Yale for Life programs are more than classroom sessions, but the classes are certainly at their heart.  Read about our 2016 courses, with Yale’s top faculty, intriguing topics, innovative approaches, supremely curated reading, and more, below.  Click through the short descriptions to see the full course pages.  Then, from our menus above, learn more about our faculty – lead and guest professors; see some of the readings they have selected, and then visit “The Best of Yale” to learn about the special events.  See “Community” to see how the courses continue past their week’s end.

The Dark Arts of Civilization

June 3-9, 2018

Professors: Emily Greenwood and Lawrence Manley

Imagine following a work of art over 2,500 years. Watch literature, philosophy, and politics coalesce.  The play that emerges: one of Shakespeare’s richest, and we will see the incredible range of inspiration that went into it, and came out of it.  We trace, first, classical sources that are “written into” The Tempest – Homer, Herodotus, Virgil, Ovid, Lucretius.  Arriving at Shakespeare’s own time, we learn about his day’s politics through  Alberti and Erasmus, and travel to the New World. Then, we “pivot forward” and hear a conversation across the ages, as this one play carries seemingly all of humanity’s weight through time.  From early colonial history to Restoration Drama, from Africa to South Asia to the Caribbean, this one work’s echoes resound in untold corners.  Today’s Poetry, Film, Theater, Music, Novels – they all bear the mark of Prospero.  This journey is “a different, humanist way of looking at ‘World Order.’  Shakespeare sits at the center, the fulcrum of a dialog between the classics and the contemporary, as art and intellect transcend contemporary “culture wars.”   Two of Yale’s greatest professors: Emily Greenwood and Lawrence Manley, who conceived this course in Yale College to great acclaim, now bring its innovation and insight to alumni -to you! – through the interdisciplinary lens of Yale for Life.

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American Nationhood: North and South

June 17-23, 2018

Professors: Steven Smith and Charles Hill

How was America formed? Was it in the rocky coasts of New England or in the broad flat lands of the Mississippi?  What determines American identity?  Is it geography, religion, or politics? What are the springs of American Nationhood?  America’s motto, “E Pluribus Unum,” is far from obviously valid.  A divide between North and South has been evident since the founding, when among other things, the notorious three-fifths clause entered the law of the land as an accommodation across this chasm.  This course will seek the origin and evolution of American Character in two distinct and distinctive places. In the South, the Mississippi Valley takes its place among the great river valleys of the world, that gave birth to important civilizations – but perhaps uniquely, here, it did so democratically. We will study how the great literature, music, history, and art of the Valley reflect at least one view of American Character. Up North, New England played an undeniable role in shaping American religious, moral, and political sensibilities – but not only once. The Puritan tradition was followed by Transcendentalists, and later Pragmatists, as this wellspring of the American Character evolved. Did these traditions ever coalesce?  Have they influenced and informed each other?  Do we struggle with them even today?  This course will provide the tools to ask, and hopefully begin to address, such questions.  Professors Steven Smith and Charles Hill – both well known to generations of Yalies, but especially to Yale for Life, where we have thrilled to their insights in years past – will lead us once again in this entirely new -and entirely timely – inquiry.

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Histories of The Self

June 24-30, 2018

Professors: Ayesha Ramachandran and Marta Figlerowicz

What did the ‘self’ mean to Plato or to Aristotle? And how should we understand it now, in the midst of public discussions about religious pluralism, diversity, and technological change as forces that shape our experience of the world? This course explores Western, Middle Eastern, and South Asian accounts of the ‘self,’ and asks what these intellectual histories can teach us about our contemporary world. We consider major philosophical perspectives from Antiquity to the Enlightenment (Plato, Aristotle, Seneca, Montaigne, Descartes, Hume, and Kant, among others) and how these theories were inspired, but also complicated, by religious conflicts, imperial politics, and changing scientific and cultural perspectives. The course examines time-honored philosophical concepts including authenticity, consciousness, introspection, and character; it also follows the long and complicated genealogies of categories such as race and gender. Through philosophical treatises, poems, novels, memoirs, feature films, graphic novels, personal essays, and pieces of journalism, the course develops tools for thinking about our contemporary world and ourselves within it.  Yale for Life favorite, Professor Ayesha Ramachandran, and her fellow professor when a version of this course was taught in Yale College, Prof. Marta Figlerowicz, will lead us.

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