KNOW courses are offered by the faculty of the Stevanovich Institute on the Formation of Knowledge at both the graduate and the advanced undergraduate levels.
For graduate students, we offer a number of cross-listed seminars as well as an annual core sequence in topics in the formation of knowledge (KNOW 401, 402, 403). These seminars are team-taught by faculty from different departments or schools and are open to all graduate students regardless of field of study. Graduate students who enroll in two quarters of this sequence are eligible to apply for the Dissertation Research Fellowships.
For undergraduate students, we offer courses cross-listed in departments and schools across the University, as well as unique courses taught by the Stevanovich Institute's Postdoctoral Scholars. To browse courses, search by department, quarter, academic year, or type in a keyword that interests you. In addition, the Stevanovich Institute launched the Experimental Capstone (XCAP) in 2018-19, team-taught courses for fourth-year undergraduate students interested in building upon their UChicago educational experience by adding practice, impact, and influence as important dimensions of their undergraduate work.
KNOW 40310: Technology and Aesthetics
The idea of technological "progress" is a contested one, but it cannot be denied that innovation, at the very least, is a continuous process. Technological innovations regularly enable new mediums, new styles, new genres, and new subject matter as they offer us new ways to record the world, express ourselves, and tell stories. And because art is one of the fundamental lenses through which we see the world, the advent of new artistic and literary forms constantly offers us new ways to know. Each transformation in both creation and reception, however, raises anew fundamental theoretical questions: what is the difference between an objective record of the world and an artistic rendition of it? After touching briefly on the revolution brought about by Gutenberg's invention of the printing press, this class will span the 19th through the 21st centuries to explore how technological innovation has led to new literary and aesthetic forms. Though the primary focus will be on literary texts, the course is intended as an interdisciplinary one, incorporating visual art and media. Class sessions will include visits to the Rare Book Collection, local art museums, and, potentially, Chicago-area theatre performances. For their final projects, students will be able to choose between a research paper or a creative project that engages with the questions and concerns of the course.
KNOW 26230: Death Panels: Exploring Dying and Death Through Comics
What do comics add to the discourse on dying and death? What insights do comics provide about the experience of dying, death, caregiving, grieving, and memorialization? Can comics help us better understand our own wishes about the end of life? This is an interactive course designed to introduce students to the field of graphic medicine and explore how comics can be used as a mode of scholarly investigation into issues related to dying, death, and the end of life. The framework for this course intends to balance readings and discussion with creative drawing and comics-making assignments. The work will provoke personal inquiry and self-reflection and promote understanding of a range of topics relating to the end of life, including examining how we die, defining death, euthanasia, rituals around dying and death, and grieving. The readings will primarily be drawn from a wide variety of graphic memoirs and comics, but will be supplemented with materials from a variety of multimedia sources including the biomedical literature, philosophy, cinema, podcasts, and the visual arts. Guest participants in the course may include a funeral director, chaplain, hospice and palliative care specialists, cartoonists, and authors. The course will be taught by a nurse cartoonist and a physician, both of whom are active in the graphic medicine community and scholars of the health humanities.
KNOW 26220: Buddhism and Modernity: East and West
In the height of nineteenth-century triumph of progress, rationalism, and disenchantment with religion, many European and American intellectuals found inspiration in Buddhism as a spirituality fit for modern times, and expressed it in philosophy, literature, and even opera. On the other side, in Asian societies struggling with colonization, many intellectuals condemned Buddhism as a remnant of premodern superstition, while others hailed it as an essential element for the construction of modern identity and of the superiority of the "spiritual East" against the "materialist West." These debates and images still determine the way in which Buddhism is globally represented today. In this course, we will discuss Buddhism and modernity using examples from various geographical and historical contexts, ranging from Nietzsche, to the American Beat generation, and to contemporary issues of nationalism and violence in South Asia. We will place the careful examination of these topics within the discussion of broader issues, such as the place of religion in modernity, cultural difference and appropriation, and the intersection of religion, gender, and race.
KNOW 20100: The Fetish: Theories and Methods in Religious Studies
The term fetish was coined in the 18th century by Portuguese sailors to describe the amulets or charms used by the indigenous people of Guinea. It was popularized soon after as a term used to describe the endowment of material objects with special powers among traditions deemed to be primitive. It has a long subsequent history within the Philosophy of Religions, Marxism, and Psychoanalysis, but in fact mostly disappeared from the taxonomic lexicon of scholarship within the field of Religious Studies once it was deemed a "category mistake" in the 20th century. It is thus, a term that tells the story both of the construction of Comparative Religions as a European endeavor, as well as the reverberations of that story across the social sciences. In this course we will track its history from the 18th Century to the present and consider its recent redeployments and resignifications in recent theoretical texts.. Readings will include texts by David Hume, Immanuel Kant, Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, Marcel Mauss, Bruno Latour, Jacques Derrida, Sarah Kofman and others.
KNOW 20035/30035: Babylonian Knowledge: The Mesopotamian Way of Thought
This course has two goals. The first is an interior goal, to introduce students to the major categories of knowledge created and employed in ancient Assyria and Babylonia, as the Mesopotamian "core curriculum." This was the corpus of material that had to be mastered by scribes of the Neo-Sumerian and Neo-Assyrian periods, including proverbs, lists, omens, geographies, medicine, magic, law, mathematics, history, royal wisdom, and accounting. The second goal is "exterior": to examine the epistemological precepts on which knowledge was constructed. What was held to be knowable? What methods and techniques were used to identify and justify knowledge as valid or authentic? What roles did copying, editing, authorship, and literacy play in the production of knowledge texts? How the organization and preservation of texts create canons and curricula? No prior knowledge of Mesopotamian history or literature is required. Students are asked to think with the primary texts, not to demonstrate mastery of them.
KNOW 40311: The Invention of Hunger
Hunger is often thought of as an unchanging biological fact, but what it means to be hungry has changed profoundly over the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. From the pleasure of sweets to the trauma of famine, hunger has influenced some of the most important economic, political, and cultural developments of the modern age. Drawing from a variety of scholarly disciplines, as well as primary readings including novels, scientific texts, and journalism, we will explore how experiences and understandings of hunger were intertwined with race, class, and gender, and played a pivotal role in the development of the slave trade, colonialism, and humanitarian ethics. We will situate famines, hunger strikes, eating disorders, and other ways of thinking about food in their historical and cultural contexts. We will end the course by examining how this history has influenced how we understand the culture and economics of food in our own society. For each class period, students will write a 1-2 page reflection on one or several of the week's readings that they will circulate to the entire class at least 24 hours before seminar. There will be a 15-20 page final paper on the theme of hunger, broadly defined. This paper will incorporate outside secondary works related to students' specific research interests.
KNOW 26020: Habits of a Free Mind: Psychology for Democracy
Are we capable of engaging across lines of difference without feeling traumatized and without dehumanizing? How can we navigate “cancel culture” in which a misinterpreted word, heterodox views, or guilt-by-association can result in ostracization on college campuses, mobbing on social media, and retractions and redactions of published works? Visiting Lecturer, Pamela Paresky, primary researcher and in-house editor of the New York Times bestseller, The Coddling of the American Mind, leads this interdisciplinary, experiential, and unconventional shared inquiry. In addition to reading chapters from that book, texts include Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl, On Tyranny by Timothy Snyder, and a variety of short readings in philosophy, poetry, social science, theatre, and historical and contemporary essays. You will begin by identifying why being a free thinker matters to you. Then, through in-class exercises, experiential assignments, and an emphasis on playfulness, you will spend the quarter developing and practicing mental and interpersonal habits designed to increase your capacity to tolerate discomfort, expand your facility with free speech, civil dialogue, and productive disagreement, and strengthen your ability to make a difference in an area that matters to you.
At its core, this course is about what it means to be human.
KNOW 22175: Apprenticeship: Learning on the Job
What does it mean to master one’s craft? How is mastery evaluated and who determines when it is achieved? Apprenticeship tends to involve long-term, intensive, and situated, or site-specific learning, under the guidance of masters and alongside of peers. While explicit instructions or textbooks may feature in apprenticeships, apprentices often learn by observing those with more experience and attempting to repeat or reproduce what they observe. Drawing on ethnographies of apprenticeship in chocolate making, Lucha Libre wrestling, Chinese medicine, and fire fighting, we will examine the embodied processes of socialization and professionalization, and pay close attention to the settings in which learning takes place. By taking this course, students will gain a broader understanding of the nuances between apprenticeship and other forms of learning. Moreover, by completing an ethnographic reflection project, students will develop sharper observation and field note taking skills.
KNOW 48809: Trompe l’oeil: Cognition and Depiction in Western Painting
This course offers a focused examination of trompe l’oeil, a category of painting that is typically associated with the aims of illusion or deception. Yet who, or rather what set of criteria, adjudicates what counts as an illusion or deception in the first place? Indeed, why are illusion or deception even the appropriate or operative terms here? And how might we begin to attend in an historical fashion to the phenomenological question of how human agents, whether in the distant or even the more recent past, saw such pictures as pictures? For many art historians as well as philosophers and anthropologists of art, the historical emergence of trompe l’oeil constitutes a somewhat paradoxical phenomenon. On one hand, it counts as evidence for a natural-historical revolution in human depictive practices and cognition; on the other, it is an extreme, essentially transhistorical case of picture-making and perception. We will look at works spanning from ancient Roman wall-painting to Dutch Golden Age still life to the immersive environments of contemporary art through various methodological approaches including the philosophy and psychology of depiction, psychoanalysis, ethology (the study of animal behavior), and so-called “neuroarthistory.”
KNOW 30926: Wonder, Wonders, and Knowing
“In wonder is the beginning of philosophy,” wrote Aristotle; Descartes also thought that those deficient in wonder were also deficient in knowledge. But the relationship between wonder and inquiry has always been an ambivalent one: too much wonder stupefies rather than stimulates investigation, according to Descartes; Aristotle explicitly excluded wonders as objects of inquiry from natural philosophy. Since the sixteenth century, scientists and scholars have both cultivated and repudiated the passion of wonder. On the one hand, marvels (or even just anomalies) threaten to subvert the human and natural orders; on the other, the wonder they ignite fuels inquiry into their causes. Wonder is also a passion tinged with the numinous, and miracles have long stood for the inexplicable in religious contexts. This seminar will explore the long, vexed relationship between wonder, knowledge, and belief in the history of philosophy, science, and religion.
Prerequisites: Reading knowledge of at least one language besides English, some background in intellectual history.