Associate Professor of History

I’ve long been fascinated with borders and boundaries, with how they are constructed, crossed, and transgressed. As a historian of the Ottoman Empire, that interest in boundaries, both territorial and legal, was what first led me to the phenomenon of piracy, which was endemic in the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Mediterranean. I figured that focusing on piracy would provide an engaging way to explore the social, legal, and diplomatic history of the Ottoman Mediterranean world. But one of the things you quickly learn when you study piracy is that there’s a lot of ambiguity and rather less agreement over definitions. What is piracy, and perhaps more important, who gets to decide? Even tougher to answer: Who is a pirate? Historically speaking, few of those we might choose to call pirates would have embraced the title. Many received (or believed that they had) license from rulers or their faith to attack and plunder enemy shipping and were (and still are) celebrated for their actions in their home countries. Others only dabbled in piracy, well-armed merchants engaging in a little opportunistic free trade. Regardless, the majority of “pirates,” whether of ships or of intellectual property, whatever they have called themselves, have sought ways to justify their activities. But can piracy be ethical? When does taking something become piracy, and what does (or should) that mean for both pirates and buyers or receivers of pirated goods? The questions are as relevant today as ever, the ethical considerations no less pressing in the internet age as in the age of sail. That’s why I’m so excited to be navigating them together with students in the Engagements. After all, thanks to the internet, it’s never been easier to be a pirate. Now we must all contend with the implications.

Since joining the UVA faculty in 2012, I have taught courses at all levels on the history of the medieval and early modern Middle East and North Africa, the Ottoman Empire, and the Mediterranean. My first book, Piracy and Law in the Ottoman Mediterranean, examines the impact of and Ottoman response to maritime violence in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. I am currently working on a number of projects, including studies on illegal enslavement and freedom suits in the Ottoman Empire and the role of Islamic law and religious-legal authorities in Ottoman foreign relations.

Associate Professor of Psychology

As a teacher, my general strategy is to provide an open and nurturing environment to learn in. I encourage the students to ask questions and have been lucky to be able to create a dynamic, interactive classroom in each course I have taught. My scientific passion lies in the understanding of genes and how the unique differences in our genomes make us tick. I am a classically trained epigeneticist with a background in the human genome, brain sciences, and health and human disease. I teach about topics that span the genome and epigenome of many organisms including humans. Epigenetics is a topic that many have read about in the popular press and I have found that students are very eager to understand it, which makes my job easy. I teach to a very diverse crowd of students, even some who have never learned about genes. I think my students leave my classroom with a greater appreciation of who they are and how they work and this helps them piece their future world together. I will continue this work through the College Fellows Program using genes to engage the mind.

Associate Professor of Religious Studies

I am thrilled to have the opportunity to join the College Fellows and to be teaching one of the Engaging Differences courses. As a historian of Christianity in the ancient and medieval worlds, I am profoundly interested in difference. My research and teaching explores the ways in which concepts and institutions that we often assume to be static and unchanging do, in fact, have their own histories and how understandings of them have changed, sometimes dramatically, over time. I am particularly interested in ideas about gender, sexuality, and marriage. What did early and medieval Christians think about these topics? What do we learn when we set aside our modern preconceptions about gender differences and marriage practices? What differences emerge, and what can these differences tell us about the world that we live in, today, in the present?

I will be teaching a course called “Unnatural.” Nature is one of the most fundamental concepts that we use to organize our world. We tend to value and to seek out things that are “natural,” and to disparage and avoid things that are “unnatural.” We can find this reasoning used in areas as varied as food consumption (“this product contains only natural ingredients”) and marriage practices (“monogamy is unnatural for humans”). Once we start looking for it, we can find it nearly everywhere. But what, exactly, is nature? On what basis do we evaluate whether something is natural or unnatural? Who gets to decide? And why do we consider this an important distinction to make? Together we will examine these questions as we work towards untangling how the concepts of “natural” and “unnatural” function in our society—and how they might function differently in other times and places.

Associate Professor of French

As a French professor and documentary film scholar, I spend a lot of my time thinking about stories people tell in order to share their experiences of the world with others. I grapple with questions about truth, reality, and authenticity, as well as ethical questions associated with non-fictional forms. These questions pertain directly and urgently to our own mediated relationship to the real world. Some of the pleasure in my work comes from the fact that I get to speak, read, teach, and write in French, a non-native language that at some point along the way, became an essential part of me.

Who I am also has a lot to do with students. I believe passionately in students as individuals, each with a unique voice. I want each of them to discover that voice, and ultimately, to be heard. That’s why scholarly and creative writing, digital storytelling, digital media creation, and web design are often woven into my courses. If I’m teaching in French, I love the moments when students realize that their “foreign” language is no longer foreign at all: it’s essential to who they are and what they want to say. In all my courses, I hope students will experience a shift in perception: of themselves, of others, of past events and future possibilities. This involves careful thought about what they read, see, say, and do; work that embodies precision and rigor; and a deep desire to establish a creative presence in the world.

I came to the Engagements because I am excited by the challenge of designing transformative courses for first year students. I am also inspired by the prospect of working with a group of creative faculty willing to teach outside and beyond the limits of their home disciplines. I hope our shared questions will set the stage for students’ engagement with their own stories, and will spark long-lasting curiosities, questions and passions. Ultimately, I want their voices to be heard in a world to which they do not strive to conform, but which they seek to remake, according to their own values, purpose, and principles

Associate Professor, McIntire Department of music

As a music historian who has always worked in many disciplines and creative practices I was drawn to the college fellows program as a way to engage first year students in the challenge and pleasure of playing with ideas. I’m fascinated by the idea of sound as fundamental to the ways we move through the world and deeply committed to the idea that learning about sound is not for musicians only.

My class engages aesthetics through the concept of noise.  We will use the idea of noise to ask questions about aesthetics and difference. We will think about the ways that our positions as listeners effect our ability to move through the world. We will listen to noise as it relates to power, economics, the environment, love, the body, race, gender, and class. in our own city. The class will include a playlist of aural encounters including music, readings from a variety of fields, and hands on noise making activities.

At the University of Virginia, I have taught a variety of classes in the music department where I am a Professor. I have also enjoyed teaching classes cross listed with Women and Gender Studies and a Pavillian Seminar.  I founded the Arts Mentors program; a program that pairs UVa Students with underresrouced children for a variety of Arts Experiences. The program is now housed at Madison House. I play rock, jazz, and classical viola and occasionally write for news outlets, including the Washington Post and Slate.

My first book, Monteverdi's Unruly Women as about the intersection of gender, desire, and sound at the end of the Italian Renaissance. I am finishing a book now called Voice Machines: The Castrato, The Cat Piano and Other Strange Sounds that listens to early modern cyborgs.  My next project is called Jefferson’s Ear  and it focuses on sound, music, and race in two locations: Monticello and New Orleans.

Associate Professor of Biology

This cartoon, which lives pinned above my office desk, describes the essence of being a scientist.  I originally posted the cartoon to inspire graduate students as they embarked on journeys of discovery.  But it could easily be tacked to the artist’s easel, accompanying a linguist’s recordings or an economist’s spreadsheet, or tucked into a physician’s pocket guide.  Its message offers a useful guide to any future “solutions architect”, especially undergraduate students beginning the journey of a liberal arts education. Gain knowledge; build connections from the power of experience; create/innovate/solve.  The opportunity to participate with the College Fellows in helping first-year students become curious, to question and to think critically and creativity is certain to be both challenging and invigorating. 

I am a cell biologist with a love passion to understand how cells, the smallest living “unit” of most organisms, live and function at the molecular level.  I tease out the strategies cells use to move from place to place, morph from one shape to another and divide to make new cells. Much of my empirical work involves watching living cells and their behaviors. The microscope offers incredibly gorgeous visual effects, but also requires rigorous, sometimes tedious, quantitative analyses in order to gain meaning from the observations and to make new discoveries.  The approaches I use in my research align closely with the Empirical and Scientific Engagements, but also easily touch on elements of Engaging Aesthetics from the practical (designing figures for publication) to the sublime (a cool image hanging in New Cabell Hall). 

Postdoctoral Fellow

I am an ethnomusicologist who studies American music and culture. My primary focus is country music in all its various forms: honky-tonk, bluegrass, pop country, and others. Studying a kind of music that was historically ignored by the academy, and yet enjoys broad popularity, prompts important questions such as: what cultural forms are worthy of study? What is good music? How can music represent groups of people or ideas? How can music be used as a form of self-expression, resistance, or political stance?    

These are the kinds of questions that motivate ethnomusicologists. We start with music or sound and then ask questions about its content and context. Music guides us through explorations of identity, taste, ethics, difference, social interaction, memory, and belonging. We examine music in everyday life, made by everyday people, not just the megastars whose music gets played on the radio. Through this lens, ethnomusicologists are deeply concerned with participation: music isn’t just an object, it’s very importantly an activity. It’s something we do. As I step outside of my field and join the Engagements program, I bring with me some of the same concerns. I hope to help students explore how big questions inflect everyday life and how we are all active participants in culture-making, capable of engaging, influencing, challenging, and celebrating the world around us.

My first experience teaching was with incarcerated teenagers in a wilderness setting. My students would write slam poetry about cloud types while sitting around a camp fire or study rock formations as we relied on collaboration and problem solving to navigate rugged terrain. This was a formative experience, one that motivated my excitement about the Engagements, a program that is also interested in crossing the boundaries of classroom environments, of academic discipline, and of creative methodology. I believe that this is when the greatest learning can occur: when we are active and collaborative participants in our learning, deeply engaged in the world immediately around us in order to think in limitless ways.

Associate Professor of Sociology

Since my own first year of college (a long time ago!), I have always been drawn to the life of the mind. The purpose of that life, in my view, is to create a learning environment where students can become clear and careful thinkers, active and engaged citizens, and responsible and caring people. In the engagements, we have the opportunity to reconsider and reconstruct how we educate young people and prepare them to navigate the world outside of Grounds. My own research in historical sociology considers how humans have, in different times and places, enhanced their capacity to flourish by constructing complex and interconnected forms of social, technical and economic organization, democratic republics, and ethical traditions; yet simultaneously we have reproduced, and even introduced new forms of, disempowerment, domination and moral destruction. In the engagements, I draw on my research experience to teach students to think comparatively about society and history, and to venture outside their own experience so as to better understand the world and how to act ethically within it. I ask students to learn about the tremendous variation in how the interconnected societies of the globe are organized, connect the long arc of human history to the concerns and struggles of their own generation, and write with rigor, clarity, and courage in the pursuit of truth.

The grandson of Jewish refugees, I was born and raised in Durham, North Carolina. I received my Ph.D. in Sociology from Yale University in 2007, after which I taught for nine years at the University of Colorado at Boulder. In 2016 I moved to Charlottesville with my wife Jennifer and daughter Hannah. My first book, Interpretation and Social Knowledge: On the use of theory in the human sciences, proposed a framework for bringing the humanities and social sciences closer together. My current book project examines authority and power in the history of the American republic.

John C. Coleman Professor of English

For me the pursuit of letters started early, and there’s no end in sight.  I can’t remember learning to read.   Since childhood I have been absorbed in books: what they teach about the world, how they constitute other worlds, and how imagination brokers an unceasingly various relationship between what we are made up of and the stories we make up in order to discover who, individually and collectively, we are.  Writing is power; so is reading.  How to use such power forms the intellectual passion of my life; how literature has used it, for good and for ill, has formed the subject of my scholarship and teaching for four decades, the last three of them at UVa. 

Historically my work centers on writings from the 19th century, when modernity became industrial and imperial, when a mass audience for literature asserted itself, and when most of the modern disciplines arose that shape education to this day.  Generically I focus on the study of poetry, which is literature in its most concentrated, verbally articulated, and beautiful mode.  That said, as a teacher I’m pretty promiscuous, and am as likely to teach a course on Darwin or money as on Shakespeare or the ode.

By literature, then, I mean in the first instance the plays and essays, fiction and poetry, that are staples of an English department curriculum.  But the actual province of literature is much wider than that.  I want my students to be reading science, history, psychology, scriptures, social and cultural theory, and to correlate what we find there with imaginative writing, along a two-way street.  Cultural and historical knowledge on one hand informs both the content of a literary text and the context in which it was produced; on the other hand, the habits of interpretation we hone on an artistically crafted lyric or story show us that information too has a form, which it behoves us to grasp and evaluate as further information in its own right.  Close attention to the feedback loop between meaning and structure is what I try hardest to teach in my classes, lectures, articles, and books.  I think it’s the essential contribution of humanistic study to liberal education, especially in a distracted era like ours when paying close attention to anything is an act with radical potential.

Williams R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Media Studies and Sociology

As an interpretive sociologist who entered the interdisciplinary media field and later developed concentrations in audience study and in feminist theory which have thrust me in part into the humanities, I have occupied a scholarly position halfway between the humanities and the social sciences throughout my career. I have been joint appointed in Colleges of Humanities, Colleges of Social Sciences, and sometimes joint-appointed in both.  I have always struggled with balancing the sensibilities, goals, and approaches to knowledge fostered by each realm of inquiry.  The distinctions between them have always seemed arbitrary to me given the nature of my thinking, my work, and concomitantly, in my teaching.  In consequence I teach film aesthetics courses that paradoxically uncover, in a scientific manner, the historical and social dimensions of our society, with a special focusing on issues of social class, sexual, racial, and gender difference.

Given the inherent interdisciplinarity of my teaching and research, I am thrilled to see the College prioritize The Engagements within the new curriculum which has been proposed.  It is as difficult, I have found, to transcend the staid boundaries of disciplinarity when developing our curriculum as it is in our scholarship.  Yet powerful writing, as scholars in many fields have noted, must involve elements of both science and aesthetics, ethics and difference.  I have written extensively about the problem of “method” in the social sciences, in particular addressing the issue of how the social sciences draw from both sciences and the humanities, in several articles and books. Also I have taught methods of research engagement and the philosophy of inquiry in all my departmental appointments. I relish the opportunity to develop courses that will allow us to draw from scholarship in several realms – and in particular, I welcome the opportunity to build on my scholarship in media and feminist activism in my class entited "#Staywoke: Social Movements and Social Media", This highly original and comprehensive re-tooling of our foundational undergraduate curriculum will develop critical competencies in our students which at present we do not do enough to foster.

Postdoctoral Fellow

I was the first person in my family to go to college. I grew up just outside of Los Angeles, my dad was (and still is) a copier repairman, and my mom worked as a cashier at Walmart. I almost didn’t even go to college. If I’m honest, the only reason I went is because I knew I wanted to get married someday, and I thought I should find a spouse who was going to get a better job than either of my parents did, so I’d probably find them at college. I went to a small religious liberal arts school close to home. Turns out, rather than falling in love with another person, I fell in love with education instead. I went on to get two Bachelor’s degrees, two Master’s degrees, and then, realizing I wanted to go back to college as a professor, yet another Master’s degree and a PhD.

As what folks call a first-generation college and graduate student, I often felt like an outsider, especially at places like Duke and Vanderbilt (and, for that matter, at UVA!), especially as a women studying religion, a field that tends to be predominately male. I also grew up in a deeply religious family, hence my fascination with studying religion, and came from a tradition that did not believe women should be teachers, especially not teaching religion. I felt like an outsider within the academy, and within the community I came from. My background deeply shaped my own research interests—can communities sustain their identity and take difference seriously at the same time? If so, how? How do accounts and practices of formation—the ways we become who we are—assist or hinder such endeavors? These questions lie at the heart of my research, which is on gender and sexual difference in religious thought and practice. They also deeply shape and are deeply shaped by my teaching, and are, in many ways, what drew me to teach courses in the Engagements.

I view the classroom as a formational site where community amidst difference can be interrogated, imagined, and inhabited—an occasion for transformative intellectual practice through engagement together with texts, traditions, and theories. No wonder, then, that I was drawn to teach courses in the Engagements program, given its emphasis on, well, engagement—on collaboration and creativity, on active learning, on conversation and critical thinking. In my course on Engaging Difference, we will explore these questions of community amidst difference, as well as practice and live them, as we consider what kind of good difference is by exploring visions of the future, and in my course on Ethical Engagements, we’ll look at how we become who we are and imagine together who we might want to become and how we might get there.

Postdoctoral Fellow

I am a scholar of religious ethics, with a particular focus on the intersection of religion, medicine, and society. I am also interested in the impact of modernity on religious belief and practices, issues of religious pluralism and public life, and the broad field of Christian theological ethics. My doctoral work focused on ethical and religious responses to novel challenges in decision-making at the end of life. This work has been informed by participation in the ethics community and ethics consult service at the University of Virginia Medical Center, as well as an immersive ethics internship with a palliative care physician at UVA. Throughout my doctoral work I have become increasingly convinced of the importance of religious and philosophical reflection on human embodiment, vulnerability and finitude for the way we think about the moral life more generally. I am excited to bring this long-standing interest and my academic work into the classroom, teaching the Engagements course “Mortality & Morality.” Attention to this universal—but often neglected—aspect of the human condition, provides a profound lens for considering how we engage in the task of ethics and moral reasoning, both individually and as a society.

Postdoctoral Fellow

Josh Mound is a scholar of modern U.S. politics and policy. He received a joint Ph.D. in History and Sociology from the University of Michigan in December 2015. Prior to arriving at UVA, he was the Smith Postdoctoral Fellow in American Political Economy at Miami Universiy of Ohio. His book project is under advance contract for publication in the Politics and Culture in Modern America series at the University of Pennsylvania Press, and his popular articles have appeared in the New Republic, Jacobin, and Salon

Postdoctoral Fellow

I work on the modern novel in British, Anglophone and European contexts, and its philosophical and cultural tasks in twentieth-century thought; the interplay of ethics and literature; and cultural responses to global manmade species extinction. My research spans the period from the later nineteenth century to the contemporary. I work both within the field of literature and beyond it, for my scholarship addresses what ‘the novel’ is and the migration of novelistic modes into other media, particularly contemporary art, and asks how literature and visual art respond to and think about the age of extinction as a modern phenomenon. My interests are a reflection of my interdisciplinary training at New York University and the University of Chicago and exist at the intersection of literature, philosophy, critical theory, history and the environment.

I came to the College Fellows program and the engagements courses for three key reasons. First, aesthetic and ethical problems are intertwined in my work and I wanted to teach courses that encourage creative connections across disciplines and media. Second, the engagements lay the foundation for university-level thinking: to question the concepts we use to approach, categorize and reflect on ways of looking at the world, and to invite us to consider new and radical perspectives. Third, the role of the humanities in public life is crucial to the questions I ask in my teaching and research, and to the urgent challenges - such as manmade extinction - facing us now.

Posdoctoral Fellow

I worked as an English teacher at a failing high school in the Mississippi Delta before arriving at the University of Virginia. Nearly all of my high-school students were of color and qualified for free or reduced price lunch: I can count the exceptions to this rule on a single hand. More than half of the female students in my classes graduated from or left high school with at least one child, and my daily headcount too often depended upon sentences in juvenile detention, or worse.

Suffice it to say that the student body at the University of Virginia, an elite public institution that largely educates the children of professionals, has little in common with those who helped me craft my earliest and most abiding pedagogical principles. Despite these differences, both experiences have shown me that good teaching does not depend upon academic level and that the classroom can serve as a powerful laboratory for participatory democracy.

Due to these experiences, the hands-on, collaborative, and wildly ambitious pedagogical imagination at the core of the Engagements proposal drew me to the program. Two main goals guide my teaching. On the pedagogical side, using the tenets of cultural and literary study, I urge my students to view aesthetic objects as entangled in a complex web of meanings, historical contexts, and relationships that require consideration from multiple perspectives and methodologies. But for me, teaching also has material consequences on my students’ lives and the lives of those with whom they interact.

Beyond the content I convey, I aim to teach my students to think critically and creatively about the local and global systems in which they are imbedded while also urging them to consider possibilities to be realized outside these systems. I consider my courses a success when my students acquire the ability to consider the different viewpoints that can be brought to bear on cultural artifacts and to resist the urge to overlook the way something is said—its packaging—when considering its message. Most of all, I hope my classes will give them the courage to speak.

Associate Professor of Astronomy

I am a zealous science evangelist and a fervent advocate of cross-disciplinary collaboration and education, which can stretch us beyond our comfort zones into rich and unexplored intellectual landscapes. Learning is one of our most essential responsibilities, and the breadth and depth of our collective knowledge and understanding affects virtually every aspect of society and how we live and thrive within it. 

My work in the classroom is heavily influenced by embracing and promoting students’ sense of curiosity and wonder, which I argue is at the core of fostering life-long learners. My work as the founding director of the award-winning “Dark Skies, Bright Kids” outreach program for elementary school students has strengthened my conviction that astronomy can serve as a powerful tool for rekindling a love of science in students who have pursued other disciplines.

I have taught in the University of Virginia’s Department of Astronomy since 2004. My research spans galaxy evolution, with a focus on ancient star formation in the universe. I am a champion for the importance of science literacy in modern society; our understanding of how science works and how to interpret scientific findings has consequences for issues ranging from the mundane to the profound.

I have served on numerous national and International committees that have to integrate the competing forces of scientific impact, financial resources, public understanding, and policy.  In addition to my work as a College Fellow and as associate professor of astronomy, I am excited to accept a new appointment in the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences as director of the Echols Scholars Program.

Co-Director of the College Fellows & Associate Professor of German Studies

I teach and write on European intellectual history, media theory, and the history of education and technology. My work ranges across centuries and ideas. In part, that’s because I get easily distracted by new books and new ideas, but it’s also because I simply love to learn from my students, my colleagues, and my books.

As co-director of the College Fellows Program, I consider the Engagements a dream come true. My work as chair of the General Education Reform Committee, which designed the new curriculum, inspired me to teach in the College Fellows Program. As a Fellow, I get to teach with and learn from some of UVA’s smartest and most talented faculty members, and I leave every Fellows meeting with a new book or a new thought. I get to share all those with students in their very first college class and show them that learning never ends and, regardless of your career, that you can devote your life to it.   

My teaching has been recognized with an All University Teaching Award, and my scholarship has been supported by awards and fellowships from the Mellon Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the American Council of Learned Societies. I’ve written essays on everything from Google’s search engines and Facebook’s algorithms to virtue in the modern university and the history of reading. My five published books include Interacting with Print: Elements of Reading in an Era of Print Saturation (forthcoming, 2017), and Organizing Enlightenment: Information Overload and the Invention of the Modern Research University (2015).


Associate Professor of History

I came from Colombia and Mexico to teach the liberal arts in the United States, the nation that knows them best. I have been involved with the liberal arts in my specialized undergraduate courses on Latin American history for more three decades at the University of Virginia. How do hierarchical and deeply conservative societies, we ask, seek to build enduring order? 

The Engagements offer me the opportunity to teach the liberal arts more broadly as ways in which our American and international students can think about themselves and their places in this nation’s democracy and in their expanding globalized world. I view the Engagements as a once-in-a-lifetime classroom opportunity to bring together the often-conflicting views of liberals and conservatives about the central issues of our past, present and future.  A liberal arts education seeks discourse and debate across different ideologies, and it aims to help us understand better those who seem to have ideas that may be different from our own, and thereby to also know ourselves more deeply. 

To make this experience come alive in my first course on Engaging Difference, we will ask about the places of the individual in various societies, in the past and in our contemporary world. This is perhaps one of our richest and deepest concerns, as we create different and overlapping ideas about our individual obligations to others and to the making of a good society. 

Associate Professor of English

I view the Engagements courses as an extension of my ongoing study of race and ethnicity in the U.S. Before joining the College Fellows, I had already taught general courses in Asian American Studies, in American Studies in general, and on particular topics within these fields such as racial performance, censorship, the Vietnam War, and American exceptionalism. I wanted to bring ideas from these upper level courses to a broader audience.

Because of my training as a film and media studies scholar, I always draw on examples from movies, television, the internet, popular music, and the news media. I think these cultural materials help us imagine the beliefs and attitudes of people unlike ourselves, whether separated from us by time, by place, or by race, gender, sexuality, class, or disability. Even though we are surrounded by popular and visual culture, we don’t often think critically about these texts, and the combination of film/media studies and race/ethnic studies gives us many tools for rigorously engaging with them.

I hope to relate to students in the Engagements courses not only by connecting with the kinds of culture they already know and care about, but also by introducing them to new images, sounds, and ideas that will help them understand the world around them, at UVA and at large. I want students to feel personally connected to the ideas we encounter, and at the same time, to challenge their notions about what makes up our identities and how these identities came about, historically, politically, and socially.

Postdoctoral Fellow

I’m an anthropologist who studies contemporary cultures and societies. When I’m not designing and teaching Engagements, I research and write about what I call “the people’s socialism” in Cuba — the way self-employed workers on the island compete with and support one another in new kinds of entrepreneurship that complicate our simple views about the “amoral market.” I’m also working toward a new project on sustainable cultures.

Anthropology is all about the human condition, in all its staggering variation. While some of my colleagues dig up relics and remains in search of bygone eras, most of us live in the now — among the people we study. We observe their values and customs, with empathy. We delight in difference, and ask what we hold in common. We cultivate the practice of knowing by experience, and move others with stories of that experience well told. We foster wonderment in the human spirit, and our work sits in that sense at the crossroads of all the disciplines.

I came to the Engagements hoping to light a spark in young people for that same kind of learning and doing. In my classes, students visit local landmarks and debate the histories that haunt us. They interview the unseen faces in their own neighborhoods. They simulate the way natural disasters get written on a social landscape. This is what deep learning is about: questioning our commonsense notions and exploring alternative ways of being with dogged devotion to the real, navigating hopeful arguments for the possible.

Associate Professor of Sociology

The College’s new general education curriculum offers a great opportunity to get involved in teaching incoming students as they make the transition to college. In the last five years, most of my teaching has been with upper-level majors and graduate students, and I miss the intellectual excitement generated by new students. The pre-disciplinary Engagements offer a space to (re)discover intellectual play, to think broadly – even a bit wildly. The pre-disciplinary focus also facilitates big questions and a sense of possibilities, allowing, I hope, for an intensity that is sometimes lacking in the classroom.

Sociology is a discipline that few students encounter in high school, but it shares with many other disciplines an interest in patterns and in understanding how and why people do the things that they do. I’m excited about the chance to think through what this means in “big picture” terms. I see lots of possibility in asking questions about what “we” think knowledge is or how we decide what is even knowable. Different disciplines, and sub-disciplines, have different answers to these questions, so wrestling with them from multiple vantage points is really helpful.

The Engagements also offer a chance to think about how we learn and what a classroom is. I’m excited by the chance to incorporate different forms of learning, e.g., community-based or visual, into the standard formats of reading and discussion. The pre-disciplinary breadth and innovative character of the Engagements facilitate teachers-as-learners and students-as-teachers reversals, opening a space for building real learning communities.

Associate Professor of Social Neuroscience, Department of Psychology

Back in high school, before I knew what I wanted to do with my life, my father reminded me that no matter my chosen profession, I would always be a teacher. His belief was that communication is fundamental, and the sharing of knowledge is a core part of what makes us great. Now, as a member of the Department of Psychology’s faculty, I try to remember that I have a lot to offer my students, and that I have a lot to learn from them as well.

I was excited about the College Fellows’ opportunity to create courses that will serve as a foundation for incoming students. The idea of having a shared experience strikes me as something that will remain memorable for them as they later reflect upon their years at UVA. In my research, I apply scientific methods to measure and predict behavior. The principles that have emerged from centuries of psychology are central in our approach as educators. Behavior also plays a critical role in each of the Engagements introduced in the new curriculum.

Within the new Empirical & Scientific Engagement courses, I am interested to learn how my students have formed beliefs about the world and how these beliefs can change over time. I am interested in learning about the experiences of students as they enter college and grow over the first year. As a facilitator, my focus will be to let them explore and interact through more of an active process than the ones they experienced in high school.

Assistant Professor of Religious Studies

I am fascinated by the diversity of early Christianity. My research focuses on Christian literature from the first-to-fourth centuries CE, both New Testament texts and “apocryphal” texts (that is, works not included in the Bible). Our earliest Christian literature shows Christians disagreeing with and debating each other, and these texts allow us to see the development of Christian thought. It was a process that unfolded slowly over centuries, and it cannot be fully understood outside of its historical and cultural context.

My interest in teaching one of the new Ethical Engagement courses is rooted in these interests and the challenge of ethical questions. They are never simple, and moreover, they are frequently rooted in and shaped by historical and cultural contexts that are very difficult to understand completely. My training as an historian of religions charts a good course for engaging ethical questions. How should we behave? How should we treat one another? What does it mean to live a “good life”? These are questions that many (though not all) religions have addressed directly throughout recorded history.

I hope to cultivate an atmosphere in which students can speak honestly and authentically about the questions and issues that matter most. I expect each class to be a diverse group, representing a wide range of religious and cultural perspectives. We will disagree with each other on issues big and small, but our goal is not agreement! Our goal is to grapple with ethical questions and to begin to think consciously of ourselves as ethical agents in our community and the world.

Robertson Professor of Modern Media Studies

My scholarly work on digital media informs everything I teach in the Department of Media Studies. I could not write about copyright, privacy, security, and how we discover information if I stayed in one area of study. I have to deploy tools and knowledge from history, economics, law, sociology, anthropology, literature, music, computer science, statistics, linguistics, and the visual arts. I teach the same way, leading my students to deeper veins of knowledge within the disciplines. I find deep joy in learning from others, making connections across fields of ideas, and communicating clearly with broad audiences. If I succeed in the classroom, it’s because I show students that they can experience that joy as well. 

I chose to teach an Engagements course because I am deeply committed to promoting the vast opportunities, resources, and conversations that exist only in America’s great public research universities. I reject the idea that small, liberal arts colleges provide better educational environments. I champion the idea that research university faculty must cross intellectual boundaries and invite students of all levels into their paths of discovery.

For a decade, I have been teaching in the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, and I have taught also at the University of Virginia School of Law. I have written five books on internet culture or intellectual property and have edited one more. Every January, I lead a course called “New Media in NYC” that introduces students to the teeming world of Manhattan’s media industries. Before coming to UVA, I taught courses at Wesleyan University, New York University, the University of Amsterdam, and Columbia University. 

Associate Professor of English

The College Fellows program appealed to me because I am committed to pedagogical notions that fuel successful humanities courses: rigor, spirited inquiry, and techniques that open up spaces for collaborative learning. I believe that the best teaching combines the inspiration of art, sometimes painstaking craft, and a dash of magic – those indiscernible elements of classroom interaction that elevate what could have been flat dialogue into experiences that reside in memory long after the class ends. I like to think that students find my classes memorable because I challenge them to engage the subject material in a variety of forms, because I value them and respect their contributions, and because I prioritize the learning enterprise that we’ve committed to embark upon together.

The Engagements provide an opportunity to extend my teaching of African-American literature and culture beyond the scope of the specific field and into the general terrain of understanding difference. For my courses, this will involve a macroscopic view of how racial difference was (and is) constructed in American life. Students entering one of my classes quickly realize that they will be responsible for much of their own learning; as a result, they learn to expand their academic capacity, to take risks, and extend their intellectual reach. As an associate professor of English, I try to create a challenging, engaging and exciting environment that promotes rigor. I seek an atmosphere in which everyone feels free to speak, as well as a space in which students critically connect with the course materials rather than speak solely from personal experience or anecdotes.

Associate Professor of Philosophy

Moral philosophy is my passion, but I strongly believe that ethics is not the sole province of professional philosophers. It is not the sole province of professionals insofar as every reflective human being faces the central ethical question of how best to live, and it is not the sole province of philosophers insofar as we have much to learn from other disciplines about the nature and possibility of value.  My work is therefore situated squarely within the discipline of moral philosophy while at the same time reaching beyond it. 

My particular academic focus is on virtue ethics and bioethics, and my recent articles have appeared in such journals as EthicsPhilosophical Quarterly, Ethical Theory and Moral Practice, and The Hastings Center Report, as well as edited volumes from Oxford. My current book project – a Neo-Aristotelian account of heroic virtue, ordinary virtue, and the relation between them – is a work of analytic philosophy that also draws on insights from biography, literature, and social psychology.  

What excites me about teaching is drawing from this general approach to ethics to encourage a robust ethical discussion among students. In 2012, I was a recipient of UVA’s All-University Teaching Award.  I welcome the opportunity to reach an even wider audience of students within the intellectual environment that the College Fellows program seeks to cultivate.

Associate Professor of Music

I teach subjects at the intersection of music, culture, and technology. I make acoustic and electronic chamber music, sound installations, and songs, and much of my practice involves collaboration with artists working in other media.

I was drawn to the College Fellows to enrich and refine my teaching, especially through community with other scholars thinking through new perspectives, ideas, and methods. When I consider “engaging aesthetics” as one of the themes for the Engagements courses we’ve designed, to me it implies appreciating and evolving an ancient, profoundly human way of reasoning, one distinct from and not reducible to other ways of reasoning. Both in the apprehension and in the poetic practices of art, things can be demonstrably true without being quantifiable. In fact, we may not even be able to specify what quanta are relevant. Yet even where haphazard proliferation of ‘facts’ effects white noise, art maintains its power to speak, to cut through, to tell stories that we recognize as true.

This is part of why the arts are fundamental rather than ornamental to human experience. The other part has to do with what education fundamentally is: the transformation of areas of knowledge and practice once unfamiliar into that which we hold dear, full of logic, specificity and care. As more of the world is transformed in this way, we gain traction toward humility and intellectual honesty, less inclined to prejudge our fellows and worlds, more inclined and able to commune with them. 

Professor of Biology

I studied science in college, but I loved taking history and English courses also. As a biology professor, I enjoy talking to my colleagues outside of the sciences to compare notes about approaches they use in their classrooms to engage students. Different fields of study offer unique approaches to understanding our world, and this provides me with new ways to approach questions and to share my enthusiasm for these questions with my students.

In my Engagements class, yes, we will consider some really cool questions from biology. Even more importantly, however, you will learn approaches that will help you to evaluate empirical evidence, to interpret data and show you how to articulate problems in an empirical framework. My hope is that you will be able to use these empirical approaches in your future classes, no matter what field you decide to major in.

As a biologist, I am interested in understanding the wonders of our natural world. My primary research questions focus on aging – do all animals and plants grow old and show signs of aging, like humans, or can some species escape aging? (There are some that do escape!) I use the tools of evolutionary biology and ecology to address these questions, and I teach courses on evolution, ecology, and aging in the Department of Biology. 

Assistant Professor of Digital Media Design, Department of Drama

I believe the Engagements courses offer a unique and transformative educational experience that fosters independent learning, active participation, and critical and reflective thinking. My scholarly work and creative practice is centered on transdisciplinary exploration and critical examination of the confluence of visual communication and emerging media in the 21st century, and my pedagogy reflects my artistic practice and scholarship. I believe in empowering students to understand the sociopolitical and cultural implications of technology and to experiment with the ways by which new media can enhance and reimagine narrative, performance, and personal and creative forms of expression.

I strive to equip students with strong foundations in media literacy, theory, and practice while introducing them to emerging media as spaces for creation, reflection, and speculation. As an assistant professor of digital media design in the College’s Department of Drama, I work to continuously find new ways to connect technology to students’ creative ingenuity and help them develop critical perspectives on new technologies and artistic practices.

I apply an interdisciplinary framework to my research, combining semiotics, visual studies, media theory, and cultural studies to examine the power and impact of online images upon cross-cultural and cross-political life in the networked age. I have exhibited work in numerous exhibitions and have programmed, curated, and served as a juror for several film festivals and art exhibitions. In 2016, I served as the conference chair at ACM SIGGRAPH, the world’s largest, most influential annual conference on the theory and practice of computer graphics and interactive techniques.

Co-Director of the College Fellows & Associate Professor of Art History

An art historian by training, I was drawn to the work of the College Fellows and to the Engagements curriculum as a creative, innovative approach to rethinking the general education experience at the University of Virginia. I am tremendously excited about the College Fellows Program, an extraordinary opportunity to harness the deep, disciplinary expertise of UVA’s exceptionally devoted scholar-teachers working together to pose larger questions that transcend familiar disciplinary boundaries.

To this end, the new Engaging Aesthetics courses that we’ve designed will help students become sophisticated consumers and creators of texts, images, and ideas, developing skills that will provide an essential foundation for their undergraduate experiences across the arts and sciences and for their lives beyond UVA. Engaging Aesthetics courses provide an ideal opportunity to explore the enduring power of one of the key insights of the 18th century: art has the capacity to act upon, inspire, and even transform, its viewers.

Since joining the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences faculty in 2007, I have participated in the Pavilion Seminar program and have taught art history courses at all levels of the undergraduate and graduate curriculum. My research focuses on 18th- and 19th-century European art, art writing, and aesthetic theory. My first book, Ingres and the Studio: Women, Painting, History, focused on 19th-century French artist J.-A.-D. Ingres. My current research explores artistic encounters with ancient figural sculpture in the century after the discoveries of Herculaneum and Pompeii in the 1750s.

Associate Professor of Middle Eastern & South Asian Languages & Cultures

My research interests in Arabic literature and culture, gender studies, and trauma theory have informed my scholarship and course selections. My motivation as a College Fellow to design and teach Engagements courses in the new curriculum stems from my belief in the relevance of issues of gender, politics, and trauma to all majors. I am also a strong believer in the gained intrinsic rewards for all concerned when there is a synergy between the teacher’s research and teaching mission. This teaching pedagogy has always informed the courses I offered, at UVA and beyond, in order to engage students culturally and aesthetically as well as the public at large.

I will offer a series of courses that examine the extent of the success or failure of the Arab Spring’s democratic experiment throughout the Arab world. These courses will focus on the artistic outcome of such movements as expressed in art, film, and other forms of dramatic expression. Of particular interest to me are the ways in which artists found innovative mediums to convey the traumatic experience of imprisonment, killing, and refugee status in their work. For example, we will explore how artists created an evocative art installation containing talking graves to convey the traumatic experiences of those killed by authoritarian regimes, and how another artist captures the horrific results of bombing civilians by crafting bronze statues using barrels and shrapnel mediums.

By developing courses that highlight political and civil activism through art, I hope to elicit aesthetic and ethical engagement in our classroom discussions, and to engage difference on Grounds and within the College’s general education curriculum.


Associate Professor of Anthropology

My research focuses on medical anthropology and race and gender in organizations. I like to teach courses which take a commonly assumed human universal phenomenon – girlhood, death and dying, health care – and critically explore with my students the different cultural shape and meanings found across and within societies of these seemingly familiar human experiences.

A recent class on the Anthropology of Girlhood discussed the ways that rural girls and boys are provided very different options as they think about their lives as adults. Boys are encouraged to stay local in the masculine rural, while girls envision lives lived globally in feminized urban cosmopolitan settings. Students paired the discussion with their own retrospective reflections of how their “possible selves,” were and are shaped by cultural logics that are gendered and stratified.

It is not unusual for me to invite undergraduates to work on my research projects or to develop their own. If you ask students who have taken a course with me, they will tell you that I encourage and expect that they want to contribute to the conversation. They may also have noticed that I am genuinely gleeful when someone finally understands a complicated argument or brings new insights from their personal experience or complementary concepts learned in another course.

Having an infusion of different disciplines and perspectives dropped into the anthropological fundamentals of the subject material keeps me and, I hope, my students continually learning and engaged. When someone tells me that they shared an article we read together with a parent or friend, that is high praise as our work in the classroom pushes out to new audiences and contexts.


Professor of Biology

I deeply believe in both the value of a liberal arts education and in our responsibility as educators to engage students actively in their own learning.  These convictions have guided me to where I am today as a biology professor, having taught a range of courses, including biology major courses from introductory to advanced levels, as well as a University Seminar for first-year students. 

The opportunity to help craft a curriculum that’s committed to both the liberal arts and to engaging with students in a STEM learning experience is very exciting. Pedagogically, I hope to apply scientific teaching principles to the design of my new Engagements course. The rationale here is that teaching science should reflect the very nature of science. That is, it should embrace the process of discovery. My approach to scientific teaching combines active learning strategies with a broad range of teaching methods and activities that can engage students with diverse backgrounds and learning style preferences.

My research interests and passion have always focused on the field of genetics, and I can’t think of a more exciting and contemporary topic for an Engagements course. There are so many fundamental topics that could be considered for developing students’ abilities to understand and evaluate scientific discoveries and theories, while also addressing broader societal issues/implications:  Finding human disease genes, pre-symptomatic genetic diagnosis, gene therapy, genes and behavior, the nature/uses of human genome information, GMOs, the pros/cons of personal genome testing, etc. I’m looking forward to exploring the possibilities!

Carolyn M. Barbour Professor of Religious Studies

I was born in the United States, but I spent the rest of my childhood overseas, in Saudi Arabia. Because of that, I’ve always thought that profound religious difference and serious geopolitical concern were alive and interrelated. 

I eventually became fascinated with religious ethics, because I am interested in how people think about how and why they behave as they do in their lives, how they might behave better, and why they might care to so improve. I have a special interest in evil: in how humans have imagined what it means for people to “go bad,” in what that fact says about the cosmos, and in what responses we might be obliged to make to those insights.

I am drawn to the College Fellows centrally because of the Fellows’ interdisciplinary ambition. It is both interesting and fun to work together with colleagues to create a kind of education that is more than the sum of its parts, and that tries to spark conversations across disciplinary boundaries and semester segments. Liberal education’s traditional intellectual flexibility, and its diversity in courses of study, should be retained; but we want to amplify those strengths with a direct holistic attention to the overall shaping of the individual, as both a person with vivid convictions and a citizen with civic obligations.

I enjoy working with students to engage their interests in thinkers, writers and complicated philosophical and religious topics. I delight in those moments when a class “spills over” the syllabus’s explicit boundaries, and we begin to engage matters far beyond the themes on the syllabus; in those moments, we confront matters of surprisingly immediate concern to people in the class, or just go so deeply into the topics of our study that we uncover surprising and heretofore unnoticed (even by me) insights. 

Julia A. Cooper Professor of Government and Foreign Affairs

I have always preferred teaching at the undergraduate level. I also feel that my new research project on the relationship between inequality and “exceptionalism” will help me create Engagements courses that give students the possibility of critically appreciating their own situation in the world.

Inequalities have dramatically increased over the past three decades. According to Oxfam, “almost half of the world’s wealth is now owned by just one percent of the population.” As a political scientist, I am interested in questions of power and legitimacy.  Not surprisingly, I seek to understand not only whether this level of inequality is justifiable, but also whether it is sustainable? Is it an invitation to a Hobbesian world of violent conflicts? Indeed, are these disparities so extreme, and the lives of the haves versus the have-nots so fundamentally different, that it becomes a stretch to speak of a common humanity? 

This question leads me to my second theme, “exceptionalism.”  As I conceive it, exceptionalism is the belief that a particular group of people is inherently unique. While exceptionalism can and has degenerated into xenophobic or racist forms of exclusion, it can paradoxically claim a form of cultural distinctiveness based on universalism. In short, exceptionalism can both undermine and exalt a human commonality. Studying inequality and “exceptionalism” will encourage students to question their own ideas and assumptions about the world; in the process, they will hopefully understand that seeking good “answers” to major problems requires a complicated and ongoing quest for knowledge.

Originally from Haiti, I have taught at UVA since 1981. I chaired the Department of Politics from 1997 to 2004 and have also served as the Associate Dean of the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences. My most recent book. published in 2014, is Haiti: Trapped in the Outer Periphery.  

  • EGMT 1510: The Aesthetics of Trauma


    Hanadi Al-Samman

    EGMT 1510: The Aesthetics of Trauma

    What is the difference between the beautiful and the grotesque? What is the gravitational pull of the iconic Vietnamese “Napalm Girl” 1972 picture and the drowned Syrian refugee boy’s picture on the shores of Turkey in 2015? How does art allow us to grapple with trauma? What jarring or therapeutic effects can one extract from traumatic recollection and expression? How Can individual and collective trauma intertwine to create a narrative witnessing, and an everlasting artistic and national remembrance?

    This course will explore the artistic and ethical engagements of traumatic recall and expression. It will address the moral capacities of art at times of national and cultural crisis. We will cover the various ways in which certain groups have grappled with catastrophic events such as: slavery, genocide, holocaust, Nakba, Maffa, and the unfortunate aftermath of the Arab Spring. In particular, we will evaluate the effectiveness of art installations, interactive drama, digital music, films, and literature in covering the tragic outcome of the Syrian revolution, its toll in terms of lost lives and refugee world crises. We will explore art’s potential to provide healing and activism despite utter loss.

  • EGMT 1510: Telling the Truth


    Roberto Armengol

    EGMT 1510: Telling the Truth

    There is no such thing as “Just the facts, Ma’am.” When journalists tell stories, when filmmakers craft documentaries, even when scientists write up lab reports and judges pronounce their decisions — there’s an aesthetic dimension to their work. Telling the truth is intrinsically wrapped up in the art of the telling, just as great fiction, conversely, conveys some deeper truth about life. Documenting facts in any genre or style carries with it a sense of drama: the composer structures a narrative, selects what to say, gives the facts coherence, builds them up around an argument (sometimes implicit), and attempts to touch her audience in some way. At the same time, claiming to tell the truth bestows added authority on the drama and extra responsibility on its author. Whether the story is told in images, words, music, voice or film, the facts must always be reconciled with the art, and the art with the facts. Why is this so? And does this mean that telling the truth is hopelessly relative, subjective, manipulative? In this course, we’ll look at the interplay of truth and beauty in works of nonfiction —documentary storytelling. We’ll debate the norms and conventions of different forms of such work. And we’ll discuss the complicated role that the “art of facts” plays in helping people grasp reality. Your assignments will involve making your own miniature documentary in one or another genre, and engaging with one another’s work in the spirit of collaborative creativity. Our “storytelling cooperative” places you in artistic fellowships where you’ll experiment with a particular medium. You and your fellow artists will workshop narratives of your own, produce a draft story, and then reflect on your composition. This effort invites you to think about how a sense of narrative honesty and a knack for storytelling together can enrich your life experiences.

  • EGMT 1520: Doing Fieldwork


    Roberto Armengol

    EGMT 1520: Doing Fieldwork

    How can scientists study the messiness of real life? What sort of knowledge can we gain outside the traditional laboratory? And how do we analyze data gathered “in the field”? This course invites you to consider these questions while introducing you to the many faces of fieldwork. We’ll look at the principles behind the practice, as well as the array of methods that put those principles to work in any given field setting.

    Although field methods vary across the social and natural sciences, they have some basic things in common: Much (often most) of the evidence fieldworkers collect is qualitative. The field experience is not, strictly speaking, reproducible. And the boundaries of “the field” are always fuzzy. Yet despite these complications, fieldwork remains a vibrant and indispensable way of coming to know and make sense of the world. And while sometimes it might seem as messy as real life itself, it involves thick, systematic observation of a living, breathing community, generally by participating in that community in purposeful ways. Inherently, this calls on researchers to think carefully, holistically and empathetically about their own relationship to the field and about its inhabitants, whether human or nonhuman. The work you do in this course will be deeply collaborative, and will familiarize you with fieldwork not just by reading about it, but by doing some fieldwork of your own.

  • EGMT 1530: The Individual and Society


    Tico Braun

    EGMT 1530: The Individual and Society

    In this course we ask big questions, perhaps among the biggest.  Who am I?  How do I come to be who I am?  How do I know myself?  Can I know myself?  What makes me who I am?  Am I responsible for my own life?  What are my relationships to others?  What are my relationships to my society (societies)?  What are my rights?  What are my obligations?  Does who I am in private say more about me than what I do in public? Can I live a moral life surrounded by immorality?   Should there be a safety net in a society of individuals? If we are indeed individuals, or can be, how do we forge our lives, in our interests and in those of others, toward the public good?

    This course considers these big questions in order to help us better understand the richness and complexity of individuals and communities. We will reflect on the historical impacts of society on individuals and consider how individuals begin to form societies – or even more important, communities. In particular, we will consider how we as individuals encounter one another in our differences  and what it might mean to pursue a common good.

  • EGMT 1530: Real or Fake? The Politics of Authenticity


    Sylvia Chong

    EGMT 1530: Real or Fake? The Politics of Authenticity

    Why do we say that “real men don’t cry” or that “real women have curves”? Who gets to cook pho and tacos, and who gets to eat them? What does it mean to be called, or even to call yourself, black or white or Asian or Latinx or Native American? Does shopping at Wal-Mart make you working class, or wearing Prada make you upper class? Can one change one’s racial, gender, or class identity, or are such identities given by birth? And can sexuality, religion, or disability be identities, since many people may change their sexual orientation, religious affiliation, or disability status over time? Who gets to police these identities? And what is at stake in these battles—what do we win (or lose) in deciding who is “real” and who is “fake”? This course will explore these questions by investigating various controversies involving authenticity and identity politics. We will draw our examples from law, politics, music, food, cinema, sports, literature, and other realms of U.S. culture and society from the 19th to the 21st centuries.

  • EGMT 1510/1530: New Media Art in the Age of Global Networks


    Ted Coffey

    EGMT 1510/1530: New Media Art in the Age of Global Networks

    If art has always had a role to play in mediating relationships between human beings, what artistic and social possibilities are emerging with the new media in the mix — from internet art and interactive sound art, to fully immersive virtual realities and AI’s that dream? Do computer technologies and global networks promote the democratization of artistic production, distribution, and reception? Or do they reinforce or even amplify imbalances of power and of access to resources that already exist? Do present-day configurations of art, technology, and media culture allow us to gain empathy for and insight into the experiences of different people and communities? Or do they obscure differences by requiring us to conform to the logics of our tools and techniques? Do computers expand creative possibilities and transform what's possible in art? Or do they, instead, undermine the artist's imagination, originality, and artistry? After all, how do computers change art-making?

    In this course, we will explore these questions and others through encounters with a variety of new media artworks and practices, made by people working in a variety of different cultures and social situations. We will use new media as a way to respond to course content — and to make new, propositional works.

  • EGMT 1520: Exploring Your Genome

    EGMT 1520: Exploring Your Genome

    What is a genome? What can you do with your genome? How can others use your genome? In this course, you will learn about the human genome, from how it is measured to what information it contains. You will have the opportunity to take a glimpse at your own genetic information and we will discuss the implications of this knowledge. Through this course, you will gain an understanding of the profound role that the human genome plays in your life and your future.

    The Takeaway (what will you know 5 years from now… My hope for students upon completion of this course is the ability to discuss genetic concepts confidently with their colleagues, to know what can and can’t be done with their genetic information especially as reported by the popular press, and to use this information to guide them in making informed decisions in their own lives in years to come. And along the way, you will become empirically engaged.

    Our objectives this semester... By the end of this course, you will have glimpsed at the foundation of life and you will:

    • Be able to describe and discuss the human genome and its utility in medicine and life
    • Become curious about the ways in which you and others can use your genome
    • Gain skills that will allow you to think about and interpret genetic data
    • Help others better understand the use of genetic information in their future

  • EGMT 1520: Making Truth Claims - The Power & Limits of Empirical Reasoning


    Sarah Corse

    EGMT 1520: Making Truth Claims - The Power & Limits of Empirical Reasoning

    What makes a truth claim powerful and persuasive? In our everyday lives, most of us rely on at least some version of empirical reasoning to advance our own truth claims and assess others. For example, a person might say “Everyone is either male or female” because that person has never met anyone who isn’t and so s/he imagines the world is fully represented by male and female people. However, someone with different experience may assess this claim as ridiculous and obviously untrue. This is an example of rudimentary empirical reasoning – we have an idea of how things work in our heads and we check it against the “real world.” This is a central tenet of the scientific method – we test our theories against empirical data to see if they are supported. But we all know examples of “bad” science, or disputed “facts,” or questions that empirical data don’t seem to help answer. In this course, we will think about the process and evaluation of empirical observations and scientific reasoning. Through activities and discussion students will grapple with question such as:  What are the strengths of these knowledge systems and what might undermine them or make them less relevant? How do we turn the “real world” into data and what problems does that cause? What are the similarities and differences in empirical reasoning about the natural world and the social world?

  • EGMT 1520: Genetics: Solutions for Life!?


    Claire Cronmiller

    EGMT 1520: Genetics: Solutions for Life!?

    How can we cure sickle cell disease?  Why don’t snakes have legs?  How do we make a seedless (insert your favorite fruit or vegetable here)?  How do we bypass egg allergies by genetically modifying chickens?  What contributed to the fall of the Roman Empire?  Was Thomas Jefferson the father of Sally Hemings’s children?  Is violent behavior a genetic disease?  Can we cure (insert disease of interest here) through gene therapy?

    These are all analytical questions/problems that have been addressed through genetic/DNA analysis.  We’ll use examples like these to explore how our increasingly sophisticated understanding of genomes and the genetic basis of life can be used to approach a wide variety of puzzles or problems.  In each case, we’ll examine how investigators framed a specific scientific question, what analytical approach was designed to address that question, what results were produced by the analyses, and what conclusions could be drawn from those results.  Wherever possible, we’ll consider any related ethical dilemmas that continue to arise, as our rapidly expanding genetic knowledge impacts both individuals and society.  And, best of all:  You’ll learn some genetics along the way!

  • EGMT 1530: Visions of the Future - Where's the Difference? Where's the Good?


    Brandy Daniels

    EGMT 1530: Visions of the Future - Where's the Difference? Where's the Good?

    What role should difference play in society? How should relations among men and women, rich and poor, citizen and alien be organized for the benefit of all? What kind of political system would guarantee peace, prosperity and plenty for all people? In what kind of society would “different” individuals find fulfillment? Should a society privilege concern for the collective or for the individual? How does difference function in a good society?

    Visions of the future make claims about precisely these kinds of questions. They also tell us something about the present. Whether the visions are of radically better (utopic) or worse (dystopic) worlds, we catch a glimpse of what the constructors of such visions are unsatisfied with about the way the world is now and their desires and hopes of what could be. Significantly, as the above questions highlight, many of these visions of the future have a lot to say about what kind of good difference is and what it means to live well together amidst our differences, and in doing so offer some powerful commentary on the ways we do and do not understand and attend to difference here in our present time and place.  

    How does vicarously experiencing these visions of radically better or worse imaginary worlds as they’re presented in film, literature, and social experiments, then, shape our perceptions of the past, present, and future—of what is and what could be? How do different visions of the future shape our perspectives around difference, and how might closely examining these visions help us better understand, reflect upon, and grapple with ethical and social frameworks and questions around our differences?

    In this course, we will examine and judge the answers provided by a range of utopic and dystopic visions of the future. In doing so, we will explore the complexities of ethical and political reflection on difference and the pursuit of the good amidst that difference—what kind of society do we want to create? What kind of life do we want for ourselves? How do we get there? Can we get there? Why haven’t we gotten there yet? In exploring, evaluating, and engaging with visions of the future as a lens of and for difference, we will explore the richness and complexity of the variability of human experience, reflect on the social inequities produced and patterned across lines of difference, and critically and constructively explore what it might mean to engage difference ethically in the present in light of the past and the potential futures in front of us.

  • EGMT 1540: How Do We Become Who We Are?


    Brandy Daniels

    EGMT 1540: How Do We Become Who We Are?

    "Now let’s get in formation!” While the command Beyoncé sings in the title track of her 2015 album Formation is at its most basic level an instruction to her dancers to get ready to perform, it is also something more than that. Throughout the song, Beyoncé reflects on how she has come to be who she is—where she comes from and the people that surround her, the work she has put in, and the traits, virtues, and dispositions that have shaped and been shaped by her experiences —as well as about who she is still becoming. Like Beyoncé, this course explores how we become who we are, albeit a bit more analytically and systematically!

    Over the course of seven weeks, we will identify and interrogate the complex, multi-faceted relationships between social contexts and factors, identities, and ethical approaches and actions. What social, cultural, and historical factors shape us? How do these factors shape us— how do they impact how we relate to others, what we see as good or successful, the decisions we make and the ways we organize and order and live our lives?  How, then, do we shape the world around us as we’re being shaped by it? Drawing on resources from across the humanities and social sciences, we will reflect on and evaluate meta-ethical theories of identity and formation, ethical inquiries that arise in both theories and processes of formation, and ethical implications and applications of various accounts.

    As one distinctive part of a broader framework of scholarly engagements, this course will aid us in cultivating an approach to ethical reflection and practice that can serve as a basis for critical inquiry and civic participation. Put another way, in asking how we become who we are, this course (and the Engagements program it is a part of) is also saying something about who we could (should?) become and how we might get there. (Given this, we’ll even actually turn to this very course as a site of inquiry! #meta.) In exploring approaches and questions around how we become who we are, through close reading, class discussions, and course assignments, students will reflect critically, constructively, and creatively about who they want to be as individuals and/in community, why, and what the processes of becoming might look like.

  • EGMT 1530: What is Inequality and Why Should We Worry About It?


    Robert Fatton

    EGMT 1530: What is Inequality and Why Should We Worry About It?

    This Engagement course is designed to explore how economic inequalities shape human differences and social conflicts nationally and globally, and whether they are compatible with the common good and democratic rule. According to Oxfam “almost half of the world’s wealth is now owned by just one percent of the population” and the wealth of that one percent totals approximately $110 trillion, which in turn amounts to “65 times the total wealth of the bottom half of the world’s population.”  Are these disparities so extreme, and the lives of the haves versus the have-nots so fundamentally different, that it becomes a stretch to speak of a common humanity?  Do income and wealth inequalities exacerbate other types of inequalities based on gender and race, and how do they affect human health and dignity?  Are they an invitation to new forms of authoritarianism and a world of violent conflicts?  Or, are current levels of inequality the just and legitimate rewards for entrepreneurial, innovating, and risk-taking behavior? In short, are economic disparities the logical and inevitable consequence of the contradictory processes of wealth creation and poverty reduction, and are they justifiable and ultimately sustainable?

    Students will explore these questions by investigating various controversies involving the nature, and potential costs or benefits of inequalities. We will draw our examples from the experiences of both the advanced industrialized nations and the “global south.”  We will also examine what analytical approaches scholars have used to study the social, economic, and political consequences of inequalities. 

  • EGMT 1510: Sounds of Resistance


    Liza Flood

    EGMT 1510: Sounds of Resistance

    This class explores the aesthetics of resistance in social and political life, emphasizing sound. We will rely on a broad understanding of “resistance,” from street protests to campaign theme songs to Super Bowl performances. Likewise, “sound” will refer primarily to music, but will also include other audible outputs of voices, bodies, and environments. Students will consider how sounds can straddle and influence the intimately connected domains of the aesthetic and the sociopolitical. We will ponder questions such as: how does sound mean? Is sound capable of provoking social change? How do people draw on their own experiences to interpret what they hear? How can the same song or sound inspire some to love and others to hate? Can sound be used as a weapon? How can sound foster inclusivity or exclusivity, or allow individuals to heal, motivate, resist, or change?

    We will attend public events in the area to enhance our studies. Importantly, students will examine their own engagements with sonic and musical resistance and will complete self-designed projects that allow them to experiment with sound’s capacities to engage in social action.

  • EGMT 1520: Thrifting: A Case Study for Empirical Inquiry


    Gertrude Fraser

    EGMT 1520: Thrifting: A Case Study for Empirical Inquiry

    At semester’s end at any American University peruse the dumpsters, dorm hallways and suite common rooms and you are sure to see mounds of castaway objects, once deemed of highest importance to the life and welfare of it’s owners. Eventually some of these objects, especially clothing, will find their way into a thrift-store, or on-line via second-hand sales or will be remade into new fashionable objects. Who buys and sells second-hand clothes and why? Thrifting may seem a trivial issue but even when they disagree as to its specific functions and meanings, scholars across a range of disciplines agree that it is of  increasing economic, political, cultural and personal importance in contemporary communities in the U.S. and globally. We will use the case study as an empirically grounded approach to investigate the real-world contexts of thrifting. The case study can be a powerful in-depth approach using multiple forms of empirical evidence to research complex issues, objects or activities when the phenomena is not well described and where there are multiple interpretations and points of view. Students will learn about the strengths and limitations of different types of empirical case study designs. They will then design a case study research project, explore related scholarly and popular literature, collect empirical evidence, and interpret their findings about some specific aspect of thrifting. The course will involve the students and professor in exploring how a case study method applied to a specific social practice can be a rich source for empirical inquiry into our social world, how we experience it, how it shapes our cultural identities and how it is structured across local and global sites. 

  • EGMT 1510: Extinction in Art and Literature


    Adrienne Ghaly

    EGMT 1510: Extinction in Art and Literature

    Scientists recently designated the contemporary era as the sixth age of mass extinction, and the first in which humanity has played the primary role. This course explores how man-made, or anthropogenic, extinction is being conceptualized and represented in literature, visual art and other cultural artifacts. We’ll explore how writers and artists think about and with the idea of our age of extinction as an urgent conceptual, representational and ethical problem, and the modes and media they use. Aesthetic approaches to this environmental crisis implicitly or explicitly force us to address the question of the ethical possibilities of the arts and encourage us to rethink what ethical engagement might look like across longer timescales and global networks of action.

                We’ll address one of the most pressing global issues of our time through the close analysis of literary texts, visual art, data visualizations, audio recordings, photojournalism and film that try to give a shape to a process that is not always visible, immediately experienced, or easily apprehended. We will ask how extinction has been imagined, through what forms and aesthetic expressions, and to what uses it has been put. What kinds of historical narratives and innovative visualizations emerge from efforts to imagine extinction? What aesthetic strategies do writers and artists use to conceptualize the idea of extinction within and alongside other historical, cultural and scientific processes – imperial expansion and colonization, conflict, fantasies of lost worlds, “deep” time, re-wilding, and so-called “de-extinction,” the resurrection of species?

  • EGMT 1540: Does Reading Literature Make Us More Ethical? Really?


    Adrienne Ghaly

    EGMT 1540: Does Reading Literature Make Us More Ethical? Really?

    Does reading literature increase empathy for others, and, if so, are there limits to empathy? Does it provide models for human flourishing? Make us inhabit modes of life different from our own? If so, does that lead to different action in the world? And how durable are its effects? From antiquity onwards it has often been claimed that literature can have an ethical effect upon the reader; in short, that literary works can change us for the better, influence our sense of our obligations to others, even alter our behaviors and be a powerful driver of social change. We’ll explore the historical and cultural conditions that comprise our individual moral particularity and ask to what extent that particularity is malleable. And we’ll consider arguments about how literary works afford explorations of our obligations to others in ways that non-literary modes cannot, looking at how diverse thinkers have argued for – and against – links between ethics and literature and reading literature as a public good.

    In this class we’ll be exploring these questions in depth in the context of the current global refugee crisis, examining a diverse set of ethical commitments both within literary works and in arguments about them, and considering these arguments in their potential application to an urgent contemporary issue. We will ask what kinds of ethical commitments those might be, and whether and how they may transfer from the page to the life beyond it. To do so, we will be running the class as a lab space for a collaborative investigation into the possible uses – and, perhaps, limits – of literature for humanitarian advocacy. The culmination of the course will be the collaborative creation of materials for the United Nations with recommendations for the incorporation of literature into UNOCHA’s refugee advocacy campaign and a student-created portfolio of suggested reading materials with accompanying critical tools and apparatus.

  • EGMT 1540: What is Engaged Citizenship


    Laura Goldblatt

    EGMT 1540: What is Engaged Citizenship

    If citizenship gives us rights, can it also make demands of us? What would it mean to acquiesce to these demands, if so, and what to refuse them? Such questions about the ethics and requirements of engaged citizenship were central to the founding of the University of Virginia and increasingly serve as a rallying cry for the importance of the liberal arts tradition. But what is engaged citizenship and what does it require of us? In this class, we will consider varying frameworks for the ethics of engaged citizenship—education, self-reflection, presence (or showing up)—to struggle with the relationship of the self to society within the University community and beyond. Why do we increasingly know more about certain aspects of our food supply and so little about others? What are the implications of this visibility and invisibility for our behavior towards each other? Does citizenship require us to confront those who we perceive as challenging our values, and, if so, can that ever be anything other than a coercive and oppressive act? Is citizenship a communal agreement or an individual one? Does it bind us together or separate us? When is violence justified, if ever? Under what circumstances should we bend or discard our citizenly duty? Through class excursions, readings, journaling activities, viewings, and course presentations we will experiment with the ethical implications of the various positions we take—including inaction—when we respond to the world around and inside of us.

  • EGMT 1510: What is Noise?


    Bonnie Gordon

    EGMT 1510: What is Noise?

    What is Noise? Who gets to make noise and who gets punished for making it?  What are some sites of Noise in Charlottesville today? What are the differences between sound, noise, and music?  How has the concept of noise changed through history? What for example was the loudest sound imaginable in 1607, when settlers came to Jamestown? How do birds respond to car alarms?  This class engages aesthetics through the concept of noise.  We will use the idea of noise to ask questions about aesthetics and difference. We will think about the ways that our positions as listeners effect our ability to move through the world. We will listen to noise as it relates to power, economics, the environment, love, the body, race, gender, and class. in our own city. The class will include a playlist of aural encounters including music, readings from a variety of fields, and hands on noise making activities. Readings will range from primary sources in Special Collections Library, fiction, to acoustics, environmental science, and journalistic accounts of public debates around noise pollution. Through listening, close reading, shared experience, small group work, sound walks and other experiences, this course encourages you to make an unmake your ideas about noise. The course will create a space for students to productively engage others in discussions of aesthetics, creativity, and politics. Finally, we will make some noise!

  • EGMT 1510: Beauty and Math in the Cosmos


    Kelsey Johnson

    EGMT 1510: Beauty and Math in the Cosmos

    Patterns, symmetry, and harmonics are mathematical principles that are found throughout the natural world, from leaves on trees, to galaxies in the universe. In this course students will explore the deep intertwining of fundamental math and geometries found in nature. Students will investigate how their sense of aesthetics is influenced by these mathematical principles, and learn to identify mathematical components in their own aesthetic judgment. We will examine how one’s environment might impact their perception of beauty in the natural world. Students will also consider the extent to which these mathematical principles have been represented in art from different cultures, ranging from Islamic architecture to Surrealism, thereby questioning whether math is a “universal” language. Throughout the course, students will create a portfolio of their own art based on mathematical principles, culminating in a class art show.  

  • EGMT 1520: Boundaries of Knowledge in the Universe


    Kelsey Johnson

    EGMT 1520: Boundaries of Knowledge in the Universe

    What happens inside black holes? What caused the Big Bang? Are there other dimensions? Despite major technological advances of the last century, we still know shockingly little about the universe in which we live. This Engagements course will explore why we think we know what we do, why we don’t know what we don’t, and the fundamental strengths and limits of empirical inquiry.  The class will be grounded in epistemological understandings of knowledge, and discussions will focus on the borderlands between science, theology, and philosophy.  Throughout the 7 weeks, students will be charged with nurturing their curiosity, and challenged to ask meaningful questions. 

  • EGMT 1510/1530: New Media Art in the Age of Global Networks


    Ted Coffey

    EGMT 1510/1530: New Media Art in the Age of Global Networks

    If art has always had a role to play in mediating relationships between human beings, what artistic and social possibilities are emerging with the new media in the mix — from internet art and interactive sound art, to fully immersive virtual realities and AI’s that dream? Do computer technologies and global networks promote the democratization of artistic production, distribution, and reception? Or do they reinforce or even amplify imbalances of power and of access to resources that already exist? Do present-day configurations of art, technology, and media culture allow us to gain empathy for and insight into the experiences of different people and communities? Or do they obscure differences by requiring us to conform to the logics of our tools and techniques? Do computers expand creative possibilities and transform what's possible in art? Or do they, instead, undermine the artist's imagination, originality, and artistry? After all, how do computers change art-making?

    In this course, we will explore these questions and others through encounters with a variety of new media artworks and practices, made by people working in a variety of different cultures and social situations. We will use new media as a way to respond to course content — and to make new, propositional works.

  • EGMT 1510: Taking Place


    Alison Levine

    EGMT 1510: Taking Place

    Where do we find art? Where does art find us? To what kinds of real and imagined places does art take us? How does it make us think and feel? Is your impression of a new place affected by the art you find there? Where have you encountered art at UVA and in Charlottesville?

    In this course, we will investigate the relationship between people, places, and art. We will encounter works of visual art that are in place (sculpture and architecture) as well as those that take place in a particular location (photography, film). These works are all located at UVA or in Charlottesville, but some of them take place elsewhere. They were made by people in a variety of different cultures, social situations, and historical moments. We will explore the locations in which these works are found or take place, the visual forms the artists have chosen, and the debates, conversations and controversies they have provoked. We will also reflect on the influence of digital connectivity on the experience and creation of visual art and our access to it. By critically engaging with a variety of works of art, as well as inhabiting and reflecting on your own creative practice as a “maker”, you will develop a familiarity with a few of the many ways that art and aesthetic experience can locate and mediate humans’ understanding of their place in the world and their experience of it.

  • EGMT 1540: Who Wants to Save the World, and Why? The Ethics of Global Citizenship


    Charles Mathewes

    EGMT 1540: Who Wants to Save the World, and Why? The Ethics of Global Citizenship

    This class seeks to ask one simple question: why do we care about the ethical state of the world?  Once upon a time, people thought about ethics as it pertained primarily to their immediate local context; to be a “good person” meant being “good” relative to those closest to you—family, friends, and neighbors.  Now, people increasingly care about ethics globally, and assume that to be good we must be ethically thoughtful as regards a wide range of global issues.  What does it mean to be a “global citizen”? Why do we increasingly think this way?  What is good about this?  What is bad about it?  And finally, why did this whole issue arise—that is, what makes this question interesting and important to us?

  • EGMT 1520: Thinking Like a Scientist


    Jamie Morris

    EGMT 1520: Thinking Like a Scientist

    This course is concerned with how we acquire and use knowledge about the world to organize our thoughts and beliefs about complexities in nature. We will consider the many routes of knowledge acquisition and formulate a specific framework by which we may test the veracity of acquired knowledge. The course will consider foundational ideas in the history and philosophy of science, but aim to move beyond the philosophical to provide concrete examples of empiricism in our natural and social worlds. Students will share the challenge of discovering how strong beliefs are not always empirically justified and how our own morals, values and prior experiences may blind us to available evidence. Beyond recognition of the principles of science and articulation of the limitations of empirical approaches, we will develop strategies for evaluation and testing of important claims.

  • EGMT 1520: Poverty Counts

    EGMT 1520: Poverty Counts

    The United States' definition of "poverty" dates to 1963, when Social Security administration economist Mollie Orshansky used the Department of Agriculture's "Thrifty Food Plan" to calculate the amount of economic deprivation in the U.S. But Orshansky never intended for her calculation to become the official poverty line, and it's been challenged by critics on the left and the right ever since. Orshansky's calculation has persisted, however, because (re)defining poverty is both complex and controversial. Like categories such as "race" and "disability," poverty is a socially constructed concept. When we say someone is "poor," what do we mean? Do we mean that his or her income falls below an absolute threshold (a dollar amount) or a relative one (such as a percentage of the median income)? Moreover, what do we mean by "income"? Should we even define poverty in material terms? In answering these questions and related ones, this course will ask you to consider the theoretical and empirical issues involved in operationalizing socially constructed concepts such as poverty. Through critical engagement with the interdisciplinary poverty literature, both qualitative and quantitative, and hands-on research, you will gain a deeper understanding of the complexities of carrying out empirical social science.

  • EGMT 1510: The Politics of Popular Music


    Josh Mound

    EGMT 1510: The Politics of Popular Music

    Why did it take a white artist like Elvis covering a song like “Hound Dog” to make it a hit, and why did his performance of the song on television ignite such controversy? Who decided holding a “Disco Demolition Night” between the two halves of a 1979 Chicago White Sox/Detroit Tigers doubleheader was a good promotional idea, and why did it turn into a riot? What made Ronald Reagan praise Bruce Springsteen at a 1984 campaign stop, and why did Springsteen tell a concert audience two days later that Reagan must not have understood his songs? Why did a conservative pundit dismiss Childish Gambino’s “This Is America” as “paranoi[d]…Millennial groupthink,” and what does that reaction have to do with the song and its video’s content? The answers to these questions tell us that popular music is more than just a collection of artistic works and cultural commodities. In “The Politics of Pop Music,” you will examine pop music as an art form, a social movement, and a business. In doing so, you will consider how and what studying aesthetic products such as pop songs, albums, videos, and performances can tell us about the historical moment in which they were created and, in turn, the world they helped create.

  • EGMT 1520/1540: Engineering Humanity


    Chad Wellmon

    EGMT 1520/1540: Engineering Humanity

    It’s difficult to separate humans from their tools. We eat with them, we communicate with them, we think with them, we worship with them. Our tools and technologies give us insight into but also power over ourselves, others, and the world. And this is both the promise and peril of this most basic of relations, that of humans and their technologies. 

    To what extent do we not only make our technologies but our technologies remake us? In this course, we will consider a spectrum of outlooks: from the claims of techno-utopians anticipating a future in which humans finally merge with their machines to the warnings of technology skeptics fearing a future in which humans finally forego what makes them human. We consider the kinds of empirical and ethical knowledge we need to make sense of these competing visions of how humans relate to their technologies. What kinds of evidence do we need? What are the possibilities and limits of empirical knowledge when reflecting on the reciprocity of humans and their technologies? How do our technologies shape how we relate to ourselves, others, and the world? How do they inform different visions of the good life?

    We’ll consider these big questions by focusing on key empirical and ethical questions surrounding a series of contemporary debates, which could include: genetic engineering, eugenics, human reproduction and cloning, radical life extension and enhancement, biohacking, self-quantification and algorithmic self-hood, and machine learning. In each of these case studies, we’ll be concerned with the core elements of the Empirical as well as the Ethical Engagements.

  • EGMT 1540: Mortality & Morality - The Ethics of Death

    EGMT 1540: Mortality & Morality - The Ethics of Death

    This course introduces students to modes of ethical inquiry and reflection through an investigation of an issue of universal human concern: death and dying. In the words of Aeschylus’s Agamemnon, “There's nothing certain in a man's life except this: That he must lose it.” Beyond death’s inevitability, its sheer facticity, however, is there anything else to be said about it? Much, indeed. In this course, students will learn to see death and dying as an important lens for understanding morality and ethics, in terms of both individual dilemmas and choices, and social practices and institutions. For as Peter Berger has noted, “Every society is, in the last resort, [human beings] banded together in the face of death.” 

    Over our seven weeks together, students will interrogate, articulate, and critically analyze their fundamental assumptions about the nature of death and human postures toward it. They will investigate individual and social practices of death and mourning. They will consider their beliefs about a “good death” and what it might mean to “die well” in conversation with voices from different eras and perspectives. We will explore specific questions such as: is death really all that bad? (Epicurus didn’t think so). Would personal immortality be preferable? (As it turns out, various religious traditions, philosophers and “transhumanists” disagree). What difference does the knowledge of death have for the living—for how we approach life, build culture, and organize community and institutions? How has the experience of dying changed in the modern age, and how does this affect our understanding of the goals of medicine and the ethics of killing and letting-die? And, how does all of this relate to our everyday lives? How might we deal with loss (if, and when, the time comes)? What will we teach our kids about death (if, and when, the time comes)? Our answers to these questions, students will come to see, reflect deep-seated and often inarticulate beliefs about human nature, moral agency, and the good life.

  • EGMT 1540: What is Authority?


    Isaac Ariail Reed

    EGMT 1540: What is Authority?

    What is authority? Why do we follow the instructions of certain persons and sources (pilots, lifestyle bloggers, WebMD, religious texts)? Merely to question or merely to follow authority does not, on its own, make us good. Rather, to navigate a complex world ethically, we must be able to discern who should be trusted with authority and who should be ignored or resisted, judge which directives for action are good and which are bad, and debate why some statements should be accepted as authoritative and others rejected. Authority, whether respected or reviled, inflects and influences the behaviors, habits and dispositions that constitute a good or successful life.

    In this class we will examine authority as a special kind of human relationship with deep implications for what it means to be a good person. We will read about a wide variety of types of authority—for example, professional, parental, religious, scientific, political—and ask how they interact with each other and change over time. We will study how authority is different from, but often becomes entwined with, power. Finally, we will build a better understanding of the conditions under which people are willing to accept, resist, and/or reformulate authority.

  • EGMT 1520: How Has Evolution Shaped Who We Are?


    Debbie Roach

    EGMT 1520: How Has Evolution Shaped Who We Are?

    All humans are 99.5% genetically similar to any other human yet there is tremendous variation among us.  Why is there variation in skin color?  Why do most of us suffer from altitude sickness but there are people in the Andes and the Himalayas who live at extreme elevations?  How does malaria explain why, for over 30 years, all the finalists in the men’s Olympic 100-meters had a recent ancestry in Sub-Saharan West Africa?  To understand variation we need to understand how evolution has shaped us and how the environment has influenced our evolution.

    We will use empirical approaches to understand patterns of variation in appearance, in physiology, and in (athletic) performance among individuals across the world.  The questions that we will address are important, not only to understand diversity among individuals, but also because the foundational approaches that you will develop in this class will provide you with skills to understand how science is done.  You will learn to think like a scientist and to interpret data.  In the future when you read in the New York Times about the latest discoveries, you will be able put these discoveries into context and make your own evaluation about the validity of new findings

  • EGMT 1520: Life On the Move


    Dorothy Schafer

    EGMT 1520: Life On the Move

    We cannot work or play, fight or express love without an accompanying movement, however subtle, somewhere in the body.  But does movement accomplish more than just getting from one place to another?  Will running nurture resilience?  Can we dance our way around chronic diseases?  Do big biceps lead to bigger brains?  Did humans evolve to run?  What are the consequences of a sedentary lifestyle?  Should couch potatoes take “exercise” pills?  We will address questions like these by applying empirical approaches to explore the scope and scale of nature’s movements -- from the tiny trajectories of molecules and cells to the global migrations of animals and people.  By observing and measuring your own patterns of movement, you will also learn to think like a scientist and to consider the limitations of empirical approaches.  By hypothesizing how novel types of movement might occur and how you might test your ideas, you will come to appreciate that discovery about the unknown is a creative process limited only by an infinite imagination.

  • EGMT 1530: Unnatural


    Karl Shuve

    EGMT 1530: Unnatural

    “That’s unnatural.” These words convey a judgment of a practice, a state of being, or a social arrangement; we hear them often, and likely even use them ourselves. To call something unnatural is to suggest that it is out of keeping with the natural of order of things and the way they ought to be. To render this judgment is to imply that no further debate, discussion, or argument is needed, because we take for granted that what is unnatural is to be avoided and rejected. Who can argue with biology or nature?

    But what, exactly, is nature? On what basis do we evaluate whether something is natural or unnatural? Who gets to decide? And why do we consider this an important distinction to make? In this seminar, we will examine these questions as we work towards untangling how the concepts of “natural” and “unnatural” function in our society—and how they might function differently in other times and places. Our goal will be to denaturalize our understanding of nature. We will analyze how the naming of people, practices, and institutions as “unnatural” works to create and perpetuate various forms of difference and inequality in society, along the lines of gender, sexuality, race, class, the environment, and other categories. We will also examine how the concept of nature has been used in attempts to overcome inequality, specifically through the discourse of natural rights, and what are the possibilities and pitfalls of such approaches. This course encourages students to observe the world around them carefully and critically, so that they can be aware of and capable of responding to the ideologies that underlie their everyday experiences.

  • EGMT 1540: Can a Text Be Ethical?


    Janet Spittler

    EGMT 1540: Can a Text Be Ethical?

    The reliance on texts for ethical guidance is a widespread human phenomenon.  From the Code of Hammurabi to UVa’s Honor Code, texts have been used both to dictate what is right and wrong and to inspire individuals to seek out and enact the good. In this course, we will examine the use of written documents in determining what is ethical through case studies involving just one example: the New Testament.  We will examine four specific moments in history in which the New Testament played a primary role in ethical decision-making, asking in each instance the following questions:


    • Did the multiple individuals involved agree about the text’s interpretation? If not, how did the disagreement play out? Did a particular interpretation “win”? Was that, in your opinion, the “correct” interpretation?
    • Why did the text play a role? Did the text have the same authoritative and/or ethical status to everyone involved?
    • Was the outcome actually ethical?  Did the text lead, in your opinion, to ethical actions?

    Our investigations of these historical moments will inform reflection on ourselves as ethical agents. To what extent have texts guided our actions in the past? Are there texts that we find ethically authoritative and/or helpful? As we inevitably face moments where we must make ethical decisions, what role, if any, will such texts play? What lessons can we learn from the roles texts have played in the past?

  • EGMT 1540: What Isn't For Sale? And What Shouldn't Be?


    Rebecca Stangl

    EGMT 1540: What Isn't For Sale? And What Shouldn't Be?

    There are many things in life we value, and which it seems unproblematic to buy or sell: houses, sweaters, and ice cream, for example.  But there are other things we value, which it seems impossible to buy or sell: love, moral goodness, or happiness, for example.  And there are still others which we can buy or sell, but might think we should not: kidneys, sexual or reproductive labor, ideas, or spiritual goods, for example.

    Students in this engagement will consider whether there is anything that it is either impossible or wrong to sell.  We will focus on examples from a wide variety of domains and draw on readings from philosophy, religious studies, and fiction.  Our aim throughout will be to understand more clearly the value of the particular goods in question and the role such goods might play in making our own lives good and meaningful.

  • EGMT 1510: Immortality - A User's Guide


    Chip Tucker

    EGMT 1510: Immortality - A User's Guide

    Shall we live forever?  Why not?  While ours is the species that knows it must die – or because of that brute fact – humankind has a long, broad tradition of indulging immortal longings by imagining a life beyond this one.  The gods live forever, we say, or the soul does, or the durable productions of culture and art do.  The return of our mortal remains to the planet’s biomass may represent a mode of ecological life after death; so may the survival into posterity of our selfish genes.  The recent proliferation of photographic and phonographic modes, and the contemporary possibility of perennial cryogenic storage, have in modern times afforded new versions of technological afterlife.  Meanwhile, religion and art continue to rehearse what might be called the eternity of the now, through ritual and aesthetic patterns that step not outside mortal time but right inside it.  After comparing imaginations of immortality that are found in cultural practices both secular and devout, we’ll focus on a set of aesthetic versions drawn from poetry, painting, science-fiction, and cinema.  Our survey will dwell on the challenge of describing immortality in mortal human terms.  Our abiding questions will be on one hand whether immortality is something we really want after all, and on the other hand whether it’s something we can ever quite live without.

  • EGMT 1540: Patriotism, Nationalism, and Cosmopolitanism


    Siva Vaidhyanathan

    EGMT 1540: Patriotism, Nationalism, and Cosmopolitanism

    Why do we cheer for our nation of origin during the Olympics and World Cup? What does it mean to make an ethical commitment to your nation or community? What does it mean to make an ethical commitment to the entire world? What should you do if those commitments conflict? How can we defend "human rights" while defending our national interests? Under what conditions is it proper to violate the sovereignty of another nation-state?

    This course will examine the concepts of patriotism, nationalism, and cosmopolitanism and how these ideas intersect. As an ethical engagement course, the goals of the course will include:

    • Reflecting upon ethical traditions, your own and those of others;
    • Grappling with the contingent and historically-rooted character of ethical action; 
    • Posing, evaluating, and responding to ethical questions;
    • Recognizing oneself as an ethical agent within communities and the broader world.

    The course will also have the following, more specific goals:

    • Distinguishing patriotism from nationalism;
    • Identifying and analyzing specific kinds of nationalism – ethnic, religious, political; 
    • Considering the value, purpose, and limitations of patriotism;
    • Considering the value, purpose, and limitations of cosmopolitanism.

  • EGMT 1520/1540: Engineering Humanity


    Chad Wellmon

    EGMT 1520/1540: Engineering Humanity

    It’s difficult to separate humans from their tools. We eat with them, we communicate with them, we think with them, we worship with them. Our tools and technologies give us insight into but also power over ourselves, others, and the world. And this is both the promise and peril of this most basic of relations, that of humans and their technologies. 

    To what extent do we not only make our technologies but our technologies remake us? In this course, we will consider a spectrum of outlooks: from the claims of techno-utopians anticipating a future in which humans finally merge with their machines to the warnings of technology skeptics fearing a future in which humans finally forego what makes them human. We consider the kinds of empirical and ethical knowledge we need to make sense of these competing visions of how humans relate to their technologies. What kinds of evidence do we need? What are the possibilities and limits of empirical knowledge when reflecting on the reciprocity of humans and their technologies? How do our technologies shape how we relate to ourselves, others, and the world? How do they inform different visions of the good life?

    We’ll consider these big questions by focusing on key empirical and ethical questions surrounding a series of contemporary debates, which could include: genetic engineering, eugenics, human reproduction and cloning, radical life extension and enhancement, biohacking, self-quantification and algorithmic self-hood, and machine learning. In each of these case studies, we’ll be concerned with the core elements of the Empirical as well as the Ethical Engagements.

  • EGMT 1540: The Ethics of Piracy, from the High Seas to Torrents


    Josh White

    EGMT 1540: The Ethics of Piracy, from the High Seas to Torrents

    “…an apt and true reply which was given to Alexander the Great by a pirate who had been seized…when that king had asked the man what he meant by keeping hostile possession of the sea, he answered with bold pride, ‘What thou meanest by seizing the whole earth; but because I do it with a petty ship, I am called a robber, whilst thou who dost it with a great fleet art styled emperor.’”

                                                                                                                —Augustine, City of God

    What is piracy? Can piracy, or theft, ever be ethical? What connects torrent sites like “The Pirate Bay” to the eighteenth-century pirates of the Caribbean or the present-day pirates active off the Horn of Africa and in the Malacca Straits? This course explores the full range of activities that have been described, or denounced, as piracy, from maritime seizures to copyright violations and intellectual property theft, from antiquity to the present day. Whereas some would have (or did) reject the label of pirate, situating their activities within the legal context of warfare and service to faith or state, others have embraced the term—and are celebrated for it in popular culture. Regardless of whether its practitioners have been publicly lauded or criticized, piracy has frequently been deployed in service of empire, whether by England in the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Caribbean or by China in the intellectual property realm in more recent years. The phenomenon of piracy raises questions about who gets to decide what is legal or ethical and whether those are indeed the same thing: Do the ends always justify the means? Who has the jurisdiction to prosecute pirates, and who actually should? If we acquire stolen property, music or movies, are we pirates too?

  • EGMT 1530: Race, Racism, Colony, and Nation


    Lisa Woolfork

    EGMT 1530: Race, Racism, Colony, and Nation

    What do the American Revolution and Black Lives Matter have in common? What happened between the 1776 declaration that “we hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal” and the 1857 Supreme Court ruling that the black man had "no rights which the white man was bound to respect?” In what ways can the 1950s era civil rights slogan, “I Am A Man,” be considered a declaration? What’s required to connect Black Lives Matter protests in Ferguson or Baltimore to colonial resistance to the king sending “swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance?”[1]


    As a component of a series of scholarly engagements, this course is committed to cultivating an approach to human differences that can serve as a basis for critical inquiry and civic participation. This course is concerned with the ways in which racial differences shape American history, life, and culture.  In particular, we will frame our questions using the metaphor of the colony and the nation. The prevailing story of America is one of transformation from a colony into one nation, as its people transformed from subjects to citizens. Yet, the transformative properties of American democracy were racially precise: white freedom co-existing with/based upon black subjection. How does racial difference inform our view of America today? How might the American Revolution be considered incomplete? What aspects of our racial divide can be explained by the colony versus nation metaphor? How did/do ethics, science, media and creative expression reflect the idea that our nation is not so “indivisible” after all?


    These are the type of questions and conflicts that interest this course. Through close reading, shared experience, small group work, and other assignments, this course encourages you to craft, share, and discard your interpretations of the ever-growing collection of cultural narratives and social experiences marked by white supremacy, racial difference and/or bias.

    [1] The Declaration of Independence.