persuasion “in action” by reading, rehearsing, scrutinizing, and
imitating some of the greatest speeches in our collective heritage. By engaging an array of speeches
meant to inspire, provoke, contest, and transform their audiences, we will learn the principles of what
constitutes an effective argument. In addition, we will practice drafting, delivering, and arguing
speeches of our own creation and will examine the relationship between arguments that seek truth and
arguments that seek to persuade. Finally, to pay homage to Alexander Meiklejohn, the founder of ILS
and author of Free Speech and Its Relation to Self-Government (1947), we will examine threats to critical
thinking, including limitations on free speech and the tyranny of majority opinion.
to think critically and historically about science in this course by exploring such fundamental questions
across two millennia. We begin with ancient mythology and philosophy, then follow the movement of
the Greek classical tradition into medieval Islam and Christendom, and finally turn to the ‘revolution’ in
science of the 16th and 17th centuries with Copernicus, Galileo, Descartes, and Newton.
In this course, we will
examine developments since the mid-seventeenth century that have brought about a dramatic
change in the way we understand the world and our place in it. How can we best explain why the
thing we call science began when and where it did? What forces formed it, and how in turn has it
become a powerful agent in shaping modern life? Tackling these questions is a major historical
challenge, one that will take us from the familiar and the local to the furthest extent of distant
empires. We will not find all the answers. But we will learn a lot about the connections between
commerce, industry, exploration, and war, changing conceptions of humankind’s place in nature,
and our ability to control the world around us. And, in the process, we will come to a new
understanding of the relationship between science, technology and society. This course is
suitable for undergraduates in any field. No previous knowledge is required: historical
background will be provided, and key scientific concepts explained, by the lectures and readings.
This course examines Western art and literature from the earliest human civilizations of
Mesopotamia and Egypt to the Middle Ages of Europe, with substantial emphasis on classical antiquity. The
syllabus is diachronic with a view toward revealing how the art and literature of western culture have shaped the
world cultures of today.
The development of literature and the arts from the Renaissance to the modern period: such
figures as Shakespeare and Michelangelo through T.S. Eliot and Picasso. Literature and art in
the context of society and ideas.
The objective of this course is two-fold. First, it introduces students to the roots of Western
political, economic, and social thought. Through a careful reading of canonical texts, the
foundational symbols and concepts of Western thought will come to light. The second objective
is to learn how these symbols and concepts can be brought to bear on contemporary problems
and how they can inform questions about our own political and personal order.
What part does honor play in our world? What does a good citizen look like? What is the role of reason? What is the place of violence? Students should keep these questions in mind when going into this course.
The objective of this course is two-fold. First, this course introduces students to the roots of modern Western political, economic, and social thought. Through a careful reading of canonical texts, the foundational symbols and concepts of modern Western thought will be analyzed and critically assessed.
Our second objective is to learn how these symbols and concepts can be brought to bear on contemporary problems and how they inform questions about our own political and personal order. How, for instance, is the modern world different from the ancient? What is the role of rationality in modern social, political, and economic life? What is the place of technology? What are the ramifications of these developments on our public lives? On our interior lives? Students are encouraged to keep these objectives in mind for both discussion sections and their written work.
Genres of Western Religious Writing has been developed with this comparative approach as its methodological
guide. It offers an introduction to some of the main genres of Western religious writing (i.e., scripture,
prayer, pilgrimage, myth, and ritual) as well as legacies and challenges of Western religious traditions (i.e.
pluralism, authority, social ethics, and violence). This class is based on the premise that closer study of
certain genres across cultures and traditions can offer a fresh look onto “the West’s” religious economy and
During the course of the semester we will read religious (or spiritual) memoirs by Barbara Brown Taylor,
and Haroon Moghul, and Eboo Patel. Memoirs are a central genre of Western religious writing since
Augustin of Hippo’s (358-430) famous Confessions, in which he tells his readers about his own (reprehensible)
youth and his conversion to Christianity. The memoirs will serve as a playing field to test ideas about socioreligious
formations, religious virtuosi, religious pluralism, - activism, and - criticism. We will also examine
the concept of ritual and will thoroughly explore the idea of “braided histories of the Abrahamic
Traditions.” We will have an opportunity to talk about braided histories with Prof. emer. Charles L. Cohen,
who recently published his book The Abrahamic Religions (2020).
There are three main modules for the class. The first part is how to look at the sky above us. This encompasses how scientists figured out how large the Earth was, how we know the Earth goes around the sun, why we think the universe started with a “big bang”. The second module is explaining life around us. This part focuses on evolution, including how the idea was originally derived and what evidence supports it today. The last is how to look at the Earth below us. We will focus on two aspects: How do we know how old the Earth is; and, What wiped out the dinosaurs?
Are there existential truths or insights about the essence of reality, human nature, or morality that can be disclosed only in a particular form of communication? This course will explore existentialist views about who we are, our place in the world, and who we should be in that world while analyzing the way these views are conveyed.
This course explores examples of remixing, mash up and sampling from ancient Greek lyric poetry to modern theater. It will consider remix as a form of cultural appropriation as well as a strategy of resistance through juxtapositions of ancient and modern texts and media. Through close textual readings, we will examine the surprising and original ways modern artists and thinkers have remixed ancient texts to give expression to modern experiences.
This course examines a series of political, philosophical, and literary texts in order to imagine the possible
relations between power, writing, and resistance. Rather than using literature as a key to politics, or
imposing political themes on literary works, we will attend to how literature—taken as a coded form of
linguistic and aesthetic practice—and politics—understood both as the exercise of power and strategies of
resistance—might be related.
In this course, we will study a series of literary texts in order to question the relations
between political power and resistance in modern writing. Instead of assuming that
literature lies beyond the pale of political life, we will explore the hypothesis that literary
works are marked by the very relations of power that structure subjects and societies at
First, the bulk of course time will involve seminar-style discussion of readings about democracy, citizenship, and expertise. In addition, students will observe at two different democratic forums and write and re-write papers based on these observations. The semester will begin with a set of readings by Alexander Meiklejohn, the inspiration for this course and the founder of the UW’s Integrated Liberal Studies program.
Evolving and contested concepts of justice and equality are an integral part of American public life – they play a key role in mediating our relationships with one another and with the state. But where do these ideas come from, and, as significantly, what kind of real-world impact do they have on the lives of individuals hailing from a diverse array of racial, ethnic, cultural, and socioeconomic backgrounds?
This course will require students to engage a diverse array of texts and topics. The semester will take us from biological evolution to the development of the personal computer to the art of Shepard Fairey to the music of Public Enemy. As we make that meandering journey, we’ll throw around terms like postmodernism, bricolage, and mash-up. However, the course will not simply be an exercise in the mastery of jargon; it will require students to reflect seriously on a variety of creative processes and make linkages between them.
Judaism today is rabbinic Judaism. From dietary regulations to marriage laws, Jewish
customs are filtered through rabbinic understandings of – and additions to – biblical
traditions. This course examines the literary corpus of the classical rabbinic period (70-
640 C.E.) in order to understand how this group shaped the religion now known as
Judaism. Interacting closely with primary texts in translation, students will learn the
operating principles of rabbinic logic, as well as how scholars (re)construct history based
upon this corpus. In the second half of this course, we will focus on rabbinic topics.
Using drinks and drinking as a test case, students will apply arguments made on the
macro level (i.e., about rabbinic literature in general) to the micro level. Throughout this
course, students will be challenged to question and verify various scholarly assumptions
Focusing primarily on the world of the ancient Romans, this course (in translation) interrogates the
phenomenon and notion of “conspiracy”—as well as the related concept of “conspiracy theory”—
within the political, social, familial, and religious spheres. Like most good things, this course is divided
into three parts. In the first, we investigate some famous political conspiracies, including the so-called
“Catilinarian Conspiracy” and the assassination of Julius Caesar. The second part turns to the Roman
household to consider the social, familial, and gendered dimensions of domestic conspiracies,
including the way that women, children, and enslaved peoples could threaten the notional “tyranny” of
the paterfamilias. In the final part, we consider prominent religions that came into conflict with
Roman authorities—especially the mystery cults surrounding Bacchus as well as sects of early
Christianity. We will bring to bear the insights gleaned from the ancient world on the modern one in
our consideration of more recent conspiracies and conspiracy theories like the Salem Witch Trials, the
Red Scare of the 1950s, and even contemporary political events, which may, or may not, admit analysis
as a “conspiracy.” As we shall see, “conspiracy” and “conspiracy theory” are useful, yet sometimes
tendentious, concepts, which often reveal more about the society and culture in which they occur (as
well as the authors who write about them) than the actual activities they would seem to denote.
The objective of this course is to examine the ideas of political economy and to question how an
economy should be connected to society. Within this broad objective, there are two specific areas
of study. First, through a careful reading of several important works, we will endeavor to
discover the philosophical origins of political economy. That is, we will set out to find not the
beginnings of political economy as a process of policy making, but rather to uncover the
theoretical motives and problems that give rise to political economy as a way of thinking in
general. Second, we will explore a series of powerful critiques from theoretical quarters and
vantages. In so considering these texts, we shall endeavor not only to discover how they address
the optimism of modern thought, but also to explore the applicability of their arguments at the
dawn of the 21st century. All together, we aim to better understand both the possibilities and the
limitations of the economic organization of life.
The goal of this course is to provide you with a critical framework for evaluating cultural products (literature, art, and movies) and some basic research skills to do narrative analysis. Myths are around us and, in this class, we are going to read about myths through time. Understanding literature from academia implies acquiring an ability to discover ideas that lay behind words, and then, the reader, has to connect the text in an invisible thread. This implies going beyond the pleasure of reading, to link, find and select what Umberto Eco refers to as an Index that connects the text with our own reading, giving it a unique look. With these two elements, the text and the possible routes of the academy in literature are endless. The aim of this course is that the classroom becomes a melting pot; the place to expose a personal vision of the text, nurtured by the various theories that have critically assessed the works. For over two centuries the myths of the Greeks have provoked fascination and need to make interpretations. History carries myths and the idea of Future is heavy in mythology too. Humans talk to other humans through the use of myths. We are going to learn different ways of interpreting myths and we are going to examine closely the way that gender is portrayed in Myths.
We live in a world in which competing notions of intelligence are implicitly being tested and
displayed. From IQ tests to artificial intelligence, the intellectual faculty seems to dominate and
administer vast aspects of the modern world. But what does it mean to be intelligent?
From the dawn of Ancient Greece to 21st century global society, sports and politics have been intimately and precariously entwined. This course examines the classical origins of sport, its relationship to political thought and community, and the legacy of the ancient sporting tradition in our own times.
In the tradition of the Meiklejohn Experimental College, the primary goal of the capstone seminar is to provide an intensive and sustained opportunity for graduating seniors to step back and reflect about the challenges of leadership, character, and moving into the professions and adult life in general.
This course explores the relationship between food, friendship, and community. Reading philosophy, fiction, watching movies, and employing practice-based learning, we will examine the central role of food—especially its production and presentation—in the creation and maintenance of our shared social and political lives.