Common Intellectual Experience 1
Fall 2009 Section V: TuTh 10-11:15 (Unity House) Section ZC: TuTh 3-4:15 (Olin 205) Instructor: Nathan Rein Office hours MW 10-12 and always by appointment Olin 211, x. 2571, nrein at ursinus dot edu

Course description and goals The Common Intellectual Experience will form the foundation of your liberal arts education. As we progress through the semester, you will be examining some of the most influential and important answers that humans have given to the fundamental questions of life—questions that are spiritual, moral, philosophical and scientific. Three questions—“What does it mean to be human?” “How should we live our lives?” and “What is the universe and how do we fit into it?”—provide the common themes. These are hard questions, obviously, and there are no clear universal answers that have worked for all people in all places. The point here is not going to be to try to answer them; rather, we want to look hard at the questions themselves and examine the ways people have tried to think them through. Ultimately, we are each responsible for coming up with our own answers and deciding for ourselves, as independent thinkers, what we believe in. One of education’s primary purposes, in my view, is to further that process. We will do this by means of reading, writing, and discussion. There will be no lecturing in this course. Instead, you’re going to be reading for yourselves the words of some key thinkers of the past, and trying to figure out, among yourselves as a group, what they meant and how they make sense—or don’t make sense—to us today. In this class, you will cultivate the skills associated with liberal education, in particular: • critical thinking; • analytical and attentive reading; • clear, effective writing and speaking; and • respectful engagement in discussion. You must do the readings and assignments and learn from them; but just as large a part of the learning you should do in this course will come out of the cooperative work you do in this room—thinking, expressing yourself, and listening to your classmates. At a liberal arts college, we are all engaged in a collective enterprise; we work together at the project of furthering learning and building a better world. This course is a symbol of the enterprise you’ve joined as a new student here at Ursinus: ultimately, it will succeed or fail based on your efforts. Schedule of readings, assignments, and out-of-class events


The dates shown below are the dates by which you should complete the reading. Also listed are several out-of-class, evening events. Participation in these activities is a part of the course and is therefore mandatory (I'll take attendance and it will be treated like a normal class session). Except for the first one, which is the night of the first day of class, they will all be scheduled at either 4:30pm or 7pm, and except for the film The Matrix, they will all last about an hour (The Matrix is about two hours long). Also please note that this schedule may change, and that additional short reading and writing assignments will be given in class.
Wherever you see this symbol on paper. , it means the text will be handed out, either electronically or

Introduction to the course 8/28 Epic of Gilgamesh (entire) Plato's "Allegory of the Cave."

8/28 "Myth, Magic and Ritual: An Initiation." Meet at 8:15pm in Olin Auditorium. 9/1-3 Gilgamesh Epic of Gilgamesh (entire), continued.

Genesis, Exodus, and Matthew 9/8-10 Genesis 1-22 9/15-17 Exodus 20 Matthew 5-7 Paper 1, first draft, due Thursday, Sept. 10

9/21 The Matrix (film). Olin Auditorium. 9/22-24 Plato 9/29-10/1 "The Allegory of the Cave" The Euthyphro, in Four Texts on Socrates, pp. 41–61. 10/6-8 Bhagavad-Gita 10/13 The Bhagavad-Gita (entire) Paper 2, first draft, due Tuesday, Oct. 13 10/15 Renaissance painting and art 10/22 Images will be distributed electronically Vasari's Lives of the Artists, "Preface" and "Life of




10/21 "Piazzas, Pietas, and Painters (but no Pizza): A Tour Through Renaissance Italy." Lenfest Theater. Europe encounters the "New World" 10/27-29 The Jesuit Relations, excerpts Montaigne, "Of Cannibals"

11/2 CIE Talent Show. Bomberger Auditorium.

11/3-5 Shakespeare 11/10-12 The Merchant of Venice (entire) Paper 3, first draft, due Thursday, Nov. 12

11/10 "Playing Shylock in a Post-Holocaust World." Bomberger Auditorium. Galileo Discoveries and Opinions of Galileo, excerpts from "The Assayer" (pp. 229-238, 254-258, 269-280), "The 11/17-19 Starry Messenger" (pp. 27-45), and "Letter to the 11/24 Grand Duchess" (pp. 173-197) Excerpt from "Dialogue on the Two World Systems" Introductory materials

11/23 "Bodies in Motion." Lenfest Theater.

11/30 "He Blinded Me with Science." Lenfest Theater. 12/1-3




Descartes Discourse on Method (entire) Paper 4, first draft, due Thursday, Dec. 10

Course policies Attendance and preparation This course is conducted through discussion of the assigned readings in class. Therefore, it is essential that you read the assigned texts carefully prior to class so that you are ready to participate in the discussion. You also have to be here. Remember: this course is about discussion, and you are graded on your participation—and to participate, you have to be present. Cutting this class is a bad idea. Assignments and grading You will write four formal papers during the semester. Each will undergo at least one revision following review of the first draft, either by me or by your classmates. All sections will have a common due date for the first draft of each paper (give or take one day), but due dates of subsequent drafts will vary depending on the preference of the instructor. The due date for the final draft will be determined as the semester progresses. Paper assignments will be handed out in the week before the due date. The first paper will be worth 10% of your final grade; the second and third papers will each be worth 15%, and the fourth will be worth 20%. The remaining 40% of your grade will reflect your in-class participation; this will include a certain amount of informal writing (in-class quizzes, discussionpreparation notes, peer reviews of your classmates’ papers, and similar short assignments; worth 10% of the final grade), most of which will not be graded (but which is required). The most important part of the informal writing you will do for this course is going to be a blog (weblog). We'll discuss this requirement more during the first week of class. Reading list The following books have been ordered for purchase and are available on reserve in Myrin Library. IMPORTANT: Please be sure to have your reading with you at every class meeting. The Epic of Gilgamesh, tr. N. K. Sandars (NY: Penguin). Genesis, tr. Robert Alter (NY: Norton). Plato: Four Texts on Socrates, tr. T.G. West and G.S. West (Ithaca: Cornell UP). The Bhagavad-Gita, tr. B. S. Miller (NY: Bantam).


Galilei Galileo, Discoveries and Opinions of Galileo, tr. Stillman Drake (NY: Anchor). William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, ed. M. Lindsay Kaplan (Bedford: St. Martin's). Rene Descartes, A Discourse on the Method, tr. Ian Maclean (NY: Oxford UP). Several other texts will be handed out in class or distributed electronically; in the case of electronic texts, you should download these, print them, put them in a three-ring binder, and bring them to class with you. The fine print WRITTEN WORK: All written work must be submitted in order to receive a passing grade for the class. Late papers will be penalized by one grade-step (from B+ to B, etc.) for each day they are late, unless you have arranged with me for an extension well in advance of the due date. ATTENDANCE: Classroom participation is a key component of CIE. Skipping class also shows disrespect for the other participants in the class. Accordingly, attendance counts. Missing two class meetings may result in the issuance of an academic warning slip. Missing additional meetings may result in a failing grade for the course. Remember that classroom participation counts towards your final grade, and you can’t participate if you’re not in class. If you know you will need to miss class, please contact me as far in advance as possible and let me know. ACADEMIC HONESTY: Plagiarism is a serious offence. In written work, all quotations must be properly attributed and appear in quotation marks. But at least as importantly, any time you are drawing on someone else’s work you must cite it! This includes paraphrases, summaries, or any time you make use of an idea that’s not your own. Anything else is plagiarism and can result in one or both of the following: (1) a failing grade for the course or (2) College-level disciplinary action, including expulsion. If you have questions about the proper use of sources, please don’t hesitate to contact me. Either parenthetical citations or footnotes are appropriate. INCLEMENT WEATHER: In the event that class must be cancelled due to inclement weather, an announcement to that effect will be recorded on my office answering machine.


Frequently asked questions about this course, in no particular order: Q. A. What's your attendance policy? I take attendance at every class meeting, unless I forget, which sometimes happens. If I notice that you're absent, I will try get in touch with you to see what's wrong. If you miss two classes (that's a week's worth), I may write an academic warning slip, which will mean your advisor will be notified. If you miss more than that, I may drop you from the course. I will be as understanding as possible about things that come up, and I realize that life is complicated (after all, I have two small children, and they get sick from time to time too), but please let me know what's going on if you have to miss class. I consider the classroom environment of this course to be an active community-building process. Thus, classroom participation by everyone is a key element of the course. Not coming to class (and not being prepared and ready to work) shows disrespect and lack of consideration for your classmates and myself. How much work am I going to have to do? That's a good question. I don't think the workload is huge, but you should plan on spending a couple of hours at least three times a week on CIE preparation, probably more during the weeks when a paper is due. The reading assignments vary in length; some are long while others are quite short. Some, believe it or not, are interesting, and some will probably make you want to go to sleep. Don't be fooled by short readings into thinking you can do the work in fifteen minutes before class starts. In order to participate fully, you really have to let the readings sink in, and some of them are much more challenging and difficult than they seem at first. The general rule, by the way, is that you should spend at least two hours outside of class for every hour you spend in class, which would mean about six hours per week for CIE. I think you should give it a little more time than that, personally, but it also depends on your study habits, how fast and how efficiently you read, and other factors like that. Help! I haven't done the reading, and class meets in half an hour. What should I do? Well, first of all, it is really important to come prepared to class. I've kicked students out of class before for not having done the reading. That being said, your best policy is this: do as much of the work as you can in the few minutes you have left; come to class; raise your hand repentantly before the discussion begins; and announce sorrowfully that you are not adequately prepared. At that point you should ask your classmates and me to forgive you. If you think this sounds stupid and embarrassing, I can assure you that if your lack of preparation comes out later in the discussion it will probably be worse.

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How do I write a paper for this class? Glad you asked. There's no foolproof recipe, but here are a few points to keep in mind. First, I realize most college students do a lot of their writing at the last possible minute (after all, I did it). That means you have to rush. In my experience, though, slower is better. So I try to design assignments that will force you to do some of the work ahead of time. I think that's the way to get the most benefit out of the assignments. And yes, I do mean benefit. I think you can really learn something from doing a serious paper, if the assignment is well designed (which I hope mine are). Now, given that individual paper assignments will be very different, here are two basic principles. First, the point is to work through the texts we read in the class. By "work through," I mean really think through, considering questions, objections, and broader meanings. This also means that searching the web for "background material" or "outside research" is probably going to end up taking you in the wrong direction. Usually reading something other than the assigned texts ends up being a distraction rather than a help. You are probably better of rereading the assignment slowly and carefully. Don't get me wrong. I love the Internet. I use it for research (and for fun) almost every day. But there are times when it's appropriate to use it and times when it's not. For most CIE papers, at least in my class, it's not. The point of writing a CIE paper, most of the time, is to sharpen your skills at expressing yourself effectively in writing, thinking critically about complex problems, composing clear arguments, developing a creative voice, and reading a small number of texts closely and carefully. Bringing in outside sources will not help you reach any of these goals. In other words, focus on the assigned texts themselves and think about them hard. Second: what matters is that you can clearly define, develop, elaborate and justify a point of view. There are probably exceptions to this guideline, but I can't think of any. We'll talk about this aspect of the writing process more later, but what this basically means is this. One of the key evaluation criteria will always have to do with the questions, What are you really saying? and How well are you saying it? If your writing doesn't seem to have a point, or if it's hard to figure out what the point is, or if you are saying something different at the end from what you were saying at the beginning, then you have a problem. If you're saying something creative, interesting, or challenging, and if your reader can understand it without bending over backwards, then you're probably in pretty good shape.

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I have another question. How do I get hold of you? There are lots of ways. You can email me (nrein at ursinus dot edu), you can phone me (the best number to use is 610-973-7186), you can IM me on AIM (nathanrein) or Google (nathan.rein), and you can find me on Twitter ( and on Facebook ( You can


feel free to contact me through any of those methods. I will do my best to get back to you within 24 hours. But I am notoriously disorganized, so if you don't hear back, please don't be offended, and please try again. If it's really urgent, the phone is best. My office is on the second floor of Olin Hall, room 211. I'm usually there every day, except I'm often not around on Fridays. If you want to see me, it's best to set up an appointment, but if you're in the neighborhood, stop by. Q. A. I'm concerned about my grade. How can I find out how I'm doing? I'll give you an estimate of your current grade any time, but it may take me a day or two to figure it out. Since most of your grade will be based on your writing, each paper you write will make a significant difference. Participation also counts for a lot. And remember: if the end of the semester comes and you haven't handed in one of the assigned papers, you will fail the course. This is non-negotiable. If you have any questions about whether or not you've completed all necessary assignments, just ask. And if you need specific feedback about your writing, your class participation, or whatever, I'll be happy to provide it, of course.

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