First-Year and Senior Seminars

Students start and finish their RWU education in two seminar courses that tie together the learning experience at Roger Williams.

First-Year Seminars

Our first-year seminars stir intellectual curiosity and invite you to college-level learning where you will question and explore an engaging, important, and fun topic with a small cohort of new peers. These courses are thoughtfully designed to teach the habits of mind that will enable you to enter the RWU community of academic inquiry. First-Year Seminars also include field trips, films, guest speakers, workshops, and community service projects.

Social Media & Shopping: Our Lives Online & In Line

What does the content we “like”/follow on social media say about us? Are we addicted to entertainment? Are we merely the sum of what we consume? What is the “point” of vaporwave? Where do our desires come from? What can Studio Ghibli movies teach us about our own lives? Is there any possibility of ethical consumption? Is anti-consumerism simply another form of consumerism? In an attempt to answer these (& other) questions, this interdisciplinary first-year seminar will help us develop the skills to analyze our individual experiences living & working in the modern world – with an emphasis on our relationship to social media & consumerism. Together, we will explore ideas from a global offering of writers, philosophers, filmmakers, & artists. Through in-class discussions and a range of creative projects, we will then evaluate these ideas alongside our own experiences to formulate new ways to interpret ourselves & our shared world.

Prof. Cory Alix teaches in a variety of disciplines, such as philosophy, film studies, literature, communication, environmental humanities, and writing in the School of Humanities, Arts, & Education. His two main scholarly passions are film studies and philosophy. In graduate school, he specialized in American & European avant-garde film as well as 20th-century French & German philosophy. His current research explores the relationship between film & philosophy. In his courses, he guides learners through the various ways in which we produce meaning when engaging with texts and encourages them to question the different ways meaning can be produced. He also invites them to experiment with the transformative power of philosophical questioning by applying academic ideas to their own everyday lived experiences.

Decolonizing Music

Music’s place in our culture cannot be denied, but how often do you take the time to consider the ways in which today’s music has evolved over the past 2 millennia? This course will explore, among other things, Plato’s philosophical influence on hip hop, how slavery led to the modern drum kit, and the ways in which indigenous tribes of New England maintain culture through music preservation. In this course you will seek out local music antiquity to better understand its influence on New England culture, listen to a variety of local music throughout the ages to deepen your understanding of the significance of music holds for indigenous communities of New England, utilize library resources to explore hidden musical histories, and deepen your own understanding of how the music you enjoy today has been crafted by generations of philosophy, conflict, and social inequities.

Prof. Christopher J. E. Anderson is a former professional musician and has taught a variety of courses in the Media + Design + Communication department at RWU since 2018, and has taught at the university level for over 18 years. Christopher’s primary areas of research are communication education, educational technologies, and classical rhetoric. Additionally, his academic research interests include video game engagement, the rhetoric of baseball, and beverage histories through the lens of colonialism. His collaborative work with RWU students appears regularly at national academic conferences. He earned his master’s degree from Iowa State University, and is earning his doctorate from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Roger Williams and His World

What do YOU know about our namesake, Roger Williams? Did you know that he founded the freest place in the western world but also enslaved Indigenous Peoples. RWU is inextricably connected to Roger Williams, the 17th-century leader devoted to religious freedom who founded Rhode Island in 1636. In a time when dissenters were burned alive, the small colony of Rhode Island was a radical experiment in freedom. However, this course will NOT hero-worship Williams, instead we will use him as lens to explore the complex world in which he lived. The course will centre marginalised voices, including women’s history, Indigenous history, and enslaved Africans - connecting local history to global matters. We’ll embrace exciting learning opportunities, from community engaged-projects to bringing Anne Hutchinson’s trial of 1637 to life. Our course will examine how Williams’ legacy has impacted big ideas and activism in the world today, from antiracism to abolishing Columbus Day.

Prof. Charlotte Carrington-Farmer is an Associate Professor of History. She teaches classes on New England history and the Atlantic World, including courses on Witchcraft and Pirates. She is committed to centring marginalised voices in her teaching and research. Carrington-Farmer encourages students to carry out original research projects and community engagement work in her classes. She is a big fan of using Reacting to the Past to bring history alive in her classes, which enables students to “live” in a particular historical moment and take control of the classroom – for example, in this FYS we will bring the trial of Anne Hutchinson to life.

The Dark Side of Chocolate (and Other Thought Experiments)

What's so dark about chocolate? What would you do on the trolley car in NBC's The Good Place? What do zombies have to do with post-humanism? Can stoicism actually help reduce anxiety? What is Plato's Cave (and what does it have to do with The Lorax or The Matrix)? What is happiness?  In order to flex our critical thinking muscles, we'll be exploring famously intriguing questions from philosophy and applying them to our own every day lives -- and popular culture. Prepare for brain wobble! Students say about this class: "I couldn't stop thinking about it!"

Prof. Meg Case (she/her) is a professor of literature and general education.  Scholarly passions include Jane Austen, popular culture, literary theory, Shakespeare and the Anasazi culture of the Southwest.  She grew up in both California and Virginia.  She has lived in Chicago, rural Illinois, Scotland and London (and Bristol, RI).  She has presented papers and/or published on many topics including Breaking Bad, Deadwood, and Jane Austen’s novels.  Her dissertation was on Eliza Haywood, an influential writer who greatly impacted the way the British novel was written, even though most people have not heard of her today.  She has won RWU’s Excellence in Teaching Award as well as Professor of the Semester.  She is currently addicted to Korean dramadies, Better Call Saul, and The Good Place.  If she had to choose a different career it would be learning about dolphins (in the wild, not in captivity). Otherwise, nothing makes her happier than when students are asking questions they hadn’t ever thought of asking before.

Marvel-ous Women

Do you like to explore the connections between comics, media, and their impact on individuals and our society? Have you noticed the rapidly changing demographic diversity of Marvel women in the past few years?  The Marvel Cinematic Universe has rapidly expanded since 2021, with Phases 4 and 5 introducing the most diverse cast of characters ever.  This course will center on the women of The Multiverse Saga films, and Marvel Studios television shows and their representations of race, ethnicity, religion, disability, sexual identity, and gender, while looking at them alongside issues of equity and social justice. By the end of the course, you will be able to make connections between media and  the world we live in, while considering how these films and tv shows call for social and cultural change. No prior comics knowledge or familiarity with Marvel is required.

Prof. Laura D’Amore is a professor of Cultural Studies with expertise in representations of women and girls in pop culture and literature. Recent research projects of hers have looked at comics, television, and young adult fantasy novels, including fairy tale retellings. She’s a huge fan of Marvel. However, DC and Independent comics lovers are always welcome - as are folks who have no idea what any of that means.

Why Identity Matters

What an optimum time for college freshmen to study the importance of identity formation and development as they transition from adolescence to young adulthood. The seminar creates a laboratory for questioning and evaluating the complexity of their multiple identities through the lenses of culture, gender, social media, and race.  Assigned readings, group exercises, classroom experiences, discussion forums, and self-reflections provide students with opportunities to examine the importance of identity to their way of being, understanding, and relating to the world. Additionally, the seminar integrates community engagement opportunities and RWU campus resources to support students in exploring identity issues and challenges and to take actionable steps to address them.

Prof. Diane Finch, a lifelong educator, was the director of counseling for Anne Arundel County Public Schools, Maryland, and an assistant professor at Loyola University of Maryland. Her research focused on the post-deployment adjustment of wounded warriors of the Afghanistan and Iraqi Wars. A licensed clinical counselor, she serves clients with substance abuse, depression, and complicated grief diagnoses. Before teaching in the CORE program at Roger Williams, Dr. Finch spent one year living and working with Lakota Sioux middle school girls in South Dakota. As a spouse of a retired U.S. Navy veteran, she lived in multiple states on the West and East Coasts and in Naples, Italy. In addition to teaching a ROG 101 seminar, Professor Finch is on the Board of Trustees at Framingham State University and the Advisory Board for the Danforth Museum of Art.

Is There a Right Way? Does AI Know?

Can AI help us personally, and human society in general, to know right from wrong? Can AI help us with our decision-making, problem-solving, to fix the problems we create when we make the wrong choice? This seminar takes a multi-leveled dive into these ageless and elemental human questions. Our goals are to emerge more aware of the origins and influences on our personal values and behavioral principles, more aware of the relationship between our personal principles and local and global societal behavioral norms, and more confident in exploring, confirming or changing our answers. Participants will design your own original collaborative thought experiments to test the value of AI in assisting human decision-making, and work in teams in collaboration with ChatGPT AI to develop solutions to significant current problems.

Prof. Christine 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 Writing Studies. Prof. Haverington has taught at the university undergraduate and graduate levels, including interdisciplinary courses in Literature and Philosophy. She is certified in Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) by the University of Toronto, Canada. She has published and lectured on a variety of topics and founded the Bioedumimicry Association for Biologically Inspired Educational Systems and Practices in 2017. Her teaching philosophy centers on education as a mutual teaching-learning experience based upon collaboration rather than competition. To further the collaborative approach, she employs her training in Marshall Rosenberg’s Non-Violent Communication method. Prof. Haverington believes in equal and open access to education, and in empowering students over and through technology.

College: What Is It Good For?

Congratulations, you’ve made it to college! Now that you’re here, it’s time to figure out what that means by asking what exactly higher education is “good” for? Does attending college make you good? Does it make us as a society good-er? Like our university’s namesake, Roger Williams, who never shied away from a debate, we’re going to wade into the murky waters of current debates about the value of higher education, who belongs here, what it costs and whom it costs, and what should or shouldn’t be learned and taught. Along the way, you’ll be invited to think deeply about why you’re here and take steps toward making the most of your college experience, all while practicing the fundamentals that will help you to achieve your personal, intellectual, and professional ambitions during your college years and beyond.

Prof. Brian Hendrickson’s scholarship and teaching focus on making learning in college equitable and impactful, and on preparing students to make a difference in their communities, particularly through writing and other forms of storytelling. Because everyone has a story to tell, Professor Hendrickson has spent his career exploring how to support students and community members in authoring their own narratives, and he looks forward to supporting students in his first-year seminar as they figure out the stories they want their time at Roger to tell about them.

Living the Common Good  

Can you create a balance between your life interests and goals and the interests and goals of others? Is there a philosophy that might help you achieve this balance? This course explores a philosophy of ethics found in social sciences that questions how individuals, systems, institutions, and the environment can benefit all people. Through a variety of in-class and outside class learning activities and outcome-based projects, Living the Common Good prepares students to debate broad questions concerning the kind of society they want to become and how they can achieve that society. The course does not require a final examination. Students' final evaluation is based on multiple measures taught and practiced throughout the course.

Prof. Donald Holder has taught writing and philosophy/literature courses at RWU for 15 years. In addition to teaching, Dr. Holder serves as an academic advisor for the Academic Support Enrichment Program. With degrees from Dayton, St. Joseph, Central Connecticut, and Vanderbilt universities, Dr. Holder is also a certified reading and writing specialist. Before coming to RWU, Dr Holder's achievements involved teaching and leadership in PK-12 schools, state and federal departments of education, school and state boards of education, and higher education. His interests include horticulture, cycling, winter sports, family activities, all types of board games, Vexillogy, and reading history and political science. Dr. Holder has lived in New England, the South, and the Midwest, and he currently lives in Saunderstown, Rhode Island, with his wife and multiple pets.

From Sahara to Senate: How Africa Changed the Mediterranean World

Have you ever thought about the origins of Western civilization and the diverse cultural influences that shaped it? In this course, students explore the African influence on Western Civilization. This course focuses on the lives and works of key African thinkers who left an indelible mark on the Roman Empire and Western intellectual tradition. Lectures focus on three remarkable figures: Augustine, the theologian and philosopher whose ideas about God and morality continue to inspire scholars and thinkers today; Terence, the African playwright whose comedies have inspired writers for centuries including Shakespeare; and Apuleius whose novel “The Metamorphoses" contains the first fairy tale ever written and remains a classic of ancient literature. Students will engage with primary sources, including art and archaeological evidence, and participate in discussions that offer a deeper understanding of the complex cultural interactions of the ancient world.

Prof. Anthony Hollingsworth is a professor of classical languages (Latin and Ancient Greek), Italian and German. Scholarly passions include ancient theater, classical mythology, and medieval philosophy. Prof. Hollingsworth studied Latin as an undergraduate in Texas and as a graduate student at Brown University and in Germany. He has won RWU’s Excellence in Teaching award and has been recognized as the “professor of the semester”. Dr. Hollingsworth’s passion outside of the classroom includes playing the violin (he is a 2nd violinist for the Warwick Symphony Orchestra), woodworking, and leading students to Greece and Germany. Dr. Hollingsworth has published both books and articles on ancient theater, Roman mythology, and Latin grammar. Currently, he is working on a new commentary on a collection of medieval Latin stories that Shakespeare, Milton, and many other famous writers read when writing their own masterpieces.

Global Problems & Systems Solutions

The Earth is one big system—and we’re all a part of it. You might have noticed that our biggest problems, problems that affect everyone on the planet, come from complex interconnections that have gone awry. Scientists and scholars have noticed this, too, and they have realized that the solutions to these problems must be just as interconnected. The worldview that lets us see these problems and find solutions to them is called Systems Thinking. That’s what this course is about. We’ll study the basics of Systems Thinking, empowering you to apply it across University majors, throughout your college careers, and in community engagement. We’ll learn its core concepts and how it grew out of science, the arts, and the humanities. Most important, we’ll consider how systems work in everyday experience, with the goal of enriching our lives and making good decisions right now.

Prof. Ray Huling’s scholarly work uses Systems Thinking to clarify problems in Food Sustainability and develop ways of communicating solutions to them, especially through creative communal expression, such as folklore. Ray has also written on these themes for popular audiences, as in his book Harvesting the Bay, which presents Rhode Island’s shellfishing industry as a model of sustainable food production. It's no coincidence that Ray wrote a book on this subject: his father and grandfather were both bullrakers on Narragansett Bay, and he started working on his father's skiff as a child. All of this means that a principle of Ray's courses is that it is worthwhile to bring together scholarship and personal experience of belonging to a community with the goal of solving the most difficult problems.

Guns, Robots, and Sex in America

How many days can you go without hearing about another gun shooting? Will you find work when you graduate in 2027, or will robots take your job? If we live in a time of sexual freedom, why are young people fleeing relationships? In this seminar, we will examine three complex issues in contemporary America: gun violence, artificial intelligence, and sex. We will ask questions such as: Is gun ownership a basic American freedom protected by the Constitution? Is AI bringing progress or making people poorer, unhappier, and worse off? Why are Gen Z-ers having less sex and feeling more isolated in our age of social media and unprecedented sexual equality? By exploring these three big questions together, we will become more informed, engaged citizens and advocates in our shared and personal lives.

Prof. Jiyoon Im teaches courses in political theory and general education. She grew up in South Korea and New Jersey and spent much of her youth studying music in NYC. As a college freshman, she became hooked on political theory because it challenged her assumptions and showed her more questions than answers. In her classes, she introduces different perspectives to provoke student thought and conversation. She especially enjoys teaching college freshmen, as they’re energetic and enthusiastic. Her classes consist of discussions and interactive lectures to promote student-centered active learning. Assignments include group projects so students can make friends and feel comfortable talking to each other openly. She is most proud of her students when they are discussing an issue they care about and do not notice that class is over (this has really happened!).

Out of this World

Why on earth do we read science fiction? To escape reality or (maybe) bring it into sharper focus? In this class Frank Herbert’s novel Dune will transport us across time and space to the desert planet Arrakis. We’ll explore its strangeness—but also its vision of humans living in collaboration with harsh ecosystems. The cutthroat politics by which the powerful invade, colonize, and exploit Arrakis’ indigenous people will also draw our attention to questions about power, ethics, and different kinds of control. To better understand Dune, we’ll view film adaptations from 1984 and 2021—and we’ll compare the novel’s ecological vision and power struggles with those of New England as indigenous peoples discovered Europeans in their environment. Finally, we will examine a current environmental problem in New England, inquiring how our exploration of Dune can inform our response to it.

Prof. Beazley Kanost, MFA, PhD, encourages students to develop their own thinking by making connections between diverse yet related written and visual texts. Her research focused on Coolness—a stillness in someone’s behavior that observers find surprising—has led her to make connections between avant-garde films, fiction, and poetry from the 1950s and 1960s. She loves science fiction—from Asimov to William Gibson, from The Matrix to The Expanse, from Philip K. Dick to Octavia Butler—and she loves making books out of junk. Her teaching focuses on Literature, Film Studies, and Writing Studies (creative, academic, and professional), often with History and Philosophy mixed in.    

Language and the Good Life

What can I do to become happier? How can I get along better with other people? Can I ever find the Good Life? This course examines these questions and many more as related to various aspects of language use – because words can destroy lives and save lives; words can hurt, and words can heal. One factor consistently associated with a happy and meaningful life is healthy inter-personal relationships. This course offers ways for people to improve their inter-personal relationships, thereby enriching not only their own lives but also that of others – through more thoughtful and empathetic use of language. Through readings/viewings, discussions, team presentations, and writing assignments, students will learn and share complex ideas and feelings about language use. Topics include body language, DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion), ethical living, language disorders, leadership, mental/emotional health, professional communication, romantic relationships, self-identity, social media, and more.

Prof. Dong-Hoon “Don” Lee is an Associate Professor in the department of Modern Languages, Philosophy, and Classics. Currently, his main areas of academic interest are practical philosophy, sociolinguistics, TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages), and writing for academic purposes. He has extensive experience teaching at the college level in the United States and South Korea. He received his Ph.D. in Foreign Language Education from Ohio State University. He is a firm believer in living according to the Golden Rule: Striving to treat others the same way he would want others to treat him – with kindness, honesty, integrity, and other universal virtues.

Can You Dig It? Exploring New England's Past

Want to combine forensic science and time travel?  Archaeology today is like having a modern Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson living in the real world and applying today's scientific methods, technologies, and deductive powers to decipher long-faded layers of times past.  Join our research team as we peel back and explore the fascinating subject of New England Archaeology. Archaeology is the scientific study of the past.  Artifacts, sites, and communities result from and reflect human cultures in time.  This class will explore 13,000 years of New England's peoples, places, and things, focusing on Indigenous “First Peoples”. This course will be temporally far-reaching.  Using archaeological and anthropological data, we’ll span between the initial peopling of the continent and the efforts of today’s indigenous peoples to preserve and protect their histories and heritage.

Prof. Alan Leveillee is an Anthropologist,  Archaeologist, and Educator with more than 30 years experience in cultural resources management and teaching in New England.  He is Senior Archaeologist and Educational Programs Director Emeritus of The Public Archaeology Laboratory, and has been Adjunct Faculty at Roger Williams University for the past 18 years.   He has also taught at Bridgewater State, Rhode Island College, and the University of Rhode Island. He is the author of the book An Old Place, Safe and Quiet, and numerous publications in professional and academic journals. 

From Mayhem to Meaning 

Our time can seem a challenging one, with daily headlines about the Loneliness Epidemic, Deaths of Despair, Climate Catastrophe, and the End of the American Dream. These challenges are sometimes collectively described as “the meaning crisis.” How can we best respond? How, that is, might we build community and cultivate a sense of belonging? Where might we find a sense of purpose to motivate our efforts? And what role might the stories we tell play in shaping our relationship to ourselves, others, and the world? Together, we’ll work to respond to the “meaning crisis,” in both theoretical and practical ways, with an eye towards enhancing our own sense of connection, purpose, and resilience.

Prof. John Madritch is Associate Professor of Writing Studies, Rhetoric, and Composition. At Roger Williams, Dr. Madritch’s work aims to cultivate confident and capable writers, readers, and thinkers who can use these abilities to improve both their own and others’ lives.

Propaganda & Disinformation: the threat to freedom of expression 

Drawing on the work of Scholars at Risk, we will explore consequences of how information is shaped by political, cultural, and social issues. In what ways does the manipulation of information influence how we think and how we act? How can we distinguish bias and propaganda from verifiable sources in American and foreign media? Outside experts and guest speakers will help students recognize how different forms of false or misleading information can influence and alter perceptions of what is true, and how that can lead to the suppression of free expression of students and faculty globally. By the end of the course, students will reflect on how information is not always neutral and how, as scholars, they can critically evaluate information for quality and bias. This course will de team-taught by Professors Braver and McMullen.

Prof. Adam Braver is a Professor of Creative Writing and University Library Program Director. Over a decade ago, he developed the Scholars at Risk Student Advocacy Seminars. Since then, the course has been replicated at dozens of universities across the globe. Through a joint agreement between RWU and Scholars at Risk, Prof. Braver represents Scholars at Risk as the coordinator of the global Student Advocacy Seminar program.  

Prof. Susan McMullen is a Research Services & User Engagement Librarian. Prof. McMullen provides research consultations and information literacy classes to students across a wide range of disciplines and courses. In her teaching, she encourages students to keep an open mind and stay curious as they explore sources of information that help them learn how to ask the right questions and reflect on their inquiry. 

Communicating for a Better World

In this course, you will learn transformative ways to improve the world around you through grassroots communication, organization, and activism. This course will provide you with both the understanding and the practical skills and tools to make the world a better place for you and your communities, whether they are hyperlocal, regional, or global.

Prof. Bernardo H. Motta is an Associate Professor of Journalism at Roger Williams University. A former environmental lawyer and long-time community engagement specialist from Brazil, Motta is interested in researching, practicing, and teaching better ways to do journalism and community engagement through transformative approaches, including community-driven, empowerment, solutions, social justice and restorative approaches to reporting and engagement. Motta also teaches and researches topics in environmental justice, media law, community right-to-know laws, critical pragmatism in education and journalism education and history.

Live, Laugh, Labor

Have you ever heard someone say, “love what you do, and you’ll never work a day in your life?” Seen a video of someone exalting their “5 to 9 before their 9 to 5”? In this seminar, we’ll look at work in many iterations—paid and unpaid, emotional and bodily, visible and invisible—and what it has to do with power relations and social hierarchies, including race, gender, and sexuality. Looking at research, theory, art, and popular culture, we’ll interrogate if it’s true that young people “just don’t want to work anymore,” or if robots are taking over all our jobs. We’ll ask, would that really be so bad? And how can we construct a new and better future of work (or a lack thereof)?

Prof. AP Pierce (she/they) is a Ph.D. candidate in Feminist Studies and meme fanatic who studies labor, gender and queer theory, and digital media. She is from Missouri, went to graduate school in California, and is finishing her dissertation (on queer theory, labor, and AI-generated art) here in Rhode Island. Their research interests span a wide range: they’ve written and presented on sex work studies, comics and video games studies, and bimbos on TikTok. AP loves bad reality TV, printmaking and crochet, her cat Toast, and teaching and learning with passionate, curious students.

Game On! Serious Games

From board games to tabletop role playing games to live-action role playing, more and more people are playing tabletop games socially in a variety of settings. While there are many possible reasons for this surge in popularity, the games themselves can teach us much about the world in which we live. What drives people to certain games — from chess to Monopoly to Diplomacy to Settlers of Catan? Play is certainly important but there is more to it than that. Do the games we play reflect our values or just our interests? Games have rules but where do they come from? Who designs games and do they reflect the reality that they are (re)creating or are there social, political, ethical, or other issues that must be confronted? Games must be played to understand these issues and challenge them.

Prof. Joseph W. Roberts is Professor and Chair of Politics and International Relations. Dr. Roberts is passionate about both teaching and gaming and has merged the worlds of education and board gaming to transform the learning experience. The goal is for students to embark on educational adventures and solve problems in a collaborative and stimulating environment. He developed a course entitled “Playing Games with Politics” where students use board games, including Dead of Winter, Diplomacy, and live role play games to study politics. He regularly teaches other faculty (at RWU and elsewhere) how to use games and simulations in their classes. He has received numerous awards including the RWU Excellence in Teaching Award (2023), the Professor of the Semester (Spring 2023), two fellowships with the National Council on US-Arab Relations (Qatar 2020 and Oman 2015-2016), a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship (2017), and a Fulbright-Hayes Egypt Fellowship (2011).

Why Read? Fiction and Public Action

Does reading change you or the world? Does reading fiction affect individuals, societies, politics or beliefs? In this class, we will focus on reading one novel that engages with an important contemporary issue (in fall 2023, the issue is climate change, and the novel is Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior). We will use a technique called “slow reading,” which lets us collectively read, research and think in a deep way about the novel; throughout the class, everyone will also contribute conversation and research on issues and ideas that have engaged you specifically in the novel. Throughout all our course activities, we will explore how readers interact with fiction, how we “identify” (or not) with novels and their characters, whether fiction has “hidden messages,” and whether the pleasures of fiction can affect our own and other readers’ beliefs, opinions, and ultimately, our actions.

Prof. Cynthia Scheinberg teaches in the English department at Roger Williams University. Her academic specialties include 19th century British literature, religion and literature, women’s poetry and Jewish Christian literary relations. When not involved in her academic research and writing, Cynthia has been a voracious reader of novels of all kinds since she was a little girl, and she wants to explore with her first year seminar the ways in which that love of reading might affect our beliefs about and  actions in the world. It’s a real question for her and she’s looking forward to learning with her students about what the answers might be.

Capturing History

Have you ever wondered why some images stay with you and some do not? The phrase "a picture is worth a thousand words" is never more true than in the current social media age. This class will look closely at images to examine and discover: what they can and cannot tell us; if they are true to historical facts; why a different image of the same event or time can change how we understand history; and whether we need to change habits as we scroll through images. There is a wide range of images to choose from, not just from the usual sources, for example, posters, political cartoons, news cycles, art, portraits, and documentaries. Each class will decide the theme and collection to examine together, then dig deeper into the background, purpose, and accuracy of images. We will debate and write our findings.

Prof. Beth Shinn has taught courses in History and General Education at RWU for many years. After high school, she lived in Mexico (1 year), Japan (18 years), and Scotland (7 years) and traveled through Central America, across America, Singapore, Egypt and Israel, and China. The visual aspect of the landscape as well as historical and cultural images have always intrigued her, which is why she has always wanted to teach a class on how images create interpretations in understanding our own and world history.

Kids These Days … (restricted to students of the University Honors Program)

What does it mean to be a child? In different times and in different contexts children have been viewed as precious gifts to be cherished, problems in need of strict control, and everything in between.  In this course, we will explore how both the experiences of children and the attitudes toward children in the United States vary according to race, gender, economic background and historical era.  “The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.”  This quote, attributed to Mahatma Gandhi, will help guide the direction for our class - we will focus on children because they are perhaps society’s most vulnerable members. 

Prof. Laura Butkovsky Turner earned her Ph.D. in Psychology from The Pennsylvania State University with a concentration in Developmental Psychology.  Over the years Dr. Turner’s research has focused on children’s social and emotional development, work/family balance, and most recently the impact of educational television on children and families.  An enthusiastic practitioner of Reacting to the Past (immersive role-playing games in the classroom), she is currently developing a game about the child labor debate at the turn of the last century, All work and no play: Child labor, child savers, and the invention of modern childhood. Dr. Turner’s teaching centers on children as well – in her First Year Seminar (Kids These Days …) and courses in the Psychology Department (Child Development, Infancy).  She also introduces students to research in Psychology in course such as Research Methods and Experimental Psychology. Through her scholarship and teaching, Dr. Turner hopes to better understand how research on child development can positively impact children’s lives.

The Science of Sound

Why does a violin sound different than a flute when playing the same note? How does voice recognition software work? Why do we lose our hearing, and what can we do about it? This class will explore how sound is created, transmitted, and experienced, with a focus on music specifically. We'll explore applications of sound-based technology from national defense to medical diagnostic scans, and investigate how sound is received and interpreted, from your ears to your brain, and how what we hear - or don't hear - can be influenced by culture and social conditioning.

Prof. Adria Updike is in her 12th year teaching at Roger. Prof. Updike is a professional scientist and an amateur musician – at various points in her life, she has played the piano, flute, and violin, and most recently has sung with a local choir. Prof. Updike has always been interested in the overlap between science and music, and is excited to explore the topic with you. Prof. Updike wants to spend most of this class exploring the topics through demonstrations, activities, and discussions. We’ll be conducting experiments using common materials, smart phone apps, and musical instruments. You don’t need to know any science or math coming into the course.

Revealing Power, Privilege, and Supremacy

Society seems to be unsettled by culture wars, political polarization, and social upheaval. Are you? How do we understand this environment? Overall, this First Year Seminar (FYS) informs students about issues related to race relations, social justice, power, and privilege. We will investigate the historical roots of how we arrived at this flashpoint, examines the present indicators, and explores ideas about what we can do now and going forward. To accomplish this exploration, we will consult a wide range of sources including historical and contemporary case studies, cartoons, documentaries, commercials, film, music, and other visual arts. It is an active learning course rather than lecture, with presentations, projects, and short writing assignments rather than exams.

Prof. Michelle Valletta has taught History and General Education courses at Roger Williams University since 2014 after spending 25 years in the business industry, earning her BA and MA in History and online teaching certification. Her research focuses on social and cultural history because it is so interesting to study why people do what they do.  Her teaching strives to achieve academic excellence and add a dose of fun, intrigue, and revelation to learning. Outside the classroom, she has worked on local public history projects such as the North Burial Ground Project and the State House Tour Guide Program. In her spare time, she is a contributing writer for American National Biography and Schlager Publications, and loves gardening, cooking, binge streaming, and playing with her goldendoodle Beau. For more information, please feel free to look her up on

Eating Humans

If you would like to explore human diet beyond the biological necessity of eating and the popular logic of nutritional science, to get a glimpse of our primordial, ethical, symbolic, and aesthetic natures, then we will ALL benefit from your involvement in this course. Anthropological in essence, this course is an historical, multi-disciplinary, as well as cross cultural examination of such “banal” practices as planting, shopping, gleaning, cooking, sharing, hoarding, storing, tasting, wasting, plating, binging, and fasting from food. We critique the evolution, diversity, as well as the devolution of our species' phenomenal adaptive subsistence capabilities, from collective hunting to in-vitro meat production and back. We challenge the simplistic notions that you eat what tastes good or is good for you. In other words, yes, we grill vegans as well as cannibals to expose the meat of the matter.

Prof. James Verinis is a cultural anthropologist with an M.A. from the New School for Social Research and a Ph.D. from SUNY Binghamton. His early career fieldwork and publications were concerned with Greek rural life and identity in the aftermath of the post-socialist period when the first, mostly Albanian migrants arrived in Greece en masse. The resulting focus on agrarian values, which framed how Greek farmers as well as “their” Albanians tried to secure a future for themselves in the widening European Union and deepening global economy, set up his longstanding attention to cultural ecology and environmental anthropology. Current research interests include Indigenous American food sovereignty initiatives as well as multispecies ethnographic methods. He currently lives in Rhode Island with his family and other animals.

Eating in East Asia

How have the production and consumption of food such as rice and ramen shaped national, personal and gender identities? How did tea culture reflect East Asian aesthetics and religion and lead to wars between China and the United Kingdom? Why does traditional Chinese medicine believe that food is nature and harmony with nature leads to healthy and balanced lives? Why are French or Japanese restaurants so expensive, while Thai, Chinese or Korean restaurants much more affordable even if they are located in the same city/region? In this course, we will explore these questions and discuss various social and historical aspects of food culture in China, Japan and Korea. We will also provide our own food for thought by presenting our pick of topics surrounding an East Asian dish and sharing our own experiences of researching and making it. Join us for delicious intellectual adventures. 

Prof. Min Zhou (she/her) is a professor of modern languages and literatures and general education. She grew up in Wuhan, China, studied at Beijing University and die Freie Universität in Berlin, Germany, and received her Ph.D in German Studies from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. She is interested in a comparative approach to both Eastern and Western cultures and societies and centered her research and teaching around the East-West theme. She loved traveling (wrote her dissertation about German travel literature, 1945-1990s), enjoys cooking (when she has time), trying different cuisines, jogging and other outdoor activities. Helping and watching students grow in a span of four years at college is one of the most rewarding experiences in her professional life.  

Senior Seminars

Senior Seminars are interdisciplinary courses that allow you to draw connections between ideas and knowledge gained throughout your college experience. They feature unique and interesting topics, small class sizes and active student involvement. Examples of Senior Seminar offerings include Cultural Creations: Women Across Time; Environmental Ethics; Great Powers and Great Responsibilities: Superheroes, Politics, Society and Identity; Monster Ball: The Dance of Great Arguments About Evil.

Special Topics in Liberal Studies

A variable -content Senior Seminar. Each offering addresses a topic of recognized academic and educational significance, situates the topic in interdisciplinary contexts, makes connections between learning domains, pursues inquiry into the course topic and its context through primary, substantive and Representative texts, and organizes the Seminar Topic according to one or more of the following schemes: great ideas, cultures, figures, or works (Western and/or non-Western).

Disease and Society

Throughout history, disease epidemics have had a profound impact on societies. In this course, students explore how five diseases (bubonic plague, smallpox, tuberculosis, malaria, and HIV) have influenced the art, literature, science, and behavior of cultures through time. We examine how individuals and societies try to regain control and bring order back from the chaos and confusion that disease can leave in its wake.

Readings include, but are not limited to, works by Boccaccio, Defoe, Boorstin, Jenner, Koch, Sontag, Mann, and Shilts; reports issued by the Center for Disease Control; and current scientific articles.

Prejudice and Institutional Violence

In this course we explore the conditions that promote some of the most devastating aspects of human experience. We also look at the options available to citizens, minority and majority members, caught in the complex web of interpersonal relations in these societies. The Holocaust and other genocides will be used to assess cultural commonalities. We approach these events from an interdisciplinary perspective drawing on the historical antecedents, scientific contributions, uses of art and literature, philosophical rationales, propaganda campaigns, and social scientific orientations. Discussion concludes with an exploration of ways by which individual prejudice can be reduced and with an investigation of measures which may prevent further episodes of genocide. Texts include: Night/Dawn, Conscience and Courage, short stories by Singer, Books of Evil.

Creating the American Image: 1919-1941

The image of America today traces its roots to the period between the two world wars, 1919-1941. The arts, advances in technology and science, and the social and political climate of the time all combined to shape the developing contemporary image of America. By combining information from sources across multiple disciplines, students will find common threads that connect this pivotal period with our own.

Visions of Utopia: Dreams and Delusions

Literally, the word “utopia” means “no place.” Yet, throughout history, people have imagined they could establish an ideal community in this temporal world of time and space. Often, the societies they envisioned were more just, prosperous, spiritual, beautiful, or compassionate than those that existed; at other times, what they proposed could only be characterized by the greed, cruelty, and ignorance it would engender.

Participants in this course will study “utopia” as a concept and a theme, a theory and a practice. This survey will take us from the pages of Thomas More’s Utopia to the ungoverned virtual space of the Internet. In the process, we will consider the way knowledge of utopias and dystopias shapes our world view and forms our ethos.

Readings include: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, Looking Backward by Edward Bellamy, Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Utopia by Thomas More, The Republic by Plato, Walden Two by B.F. Skinner, and Night by Elie Wiesel.

Cultural Creations: Women Across Time

This course attempts to open our minds and imaginations to the complex subtleties of underlying gender assumptions implicit in gender/role “assignments.” From the first moments of our history, we human beings have categorized our surroundings, including our very selves, in an attempt to order our chaotic world. Stereotyping-reducing a complexity to a simple, easily identifiable formula, becomes an integral part of that ordering, a sort of communication “shorthand.” Sexual stereotyping becomes, for most civilizations, the basis not only for social structuring and division of labor, but also for value judgments and moral justification. Through the interdisciplinary lens - archeological, anthropological, artistic, economic, legal, literary, historical, philosophical, religious and scientific, this course seeks to unearth the complex beginnings and plot the evolution of sexual definition from prehistory to present day.

Environmental Ethics

Whereas ethics examines the interaction of humans with humans, Environmental Ethics examines the interaction of humans with nature. This is a relatively young field of study originating from a series of highly visible, interdisciplinary conflicts over resource management and conservation biology. It took years for society to recognize that we have the ability to irreversibly alter the environment, and even longer for us to develop a conscience over the result. Although we might like to think that the application of logical, objective scientific reasoning to environmental problems will lead to correct decisions, this is rarely the case. This course will introduce students to the philosophical, social, political, legal, economic and aesthetic considerations of environmental policy decisions. Students will come to understand the science behind a series of diverse environmental topics and then examine and balance the alternative perceptions that present themselves.

Are We of It or Against It? People and Their Planet in the 21st Century

Artists, poets, novelists, filmmakers, photographers, scientists, historians and policymakers all attend to the relationships between people and their natural surroundings. Those in the creative arts tend to focus on the glory of nature often with little reference to, or even a conscious avoidance of, the role people play in nature; those in the social and physical sciences examine humanity’s increasingly intrusive interactions with nature. In this course we will investigate the place of humans in nature through the lens of multiple disciplines. We will read selections from nature writers and poets, including Wait Whitman, Annie Dillard, Barry Lopez, Edward Abbey and W.S. Merwin. Photographers Ansel Adams and Galen Rowell and the painters of the Hudson River school will join these writers to draw our attention to the complexity, beauty and interrelatedness of the natural world. The work of scientists, historians and policy analysts will serve as a counterpoint to these works as they draw out attention to the negative impact of human activity on the natural world.

It’s All Greek to Us

A Senior Seminar tracing the origins of the modern world back to its Greek roots. It is from the Greeks, more than from any other source, that the western world traces its origins. Our religions, our science, our literature, our philosophy, our artistic and dramatic forms, and our governmental concepts are all reflections (or, in some cases, rejections) of ideas and practices that can be traced to the world of the ancient Greeks (Hellenic and Hellenistic). This course will study those enduring traditions. Readings include The Iliad, The Wine-dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter, and selections from Greek history, drama, and philosophy.

Obsession: Understanding

Obsession appears to be a human trait that showcases the best and worst of human possibility. It is from obsession that great works of art can be produced, and from obsession that great thoughts and world changing technologies are born. Obsession is also at the root of some of the worst of humankind. This course engages in an interdisciplinary investigation of what obsession is, how it can affect history and culture, and how it is portrayed in literature and fine art. By the conclusion of the course we will have a better understanding of how one person’s obsession can mean so much to the greater collective, and sometimes even change the course of how we will know the world.

The Internet & the Digital Revolution

Social commentators in the humanities and sciences have characterized our age of disruptive change as the “Knowledge Revolution”, “Third Industrial Revolution”, or the “Information Revolution”. The clearest example of these changes lies in the Internet with its gargantuan storehouse of data, terrestrial ubiquity, and vast communication reach. Creating and disseminating digital data is the keystone to this revolution. This course examines the origins of the internet, from Jacquard’s loom of the 1840 to the World Wide Web of today, from Morse’s communication with coded pulses to the interlinked fiber optic networks, and from the barter of goods in the marketplace to eBay and iTunes. The course examines the ramifications of these technologies through texts on areas such as the arts, science, education, culture, privacy, crime, national security, the economy, gaming and politics. Participants are expected to lead and participate in seminar discussions on these topics. Participants are expected to have access to the internet, through either a computer or smartphone.

Families and Society

Families often define who we are, what we know, and how we think we should act. This course explores the reciprocal influences of families on society and of society on the family. We explore the meaning of family across time and culture. This will include depictions and discussions of families in the arts, sciences, social sciences, and literature, as well as a consideration of the future of the family for individuals and society.

Technology, Self and Society

This is not a technical course. Rather, it looks at how a technology emerges and may extend beyond its intended purposes. Today’s college student has been surrounded by technology since birth. Portable music devices have more storage capabilities than was conceivable for desktop computers in the mid-90’s. Technology is becoming more and more ingrained into the fabric of our daily lives. This course looks at the impact of technology beyond everyday devices. How did this happen and what does it mean for you as an active participant within a global society? Beyond computers themselves, the course explores other emerging technologies and the issues they raise, including technological impact on culture, ethics, privacy, and security in a global environment.

Popular Culture and Globalization

This Interdisciplinary Senior Seminar will explore how popular culture and globalization have had, and continue to have, an impact on our lives (on both a local and a global scale). The nature of popular culture itself, as a particular kind of culture, will be examined and various examples of popular culture will be considered. The nature of globalization, as both a historical and contemporary phenomenon, will also be addressed as a topic in and of itself. Through examining these two significant forces separately and in relationship to each other we will gain a greater understanding of how these two phenomena influence our lives and the world in which we live.

Researching Race

Does the election of Barack Obama in 2008 signal a turning point in better understanding race, and the practice of racism, in the United States? Has the US overcome its history of differential treatment according to race and culture? In this course, students will take the long view of the history of race in the United States, how racism is operationalized, and the impacts of such bias, both on people of color and Whites. Additionally, students will engage in research on race and racism. Through this research, students will fuse the theoretical with the lived racialized experiences of those in our country/community.

Sexual Identities

This course explores the private and public dimensions of sexual identity from a variety of disciplinary perspectives. Students examine how sexual identities are shaped by historical, social, and cultural factors and how sexual identities affect an individual’s relationship to community, the state, the law, medicine, etc. Course texts are drawn from the fields of history, psychology, sociology, legal studies, biology, philosophy, literature, cinema, fine art, feminist theory, critical race theory, gay and lesbian studies, queer theory, and transgender studies.

Innovation and Invention

This course explores the patterns and processes of innovation that humans have developed to transform existing ideas into new ones. Over the course of the semester, students will investigate theories, techniques, and stories of innovation from across the disciplines; consider ethical questions surrounding innovation; and learn how to employ strategies of invention to develop new ideas, create new things, and respond in new ways to complex contemporary problems.

Great Powers and Great Responsibilities: Superheroes, Politics, Society and Identity

In this course students will engage with primary superhero/graphic novel texts and secondary critical theory drawn from the fields of psychoanalysis, film studies, philosophy, queer theory, critical race theory, feminist theory, science, aesthetics, religion and politics to explore distinct superhero identities that reflect certain marginalized groups and notions of “other” and understand the many ways in which the genre spills into several academic fields of study.

Ambiguous Other: Looking at the West as it Looks East

Why are yoga and meditation so much more popular in the United States than in Asian countries where they are supposed to come from? Why are American insurers so reluctant to provide adequate coverage for those seeking alternative treatment in traditional Chinese medicine, which has been a predominant medical practice for over 3000 years? Why is the contemporary Chinese artist Ai Weiwei so popular in the West? Through the exploration of questions like these, students will gain perspective on how, as literary and cultural critic Edward Said proposed in his Orientalism, the West’s perceptions of the East reflect its own desires, fears, and interests. This class connects between science, history, human behavior, aesthetics, and philosophy and literature to create better understandings of both Asia, the ambiguous Other, and us, the West.

Paths to Enlightenment: From Alchemy to Zen

The quest for what is transcendent and eternal is paradoxically grounded in specifics of place, time, and ways of seeing: This course is a multi-disciplinary, multi-cultural exploration of the ways people have defined and sought enlightenment throughout history. Our inquiry will be grounded in philosophy and structured by a challenge to the hyper-rational historical period that takes the name “The Enlightenment”:  we’ll read science, scripture, and literature; we’ll listen to sacred and psychedelic music and look at visual and visionary expressions of human perfectability and the sacred. Seminar participants will study and creatively engage central texts that seek to define and model the concept of enlightenment as it shifts through multiple perspectives; they will talk over, present on, and write about these perspectives in a small seminar format where they will have the opportunity to focus on their own interests and receive substantive feedback from peers and the instructor. Students will have opportunities for hands-on experiences with astronomy, meditation, and art.

War Propaganda

This course will investigate the use of propaganda in global mass communication, emphasizing its usage in creating and sustaining public support for war. The students will research and analyze governmental and private enterprise sponsored use of propaganda in various forms of mass communication such as public speeches, print art, newspapers, magazines, radio, television, cinema, digital media, and the internet. This course builds upon the foundation of the five interdisciplinary Core courses making connections between the domains of science, history, human behavior, aesthetics, and philosophy and literature towards a better understanding of the socio-cultural relationships between making war and public perception.

Beer Culture

More than 4000 years before the Common Era, Babylonians were devising recipes for making beer.  Since then, evidence exists that the fermenting of grains has occurred on every continent.  From Ancient Egyptians to Asiatic peoples, from Assyrian to Incan cultures, from southern Africa to northern Europe, beer has served as nourishment, social lubricant, currency, product of trade, and a source of tax revenue.  Through visits to world famous breweries, interaction with professional brewers, trips to farm and field harvesting sites, historical consumption locations and museums, along with hands-on lab activities to produce and sample beers, this course examines four specific aspects of this essential product: the chemistry of beer, the craft of beer, the cultural role of beer, and the industry of beer production.

Composing a Life

Graduation from college comes with both advantage and an array of ethical and moral responsibilities to self and the global society. This course offers students opportunity to examine these advantages and responsibilities across disciplines and through a variety of theoretical frameworks and modes of expression. Utilizing literature, the arts, and other textual and non-textual modes of expression students will reflect on, and investigate, new possibilities in order to realize the promises of interdisciplinary models as a way to address the continuities and discontinuities of life. Students can expect to read, write, converse, lead presentations and reflect on the wide range of interpretations found in selected essays, novels, contemporary issues, and activist models, within the arts and sciences.  Selections will include the essays of Mary Catherine Bateson, Ann Gibson Winfield, Ta-Nehisi Coates, David Brooks, and Laurie Ann Thompson, the novels of Jesmyn Ward, Puccini’s final opera, Turandot, the art collection at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCa) and the activism of Appalshop.

 Is my Social Justice Your Social Justice?

This course will investigate the relationships between social policy and social justice, and the implications of power, race, gender, and marginalization issues upon social justice. It begins by considering the various definitions of social justice and proceeds to study how social policy pursues different potential visions of social justice. The impact of social policy on justice as a concept and as a practice will also be studied. The effect of social justice and social policy upon racial, gender, economic, and ethnic inequality will be studied both as perceived in our lives and through our institutions. Social justice and injustice as played out before us and reported on by the media in various forms, will be fodder for discussion. Inevitably, it seems, there will be current issues that surface in which students will be able to study what they learn in class through the lens of what they are seeing unfold around them.

Beyond Belief: Science and Religion in America

The science versus religion narrative is popular among commentators on science and religion, but the relationship between science and religion is more complex than headlines of conflict and competition. This course explores the relationship between science and religion in America in broad terms. Topics include the role of science and religion in the life of the individual and in society, the history of the interaction between science and society and what influences have shaped that interaction. We will also examine what is it that scientists and religious practitioners are doing, and if it differs from what they often think they are doing. We will examine the characteristics of a “good” or “convincing” argument and how scientific and religious themes have been appropriated for political ends. We will use current events as case studies to demonstrate the intersection between science and religion. 

Monster Ball: The Dance of Great Arguments about Good and Evil

This is a chronological, historical discussion of great (primarily Western) thinkers on the topics of evil and ethics. Beyond ethics, it is a survey of writing on evil conceived of as a force: from age-old images of Satan in the Christian and Muslim traditions (and others) to modern attempts to demonize the enemy. Through centuries of Western history we will trace the idea of evil as something that is first viewed as part of the Divine, and later viewed philosophically and in a relativistic light. Synchronically we will examine the tendency in many cultures to view evil as a force, along with the similar tendency to demonize enemies of various kinds. The student will come to understand how a diachronic trend since the Enlightenment has allowed modern Western thinkers to comfortably and dispassionately make synchronic comparisons among many cultures. Practical examples, from the 14th century Black Death to versions of Jihad, will abound.

Globetrotting: Inventing and Reinventing Ourselves

Why do we travel?  Who do we become when we travel?  Why do we tend to think of travel as promoting a greater good?  As we go into the core of travel, we will ask these questions and others about who we are, what we can know, and how we should act-all the while focusing on travel’s transformational nature.  We will consider travel as a means for self-knowledge, cultural knowledge, and scientific knowledge, and we will critically examine how, at various stages in human history, travelers have participated in transforming worldviews.  Drawing from the fields of literature, philosophy, history, science, technology, psychology, anthropology, and art, readings and research will delve into the types of travel humans have embarked upon across time-from the pilgrimage to the slum tour and from the industrial revolution to the digital revolution.  Students will have an opportunity to discuss their own travel in light of their reading and research.  Prior travel is not required for the course. 

Language and Society

This course will examine language usage from a wide range of the human experience, including science, history, psychology, sociology, politics, business, media, philosophy, literature, and art. Language is like air and water - essential for human life, but, because it’s all around us all the time, people tend to take it for granted, until its well being is threatened. So, humans must be thoughtful and ethical users and caretakers of language. Three core questions serve as the foundation and guide for the course: Who am I? What can I know? Based on what I can know, how shall I live?