Five-Course Interdisciplinary Core

The Five-Course Interdisciplinary Core is based on learning outcomes drawn from the traditional liberal arts: the sciences, history and politics, the social sciences, literature and philosophy, and the fine arts. In these courses students examine great ideas, historic milestones, and works of art; discover connections among different areas of knowledge and methods for gathering it; learn to reason logically, to sift through deception and cant, and to integrate what they know. Students generally complete these five courses during the freshman and sophomore years. All interdisciplinary Core courses must be completed at Roger Williams.

While the five Interdisciplinary Core courses vary in topic, theme, method, and approach, they all address the three Core questions that unite the Core Curriculum: Who am I? What can I know? And based on what I know, how should I act?

Upon completion of the Five-Course Interdisciplinary Core, RWU students are prepared for:

Core 101 - Scientific Investigations

Core 101

  • Students will investigate questions of societal and personal relevance using scientific knowledge.
  • Students will describe and actively engage in the scientific process by asking questions, gathering data and drawing evidence-based conclusion.

Core 102 - Challenges of Democracy

Core 102

  • Trace the growing complexity of the idea of democracy by analyzing primary source documents;
  • Examine the idea of democracy, its inherent tensions, and its relationship to other concepts including but not limited to: reason, equality, liberty, order, and identity;
  • Describe how key concepts within democratic thought are practiced in the modern world including how those concepts relate to the three Core Questions.

Learn more about Core 102 professors and how they teach it

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AARON ALLEN is an Assistant Professor of American Studies at Roger Williams University. He holds a Ph.D. in American Studies from the University of Maryland, College Park and an M.A. in Afro-American Studies from the University of California, Los Angeles. Professor Allen’s work engages Critical Race Theory, University Studies, and the politics of diversity, multiculturalism, and mixed race during the post-civil rights era. His research addresses the multiple, complex, and persistent ways anti-black racism operates within the language of diversity, both in and outside of the university.

Professor Allen approaches Core 102 with a social justice lens, in which students explore how the challenges of democracy have often rested in its failure to distribute rights and privileges evenly across different populations. Professor Allen’s class focuses on the post-WWII period, considering such topics as national security, voting rights, housing segregation, and marriage and family. His class uses contemporary, and often controversial political topics, as a point of entry into the history of these aforementioned topics. In an effort to build a bridge between Core 102 and student’s particular academic interests, Professor Allen offers an assignment in which students explore and uncover how their major or field of interest contributes to the making or unmaking of democracy. 

image of RWU Core 102 Professor Laura D'AmoreLAURA D'AMORE is an Associate Professor of American Studies at Roger Williams University. She received both her MA and Ph.D. in American and New England Studies at Boston University. Professor D’Amore’s teaching interests include the representation of gender in American popular culture, literature and comics; the cultural construction of gender and sexuality; and activism in U.S. history and culture.  Her current research examines the relationship between empowerment, agency, violence, justice, and trauma in the stories of young superheroines in comics and YA fantasy literature.

Professor D’Amore teaches Core 102 as a course about activism, agency, and empowerment in youth-driven social movements in 20th and 21st Century U.S. history and culture, using a social justice lens as a way to talk about topics like access and power.  In her class, students will develop fluency in social justice theory, and knowledge about how oppression and privilege operate as both social and structural barriers to equality.  Taught against the backdrop of U.S. democracy as a system of governance which is often purported to nurture equal opportunity, Professor D’Amore encourages students to ask difficult questions about the lived realities of a variety of historically marginalized people, and to explore the role of protest as a mechanism by which silenced groups find a collective voice. Professor D’Amore integrates ‘Reacting to the Past' into her course, as a way to engage students in critical thinking and dialogue. The final project for the course is a student-developed protest plan of action on behalf of a contemporary activist cause that is meaningful to them.

image of Dr. Charlotte Carrington-FarmerCHARLOTTE CARRINGTON-FARMER is an Associate Professor of History, who specializes in social and cultural history in the early modern Atlantic World.  She received her Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge (Trinity Hall) in 2010. She published a biography of Thomas Morton in: Atlantic Lives: Biographies that Cross the Ocean (Leiden and Boson: Brill, 2014.) She has published an article entitled ‘The Rise and Fall of the Narragansett Pacer,’ in Rhode Island History, Winter/Spring 2018, Volume 76, Number 1, pp. 1-38. She has written a chapter entitled ‘Trading Horses in the Eighteenth Century: Rhode Island and the Atlantic World,’ in: Kristen Guest and Monica Mattfeld, eds., Equine Cultures: Horses, Human Society, and the Discourse of Modernity, 1700-Present (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2019.) Dr. Carrington-Farmer has reviewed books for History: Reviews of New Books, Equine History Collective, and Connecticut History Review. Dr. Carrington-Farmer has written pieces for The Junto and The Spectacle of Toleration blogs and recorded podcasts for the Knowing Animals series. 

Dr. Carrington-Farmer uses ‘Reacting to the Past’ (RTTP) in Core 102. RTTP involves elaborate games, set in the past, in which students are assigned roles informed by primary sources. Dr. Carrington-Farmer regularly uses the Trial of Anne Hutchinson game in her Roger Seminar Core 102 and Greenwich Village 1913 in her regular Core 102. Dr. Carrington-Farmer’s class includes a case study on Christopher Columbus and historical memory. Students complete an assignment producing protest letters, petitions, and posters connected to the current debate over the ethics of the Columbus Day holiday. In addition, Dr. Carrington-Farmer covers a wide range of topics in her class, including medieval democracy, the execution of King Charles I, race and democracy in the U.S. (both historically and contemporarily), and democracy on pirate ships.

image of Core 102 Professor Sargon DonabedSARGON DONABED teaches CORE from a holistic perspective, using panentheism as a paradigm and panenhistoricism as a methodological approach, he observes and participates in the question of representation by taking the question out from the mainstream to the margins “ (there) and back again” and more so out of an anthropocentric sphere to include other-than-human lives.

Professor Donabed focuses on the notions of re-enchanting, re-wilding, and importance of storytelling. A proponent of panentheism and haecceity, Donabed has created a notion of panenhistoricism as a new historical paradigm in an effort to reimagine divine immanence in the “ordinary,” and its transcendence through mystery – rekindling wonder in a more-than- human world. He regularly ‘researches’ cultural heritage and history as well as mythology, folklore, and wisdom literature of the ancient, medieval, and modern world. His contemporary focus consists of indigenous and marginalized communities but also threads of continuity from the ancient to the modern period. He is an expert on the perennial history of Assyro-Mesopotamian culture.

CHARLES HARTMAN was born the first year of the “boomers” into the family of a Baptist minister. He grew up in the heartland of America in the 1950’s and 60’s, a time that was intense with change: social, technological, economic and political. The dynamics of the religio-political turmoil shaped his choices of education as he went from home, to college, to seminary, to pastoral practice. As pastor, husband, parent, grandparent, and scholar he has continued to explore and understand the complexities of the human experience.

Professor Hartman’s engagement with the heritage of Roger Williams provides students with insight into the profound entanglements of religion and politics. In his CORE 102 course, students seek to understand how Roger Williams brought into political discourse the principle, “liberty of conscience,” and how that radical idea continues to influence our religio-political practices. The class is built seminar-style on intentional and articulated teacher/student relationships which encourage mutual support, exploration and scholarly expression.

photo of RWU Core 102 Professor Jiyoon ImJIYOON IM is Adjunct Professor at Roger Williams University and Providence College. She received her M.A. in Political Science from Boston College and her B.A. in Political Science from Duke University. She is currently finishing her dissertation on Montesquieu’s political and economic thought.

Professor Im’s CORE 102 investigates how the history of political philosophy illuminates the most urgent questions of our own liberal democracy. Her class reads thinkers such as Thucydides, Plato, Machiavelli, Hobbes, and Locke to understand how their arguments for liberty and equality clarify the limits of contemporary debates concerning issues such as immigration, kneeling during the national anthem, gun rights, and economic inequality. Professor Im’s CORE 102 requires active participation in weekly student-led seminar discussion, and both the midterm and final assignments culminate in a collaborative in-class debate.

KATHRYN LAMONTAGNE is an Adjunct professor in the Core program at RWU. She has a MA from the University of London, as well as Providence College. Her PhD work from Boston University centers on Catholic women in Victorian Britain and she has published on the transmission of English working class culture to the unions and neighborhoods of neighboring Fall River, Massachusetts. Current projects include using genealogy to write micro-histories to fit into larger moments.

Professor Lamontagne uses ‘Reacting to the Past’ (RTTP) in Core 102, particularly Greenwich Village, 1913, which links into her areas of research. She is particularly dedicated to experiential education and uses field visits on and off campus (including Frederick Douglass in New Bedford) to introduce students to primary documents – the cornerstone of the historian’s craft. Her class approaches democracy from the British Atlantic perspective making links across borders to underpin global citizenship. As such, Professor Lamontagne explores “democracy and dissent” in areas as diverse as Irish politics, LGBTQ perspectives, issues of identity (gender, race, class) and religion.

photo of RWU Core 102 Professor Ben LefkowitzBEN LEFKOWITZ is currently an Adjunct Professor of History at Roger Williams University and the Community College of Rhode Island. He has also taught at the University of Cincinnati, Bridgewater State College, Stonehill College, and Bristol Community College. Born and raised in New York City, Rabbi Ben attended Queens College, NY, where he majored in History.  He then studied at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Israel, and Hebrew Union College in New York. Subsequent to his rabbinic ordination, he was a graduate fellow at the Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, studying Bible and the Ancient Near East. Besides his teaching, Rabbi Ben was the rabbi at Temple Beth Sholom in Hull, MA from 1997-2016 and at Congregation Agudath Achim in Taunton, MA from 1980-1994. Rabbi Ben’s hobbies include classical music, classic movies, and reading, especially in the fields of history, archaeology, biblical studies, and science.

Democracy sounds like the ideal form of government, but as Churchill said (in part), it is the worst form of government except for all the others.  How did democracy come to be what we think of it, and in what way does it fall short?  Sir Isaac Newton supposedly said that If we can see further, it is because we are standing on the shoulders of giants. The ideas and expectations we have of democracy have taken shape over a long history and have changed over time. Using group presentations, brief lecture, and close reading of texts, we trace the evolution of the idea of democracy and how that evolution has been applied in the past and how it is applied today, and examine whether or not current society is fulfilling the ideals, values, and expectations that democracy claims to represent. While people assume democracy started with the Greeks, we start with some biblical texts that reveal that such cherished freedoms and rights as life, liberty, health, leisure, property, and “the pursuit of happiness” came much earlier. From there we move on to foundational texts some of which are Polybius’ model of Roman government that ultimately gave us our sense of separation of powers; Magna Carta; the U.S. Constitution and its amendments, and the foundation documents of the Civil Rights Movement.  We also look at documents that challenge the very idea of democracy, such as the Communist Manifesto.

DEBRA A. MULLIGAN is a professor of history, and has been teaching in the core program since 2001. Since then she has employed some innovative methods to introduce students to the challenges of democracy, the philosophy behind revolutionary movements throughout history, the fate of the individual, and the significance of government structures.

Through active role play, debate, and in depth analysis and application of primary source documents, students are able to trace the development of the democratic idea in history.

photo of RWU Core 102 Professor Autumn Quezada-GrantAUTUMN QUEZADA-GRANT is Associate Professor of History in the Department of History and American Studies. She completed her studies in 2010 at the University of Mississippi in areas of Latin American History, ethnohistory and African slavery. Her research and teaching interests are in modern Latin America, rights struggles, and social justice issues. Outside of teaching she often offers expert witness testimony in asylum cases relative to Latin America for attorneys across the nation.

Professor Quezada-Grant’s approach to teaching Core 102 revolves around the question of access. Who has access to rights, resources, freedom and equality across time and space? We look at history and current events throughout the semester helping students build critical thinking skills alongside a grasp of historical knowledge. To top off the semester, students engage with questions around access and advocacy through a social justice presentation. Students gain a sharp understanding of how our nation has built a democracy through commitment to equality, freedom and law throughout the semester and learn to question failures in the system. Social Justice inquiry helps students build a skill set of advocacy that proves valuable no matter academic major or interest.

JUNE SAGER SPEAKMAN is Professor of Political Science at Roger Williams University in Bristol, where she teaches American politics and public policy.  She has a Ph.D. in political science from City University of New York and an M.A. in Economics from the New School for Social Research.  Speakman was a Hassenfeld fellow at the Kennedy School of Government where she earned a certificate for Senior Executives in State and Local Government.

Prof. Speakman has been teaching Core 102 since the first year of its existence in 1995.  The course has gone through many changes since then, including a movement away from a common exam and towards allowing professors to teach to their strengths and interests.  Currently,  Speakman asks her students to read Robert Dahl’s On Democracy, a classic in the field, and several primary documents that focus on the emergence and development of democracy in the United States.   She ends the semester by asking students to write an entry for RWU’s First Amendment blog.

MICHELLE VALLETTA has taught US and European History courses and CORE 102 at RWU since 2014. She completed her BA in History in 2011 and MA in History in 2013 at Rhode Island College.  Her research interests lie in the area of U.S. late 19th and 20th social history and Rhode Island Public History. She also is the Project Manager/Historian for the RIC/RI State House Tour Project, an academic consultant for  both the Gallery Night Providence Tours and the North Burial Ground Project, Providence, Rhode Island, and an Assistant Professor at Rhode Island College. 

In CORE 102, Professor Valletta  employs  a wide range of primary and secondary sources to examine the challenges to democracy in the past and present. After some time spent ‘tooling up’ on the basic principles of democracy, students dive into historical case studies examining democracy and its relationship to issues such as disenfranchisement, social justice, inequality, citizenship and social media/technology.


Core 103 - Human Behavior in Perspective

Core 103

  • Explain and describe human behavior from various social scientific points of view.
  • Demonstrate an increased understanding of and sensitivity towards human diversity and inequalities.
  • Critically assess social science research.

Learn more about Core 103 professors and how they teach it

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image of Professor Leslie GrinnerLESLIE GRINNER is an Adjunct Professor in the Core Curriculum at Roger Williams University. She received her BA in Gender Studies and Social Science from the University of Southern California and her MS in Cultural Foundations of Education from Syracuse University, where she continues her Ph.D. work. Professor Grinner’s work engages Intersectional and Black feminist theory, practice, and pedagogy; media literacy with its foundations in Cultural Studies; popular culture criticism; representations of Blackness/Anti-Blackness; and multiracial identities and families.

Professor Grinner teaches CORE 103 – Human Behavior in Perspective as a Feminist Media Literacy course with a Social Justice paradigm as its core. In this course students will learn to “read” codes, ideologies, discourses, and cultural stories in media and popular culture. We will be exploring issues of privilege and power, asking questions such as “Who benefits and who suffers as a result of these representations?” and “What ideologies are we being taught by media?” Students will leave the course being more engaged and informed consumers of media and popular culture, and will be able to critically analyze news media, popular culture, and advertisements.

image of Professor Mary MedeirosMARY MEDEIROS is an adjunct professor teaching in both the Core Curriculum as well as in the psychology department for RWU.  She has a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from The University of Rhode Island.  Her research at the university focused on decision-making processes for intentional self-directed change.  

She brings her experiences in clinical practice and world travel to the classroom focusing on diverse cultural worldviews, and the significance of these traditional practices in spiritual/religious expression.  Both Roger Seminar and Reacting To The Past are the spring boards for students to experience cultural diversity through the eyes of Roger Williams as well as from the perspective of Native Americans.   Another passion of Dr. Medeiros, which is woven into Core 103: Human Behavior in Perspective, is Environmental Stewardship and sustainable practices.  Students learn the efficacy of civic-minded decisions leading to global change.   As an LLC Faculty Mentor, Dr. Medeiros helps students transition to college life through community outreach.

image of Professor Chris MentonCHRIS MENTON has a bachelor’s in Human Development from Curry College where he was enrolled in the first comprehensive program for college students with learning disabilities.  He completed a twenty-year career with the Massachusetts Department of Correction. Starting as a correction officer moving up the ranks, he worked at all classification levels and treatment models before becoming a director of staff training. From Boston University, he earned a Master’s in Criminal Justice/Human Service Personnel Training at the start of his career and a Doctorate in Education in Societal Studies as he transitioned into higher education.   He taught for many summers in the Sociology Department at the University of Massachusetts Boston and has been a professor of Criminal Justice at Roger Williams University for some time.  He has been in the media, presented and published on a number of topics ranging from police bicycle patrols to domestic violence offenders to public safety personnel training. He believes education is transformative. 

Professor Menton’s approach to Core 103: Human Behavior in Perspective, considers the perspectives of behavioral science disciplines. Within these contexts three issues in human behavior are explored; cross racial friendships, the self-discipline of habits and minimizing discounting. For the student transitioning from adolescence to adulthood these three aspects of human behavior provide grounding views of oneself and others. These explorations equip the students to have a measure of the quality of human interactions. 

image of Professor Laura TurnerLAURA TURNER earned her Ph.D. in Psychology from the Pennsylvania State University with a concentration in Developmental Psychology.  Current research interests include work/family balance and the impact of educational television on children’s development.  Through her scholarship and teaching, Professor Turner continually explores how research on child development can positively impact children’s lives.  

In the Fall semester, Professor Turner’s Roger Seminar begins with a consideration of the legacy of our namesake, Roger Williams, with special attention to his unique relationship with the Native Americans.  Using the lens of a social scientist, we examine institutional discrimination as well as the resilience of Native Americans and other minoritized groups in the United States from the time of the first English immigrants to the Cherokee Removal to the present day. Professor Turner’s Spring semester Core 103 takes a very different form.  Recognizing that one way to judge a society is by the way it treats its children, we examine the nature of childhood in America.  We explore the changing social construction of childhood and evaluate important factors in children’s lives, including the family, social class, and race.

image of Professor James Verinis with a ducklingJAMES VERINIS is a cultural anthropologist whose PhD work examined Greek ethno-nationalism, vis-à-vis the revival of the Olympic Games in Athens in 1896 and later in the contemporary Greek countryside. In the context of European integration and globalization, rural Greeks now employ immigrant farmworkers in order to make ends meet. This has forced a reformulation of rural Greek identity that marginalizes as it also embraces ‘others’ in a distinct way. Dr. Verinis has turned his attention to other formulations of identity in agriculture, notably indigenous American food sovereignty movements, in order to further explore the relationship between food production and subjectivity, citizenship, and belonging.

A focus on food organizes Professor Verinis’s approach to Core 103. In this ‘Ethnology of Food’ course, students adopt a cross-cultural and evolutionary perspective on subsistence. Beliefs and behaviors associated with hunter-gatherers, agricultural communities, as well as those living in commercialized food systems are evaluated. Biological needs are considered alongside wants and desires which have developed over the course of human history, as are the ways different cultures conceive of and satisfy them. Themes such as aesthetics, ethics, ecology, and power further organize the semester as students pursue ethnographic exercises on their chosen subjects.

image of Professor Justin WilliamsJUSTIN P. WILLIAMS is an adjunct professor in the Core Curriculum at RWU. He has an M.A. and PhD. in Anthropology from Washington State University. His research is focused on stone tool technology of the late Pleistocene. He examines stylistic trends in learning and style among Gatherer-Hunters from North America. Justin has published in numerous archaeological journals and even in one information science journal. He has conducted archaeological field work in various regions throughout North America including the Pacific Northwest, Alaska, the Southeast, and the Northeast. 

Professor Williams uses Core 103: Human Behavior in Perspective, to explore the origins of humans, while examining the discoveries and innovations that has made us the unique species we are today. In doing so he turns the concept of discovery on its head and builds an understanding of the power dynamic within social science while reviewing the history of anthropology, sociology, and psychology. In doing so, students will learn a great deal about non-western cultures, while gaining skills to evaluate the social norms and cultural patterns within western culture. Overall, Professor Williams seeks to provide students with a culturally relativistic perspective, that they can use to interact with others throughout their life. 


Core 104 - Literature, Philosophy, and the Examined Life

Core 104

  • Make connections between literary and philosophical texts and the examined life.
  • Demonstrate an understanding of significant literary and philosophical themes and concepts presented in course texts.

Learn more about Core 104 professors and how they teach it

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CORY ALIX teaches in the humanities at Roger Williams University. He graduated from the State University of New York at Buffalo with a dual focus on continental philosophy & film theory.


Professor Alix’s iteration of CORE 104’s Roger Seminar is a discussion-based analysis of the writings of Roger Williams through pop-culture/media, history, and philosophy.

photo of RWU Core 104 Professor Margaret CaseMARGARET CASE is a Professor of English Literature Roger Williams University in Bristol, where she teaches British Literature, Literary Theory, Visual Rhetorics, and CORE 104.   Her Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of Virginia specialized in the rise of the early British novel. She has published and presented on topics ranging from Jane Austen to Breaking Bad. She has also published on Eliza Haywood (aka “Mrs. Novel”), who was one of the few woman writers who published prolifically in the early days of the British novel (1740s-1760s).

Professor Case’s CORE 104 course explores Big Questions in ways that bring philosophy and literature to life. For example, what does chocolate have to do with discovering who you actually are as a person? Can you prove you have an identity? What can Jane Austen teach us about dating? What can Socrates and The Matrix and I am Legend teach us about the nature of reality? Students in Prof. Case’s class often note that “I didn’t expect to be engaged by a course in literature and philosophy, but it turned out to be one of my favorite classes! It really made me think, and I actually thought about the questions in this class long after class was over.” This course involves students in role-playing skits, class presentations, and free-writing.

CATHERINE FORSA is an assistant professor of Writing Studies, Rhetoric, and Composition. She holds a PhD in English from Case Western Reserve University and an MA in English from Seton Hall University. She teaches courses and conducts research on professional writing, including business writing, engineering writing, and science writing.

Professor Forsa’s Roger Seminar CORE 104 courses aim to help students transition to college-level thinking and writing by spotlighting how the humanities can benefit students in all majors. These courses focus on how language and storytelling are central to work that students do across campus, and they emphasize connections between the humanities and a wide range of professional fields. For example, students study how major corporations use stories, poems, and art in marketing and fundraising campaigns. Throughout the semester, students work collaboratively to write high-quality professional documents and work on interactive multimedia projects that help them trace connections between literature, philosophy, and future careers. 

photo of RWU Core 104 Professor Rosalie FranksROSALIE FRANKS, Ed.D. teaches Critical Writing, Literature and Philosophy at Roger Williams University. A graduate of Smith College in English Literature, she earned her Master’s degree from Columbia University in Childhood Education and Curriculum Development and her Doctorate from Boston University in Humanistic Education. She has done post-doctoral studies at Harvard and Oxford and was selected a Fellow of Northwestern University’s Institute on the Holocaust and Jewish Civilization. Dr. Franks interviewed 92 Holocaust survivors and witnesses in the United States and Scotland for Steven Spielberg’s Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation. Her interviewees included three Founders of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and Erich Leyden, a friend of Anne Frank’s father Otto. The USC Shoah Foundation website features two of Dr. Franks’ full-length visual histories with Kurt Thomas and Joseph Singer. Dr. Franks has visited eleven concentration camps throughout Eastern Europe and studied with Elie Wiesel in his “Literature of Memory” seminar at Boston University. She has presented her qualitative research at conferences in the United States and Jerusalem, Israel. Because of her work with survivors, Dr. Franks designs her interdisciplinary courses around issues involving equality, human rights, and social justice.

In Dr. Franks’ Core 104 class, students examine issues involving ethics, racism, and sexism through different literary genres by American writers of the late 19th and 20th century, including Mark Twain, Kate Chopin, Langston Hughes, and Maya Angelou. These acclaimed writers help us appreciate how literature informs our understanding of morality, equality, and social justice in American society during the past 150 years. Films and documentaries provide additional insights into our American heritage. The course encourages students to think about why they make the choices they do. They will discover how grappling with moral dilemmas and ethical problems can lead to personal growth and development and the aspiration to want to contribute to their communities and people around the globe. Examining philosophy and literature guides students in their quest for a deeper appreciation of what it means to be human. 

photo of RWU Core 104 Professor Christine HaveringtonCHRISTINE HAVERINGTON holds a PhD and MA in English from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and a BA in English from Williams College. She is a specialist in medieval studies, the history and development of English language and literature, and has taught at the university undergraduate and graduate levels. She is certified in Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) by the University of Toronto, Canada. She teaches in the Core, Writing, and ESL Bridge Programs. Christine has designed and taught summer intensive English language and American cultural immersion programs for RWU’s Spiegel Center for Global and International Programs. She has published books, articles, and lectured on a variety of topics. Her current research projects are the Viking-Age in Narragansett Bay, and gaming for English Language Learners. Christine founded the Bioedumimcry Association for Biologically Inspired Educational Systems and Practices in 2017. Christine employs learner-driven and creative learning processes in a rich environment of concepts, texts, people, sites, materials, and media organized into a scaffolded sequence of written, oral, role- play, and media-enhanced learning challenges.

Her Roger Seminar theme is: Dangerous Ideas in Colonial New England: Who? What? Why? How? So what? Students who successfully complete the course will be able to demonstrate an understanding of significant literary and philosophical concepts such as the religious, political, social and economic foundations and applications of Puritan, Indigenous American, and Roger Williams’ evolving ethics, and conflicting views on truth, wisdom, justice, identity and freedom. Several interactive, in-class and outside class, activities support student learning. In CORE 104, students compose a personal philosophy, participate in two Socratic Groups, research and write an analytical essay, discuss and evaluate ethical situations, understand and evaluate the life of Roger Williams, and debate a course topic. These activities are taught and practiced in class before students submit their work. The instructor is available three times each week for support outside the class time.

DONALD HOLDER has taught at RWU since 2007, and he also teaches Writing 100 and 102. Dr. Holder taught K-12 English Language Art and served as a K-12 principal, superintendent, and university administrator. Dr. Holder lives in Kingston, RI, is a Master Gardener, enjoys time with his family and grandchildren, and is an avid cyclist.

Several interactive, in-class and outside class, activities support student learning. In CORE 104, students compose a personal philosophy, participate in two Socratic Groups, research and write an analytical essay, discuss and evaluate ethical situations, understand and evaluate the life of Roger Williams, and debate a course topic. These activities are taught and practiced in class before students submit their work. The instructor is available three times each week for support outside the class time.

image of Core 104 Professor Jason JacobsJASON JACOBS is Associate Dean of General Education and Associate Professor of French and Italian at RWU. He holds degrees in Literature from New College of Florida (BA, 1997) and the University of California, Santa Cruz (PhD, 2006). Dr. Jacobs specializes in the literature of the European Middles Ages — especially narrative poetry in Old French and Italian — and has secondary expertise in literary theory and gay and lesbian studies. At Roger Williams, he has taught courses in French and Italian language and literature at all levels, courses in the Core Curriculum such as CORE 104 and the Core Interdisciplinary Senior Seminar, and courses in Gender & Sexuality Studies. He also has a special interest in teaching first-year students, and is a member of the Roger Seminar faculty. 

Dr. Jacobs sees CORE 104 as an opportunity to slow down and read literary and philosophical texts attentively and with care, developing skills that open up meanings embedded in texts from the distant past, from cultures different from the student's own, or even texts that seem clear enough but harbor hidden messages. Students in his CORE 104 classes engage in frequent collaborative learning exercises in and out of the classroom and complete authentic, creative assignments designed to make their learning challenging but exciting. Dr. Jacobs knows that not every student comes to CORE 104 loving literature and philosophy, but one of his aims is to recruit as many students as possible. How? By being willing to pose the question of how relevant literature and philosophy are for us all as we do our best to live good lives.

BEAZLEY KANOST focused on American Cool in her work for a Ph.D. in American Literature at the University of Rhode Island, while her MFA work in Creative Writing at Brown University played with the fabric of stories. At Roger Williams she teaches Writing—academic, professional, and creative—and Core 104. Her research focuses on coolness as constructed in fiction by James Baldwin and in films by Andy Warhol and Shirley Clarke. Currently, she is also writing stories that revise the tale of Ophelia from Hamlet.

Professor Kanost’s Core 104 class urges students to learn how to use literature and philosophy to better recognize themselves and others, regardless of their major. Through close reading, we also recognize how literature and philosophy take us below the surface of what we “know,” on ventures of rediscovery. As a Roger Seminar, her course explores connections between freedom and equality, asking such questions as Can I be free without equality? What do “freedom” and “equality” really mean? How I can know if I’m equal—or free? To guide our exploration, we’ll use this year’s common reading—Our Declaration, by Danielle Allen—plus writings by, and related to, Roger Williams himself. Students will use collaborative role-playing to better understand a historical problem, which we will then transpose into a situation that reflects our present. Writing for the course will focus on close reading and reflection.

DONG-HOON ‘DON’ LEE is an Associate Professor in the department of Modern Languages, Philosophy, and Classics. He is also the Coordinator of RWU’s ESL Bridge Program. Professor Lee holds a Ph.D. in Foreign/Second Language Education from Ohio State University. Prior to working at RWU, he taught at Pusan National University, one of the leading universities in South Korea. Professor Lee has many areas of academic interest, including the human language, rhetorical writing, and philosophy.

Professor Lee and the students in his Core 104 course study philosophical and literary texts about timeless, universal human experiences, starting from three fundamental questions: Who am I? What can I know? How shall I live? Some specific themes examined are “good versus evil,” “love and hate,” and “losses and gains.” Philosophy is studied from “Western” (Plato, Machiavelli, etc.) and “Eastern” (Mencius, etc.) perspectives. Literary texts mainly consist of various short stories. Class time is mostly spent in thoughtful, respectful, and honest discussions based on the assignment of the day.

photo of RWU Core 104 Professor Nancy NesterNANCY L. NESTER holds a PhD. in English from the University of Rhode Island.  She is a Professor in the Department of Writing Studies, Rhetoric, and Composition.  Regularly, she teaches How Writing Works; Writing for Social Change; Literature, Philosophy, and the Examined Life; and Visions of Utopia: Dreams and Delusions.   Her work in the classroom intersects with her scholarship and professional activities. She has presented and written on topics related to Community Engagement and Writing, Empathy, Human Rights, and Social Justice. Her current project involves an examination of the differently-abled in Utopian spaces. Her favorite philosopher is Martha Nussbaum!

In Core 104, Dr. Nester will ask students: “What does a philosopher in Athens have in common with a teenager in Massachusetts, and a vampire in Italy?”   She’ll explain that the three are depicted in narratives, at pivotal points in their lives. They’re examining their lives, searching for answers, to the big questions such as “Who am I ?  What can I know with any certainty? Do I need certainty? Based on what I know--or think I know--how should I act? What might be the consequences of my actions?”

In this course, participants ask similar questions. Their tools are philosophical concepts and genres such as film, drama, dialogue, poetry, and the short story.  GATTACA, A Raisin the Sun, The Apology, “Ethics,”  “A & P,” and “Vampires in the Lemon Grove” are among the selections. The members of the class cultivate intellectual curiosity and cognitive empathy.  They demonstrate depth of comprehension and analytic skills by writing, presenting, and completing in-class application tasks.  Together, they nurture a classroom atmosphere that promotes mutual inquiry, reciprocal learning, and collaboration.

CHRISTIAN PULVER is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Writing Studies, Rhetoric, and Composition. He believes that writing and rhetoric are the life-blood of a healthy democracy and his classes emphasize the exploration of ideas through dialogue and reasoned, compassionate debate.

In exploring the examined life, Dr. Pulver’s CORE 104 course centers around the age-old question of what it means to pursue happiness. The course looks closely at how philosophy and literature grapple with the challenges that come along with the pursuit of happiness, the things that prevent us from finding it, and how to maintain it in our hectic modern world. The course traces the roots of the idea that happiness can and should be pursued, and how this idea has evolved over time through the thinking of important figures from across the Western tradition such as Socrates, Epicurus, Sappho, Hypatia of Alexandria, Thomas More, Thomas Jefferson, and Roger Williams.

CHRISTINA RAWLS got her doctorate in philosophy in 2015. She has been teaching university level students for over a decade. Her areas of specialization are Early Modern Philosophy (Spinoza), the Critical Philosophy of Race, and the philosophy of education with an emphasis on teaching. She co-founded the SWIP archive at Brown University. Dr. Rawls also works in the field of Aesthetics and has co-edited an international anthology with the distinguished Routledge Research in Aesthetics series titled Philosophy and Film: Bridging Divides (2019). Dr. Rawls also publishes on racism, the adjunct crisis in Higher Education, and more. Most importantly, Dr. Rawls loves teaching more than any other aspect of her career in philosophy.

In our course you will learn the value of being a part of a larger human community. In the past this course has examined current social justice concerns with ideals of justice, understanding, ethics, and an examination of what it is to live a meaningful life. This course uses philosophy East and West the first half of the semester to attain the skill of close reading and logical analysis of philosophical texts, including but not limited to the philosophy of Plato, Spinoza, Henri Bergson, bell hooks, George Yancy, and more in past semesters. In the second half of the term past classes have then used these skills to compare and explore their own creativity, belief systems, and ideas through the experience and wisdom of contemporary literary writers. This includes short stories, poetry, novellas, or short works of fiction, as well as some film and music. The structure of the course includes open discussions, weekly reading selections, in class essay quizzes and exams, group projects, Socrates cafés, creative expressions of individual art & interpretations & more. My teaching is highly inclusive with an emphasis on respecting a variety of ways of learning and understanding. All are welcome.

JAMES TACKACH is a Professor of English at RWU.  He regularly teaches courses in American literature and CORE 104.  He builds his CORE 104 course around the course title,  "the examined life," and the three CORE questions:  Who am I?  What can I know?  How should I act?  Readings include Henry David Thoreau's Walden and "Civil Disobedience," Elie Wiesel's Dawn, and James Weldon Johnson's The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man.

photo of RWU Core 104 Professor Peter ThompsonPETER THOMPSON is professor of Modern Languages and Literatures at Roger Williams University. He has edited two widely used anthologies of francophone literature, and edits Ezra: An Online Journal of Translation (www.ezratranslation.com).

He is the translator of Khatibi’s Tattooed Memory, Nassira Azzouz’s The Gates of The Sun, Véronique Tadjo’s Red Earth, Léon-Paul Fargue’s Poëmes, Abdelkader Djemaï’s Father/Son, Abdellatif Laâbi”s Perishable Poems, Mohamed Loakira’s …and spring is veiled over, Ghita El Khayat’s The Affair and four by Nabile Farès: Hearing Your Story, A Passenger from the West, Exile and Helplessness. Exile: Women’s Turn.

In the non-profit world he has been on the board of Samaritans of RI, as well as the Murdock-Thompson Center for Teachers. He started the Ezra Fund, which supports translators. Twenty summers were spent on the back wards of mental hospitals (as staff).

Transcendence is a Core 104 course that seeks to explore your peak moments. These are moments sometimes described as ecstatic, being outside yourself, having an epiphany, rising to a new level of your life. The course looks at how these moments are described in poetry and fiction, since we often associate them with art. The course also addresses the questions we have about such moments: Why do they happen? Are they more real in some way than our normal life? Do they teach us something important? Should we try to replicate them? These questions have often been addressed by philosophers, and we read many of these throughout the semester. In this way we combine study of literature with questions such as “What can we know?”


Core 105 - Aesthetics in Context: The Artistic Impulse

Core 105

  • Communicate effectively about artistic creation in the fields of visual art, theater, dance, and music in written, oral, and other expressive formats.
  • Create a final project that demonstrates a personal understanding of selected artistic styles and media in their historical context.

Learn more about Core 105 professors and how they teach it

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KAREN MARIA ABBONDANZA is an adjunct professor in Italian and the Core Curriculum and has taught both 104 and 105 for over ten years at RWU. She is also a visiting professor in art history at the University of Massachusetts as well as at Salve Regina and the American University in Rome. She earned a Ph.D. in Italian from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, an A.M from Middlebury College and the University of Florence, and an A.B. in Art History from Smith College.  She has lived, studied and taught extensively abroad in Florence, Rome and Poitiers. Her work and research, interdisciplinary in Italian and Art History, focuses specifically on depictions of women in Medieval and Renaissance literature and later representation in painting on marriage chests in the Italian Renaissance as exemplum, as well as on the Italian immigrant experience in the United States, addressing issues of immigration and stereotypes in literature and film. 

All of Professor Abbondanza’s teaching is steeped in Western tradition while focusing on inclusion and tolerance, teaching students to see the world not just with their eyes, but with the eyes of their heart;  to understand and respect the dignity of each human person, regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation or religious beliefs. Her signature assignment in both areas of core is a final project, an original work of art, and some of her past favorites have included song in Arabic, a  fully functional Monet-inspired lamp, mosaic fish, popsicle stick castles, a massive Colosseum cake, and even a video chronicling the process of creating an original oil painting. She is humbled by her students, who constantly surprise her with their thoughtful insights as well as commitment to learning about beauty in various times and cultures.

image of Professor Eric BronnerERIC BRONNER is an active performer and educator. With an MM, MS, and BA, he has sung opera, musical theater, and cabaret across the US, and in England. He has also taught at SRU and RIC. About Core 105, he shares: “Artistic expression is an essential part of being human, whether choosing your ‘look’ for the day, or actually creating works of ‘fine art.’ Artistic expression is all around us in pop culture, technology and media, architecture, and more. These current personal experiences become more meaningful when you learn the principals of art and how they evolved through time. Combining knowledge, analysis, and hands-on exploration, you will experience the ‘artistic impulse’ for yourself, and understand the common human experience expressed by the greatest artists who ever lived.”

image of Professor Elizabeth DuffyELIZABETH DUFFY is a multidisciplinary artist whose current work explores the subjects of surveillance and incarceration and their intersection with domestic life. Her work is influenced by feminist art, interior decoration and craft, and the complicated ideals of home. She is a Professor of Art at RWU where she teaches courses in Sculpture, Inter Media and Drawing. Professor Duffy’s work is in the collections of The RISD Museum, The Milwaukee Art Museum, the Heard Museum, and the Smithsonian Cooper Hewitt. She received her MFA from CUNY/Brooklyn College and studied art at the New York Studio School, FIT, CUNY/Hunter College and Rutgers College.

Professor Duffy’s Core class explores relationships between meaning and making in the arts. Students experience works of art through creating collaboratively, seeing live performances and making work that explores their own creative potential.  Students will gain an understanding of what makes something art, discover how the creative process unfolds, and discuss how contemporary art blurs the boundaries between disciplines. Projects and topics may include Bookmaking,  Art & the Environment, Photography & Fashion, Creating a Music Playlist, and a Final Creative Project from the fields of Dance, Music, Theater and Art.

CATHERINE HAWKES is an Associate Professor in the Music Program, where she directs the Instrumental Ensemble and teaches music history and culture.  Her interest in Medieval music led her to Indiana University, where she studied with Thomas Binkley, a pioneer in the early music revival movement.  While at IU, she also completed a studio minor in Fine Arts Textiles with Budd Stalnaker, a student of color theorist Josef Albers and his wife Anni, an early proponent of textile art.  Catherine composes music for the plucked-string ensemble Enigmatica and has performed and recorded extensively in genres ranging from opera to circus to jam band.

Catherine enjoys exploring intersections of music, visual art, and history in her classes, telling stories that help students understand and remember important concepts.  In Core 105, she provides students with a basic historical and stylistic backdrop for interactive discussion of contemporary issues and hands-on projects.  Some of the topics covered likely will include the role of public art, how artists in different media inspire each other, environmental art, parody and consumerism, non-Western influences, and how art can give a voice to marginalized populations.

image of Professor W. Brett McKenzieW. BRETT McKENZIE is a Professor in the Communications Department at Roger Williams University. He holds a doctorate from Clark University and most recently completed a graduate certificate at the University of Denver in Arts Administration. Professor McKenzie’s academic interests are focused in the intersections of technology and teaching, with an emphasis on gateway experiences such as entry to an academic discipline. 

Professor McKenzie has a particular interest in first-year students and their successful transition to the college environment. He approaches his CORE 105 course with a strong emphasis on communication through artistic expression in all art forms. In teaching the Roger Seminar, which incorporates an examination of the university’s namesake Roger Williams and his times, Professor McKenzie builds on the question of the “lively experiment” that is America and how that might be reflected in its art. He has been active in the arts in Rhode Island, most recently serving on the board of IMC, the professional ballet and modern dance company in Newport, RI. 

image of Professor Murray McMillanMURRAY McMILLAN is an Associate Professor of Art at Roger Williams University. He holds a MFA in Transmedia from the University of Texas at Austin and a BFA in Sculpture from The Kansas City Art Institute. Professor McMillan is a multidisciplinary artist blending video, installation, performance and photography. His work has exhibited at MASS MoCA, the Casa Masaccio Center for Contemporary Art in San Giovanni Valdarno, Italy, the Kunsthallen Brandts in Odense, Denmark, the State Museum of Contemporary Art in Thessaloniki, Greece, the National Museum of Art in La Paz, Bolivia, the RISD Museum and the deCordova Museum. 

Students in Professor McMillan’s Core 105 course learn the tools and methods to fabricate projects in architecture, art, dance, film and music while discussing associated contemporary history, theory and trends. Emphasis is placed on creative problem solving strategies, learning to work with undefined rubrics and learning to engage in critical dialogue. Students will be toured through the aesthetic landscape that has emerged since 1960 and discus recent aesthetic issues like a building that economically brought a city back to life, ironic choreography, and an artwork that moved a mountain.

image of RWU Professor Dan RuppelDAN RUPPEL is an Adjunct Instructor in the Core program at RWU.  He received his doctorate from Brown University in Theatre and Performance Studies, with a focus on the relationship among live performance, print culture, and civic architecture in Renaissance France.  His research spans the Atlantic Ocean, examining gestures and ceremonies that passed from royal festivals in Europe to early encounters with Indigenous peoples of the Western hemisphere  - and vice-versa.  Dan's work as a performer, director, and public speaking consultant has taken him from Stockholm to Sao Paulo. 

Professor Ruppel asks students to consider how performance frames their engagement with a variety of artistic media, and their aesthetic experiences in their every day lives.  Encountering objects ranging from Baroque paintings to Beyonce videos, students will seek to answer the question: what does it mean to perceive something as art?  Students are encouraged to share art and other aesthetic experiences in their own lives through a set of guided discussions and student presentations, with a focus on developing as articulate, critical observers. 

image of Professor Anne TaitAs well as Core 105, ANNE TAIT teaches printmaking and painting in the Visual Arts Program. She holds degrees in literature, fine arts printmaking and painting. She has also extensively studied lettering and embroidery over her 30 years of making artwork. Her research on cemetery imagery and traditions of  19th-century prints and industrial technologies address the culmination of earthly life. “Between conception and death the window is open on our potential” Tait contends with this in her artwork and her teaching. Professor Tait has been supported in her work through grants from the Rhode Island Council for the Arts, the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities, the Vermont Council for the Humanities.

Professor Tait approaches The Artistic Impulse from her perspectives of literature, historic preservation and especially the fine arts. She splits class time between exploring the ideas and cultural place artists play in society with hands-on projects in the visual arts so that students can apply and empathize with meaning through methods of engagement.