Liberal Arts Courses
This course explores the history of German cinema between 1919 and 1945. In the first half of the semester we will be examining the films produced in the era of the Weimar Republic, that decade and a half following the First World War in which democracy failed to take permanent root in Germany. Although associated with political failure, the Weimar years were a time of artistic experimentation, and the films of the 1920s and early 1930s reflect the social, political, and cultural tensions of the period. In the second half of the course we will turn our attention to the cinema created in Germany during the Nazi dictatorship. In Hitler's Germany movies were no longer simply entertainment; they also served as an important form of propaganda: glorifying the regime, creating a sense of national (and racial) unity, demonizing Germany's Jewish minority, and justifying an aggressive foreign policy of war and expansion. In the course of the semester we will be looking at horror films, thrillers, science fiction fantasies, dramas, musicals, love stories, documentaries, and action pictures. And all of them—even those intended as light entertainment at the time—convey historical lessons about how an open and democratic society could disintegrate and be overtaken by a ruthless and genocidal dictatorship.
History Topics courses enable students to choose from a variety of course themes that change each semester. Topics focus on a variety of historical periods and ideas. In History Topics courses, students explore the role of historical sources in the formation of ideas, as they examine various historical interpretations, debates, and methodologies. Students come to recognize that not all questions have simple yes-or-no, right-or-wrong answers. Students learn to appreciate and respect diversity and are able to identify bias in written and media sources used to document history. Individual course descriptions are available to registering students at http://www.berklee.edu/liberal-arts/courses/liberal-arts-topics-courses.
This survey course examines the culture of black American music (West African griot music, spirituals, blues, jazz, black symphonic and concert music, gospel, R&B, soul, free jazz, funk, and hip-hop) through an exploration of music, artistry, and the social dynamics of American society. This course provides a critical examination of the impact this music has had upon creativity in the modern world. It also develops a critical line of thinking, discussion, and debate about the implications, effects, and meanings of cultural expression and phenomena, and what the development of black music tells us about American society, socially, spiritually, politically, and culturally. An important aspect of this exploration is the consideration of the aesthetic and cultural dimensions of black life and culture, Western conceptions of art, and the social and political contexts that shape the music. Critical discussion will be a crucial part of the classroom experience. Students are expected to attend class sessions prepared to discuss at length and in depth the selected musical works, transcriptions, lyric/text analysis, daily reading assignments, and issues related to course materials.
This course explores the social-political, cultural spiritual, and theological significance of popular music in American society. We will highlight the perspectives, insights, and work of creative artists who are committed to art and social engagement. This course operates upon the premise that making music is not merely a pastime but a priesthood. We will explore selected artists' music through lyrical analysis, musical forms, and performance practices in order to examine what artists say they are doing with their art. We will also examine selected critical writings and articles that discuss the function of creative construction using varying aesthetic theories. This course expands exposure to artists and their music as it relates to the notion of artistic expression tied to spiritual yearning or definition. Major music and social themes to be explored include: community, identity, social activism, sexuality, theodicy (the question of a good God in the face of evil), spirituality, love, social justice, the blues, gospel, Utopianism, and religious exploration. Additionally, the class will view selected video and film documentaries.
This course explores the lives and works of great black musical artists. Through a view into the music and the lives of these artists and of certain meanings, themes, artists' intent, and experiences, we gain insight into some very specific historical, cultural, and social windows. We will view black musicians' work that cuts across the entire musical/artistic spectrum, giving us perspective into the development of the various musical genres, styles, and movements that make up American music, from blues to rock 'n' roll and song classics to American art/classical music. Studying the lives of these greats allows an insider's look into extraordinary career development and industry business practices. In an artistry shaped and forged by racial and social outcasting comes a very unique kind of narrative, sound, perspective, and insight, which is inextricably bound to hearing, understanding, and appreciating this unique American artistry.
Throughout the history of world civilizations many societies developed mystical and contemplative traditions that radically questioned the authority, hierarchy, and dogma of religious and political establishments. The mystics sought wisdom and compassionate action through cultivation of concentration, mindfulness, broader and deeper conscious awareness, and awakening the heart. In this course we explore their teachings in three ways: through reading ancient texts, practicing meditation, and community learning, which includes visiting communities that practice these teachings. The texts include ancient creation stories such as those in the Hindu Rig Veda (India), Hebrew Genesis (Israel), Socrates, Marcus Aurelius (classical Greece and Rome), Lao Tzu's Taoism (China), Buddha (India), Buddhism (China, Thailand, Japan, Korea, Tibet), Islamic Sufism of Rumi and Hafiz (Middle East), Christian mysticism of Hildegard of Bingen, Meister Eckhart (Europe), and Jewish mysticism of Kabbalah (Spain).
The history of human consciousness is vast. This course traces one thread of the study of consciousness through meditation. Every culture developed ways to recognize and cut through the mind's delusions to directly experience a wider reality that enhanced compassion and response-ability. In the words of Professor Hal Roth below, we will engage in a "careful, systematic investigation of contemplative experience from a combined third-person and first-person perspective." From a first-person perspective each student is required to commit to a meditation practice throughout the semester to become a scientist in the laboratory of the mind. From third-person perspective, we study twentieth- and twenty-first century teachers who interpret ancient wisdom systems through Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, secularism, and the arts and sciences. The course has academic, experiential, and fieldwork components that require reading texts, writing weekly responses, practicing meditation in and outside of class, and a field trip.
This course examines Palestinian and Israeli history to better understand how culture, identity, and conflict impact their relationships. Students will deepen ability to detect bias, learn consequences of opposing narratives, and cultivate knowledge of and respect for both peoples. We study religious, social, ethnic, and nationalistic aspects of Palestinian, Arab, Israeli, Jewish, Muslim, and Christian identities. What role does religion play in a conflict between two predominantly secular peoples? What power imbalances and inequalities exist not only between these peoples but also within each side? What are the obstacles to and possibilities for peace? Through reading, research, writing, video, and music, students cultivate an appreciation of the struggles, strengths, and legitimate needs of both peoples.
This course examines the development of human rights theories and practices, early efforts at an international response and the creation of a modern human rights agenda after 1945. Students explore race, ethnicity, and gender as human rights issues and examine the issue of humanitarian intervention in Bosnia, Rwanda, and Darfur. In addition, students examine globalization, terrorism, and the role of the United States in the current human rights debate.
The 20th century, often referred to as The American Century, was a time of turbulent transformation in which Americans were forced to rethink their political ideals, their commitment to social justice, and their definitions of art and culture. In this course, students focus on the big ideas in American culture that shaped the nation's history from the roaring '20s to the radical '60s. Students examine American music within the context of US history, studying folk music and the labor movement, modernism and jazz, and student activism and rock.
Students will read and discuss articles by respected scholars and commentators on critical issues facing the world today. Discussions will focus on topics of historic significance in the last quarter of the 20th century. Note: This course may be used to fulfill the social science requirement.
The meaning of one's sexual identity has changed dramatically from one period of history to another, and from one culture to another. This course examines the changing roles of men and women and their power relationships throughout history. By studying gender in religion, politics, family, and the arts, students gain perspectives on their own roles and relations. Note: This course may be used to fulfill the social science requirement.