New Encounters Syllabus Approved for 2015-16

Lane Barton

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A new Encounters syllabus has been approved for the 2015-16 academic year, with Encounters faculty voting in favor of the new curriculum by an approximate 2-1 ratio during a meeting on April 21. The syllabus, which will remove five texts and add four new works, was created by the Encounters Curriculum Subcommittee with the aim of reducing reading and providing more time for discussion of the materials in the syllabus.

In regards to specific changes, the syllabus no longer includes The Quran, “The Book of the City of Ladies,” “Hamlet,” “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead” or “The Gospel According to Luke.” The new additions will be Jorge Luis Borges’ “Collected Fictions”, Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night”, Freud’s “The Uncanny” and an examination of Dine’s “Carnival.” The study of “Carnival,” a sculpture on campus, is intended to increase the diversity of materials examined in the course. The new syllabus also includes additional discussion days and moves plenary lectures to a time that doesn’t reduce time in class.

The reason texts were added to the syllabus vary. “Collected Fictions” was suggested by multiple faculty in a survey; “Carnival” provides an artistic medium not contained in recent curriculum; “The Uncanny” offers a new angle on lingering aspects of transformations; and “Twelfth Night” allows Harper Joy Theatre to put on a new play for Encounters students, as has become a yearly part of the curriculum. But each new work was also chosen with consideration of how the selection introduces students to new aspects of “Transformations” that may not have been in the course previously.

“Importantly, [“Twelfth Night”] brings in more laughter to the course, because something that was lacking in the course was comedy. There’s a lot of somber, even traumatizing, subject matter that we examine, but very little laughter, and laughter is an engine of transformation,” said Professor of English Gaurav Majumdar, who serves as the director of Encounters, in an email to The Pioneer.

The removal of texts is also an important consideration in the creation of a new syllabus. Some Encounters faculty expressed concerns with the removal of religious texts such as The Quran or “The Gospel According to Luke,” not only because of their contemporary global importance but because of the way other texts in the syllabus come from and assume an understanding of religion.

“The texts that we read in Encounters assume [a] Western religious background. They’re assuming it’s floating around in people’s minds … so even within the course itself this [removal] is such an undermining of the ability to interrogate those texts critically,” said Professor of Religion Jonathan Walters.

Other faculty members, however, point out that all texts in the curriculum are valuable and the changes are not a judgement of any individual text. Instead, it is an attempt to address faculty concerns and produce new connections between selections under the “Transformations” theme and units.

“The texts the [Encounters Curriculum Subcommittee] removed are all exceptional texts. Their removal from the curriculum says nothing about the value that the [Encounters Curriculum Subcommittee] attributed to them individually. However, our task was to look at the interactions of the thematic units and address ideas, concerns and questions brought to us from the Encounters faculty,” said Associate Professor of Chemistry Allison Calhoun, the Chair of the Encounters Curriculum Subcommittee, in an email to The Pioneer.