Course Descriptions


Team-taught, interdisciplinary seminars are at the heart of the Graduate Program in Liberal Studies. Each semester one graduate seminar is offered. MLS seminars are taught once a week in the evening, usually on Mondays, from 7:00 to 10:00 p.m. Below are course descriptions for the seminars currently in the MLS curriculum.

MLS 510 Darwin: His Impact on His World and Ours
Darwin and Darwinism are studied from a variety of perspectives, including the ways thinkers used the prestige of scientific theory to justify contemporary business practices and social inequalities; the impact of Darwinism on literature; scientific developments since Darwin; the new sociobiology, the genetic and cultural evolutionary determination of human behavior.

MLS 514 Public Policy and the Environment
The seminar will examine: the historical background of current environmental issues; alternative ways of conceiving of the relationship of humankind and the natural world; environmental and political implications of global energy supplies and renewable energy sources and their uses; the complex issues created by the need to reconcile environmental with other social goals such as economic growth; analysis of the consequences of population growth.

MLS 516 The Idea of Law
The idea of “law” can mean different things in different contexts and applications. This seminar considers such questions as whether the concept of law is used the same way in the natural and social sciences. How does “natural” law differ from “positive” law? While literature does enlarge our understanding of law in these several senses, how do letters, as well as the other arts, themselves reflect their own “rules”? And do new theories of literary criticism along with chaos theory challenge older assumptions of order and meaning?

MLS 518 Modernism
This seminar explores the origins and development of the cultural movement that helped define Europe and America in the 20th century.  The radical transformation of both natural and social science in the late nineteenth century reconfigured notions of time and space that profoundly affected literature and the arts.  New technologies contributed to a pervasive mass culture that both influenced and alienated artists and intellectuals.  The seminar will discuss a variety of thinkers who challenged middle-class conventions and created the heresies of Modernism.

MLS 520 The Mind and the Brain
The brain has been called an “enchanted loom.” Can our knowledge of the physical brain help us understand our thinking selves, our emotions, and other mental processes? Conversely, can a good understanding of the human mind (rational, spiritual, and creative) illuminate our study of the physiological brain? How do personality and intellect develop over one’s life? How does the brain develop, and how might consciousness have evolved? Do we have inborn “social instincts”?

MLS 522 The Eighteenth Century: Emergence of a New World View
The Scientific Revolution of the seventeenth century transformed the intellectual climate of European civilization. In the century that followed, many argued that the rational methods of natural science could be applied to philosophy, religion, politics, aesthetics, and society. The impulse to Enlightenment was challenged by a generation of writers and satirists who, while often introducing new styles of poetry and prose, defended traditional humanistic values. From this tension between old and new, continuity and change, emerged a modern world view. This seminar will explore eighteenth-century culture in a variety of its manifestations, including science, literature, the arts, religion, and politics.

MLS 524 Ways of Knowing
We know many different things but we also know in many different ways. The poet, the scientist, the historian and the mystic come to know the world distinctively. What is the basis for scientific knowledge? How can we know the past? What kinds of knowledge are the province of literature and the arts? The seminar will explore several of the ways in which we know, concentrating on the scientific, the historical, and the literary.

MLS 526 Sound and Image
This seminar will consider the aesthetic interaction between ear and eye, especially in the mass-mediated forms of music, sound effect, dialogue, photograph, painting, and cinema.  We will read both theoretical and literary reflections on the subject, see some movies, and listen to recorded music.  Briefly considering the physics and physiology of hearing and vision, we will consider how the artistic imagination, delivered in audio and visual media, interacts with audience experience both as individuals and as a social group.  

MLS 528 Liberty
The concept of liberty is a relatively modern one; we can trace its development from the English Enlightenment to the 21st century.  This seminar will explore how the idea of liberty has developed as a political, economic, cultural and social ideal.  We will look at liberty in markets, individual rights, conflicts between equality and freedom, international relations, psychological explorations of freedom, conflicts between states and individual liberties, and other topics.  Materials will include classic texts and cultural explorations of liberty through literature and the arts.

MLS 530 War and Peace: Conflict and Human Nature
This course examines how issues of war and peace frame international relations in the modern era.  With a special emphasis on World War I, we will study popular attitudes toward war, including militarism, imperialism, and pacifism.  Consideration is also given to Woodrow Wilson’s peace plan and subsequent efforts to end states’ reliance on armed conflict to settle international political disputes.  The course also considers the effect of technological change on war, efforts to promote democracy as an antidote to war, humanitarian intervention, and Islam’s tradition of pacifism as a response to jihadism.

MLS 532 Sex and Gender in Nature and Society
An interdisciplinary exploration of sex and gender, with emphasis on the perspectives of biology, psychology, history, art, and literature. We will examine the biological bases for differences between males and females and how evolution shapes sex roles in animal societies. We will consider the social and cultural differences between males and females and how gender and sex affect the social roles of men and women. How, if at all, have gender roles changed in the process of historical development? How does culture construct gender and in what ways can art and literature illuminate aspects of gender?

MLS 534 Civil Liberties and Civil Rights
Civil rights and civil liberties are often confused but both are essential to any civilized society.  This seminar will focus on the essential differences between civil liberties—or the individual freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights—and civil rights, the protections afforded particular groups from discrimination or unequal treatment.  Landmark cases in the areas of reproductive rights, freedom of speech and religion, capital punishment, the right to keep and bear arms and voting rights will be studied and discussed, from a legal, political and an historical perspective.  International comparisons will be an integral part of the course focus.

MLS 536 Meetings: East and West
Encounters between East and West play a significant role in world affairs.  This course explores the complex and evolving inter-relationships among East Asian nations and Western powers by focusing on how both Eastern and Western traditions and discourses encounter, resist, assimilate, and transform each other in unpredictable ways.  Sweeping themes, ranging from the formation of empire and efforts to create modern nation-states in China and Japan to cultural/intellectual interchanges between East Asia and the United States will be discussed through the examination of a wide variety of sources, including official documents, personal memoirs, oral histories, literary and artistic works, intellectual scholarship, and documentary films.   

MLS 538 Ethics and Life
Selected topics dealing with the ethical dimension of human activities, institutions, and traditions. Topic for Fall 2005: International Relations. Considerations of the intersection between ethics and U.S. foreign policy, examining tensions and harmony between universal values and national interest. Examination of the extent ethics does, can, or should inform decisions about the U.S. role in international affairs.

MLS 540 Cinema and Society
Cinema exerts a powerful influence on society. It reflects, shapes and comments upon a variety of social and political concerns. Through careful analysis of films—classic as well as recent—and related texts, the seminar will explore varying representations of such themes as nation, gender, class, and race from literary, socio-scientific, and artistic perspectives.

MLS 542 Images of Human Nature
This course will consider various views about the nature and meaning of human existence.  Among the images to be examined are the religious and philosophical, the heroic, the psychological, and the sociological and historical.  Readings include selections from Augustine, Dante, Shakespeare, Rousseau, Nietzsche, Freud, and various contemporary documents, including film.

MLS 544 Building Chicago
Chicago’s story can be traced by examining the unique relationship between its people and the city they built. In 1820, the site contained a fort, a few dwellings, a handful of people, and limited prospects. By 1900, Chicago was the home of the skyscraper and headquarters for many of the nation’s largest businesses, with a population close to 2 million at the vital center of the continent. Today the metropolitan area covers nearly 10,000 square miles, with a population close to 8 million and commercial interests that reach around the globe. By “reconstructing” Chicago and examining its unique architectural achievements, how the city expanded, and why it looks the way it does, the texture of the city’s history and culture is revealed.

MLS 546 Religion: An Interdisciplinary Approach                             Religion has been a cultural universal in the past, and remains a constant in our current societies. Some of the questions that this cross-disciplinary seminar explores are as follows: What is religion? How does it interact with other facets of our psychological, sociological, and cultural life? What was its role in different societies? What is its future? We shall look at religion from the perspectives of theologians, philosophers, psychologists and social scientists, and literature and the arts.

MLS 548 Romanticism: Self and Society
The Romantic era (ca. 1780-1830) was a period of revolutionary change in politics, literature, music, and the visual arts. This seminar examines the evolving relation of self and society through five transformational decades of modern European history. Discussions will focus on the works of a number of major figures, including Blake, Burke, Schiller, Wordsworth, Keats, Schubert, and Mary Shelley.

MLS 550 Latin America: Economy and Culture 
An interdisciplinary study of Latin America, focusing on economics, society, and culture.   Special attention to the transfiguring role of film and literary texts.  Also special emphasis on border studies, including free trade agreements, the treatment of workers, and immigration policy between the United States and Mexico.


A preceptorial is a small group tutorial focusing on a particular theme. The Graduate Program in Liberal Studies will offer these special classes on an as-needed basis.


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