KNOW courses are offered by the faculty of the Institute on the Formation of Knowledge at both the graduate and the advanced undergraduate levels.
For graduate students, we offer a number of cross-listed seminars as well as an annual core sequence in topics in the formation of knowledge (KNOW 401, 402, 403). These seminars are team-taught by faculty from different departments or schools and are open to all graduate students regardless of field of study. Graduate students who enroll in two quarters of this sequence are eligible to apply for the Dissertation Research Fellowships.
For undergraduate students, we offer courses cross-listed in departments and schools across the University, as well as unique courses taught by the Institute's Postdoctoral Scholars. To browse courses, search by department, quarter, academic year, or type in a keyword that interests you. In addition, the Institute launched the Experimental Capstone (XCAP) in 2018-19, team-taught courses for fourth-year undergraduate students interested in building upon their UChicago educational experience by adding practice, impact, and influence as important dimensions of their undergraduate work.
Environmental Justice in Chicago
This course will examine the development of environmental justice theory and practice through social scientific and ethical literature about the subject as well as primary source accounts of environmental injustices. We will focus on environmental justice issues in Chicago including, but not limited to waste disposal, toxic air and water, the Chicago heat wave, and climate change. Particular attention will be paid to environmental racism and the often understudied role of religion in environmental justice theory and practice. Throughout the course we will explore how normative commitments are expressed in different types of literature as well as the basis for normative judgments and the types of authorities authors utilize and claim as they consider environmental justice.
Euripides’ Bacchae: Madness, Contagion, Responsibility, Shame, and Guilt
Outline: We’ll conduct a careful study of one, slightly mutilated, Euripidean tragedy and its intellectual descendants. These descendants include the Byzantine-period mystery-play Khristos paskhōn; Nietzsche’s Birth of Tragedy and Ecce Homo; E. R. Dodds, The Greeks and the Irrational; Georges Devereux, “The Psychotherapy Scene in Euripides’s Bacchae”; Bernard Williams, Shame and Necessity; some performance history; and translations by Wole Soyinka and Anne Carson. A dual attention to the play and the “essentially contested” character of its readings will lead us deeper into the meanings of the five abstract nouns enumerated in the course title. Familiarity with ancient Greek advisable but not required. Topics to be discussed will include classical reception, translation and appropriation, cultural and religious change, and the ambivalence of moral terms.
Self, Culture, and Society
Self, Culture, and Society
The Bible in U.S. Politics: The Use and Abuse of Sacred Texts in the Public Sphere
People across the political spectrum continue to cite the Bible to justify their viewpoints. Black Lives Matter protestors carried signs citing scriptural support for the rights of African Americans to life and justice, while some of those who stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6th first marched around their state capitols in recreation of biblical Israel’s circling of the doomed city Jericho. How can the same book serve the political ends of such ideologically distinct movements? In this course, we will explore the variety of ways in which the Bible, especially the Christian New Testament, informs contemporary political discourse. We will discuss what the Bible is and where it comes from, and how an interpreter’s social location and culturally and historical-bound assumptions shape their interpretation. We will build upon this foundation by examining several contentious political issues in which the Bible is commonly invoked, including abortion, sexuality, immigration, and gun rights. We will analyze the key passages used by supporters of various policy positions to support their claims, situating these texts in their original contexts and highlighting the historical distance that problematizes their use today. Prior familiarity with biblical literature is not required.
Magic, Miracles, and Medicine: Healthcare in the Bible and the Ancient World
This course examines the complex issues surrounding the body, disability, and medical care in antiquity. It will be guided by a variety of questions, such as what was the root cause of bodily infirmity and disease in antiquity? How did cultural views of sex, gender, and race influence perceptions of the body and what it meant to be able bodied? Such questions are significant when considering what kind of access to healthcare marginalized groups had. In order to explore these questions, we will examine ancient Mediterranean views of medical care through material remains (e.g., magical amulets and healing shrines) and textual evidence (e.g., Galen and Hippocrates). After considering this wider cultural context, we will examine treatments in the Hebrew Bible, New Testament, and early Christianity. We will also explore how Christian concepts of medical care evolved in light of accounts of Jesus as a divine healer. In addition to this ancient evidence, we will engage with modern disability studies and sociological analyses to better orient our readings. At the end of the course, students will be better acquainted with the complex relationship between religion and medicine and how that affects modern healthcare decisions.
Islamic Education in West Africa
This course will critically explore the history of Islamic scholarship and the transmission of religious knowledge and scholarly authority in West African Muslim societies from the late medieval period to the present day. We will examine a variety of knowledge traditions, textual and pedagogical approaches, epistemologies, and embodied practices of Muslim scholars and students of the region in order to understand what it means to seek, transmit, and create knowledge in the context of West African Muslim societies. In addition to relevant secondary literature, we will read passages from some of the texts taught in these places. Intermediate Arabic is recommended, but not required for this course.
Religion and Psychoanalysis
Freud postulated that many cultural activities with no apparent connection to sexuality, including religious practice and belief, have their origin in the sexual instincts. Sublimation, which describes the process by which the sexual instincts are diverted to nonsexual aims or objects, plays a crucial role in Freudian metapsychology. And yet Freud never managed to articulate a coherent account of this process, and thus he failed to provide a concept of sublimation as such. In this class we will study the role of sublimation in Freudian metapsychology with specific reference to the theme of religiosity. In examining how sublimation is taken up by others (e.g. Klein, Lacan) we will also consider whether this concept affords a novel understanding of religion. Course Note: Undergraduates must petition to enroll.
Philosophical Approaches to Peace of Mind: The Zhuangzi in Dialogue
Philosophical activity across cultures and times has been closely associated with the management of affective states. One common goal is to minimize negative emotions by changing how events are interpreted and appraised. This course will focus on three strategies that appear across different traditions. The first argues that events are outside of our control, in some cases appealing to fate but in other cases appealing to chance. The second strategy is a skeptical approach that attacks our ability to judge any event as bad or good. The third strategy undermines the ontological status of the kinds of things we become attached to, either by rejecting the ultimate reality of individual substances or arguing that diverse things form a single whole. All of these strategies appear prominently in the classical Chinese text the Zhuangzi. The core of this course will consist of a close reading of parts of the Zhuangzi, considering these strategies as they intersect with and shed light on its various philosophies. We will also read in a comparative context. The other traditions used will be guided by student interest, but the most likely choices would be Stoicism and Epicureanism (for the first strategy), Sextus Empiricus (for the second), and arguments appearing South Asian Buddhist philosophies (for the third). Aside from better understanding the Zhuangzi, the goal of the course is to consider how similar strategies function in significantly different cultural contexts.
Religion, Science, Naturalism: Is There a Problem?
The idea that “religion” and “science” are basically at odds with one another — that they involve, indeed, essentially different kinds of rationality — is surely foremost among the ideas that arguably distinguish modernity. This class will consider some of the various ways in which that conclusion has been resisted by some twentieth- and twenty-first-century thinkers, drawing on a range of philosophical and religious perspectives — those, for example, of the Anglo-Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein (who would complicate our understanding of what it means to “believe” anything); the German theologian Rudolf Bultmann (whose method precisely distinguished existential questions from scientific ones); and the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet (who thinks it imperative that the limits of scientific understanding be acknowledged in light of a Buddhist critique). Particular attention will be given to early writings from American pragmatist philosopher-scientists (William James, C. S. Peirce, and John Dewey), who argued that it is a mistake in the first place to think religion necessarily concerns anything “supernatural”; religion, for these thinkers, can therefore be understood as wholly consistent with naturalism.