Establishing a chronological order for our readings and presentations seems to strengthen students’ intellectual background, and it can also clarify issues significant to the present. It’s a bit old-fashioned as an approach, but my hope is that it will not seem so, for the readings fill gaps, stimulate much critical thinking, and are self-selected.
The initial reading experience is to encounter some of the first human texts, some of the first written efforts to sustain thinking and imagining. These initial writings present Hebraic ideas about community and the godhead in the Old Testament and the Hellenic, classically humanistic values of reasoned inquiry and historical analysis in Herodotus. Then contrasting yet connected visions of religion and human culture are evident in "cross-cultural texts" - Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, and Mohammedan. After the late Medieval period (with its religious orientation), there is the reemergence of classical humanism in the Renaissance, with its influential examples of creativity across the arts and sciences. In the eighteenth century Enlightenment and the Romanticism which followed in the early nineteenth century, there is the contention between reason and emotion in European culture, and out of this oscillation between objectivity and subjectivity emerged a range of achievements – from the assertion of individual rights to the growth of imperial power, from the transformative discoveries in the physical sciences to the revelations about the nature of human subjectivity from Wordsworth to Dostoyevsky.
Certain themes inevitably become clear in the students’ self-conducted survey. There is the power of text itself, of changing written modes of human thought and feeling (of course, it is said that we exist at the moment when a new digital mode is arriving). There are the recurrent patterns of difference among ways of seeing the world – objective and subjective, human-centered and religion-centered, individual and corporate or imperial – and blood continues to be shed over such conflicts. Finally, there is Vico’s insight, which one increasingly appreciates, into both the cycles of devastation which emerge from these conflicts as well as the on-going creative process producing human culture.