Course Descriptions: Fall 2022

More information on courses, including schedule and recommended readings,

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

For this term, all classes will be limited to 15 students.

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

All courses begin the week of September 12.

Pat Johnson: Care Ethics: Theory and Applications

8 Mondays, 9:30-11:30, beginning September 12

FiftyNorth Room 103

We make moral decisions every day, but we do not always reflect on how we make those decisions. This course will explore care ethics, an approach to moral decision-making that is based on research by Carol Gilligan that was published in 1982.

Care ethics begins with the recognition of moral interdependence and takes caring relationships as the basic good. Care ethics is about moral life and what makes it possible. The goal of care ethics is the development of human community. We will begin by exploring the basics of care ethics. Most of the class sessions will then address how care ethics is, and can be, applied to the moral decisions that we make together in various aspects of our lives.

For further information, click here

Pat Johnson

Pat Johnson taught philosophy at the University of Dayton for thirty-five years. While there she served as Director of Women’s Studies, Chair of the Department of Philosophy, Associate Dean in the College of Arts and Sciences, and Alumni Chair in Humanities. Her interest in feminist philosophy has resulted in a number of publications, including on Care Ethics.

Carol Rutz: A Vonnegut Sampler

8 Mondays, 9:30-11:30, beginning September 12

Online via Zoom

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. (1922-2007) stood out for black humor, anti-war writing, and a peculiar take on science fiction. In addition to 14 novels, he wrote a range of stories, essays, opinion pieces, and more—much of which was unpublished during his lifetime. This course will sample his fiction, some unpublished material, and a recent documentary composed of footage obtained over decades.

We will read three novels: Mother Night (1961), Cat’s Cradle (1963), and Slaughterhouse-Five (1969). The first and third draw upon World War II; Cat’s Cradle plays with science fiction as well as an invented religion. All three novels are available as ebooks, in libraries, and used via online outlets, e.g., The local Northfield bookstore, Content, will have paperback copies available at a 10% discount, totaling approximately $40 for all three books. The only other expense will be the documentary: Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck in Time, available via streaming services for $3.99 – $6.99.

Weekly class sessions will feature discussion informed by assigned readings, discussion questions, and supplemental material. Students will be invited to contribute information gleaned from sources other than those assigned.

For further information, click here

Carol Rutz

Carol Rutz worked at Carleton College for 30 years, the last 20 of which as director of the writing program. This is her third course for CVEC; she is currently the executive director.

Paul Zorn: To Infinity and Beyond

4 Mondays, 1:30-3:30 p.m., beginning September 12

FiftyNorth, Room 103

Humans have always had, and still have, vague or inchoate views of infinity and the infinite: Big. Very Big. Bigger than [you name it]. Unreachable. Metaphorical. Ethereal. Those are true enough, but infinity is also a mathematical “thing”, with a long and sometimes tortured history. Real progress toward a mathematical theory of infinity—and infinities—came surprisingly late, after at least 2000 years of searching. We’ll consider some ideas of infinity, something of how they developed, and some reasons why they matter.

For further information, click here

Paul Zorn

Paul Zorn is professor emeritus of mathematics at St. Olaf College. For 38 years he taught St. Olaf courses, mainly in mathematics but also in science writing and in St. Olaf’s Great Conversations program, a 5-semester general education sequence spanning over 4000 years of human culture. In the 2000’s he served both as president and as a journal editor for the Mathematical Association of America. He has also written a (small, finite) number of mathematics textbooks, some joint with his late friend and colleague Arnie Ostebee.

Tim Madigan: Pivotal Decade, the 1970s, its Music, Politics, and Culture

8 Mondays, 1:30-3:30 p.m., beginning September 12

Village on the Cannon Community Room

“Oh, and there we were all in one place,

a generation lost in space.”

Don McLean – “American Pie”

This course will visit the transition of American society during the 1970s through the optics of music, politics, and culture. Not intended to be a complete history of the period, we will investigate the major themes and unique aspects of the time through video clips, music, readings, and discussion of provocative issues. Student interaction and discussion will be encouraged, including personal memories.

For further information, click here

Tim Madigan

Tim Madigan retired after 35 years in the city management profession in five Minnesota cities, including Northfield and Faribault. He started his professional career as a high school history teacher and later served as an adjunct faculty member at Minnesota State University Mankato.

Art Higinbotham: Climate Change Tipping Points

8 Tuesdays, 9:30-11:30 a.m., beginning September 13

Village on the Cannon Community Room

The changes to global climate caused by increases in the levels of greenhouse gases in the earth’s atmosphere, principally carbon dioxide and methane, are increasingly well understood. Many of these changes are gradual, but some can be self-reinforcing or “runaway,” causing systems in equilibrium to become dominated by positive feedback loops that dramatically accelerate the pace of disruptive change. These so-called climate change “tipping points,” predicted in many environmental subsystems undergoing climate stress, are not yet well understood and estimates of the potential extent of their impact are diverse and controversial. After an overview of the climate changes induced by humanity since the start of industrialization in the 1800s, the prime focus of this course will be case study examinations of multiple such predicted climate change tipping points. The course will conclude with discussions of what has to be done to bring our climate under control.

For further information, click here

Art Higinbotham
Art Higinbotham

 Art Higinbotham is a graduate of Amherst College and earned his master’s degree in chemical engineering from M.I.T. He started his industrial career with Esso Standard Eastern at a refinery in Bombay, India. He then worked for 3M as a manufacturing, research and engineering director, including a stint in Brasil, culminating in a senior management position in the pressure sensitive tape business. He has taught two previous courses for CVEC on climate change.

Ed Langerak: Mortality and Meaning

8 Tuesdays, 1:30-3:30 p.m., beginning September 13

Online via Zoom

Humans are members of the only species on earth who know we will die. We are also the only ones who ask about the meaning of our lives. How does our knowing that we will die (but usually not knowing when) affect how we think and feel about the meaningfulness of our lives? The focus of this seminar is not on the significant worries about how we will die, that is, about our fragility and suffering during what might be a lengthy dying process (though this issue does get raised). Rather we will read and discuss how literature, social science, theology, and philosophy integrate thoughts or feelings about the fact of our mortality and our yearning for meaning. A previous version of this course was taught in 2019.

For further information, click here

Ed Langerak

Ed Langerak is Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at St Olaf College, where he taught for 40 years. He has taught six Elder Collegium courses on such topics as the role of religion in public life and normative and applied ethics.

Jan Linn: Does Christian History Point to the Causes and Possible Solutions to our Nation’s Current Divisions?

8 Wednesdays, 9:30-11:30 a.m., beginning September 14

Online via Zoom

Was New York Times columnist David Brooks correct when he recently wrote that America was coming apart at the seams? Some people would say yes, others no, and still others would say they are not sure. Perhaps all, though, would agree that we are experiencing worrisome divisions that show no sign of healing. Finding a solution to this problem inevitably involves first understanding the causes of our divisions. Exploring the historic divisions within Christianity – and other religions – may offer a key to that end and what to do about them.

For further information, click here

Jan Linn

Jan Linn is a retired minister, having served as a congregational pastor, college chaplain and faculty member at the University of Lynchburg in Virginia, and tenured member of the faculty at Lexington Theological Seminary in Kentucky. He is the author of numerous books on church, ministry, and the relationship between religion and politics in America and has previously taught for CVEC.

Thomas Drucker: Science and Religion—Fundamental Disagreement?

8 Wednesdays, 1:30-3:30 p.m., beginning September 14

Village on the Cannon Community Room

Those looking for examples of the interplay between religion and science need look back no further than the pandemic and the response of various people and institutions to guidelines purporting to be the voice of science.  As we approach the centenary of the Scopes trial, points made by the prosecution and the defense in that case continue to be relevant. The teaching of evolution in the schools remains a thorny issue for publishers and for boards of education. This course is not intended to be polemical, but we shall be reading some authors who attach a great deal of importance to the resolution of the issues where there is disagreement. Historically, the term ‘warfare’ has been used to describe the relationship between science and religion. We shall try to understand why that is a dangerous oversimplification. 

For further information, click here

Tom Drucker

Thomas Drucker retired in 2021 after decades of teaching mathematics, computer science, philosophy and the history of science, most recently at the University of Wisconsin—Whitewater.  In between teaching at Dickinson College and Whitewater, he spent eight years as executive director of a Jewish congregation in Pennsylvania.  He has refereed and reviewed for a number of journals in history of science and philosophy (as well as mathematics) and has received statewide and campus teaching awards.  He has always had an attachment to the Socratic method.

David Nitz: Astronomy 101: Introduction to the Sky and Stars

8 Thursdays, 9:30-11:30 a.m., beginning September 22 and ending November 10

Village on the Cannon Community Room

This course will explore two topics in astronomy: (1) naked eye astronomy and (2) the nature of stars. Part 1 will cover looking at the sky with the unaided eye and addressing how what we see changes over daily, weekly, and seasonal time scales. In Part 2 we will explore the outlines of the scientific detective story that begins with the collection of light with a telescope and ultimately leads to an understanding of the composition and life cycle of stars.

For further information, click here

David Nitz

David Nitz was a faculty member in physics at St. Olaf College from 1979 to 2019. Among the courses he taught outside the core of the physics major were astronomy and musical acoustics. His research included the measurement of optical properties of atoms having applications in astrophysics. In his free time he enjoys cycling, cross country skiing, baking bread, reading, house and yard projects, and canoeing/star gazing in the Boundary Waters.

Susan Evans: Two Novels by Louise Erdrich: The Night Watchman and The Sentence

8 Thursdays, 1:30-3:30 p.m., beginning September 15

FiftyNorth, Room 103

Notable Minnesota author Louise Erdrich was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2021 for The Night Watchman. Erdrich says that writing this novel was a labor of love, bringing to life in fictional form the story of her grandfather who worked as a night watchman while leading the fight against the US Congress House Concurrent Resolution 108. That bill, abrogating nation to nation treaties, called for the return of tribal lands to the US, specifically the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa in North Dakota. Erdrich says that her way into difficult subjects is always through story. “Termination seen through the eyes of one facing termination—not a matter of politics, but of what happens to individuals.”

We will discuss this powerful and beautifully written novel over six weeks, bringing in additional information as it is helpful, and encouraging close reading of the text as well as broader analysis of the issues she presents. Our first concern will be understanding and appreciating the artistry of this remarkable story, but discussion will also range into issues such as tribal history in the upper midwest, sex trafficking of indigenous women, and how the white community can better understand and work with our indigenous people on justice issues. Class members will be encouraged to share information and links that will be helpful for all.

While our primary focus will be The Night Watchman, our last two weeks will be spent discussing Erdrich’s most recent novel, The Sentence, which is set in her beloved Minneapolis during the pandemic and following the murder of George Floyd. It is unusual for novelists in general to write about contemporary events while in the process of living through them, which makes this novel very different in form and style from Erdrich’s other novels. This is also described as a ghost story, and Erdrich’s own Birchbark Books is at the center of the plot. I expect this to generate some very interesting discussion.

For further information, click here

Susan Evans
Susan Evans

Susan Evans is a spiritual director holding multiple degrees in literature and theology and has 30 years of experience as a facilitator of small group discussion.

Karen Gervais: Bioethics: An Ethics Committee Approach

8 Fridays, 9:30-11:30 a.m., beginning September 16

Online via Zoom

All accredited hospitals are required to have an “ethics mechanism” – usually implemented in the form of an ethics committee (EC) that is multidisciplinary, including an ethicist, and often a community member. The tripartite role of an EC is education, case consultation, and policy formation. We will use the book, Bioethics: A Committee Approach, to study key ethical theories, the fundamentals of clinical ethics analysis, and the workings of an ideal EC in case analysis, including application of hospital policy and consensus-building to develop an ethics recommendation/rationale for the clinician, patient/family, or administrator who requests help with a specific clinical ethics dilemma. We will then constitute ourselves as an EC seeking to emulate the ideal EC addressing cases involving forgoing treatment, dementia, culturally-responsive care, euthanasia, abortion, and rationing. This is a revised approach to a course previously offered Spring Term 2021.

For further information, click here

Karen Gervais

Karen Gervais, PhD (philosophy) has been the director of the Minnesota Center for Health Care Ethics in St. Paul since 1994. Her work is in clinical ethics, healthcare organizational ethics, research ethics, and state and national health policy ethics. She was Visiting Professor of Science, Technology and Policy Studies at Carleton in 1992, and was a visiting member of St. Olaf’s philosophy department for 30 years. Gervais’ writings focus on the definition of death; ethical issues in end-of-life, palliative, and cross-cultural care; managed care ethics; and pandemic ethics.

Ted Johnson: Microbes, Immune Responses, and Emerging Diseases

8 Fridays, 1:30-3:30 p.m., Sept. 9, 16, 23, & 30; Oct. 28, Nov. 4, 11, & 18 . Will not meet Oct. 7, 14, & 21.

Village on the Cannon Community Room

Microbes such as bacteria and viruses replicate and exhibit unique characteristics which impact our lives in negative or in some cases positive ways. Some microbial diseases can be prevented, and most can be treated.

Immune responses are generated to bacterial and viral infections resulting in recovery from the disease and protection against further encounters with that microbe. White blood cells, antibodies and cytokines play an important role in the immune response. Immune responses can also form to cancer cells and to transplanted organs. The immune response can also be harmful by over-reacting or reacting against the body in an autoimmune response.

Emerging or reemerging bacterial and viral diseases impact our lives. What is known about emerging diseases and what factors have led to the origin of these diseases? What is fact and what is fiction? Covid 19 was a worldwide pandemic–are future pandemics possible?

No background in science is needed. This is a repeat of a course taught in Fall 2021.

For further information, click here

Ted Johnson

Ted Johnson taught microbiology and immunology courses at St Olaf College over a 40-year career. He has led four international abroad semesters. His research has centered on the immune response to cancer related to age.