Course Descriptions: Winter 2023

More information on courses, including schedule and recommended readings,

can be found online as indicated at the end of each description.

Four courses will be presented online. Learn more about equipment you’ll need for online learning in those courses.

Most courses begin the week of January 9,

one Friday course begins January 20.

Richard F. Collman:  The Book of Revelation Revisited

8 Mondays (9 January-27 February); 9:30-11:30; St. Peter’s Lutheran Church; Enrollment limit: 20

Though the last book of the Bible may be a great mystery to many people, it has been a major source of worship, poetry, music, and influence throughout western history and remains so today.  Rooted in the first century emergence of a struggling Christianity, what is the relevance of John’s visions for our lives today as we live in another empire?  Do we deal with similar issues of seduction and allegiance in an alien empire? Why does Revelation remain a subject of popular novels, even movies, and yet is often abused in prophetic predictions about the future?  How were worship practices described in this book counter-cultural long ago?  Can they be so now? 

For further information, click here

Richard Collman

The Rev. Richard F. Collman is a retired United Methodist minister and church musician who has taught courses on the book of Revelation over the years in various settings.  He remains inspired by this book for its contribution to worship, music, and art as well as the questions it raises about our allegiances today.  Revelation remains his favorite book of the Bible.

Dan Van Tassel:  Tales of Travel

8 Mondays (9 January-27 February), 9:30-11:30; Village on the Cannon Community Room; Enrollment Limit: 20

In this course we’ll explore selected works from the kingdom of travel literature in which the theme of a journey is central to the meaning and structure. From Homer’s Odyssey to Robyn Davidson’s Tracks, people have whetted their wanderlust by reading, listening to, or telling tales of travel. As we shall see, the journey motif—from voyages to road trips—expresses itself variously in the chosen mode of travel, the selected itinerary, the nature and genre of the work (be it imaginary or factual, in prose or verse), the places and people visited, and the experiences encountered. The writing style and rapport established by the narrators complement the fascinating journeys in which the emphasis is rightly on the trip more than the destination.

For further information, click here

Dan Van Tassel

Dan Van Tassel, author of Back to Barron, articles on Shakespeare, Hardy, Lawrence, and Beckett, and most recently Journey by the Book: A Guide to Tales of Travel, graduated from St. Olaf College and earned his M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in literature from the University of Iowa. He taught at Pacific Lutheran University, Cal State San Marcos, and Muskingum College, and has taught seven previous (all different) Elder Collegium courses.

Rich Noer: Quantum Entanglement

8 Mondays (9 January-27 February), 1:30-3:30, Village on the Cannon Community Room; Enrollment limit: 20

This year, thanks to the Nobel Prize selection committee, the topic of “quantum entanglement” has suddenly been brought to the world’s attention.  Alain Aspect (French), John Clauser (American), and Anton Zeilinger (Austrian) were honored with the prize on October 4 for “experiments with entangled photons, establishing the violation of Bell inequalities and pioneering quantum information science.”  Last year’s Quantum Entanglement course dealt with these people, issues, and conflicts that severely challenged past dogmas of quantum mechanics, once almost uniformly accepted by physicists everywhere. 

For more detail on this year’s course (essentially a repeat), click here

Rich Noer

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 six previous courses in the Elder Collegium continued this interest.


Carol Trosset:  Welsh Culture (Evolved repeat of earlier CVEC course)

8 Tuesdays (10 January-28 February); 9:30-11:30; on-line via Zoom; Enrollment limit: 15

This course will explore aspects of Welsh culture, focusing on the lives of Welsh-speakers in modern times. Recurring themes include musical traditions, the importance of the language, and values associated with a sense of Welshness. Class sessions will include the discussion of readings, presentations by the instructor, and a simple introduction to aspects of the Welsh language and its uses in verbal art.

For further information, click here

Carol Trosset

Carol Trosset is a PhD cultural anthropologist who speaks Welsh and has done field research with Welsh communities in Wales, Argentina, and Australia.

Jon Olson:  Terrorism and Counterterrorism

8 Tuesdays (10 January- 28 February), 1:30-3:30 pm; Village on the Cannon Community Room; Enrollment limit: 20

Terrorism and Counterterrorism studies the different types of terrorism that exist in modern society and going back many decades. Using a case study approach, students will learn from each other about different terrorist groups, their ideologies and stated political objectives, and whether or not the groups had a coherent strategy to achieve their desired end state. The case studies include a study of tactics, operations, and successes and failures of the various groups. This study covers the first two-thirds of the course. The last third covers counterterrorism, to include policy and strategy, tactics, intelligence support for CT operations, and significant discussion on the post-9/11 era.

For further information, click here

Jon Olson

Jon Olson is a retired US Navy commander. After receiving his B. S. in History from the U. S. Naval Academy in 1990 he spent his 21-year career as an active-duty naval intelligence officer with a specialization in Human Intelligence operations with lengthy operational experience in military and intelligence operations. He earned a M.A. in National Security and Strategic Studies from the US Naval War College in 2004 and a Master of Public Affairs from the Humphrey School at the University of Minnesota in 2018. He often serves as the F. R. Bigelow Teacher-in-Residence at Carleton College, teaching elective courses in national security in the Department of Political Science.

John Barbour:  Conscience in Literature

8 Wednesdays (11 January – 1 March); 9:30-11-30 a.m. via Zoom; enrollment limit:  15

This course explores depictions of conscience in literature. We begin with the historical origins of Western conscience in Greek thought, the Bible, and Augustine. Turning to Shakespeare’s famous play, we discuss whether “conscience doth make cowards of us all,” or whether it is Hamlet’s conscience that makes him an admirable character. We consider two great novels—Forster’s Howard’s End and Camus’s The Fall—and several essays and stories that dramatize dilemmas of conscience. These literary works explore the possibilities of right action and truthful self-assessment, and also such difficulties as self-deception, rationalization, wishful thinking, and the destructive effects of guilt. Along the way we will discuss various theories of conscience.

For further information, click here

John Barbour

John Barbour was a professor Religion at St. Olaf College for 36 years until his retirement in 2018. His academic field is Religion and Literature, focusing on the modern novel and religious autobiography. He has written five scholarly books and Renunciation: A Novel. John has taught CVEC courses on Middlemarch, the novels of Marilynne Robinson, and Religious Conversion.

Dave Hagedorn:  Jazz Appreciation (Repeat of Winter 2022 Course)

8 Wednesdays (11 January-1 March); 9:30-11:30; Village on the Cannon Community Room; Enrollment limit: 20

This course is designed to enhance understanding of jazz by making students aware of how composition and improvisation intersect and change through history.   We will study the music from its beginnings to the present, with a large emphasis on listening skills.  No musical experience is required, but you need to be able to count to 4 and group those counts, normally in sections of 4, 8, 12, 16 and 32.  Many recordings will be used for more than just a unit, so listening will get more in depth.  Most of the recordings will be available on YouTube, and the instructor will send mp3 recordings of those that are not.  In order to have time for comparison, we will not listen to entire recordings in class.  Though the volume of listening in preparation for class looks large in the syllabus below because of the number of pieces and partial pieces we will cover, students should expect to have to allocate roughly two hours per class to listening.

For further information, click here

Dave Hagedorn

Dave Hagedorn is a percussionist and retired college jazz band director.  Jazz I at St. Olaf College won two DownBeat student music awards under his leadership, and also toured Cuba in 2016.  Currently, he performs regularly in Northfield and the Twin Cities. Hagedorn holds degrees from the Eastman School of Music, The New England Conservatory and University of Minnesota.

Jim McDonnell:  When Irish Eyes Are Smiling—Cheerful Irish Stories

8 Wednesdays (11 January-1 March); 1:30-3:30; Village on the Cannon Community Room; Enrollment limit: 20

The purpose of the course is to compensate for some of the melancholy that is portrayed in the many CVEC courses I have taught on Ireland.  Irish writing is also known for its wit, spirit of resilience and optimism.  Melancholy men are the most witty.  There are multiple meanings attached to the genre of comedy ranging from the satirical to the sentimental.  The main topics of comedy in Irish literature are politics, religion, and children, with occasional references to sex.  This course will attempt to represent that wide range of humor in the works of 20th century writers from James Joyce to Roddy Doyle. 

For further information, click here

Jim McDonnell

Jim McDonnell retired from the Carleton English Department in 2007 after teaching there for 38 years. He spent most of his early childhood in rural Ireland and returns there frequently.

Brian F. O’Donnell:  Psychoactive Drugs, the Mind and Society

(Repeat of Spring 2022 course)

8 Thursdays (12 January-2 March); 9:30-11:30; on-line via Zoom; Enrollment limit: 15

Psychoactive drugs can alter perception, thinking, mood, energy level and motor control.  The population of the United States consumes a vast spectrum of psychoactive drugs, both legal and illicit, recreational and medicinal, including depressants, stimulants, anti-depressants, sleep agents, psychedelics, analgesics, and cannabinoids.  This course will examine several psychoactive drugs, how they affect the individual, and their role in (or prohibition by) society.   Topics addressed will include psychological and biological effects, phenomenological experiences, religious perspectives, social and criminal policy, medicinal uses, addictions and addiction treatment.  Classes will be oriented toward discussion of issues and readings rather than presentations. 

For further information, click here

Brian O’Donnell

Brian O’Donnell is a Professor Emeritus in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Indiana University.  He has a B.A. in Literature from Oberlin College and his Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from SUNY Stony Brook.  He has investigated the psychology and biology of psychotic disorders and psychoactive drugs for several decades, supported by the National Institutes of Health, the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation and Indiana University.

Fred Ohles: Theory of Word Puzzles

8 Thursdays (12 January-2 March); 9:30-11:30; on-line via Zoom; Enrollment limit: 15

This interdisciplinary course is a study of word puzzles as an individual and shared human experience. In general, the course focuses on crossword puzzles. It looks from a variety of angles at crosswords found in major city, daily and Sunday newspapers in the United States. Other word puzzles, including a wide variety of American puzzles and the crossword puzzles of other countries, also receive some consideration.

The goal of the course is to guide participants to an informed appreciation of word puzzles in society and in human endeavor. The course supposes no prior knowledge of word puzzles. It offers no program of instruction in solving them.

For further information, click here

Fred Ohles

Fred Ohles is President Emeritus of Nebraska Wesleyan University and a long-time creator and assessor of crossword puzzles. His relationship to Northfield is strong. He graduated from Carleton in 1975, then completed a Ph.D. in comparative history at Brandeis in 1981 and served as Associate Dean for Curriculum and Faculty Development, with additional responsibility for international programs, and Associate Professor of History at St. Olaf from 1990-1996.

Dan Dressen:  Tone and Text and Musico-Poetic Synthesis

8 Thursdays (12 January-2 March); 1:30-3:30; Village on the Cannon Community Room; Enrollment limit: 20.  The instructor will be out of the country on January 26 but will prepare materials to study and assignments to complete to maintain the momentum of the course.

Song, the most ubiquitous musical form, shares with other vocal musical forms the unique function of projecting literary and musical ideas simultaneously.  This aesthetic quality presents abundant opportunities for both creator (poet/composer) and recreator (vocal/instrumental performers).  It also presents particular challenges in realizing a synchronicity to which one aspires when fusing these two disparate mediums.  The course will examine the anatomy of song and how musical ideas can effectively support the embedded rhythms and structure of poetry, and provide an interpretive subtext and image related to poetic meaning, all with the aim of developing a deeper understanding of the genre.

For further information, click here

Dan Dressen

Dan Dressen is Professor Emeritus of Music at St. Olaf College, where he recently completed his forty-year appointment.  In addition to his teaching duties, he served in several administrative capacities: Music Department Chair, Associate Dean for the Fine Arts and Associate Provost.  In November of 2021, he completed his term as President of the National Association of Schools of Music.  An active performer in opera, concerts, recitals and ensembles, his career of over four decades found him performing throughout Minneapolis and St. Paul, nationally and internationally.

Steve Soderlind:  Justice and Prosperity (Evolved version of Spring 2022 course)

8 Thursdays (12 January-2 March); 1:30-3:30; 50 North 103; Enrollment limit:  20

This course will explore the intersection of justice and prosperity in America through the lenses of history, social philosophy, and political economy. We will encounter difficult terrain as we ask:  How should justice vie with liberty in shaping the nation’s prosperity?  Can a blossoming of justice save America from political polarization and paralysis?  Can workable social goals arise via constitutional processes to reshape the nation’s view of success?  Is it the case that prosperity matches best with minimal or timid government?

Focusing on constitutional government, rights, industrialization, perceptions, and misperceptions, we will reflect on America’s socio-economic development. Our review will reference venerable ideas about justice and prosperity from Plato, Aquinas, Smith, Malthus, Mill, Marx, Veblen, Friedman, and Rawls, among others. Various images of justice will come into play as we assess vexing issues like inheritance, poverty, discrimination, education, environmental deterioration, and globalization – not to mention global warming and epidemics of Covid, obesity, addiction, and confusion.

For further information, click here

Steve Soderlind

Steve Soderlind taught economics at St. Olaf College for over forty years, specializing in urban and regional economics, social choice, and the history of economic thought. He also led international travel studies and taught across the curriculum in statistics, great works, and the history of science.

Dick Swisher:  Sheldahl, Northfield and U. S. Space Exploration

4 Fridays (13 January-3 February); 9:30-11:30; 50 North 103; Enrollment limit: 20

Northfield’s Sheldahl Corporation has had a remarkable history of enabling U. S. space exploration. This is a story of what happened and how as seen by a participant in much of it. While many Northfielders have some sense of the role Sheldahl played, many of the details are not broadly public. It is a story of leadership, research and development creativity on the part of neighbors and friends,set in the context of the U.S. space exploration program. We will also explore the scientific and engineering innovations that made it possible.

For further information, click here

Dick Swisher

Dick Swisher is a retired engineer/scientist (mostly an engineer).  He has a B.S. in Physics and Mathematics (1963) and an M. S. in Physics (1968) from the University of Iowa.  For 37 years he worked at Sheldahl and for 5 years before that in the wonderful world of James Van Allen’s space physics group at the University of Iowa.  He has taken many CVEC courses and is now going to teach one.

L. DeAne Lagerquist:  Visual Exegesis: Reading the Bible with Artists

8 Fridays (20 January-10 March); 1:30-3:30; Kildahl Park Pointe; Enrollment limit: 18

This course is a collaborative exercise in interpreting verbal and visual images. Together we enter into conversation with words from Jewish and Christian scripture and works of art that respond to those texts in various times and places. Joining J. Cheryl Exum and other biblical scholars, we practice visual exegesis to “explore how a particular artwork handles unresolved questions, gaps, and other difficulties in the text, and how . . . [it] might help us to see problems of interpretation and conventional solutions in a different light.” In doing so, we too wrestle for meaning.

For further information, click here

L. DeAne Lagerquist

L. DeAne Lagerquist is Professor Emerita of Religion at St. Olaf College; she also taught in the American Conversations program and abroad. Her courses included the Bible in Culture and Community, American Religion, global Lutheranism, and sacred space.

John Robison:  Selected Issues in Law and the U.S. Supreme Court

8 Fridays (13 January-3 March); 9:30-11:30; Kildahl Park Pointe; Enrollment limit: 20

This course is a follow-up to the “Key Modern U.S. Supreme Court Decisions” course presented by the instructor in prior sessions, but that course is not a prerequisite for this one.  This course will essentially have three parts: (1) examination and analysis of subject areas not covered in the prior course (Classes 1-3); (2) brief review and update of subject areas covered by the prior course that were significantly affected by decisions handed down in the Court’s 2021-22 term (Classes 5-7); and (3) analysis of subject areas that were addressed in the prior course but that could benefit from a deeper discussion (Classes 4 and 8). 

The instructor intends that this course will generate substantial discussion.  To that end, each session will pose one or more overriding questions or themes to frame the issues.  In short, participants will be asked to don their judicial robes and answer the question, “Is the Court on the right path?” 

For further information, click here

John Robison

John Robison was a business lawyer for 41 years, spending most of that time in Madison, Wisconsin.  He followed U.S. Supreme Court decisions during that time as a hobby.