Wendy A. Wiseman
Each colloquium examines a different subject or problem from a comparative framework. A list of topics is available from the CHID office.
"Religion, Nihilism, and the Question of Morality" will explore the the implications for morality of both the "death of God" and of a defiant faith in the face of atheism through the works of Friedrich Nietzsche and Fyodor Dostoevsky. These towering figures of the late 19th century would appear to face one another as mortal enemies, with Nietzsche forcefully declaring the bankruptcy and nihilism of Christianity, and Dostoevsky portraying Christianity as the only hope for a world on the brink of self-destruction. And yet, Nietzsche will declare in his final year of sanity that "Dostoevsky is the only psychologist from whom I have anything to learn" and claimed an uncanny "feeling of kinship" with the novelist. Through textual analysis and discussion, we will interrogate the intimate and intense relationship between nihilism, faith, and the image/s of humanity that make morality possible.
Student learning goals
Students will be trained in the art of reading well, with patience, hospitality, and care. This will be accomplished through a series of short papers in which select texts are to be compared and contrasted, coupled with text-based discussions of the issues that arise in our readings. Students will also learn to feel at home, and hence to enjoy, discussions at a high philosophical and literary level, where issues that concern us most intimately are brought into the light for debate and questioning. And finally, students will gain in-depth familiarity with two of the most influential literary and philosophical figures for the 20th and our current century.
General method of instruction
The class will be run as a seminar, with introductory comments by the instructor, followed by presentations on particular readings by students. Discussion of particular questions, issues, and themes that arise in the texts will constitute the bulk of class time.
Students MUST have completed the assigned reading for the day. That is the most vital aspect of this course, and its success depends on this effort. No philosophical or religious background is necessary, though it is certainly helpful. A general introduction to Existentialism in Stanford's online philosophical encyclopedia would be an excellent step in preparing for this course.
Class assignments and grading
Assignments center around critical engagement with difficult philosophical and literary texts and questions. There will be plenty reading, but not too much, and exegetical (interpretive) writing in your shorter essays and final paper.
Participation, preparedness, presentation, four 4-5 page papers, and final paper.