Course Descriptions: Fall 2020

More information on most courses, including schedule and recommended readings, can be found online as indicated at the end of each description.

All courses will be presented online.  For more details, click here.

All courses begin the week of September 14.

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Dan Van Tassel: Poetry 101

8 Mondays (Sept. 14 – Nov. 2), 9:30-11:30
Enrollment limit: 15

This is a revised version of a Winter 2016 course, offered now as a virtual course on Zoom to keep us all connected and safe. Welcome to join are both those who have been turned off on poetry from the get-go as well as those who have been enjoying reading (maybe even writing or memorizing) poetry all along. The poems selected for our focus, all quite short, encompass traditional and free verse, represent voices both male and female, and range in composition from the Renaissance down to current times, some the work of laureates. We’ll get familiar with elements of prosody and figurative language and become attuned to the way in which in poetry sound and sense uniquely reinforce each other. In advance I’ll provide pump-priming questions for each of the assigned poems. Altogether, we’ll read and discuss a baker’s four dozen poems.

For further information, click here.

Dan Van Tassel grew up in Wisconsin, graduated from St. Olaf College, and earned graduate degrees from the University of Iowa. He taught at Concordia College, Pacific Lutheran University, Cal State San Marcos, and Muskingum College, where he served as academic dean and professor of English. Previous Elder Collegium courses taught include Humor, Poetry 101, The British Isles, Sonnets and Soliloquies, and most recently American Nature Writers.

drvantassel2@gmail.com

 

Rich Noer: It’s About Time

8 Mondays (Sept. 14 – Nov. 2), 1:30-3:30
Enrollment limit: 15

“The concept of time has never ceased to intrigue and puzzle those who think about it. We feel that, whatever happens, time must go on unceasingly and yet, when we come to analyze it, we find good reasons for rejecting the idea that time exists in its own right.” (G. J. Whitrow in The Nature of Time) Does time actually exist as an objective entity, or is it simply a construct of our minds? Does it have a beginning, and if so, what came before it?(!) How have people measured time, and how can we decide whether a particular measurement technique is valid? Why does the “arrow of time” always point toward the future, and could we ever time travel to the past? In this course we’ll examine these and other questions about time, sometimes finding answers, other times discovering confusion. We’ll look at past views of time as cyclic as opposed to linear, how Einstein’s relativity theory upset the idea of a universal “now,” and how recent developments in cosmology and quantum theory bring into question other once settled ideas. Clearly we’ll be doing a good bit of history and philosophy as well as physics.

This is an online version of a Winter 2020 course.

For further information, click here.

Rich Noer taught physics for 38 years at Carleton. Courses connecting physics with the humanities, usually through history and philosophy, were a special interest. His five previous courses in the Elder Collegium continued this interest.

rnoer@carleton.edu

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Richard Crouter: Reinhold Niebuhr on Democracy in Perilous Times

8 Tuesdays (Sept. 15 – Nov. 3), 9:30-11:30
Enrollment limit: 15

Amid the crises of today we have much to learn from Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971), the American Protestant theologian, public intellectual, and political activist.

When Niebuhr wrote The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness: A Vindication of Democracy and a Critique of its Traditional Defense in 1944, he was sure of the defeat of Nazism. But he worried at length over the failure of competing idealists (liberal democrats, socialists, communists, and capitalists) to stop a cynical Nazi state from taking hold in his ancestral homeland. In the process he coined the aphorism, “Man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible; but man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary.” His core argument is that cynics, who have no moral standards, invariably win out over idealists, but that idealists who know this is the case are better able to pursue justice in a troubled world.

In addition to reading Niebuhr on democracy we will take up wider themes from my book, Reinhold Niebuhr on Religion, Politics, and Christian Faith (2010). No prior acquaintance with Niebuhr is needed.

This is an online version of a course previously offered in Fall 2019.

For further information, click here.

Richard Crouter taught courses on the Christian tradition at Carleton for thirty-six years, including the work of Reinhold Niebuhr.

rcrouter@carleton.edu

 

Ed Langerak: The Moral Life – Ethics and Literature

8 Wednesdays (Sept. 16 – Nov. 4), 9:30-11:30
Enrollment limit: 15

Our moral lives usually involve decisions that, although susceptible to temptations, are straightforwardly based on our upbringing, convictions, and character. But sometimes we face complexities that call for complicated decisions. What are the basic principles or virtues that should inform such decisions? Why should we feel bound by morality anyway? Perhaps our heart-felt commitments about good and evil are simply culturally relative. And what might all of this say about the global inequities that weigh on anyone paying attention? This seminar will emphasize reading and discussion, using a popular anthology—The Moral Life: An Introductory Reader in Ethics and Literature—that features both philosophical analyses and literary explorations of these issues.

For further information, click here.

Ed Langerak is Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at St Olaf College, where he taught for 40 years. He has previously taught four Elder Collegium courses.

langerak@stolaf.edu

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John Matthews: The Holocaust and the Churches

8 Wednesdays (Sept. 16 – Nov. 4), 1:30-3:30
Enrollment limit: 15

This course is designed to discuss and learn about the Holocaust of the 20th century in Europe, specifically as it impacted, co-opted and used the Christian churches. After some introductory presentation on the history of the Holocaust, each session will deal with a particular aspect of the Church’s complicity in and resistance to the attempted annihilation of Europe’s Jews. Aspects include the ‘cooperation’ of the Church institutions, the ‘coordination’ of the theological faculties in the universities, the latent and explicit anti-Judaism in Christian tradition and anti-Semitism in Western civilization, and the exceptional situations where Christians and churches sought to rescue persons at risk.

For further information, click here.

John Matthews is an ELCA pastor and an adjunct instructor at Augsburg University. He is the past President of the International Bonhoeffer Society – English Language Section and author of two books about the life and legacy of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He and his wife Patty live in Apple Valley.

johnwaltermatt@gmail.com

 

Sandy Johnson: Numbers in the News – Lessons from the Pandemic

8 Thursdays (Sept. 17 – Nov. 5), 9:30-11:30
Enrollment limit: 15

The pandemic of 2020 has brought us graphs, projections, statistical models, and algorithms – and we’ve seen that understanding them is critical for making good decisions for public policy and public health.
Why are there so many of them? And why don’t they agree? Which one(s) should we believe and which ones should we challenge? You don’t need to be a math-nerd or a statistics maven to be a responsible reader of all these analyses. You do need to be aware of the assumptions and inferences that they reflect. A best-selling book in the 1950s was titled How to Lie with Statistics; this class might be called “How to Spot the Truth in Statistics.”

For further information, click here.

Sandy Johnson was on the research faculty at the University of Washington in Seattle before she became a minister (and served First UCC in Northfield for 13 years). She has taught classes in human development and research methods and conducted research on parent-child interaction in families with infants and toddlers.

sandyjohnson46@gmail.com

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Gary Wagenbach: Oceans, Climate, and Corals – Connections and Perspectives for Minnesotans

8 Thursdays (Sept. 17 – Nov. 5), 1:30-3:30
Enrollment limit: 15

“More Than 90 Percent of Marine Ecosystems Suffering from Coral Bleaching” is a recent headline. Coral reefs are among the most complex and productive biological systems on the planet.  Warm water events triggered the headline shown. We will explore the accessible details behind this headline and make connections with global warming. What is the status of reefs in the Pacific, and the Caribbean? We will explore causal explanations for observations that do not fit with a global warming script. People have lived among reefs for a long time, their livelihoods dependent on reefs, especially by means of fishing – fish play a key role in promoting reef health.  Weather, climate, disease, and other factors are also explanatory as is how much CO2 is stored in the ocean; in turn affecting both coral reefs and us in Minnesota. Modeling and resulting forecasting provide a look into the future of reefs, oceanic storage of CO2, and weather and climate for Minnesota. We will also explore how to talk about climate change, warming, and the “crisis” before us.

For further information, click here.

Gary Wagenbach taught biology and environmental studies at Carleton College, and studied coral reefs.  He has taught and participated in several Elder Collegium courses.

gwagenba@gmail.com

Roxy Scott Barry and Don Barry: Our Turkey

8 Fridays (Sept. 18 – Nov. 6), 9:30-11:30
Enrollment limit: 15

This course is in part a personal course about Turkey. One of the instructors grew up in Turkey, and both of them taught school there for seven years. To a large extent this will be an anecdotal class, about growing up in a Turkish village and the instructors’ experience in Turkey. The course will also look at the history of the founding of the Turkish Republic, Turkish culture, the weaving of carpets and kilims, the role and history of American missionaries in Turkey, Turkish aesthetics and art, the place of Islam in Turkey, and current issues facing the country.

This is a revised version of a course offered in Fall 2018.

For further information, click here.

Roxy Scott Barry was born and raised in Turkey, attending primary school in the village in which her parents were missionary teachers, and then middle and high school in a mission school for girls in Istanbul. She majored in art history at Carleton and earned an M.Ed. degree at Goucher College, after which she taught 6th grade mathematics in Turkey. Subsequently she was the director of the Summer Opportunities and Gap Year office at Phillips Andover Academy for many years.
Don Barry majored in philosophy at Carleton, earned an M.Div degree from Yale, and then discovered that his heart lay in teaching high school mathematics. He taught for seven years in mission schools in Turkey and then for 34 years at Phillips Andover, from which he retired in 2014.

rbarry288@gmail.com    donbarry5@gmail.com

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Don Barry: History of Mathematics from 30,000 BCE to 300 BCE

8 Fridays (Sept. 18 – Nov. 6), 1:30-3:30
Enrollment limit: 15

We will look at the rise of numerical symbols, mathematical operations, theoretical thinking, school in Mesopotamia, and then turn our attention to the early mathematics of Egypt, India, China, Neolithic England, and the Maya. We will end in Greece looking at the contributions of Pythagoras and Euclid. Along the way we’ll bump into philosophical musings and mathematical recreations, and we will ponder the mathematics of beauty. Since our interest will be in the origin of mathematical ideas, very little mathematics will be assumed. We will develop most of what we need, trying to do so as it might have been done so long ago.

This is a revised version of a course offered in Fall 2018.

For further information, click here.

Don Barry majored in philosophy at Carleton, earned an M.Div. degree from Yale, and then discovered that his heart lay in teaching high school mathematics. He taught for seven years in mission schools in Turkey and then for 34 years at Phillips Andover Academy. Along the way he wrote lots of problems for math contests and became fascinated with the history of mathematics, particularly the origins of the Pythagorean Theorem.

donbarry5@gmail.com