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.
The Scientist in the Nineteenth-Century Imagination
The nineteenth century saw both the professionalization of science and the specialization of its practitioners. In this age of “human empire” produced by industrialization, new technologies offered humanity unprecedented dominion over the natural world, and the “scientist,” a term coined in 1834, marked the advent of the idea of a vocation dedicated to that mastery. Moreover, by the end of the century, the natural philosophers and polymaths of earlier ages had given way to chemists, physicists, biologists, and statisticians, whose scope of study was necessarily both deeper and narrower. These developments produced a new social and political positioning for the scientist – an expert, an authority, a wielder of power. This class explores how nineteenth-century fiction writers, from Mary Shelley and Edgar Allan Poe to Jules Verne and Arthur Conan Doyle, engaged with these emerging and transforming conceptualizations of the scientist figure. We will pair our literary explorations with non-fiction readings texts by thinkers and scientists such as Humphry Davy, Karl Pearson, Claude Bernard, William Whewell, and Max Weber (“Science as Vocation”) about what the scientist should be and science should do. Additionally, we’ll consider how this literary genealogy influences both our fictional portrayal of science to this day as well as our perceptions of it – from our contemporary distrust of expertise to our fear of the scientist playing god. This course fulfills the elective requirement for a new MAPSS concentration on the Formation of Knowledge https://ifk.uchicago.edu/mapss/.
Multidisciplinary Perspectives on Morality
Morality is essential for societal functioning and central to human flourishing. People across all cultures seem to have the same sense about morality. They simply know what morality is, often without being able to concretely define what exactly it means to label something as a moral kind. But when one tries to more precisely and scientifically define what morality is, things become less clear and more complex. As we’ll see in the class, the field of morality is incredibly dynamic, and characterized more by competing theories and perspectives than by scientific consensus. Some research has worked deductively, starting with a theoretical definition (like the moral foundation theory) to generate hypotheses. Other research has taken a more inductive approach, starting with lay people’s perception of morality.
The past decades have seen an explosion of theoretical empirical research in the study of morality. Amongst the most exciting and novel findings and theories, evolutionary biologists and anthropologists have shown that morality has evolved to facilitate cooperation and social interactions. Developmental psychologists came up with ingenious paradigms, demonstrating that some elements underpinning morality are in place much earlier than we thought in preverbal infants. Social psychologists and behavioral economists examine the relative roles of emotion and reasoning, as well as how social situations affect moral or amoral behavior. Social neuroscientists are mapping brain mechanisms implicated in moral decision-making. The lesson from all this new knowledge is clear: human moral cognition and behavior cannot be separated from biology, its development, culture and social context. This course fulfills the elective requirement for a new MAPSS concentration on the Formation of Knowledge https://ifk.uchicago.edu/mapss/.
The History of Capitalism in India
This discussion-based, seminar-style course explores the trajectory of capitalism in India from the late colonial period to the present. How should we understand colonial India’s place in the global history of capitalism? What was the relationship between postcolonial economic planning and changing class politics in the decades after independence in 1947? Finally, has India begun to converge upon a global paradigm of neoliberalism since the 1980s? As part of this course, we will read classic texts of Indian political economy, analyzing how both the theory and practice of capitalism in the region challenge Western-centered histories. This course fulfills the elective requirement for a new MAPSS concentration on the Formation of Knowledge https://ifk.uchicago.edu/mapss/.
Christianity and Slavery in America, 1619-1865
This seminar will examine the relationship between Christian thought and the practice of slavery as they evolved historically, especially in the context of European enslavement of peoples of African descent in the colonies of British North America and in the antebellum South. Emphasis will be placed on the ways in which Christianity functioned as an ideological justification of the institution of slavery and an amelioration of practices deemed abusive within slave societies. The following questions will be addressed in some form: Why did some Christians oppose slavery at a specific time and in a particular historical context? In other words, why did slavery become a moral problem for an influential though minority segment of the United States by the early 19th century? What was the process by which and why did white evangelical Christians, especially in the South, become the most prominent defenders of slavery as it was increasingly confined to the South? What were some of the consequences of debates about slavery in regard to efforts to engage broader social reform? What role did race play in the historical development of slavery? How did people of African descent shape and practice Christianity in British North America and the Southern States of the United States? Although our focus is on what became the United States of America, we also linger on discussions about the broader international dimensions of slavery and slavery's importance in the development of the Americas. This course fulfills the elective requirement for a new MAPSS concentration on the Formation of Knowledge https://ifk.uchicago.edu/mapss/.
Britain in the Age of Steam, 1783–1914
In the Victorian era, Britain rose to global dominance by pioneering a new fossil-fuel economy. This course explores the profound impact of coal and steam on every aspect of Victorian society, from politics and religion to industrial capitalism and the pursuit of empire. Such historical investigation also serves a second purpose by helping us see our own fossil-fuel economy with fresh eyes through direct comparison with Victorian energy use. Assignments include short essays based on energy "field work" and explorations in past and present material culture. This course fulfills the elective requirement for a new MAPSS concentration on the Formation of Knowledge https://ifk.uchicago.edu/mapss/.
Riding about the South Side
This course is based on bicycling through the South Side neighborhoods surrounding the University of Chicago. There will be some readings, but the primary input will be from riding-from seeing things at street level and speaking with people who are committed to living in places that often have been abandoned by others. We can read and theorize about the community surrounding us, but the premise in this class is that our work should begin with experience in that world, with direct contact and in conversation. My approach in this class is less to teach than to lead you to where things are waiting to be learned and to people who can teach you about their world better than I. Some of the themes we will cover include land rights and exploitation, architecture, town planning, placemaking, urban farming and ecology, sustainability, grass roots organization, labor rights and exploitation, immigration, social work, and street art. Each ride is organized around a set of key concerns and includes a conversation with a local insider who can help us better understand them.
Law and Citizenship in Latin America
This course will examine law and citizenship in Latin America from the nineteenth to the twenty-first centuries. We will explore the development of Latin American legal systems in both theory and practice, examine the ways in which the operation of these systems has shaped the nature of citizenship in the region, discuss the relationship between legal and other inequalities, and analyze some of the ways in which legal documents and practices have been studied by scholars in order to gain insight into questions of culture, nationalism, family, violence, gender, and race. This course fulfills the elective requirement for a new MAPSS concentration on the Formation of Knowledge https://ifk.uchicago.edu/mapss/.
Scientific and Humanistic Contributions to Knowledge Formation
In this course, we will explore whether the sciences and the humanities can make complementary contributions to the formation of knowledge, thus leading to the integration and unification of human knowledge. In the first part of the course we will take a historical approach to the issue; we will discuss how art and science were considered complementary for much of the 18th and 19th century (for example, in the views and work of Wolfgang Goethe), how they became separate (‘the two cultures’) in the middle of the 20th century with the compartmentalization of academic disciplines, and how some attempts have recently been made at a reunification under the concept of ‘consilience’. In the second part of the course, we will focus on conceptual issues such as the cognitive value of literature, the role of ideas in knowledge formation in science and literature, the role of creativity in scientific and literary production, and how scientific and philosophical ideas have been incorporated into literary fiction in the genre known as ‘the novel of ideas’. As an example of the latter, we will read the novel ‘One, No One, and 100,000’ (1926) by Luigi Pirandello and discuss how this author elaborated and articulated a view of the human persona (including issues of identity and personality) from French philosophers and psychologists such as Henri Bergson and Alfred Binet. This course fulfills the elective requirement for a new MAPSS concentration on the Formation of Knowledge https://ifk.uchicago.edu/mapss/.
Classical Theories of Religion
This course will survey the development of theoretical perspectives on religion and religions in the 19th and 20th centuries and the institutional and historical contexts within which they developed. Thinkers to be studied include Kant, Hume, Schleiermacher, Feuerbach, Marx, Muller, Tiele, Tylor, Robertson Smith, Frazer, Durkheim, Weber, Freud, James, Otto, van der Leeuw, Wach, and Eliade. This course fulfills the elective requirement for a new MAPSS concentration on the Formation of Knowledge https://ifk.uchicago.edu/mapss/.
Sociology of urban planning: cities, territories, environments
This course provides a high-intensity introduction to the sociology of urban planning under modern capitalism. Building upon an interdisciplinary literature drawn from urban sociology, planning theory and history as well as urban social science and environmental studies, we explore the emergence, development and continual transformation of urban planning in relation to changing configurations of capitalist urbanization, modern state power, sociopolitical insurgency and environmental crisis. Following an initial exploration of divergent conceptualizations of “planning,” the “city” and “urbanization,” we investigate (a) the changing sites and targets of planning intervention; (b) the evolution of political and institutional struggles regarding the instruments, goals and constituencies of planning; (c) the contradictory connections between planning and diverse configurations of inequality, power and domination in modern society (including class, race, gender and sexuality); and (d) the question of whether and how planning strategies might help produce alternative (more socially just and environmentally sane) forms of urbanization in the future. This course fulfills the elective requirement for a new MAPSS concentration on the Formation of Knowledge https://ifk.uchicago.edu/mapss/.