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Summer Classics Seminar - Week I

The 2017 program information posted on this page is an example of the type of seminars offered through St. John's College's Summer Classics program. 2018 Summer Classics seminar offerings will be announced on February 1, 2018. Online registration begins on February 1, 2018.

Choose up to two seminars from the choices below in order to spend the week delving into one or two seminar topics in-depth. A seminar includes a morning series of classes or an afternoon series of classes in a given week, with the exception of The Science Institute, which meets both in the morning and in the afternoon. The week begins with registration and a reception on Sunday. Seminars run Monday through Friday.

July 3–7, 2017


Socrates’ Forebears: Two Presocratics, Heraclitus and Parmenides

Eva Brann and David Carl

Heraclitus is the oldest philosopher of the West, and Parmenides, who is his junior by a little and his antagonist by a whole world, will be our authors. They establish the great themes and initiate the tradition of thinking by which we live: what Speech is, what Being is, what makes the world a Whole. Only fragments remain, but they are laden with significance.

William Faulkner’s Light in August

James Carey and Frank Pagano

Light in August belongs with The Sound and the Fury and Absalom, Absalom!, the greatest of Faulkner’s novels. The work is a meditation on personal, social, racial and human identity. Joe Christmas has no personal identity largely because he lacks a racial identity. In the post-World War I South race grounds all social connections. Faulkner depicts Joe Christmas as the outsider in order to reveal the delusions of those who believe themselves to be insiders. The novel displays the problem of human identity in the dimensions of the Southern small town.

Dostoevsky’s​ Crime and Punishment

Chester Burke and Cary Stickney

Crime and Punishment is not an ordinary “whodunit”. But it is full of mystery, and hard to put down. We know from the start who killed the old woman, but the “who?” question broadens to include: “Who are we?” As one might expect, Dostoyevsky is not afraid to answer from a Christian perspective. The novel includes one of the great literary characters of the 19th century Raskolnikov and Dostoyevsky’s portraits of him, his love, and his relentless pursuer are unforgettable.

Willa Cather on Love, Happiness, and the American West

Claudia Hauer and Krishnan Venkatesh

Willa Cather’s My Ántonia and Death Comes for the Archbishop explore Cather’s aesthetic fascination with landscape and place, particularly the unique topography of the American West. My Ántonia, written in 1918, is a rich meditation on immigrants in the American experience, as well as one of the greatest love stories in the English language. In her 1927 novel, Death Comes for the Archbishop, Cather moves past her concerns about WWI in order to immerse herself in exploring the way landscape reflects self. Both novels explore the way we appropriate wild landscape and engage in world-making that continuously reflects the importance of place. This seminar will have the unique opportunity to read Cather’s novels in Santa Fe, where she experienced her own artistic awakening, and the town in which her character, the Bishop Latour, builds his Cathedral with exquisite concern for the way humans create worlds crafted out of the unique materials of the wild environment. As Cather writes in My Ántonia, “That is happiness; to be dissolved into something complete and great. When it comes to one, it comes as naturally as sleep.”

The Upanishads

Patricia Greer and David Townsend

The Sanskrit word upanishad means “to sit down near”: what a student does to hear the esoteric instructions of a teacher. Composed from 600 to 200 BCE, they are the first texts in the Indic tradition to articulate concepts of karma, rebirth, renunciation, and enlightenment. They are poems; they are mysteries.

I do not think that I know it well; But I know not that I do not know. Who of us knows that, he does know that; But he knows not, that he does not know. (Kena Upanishad) Schopenhauer said of his own volume of the Upanishads, “It has been the solace of my life; it will be the solace of my death.” We will closely read a selection of these profound philosophical and metaphysical texts.

Virgil’s ​The Aeneid

William Braithwaite and Lijun Gu

A Latin sequel to Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, The Aeneid is a poetic account of the founding of Rome and its Empire by Aeneas, a prince of Troy who with his father and son fled that city as it was being burned and pillaged by the Greeks at the conclusion of the Trojan War. Like Odysseus, Aeneas survives many trials during his long journey from Asia Minor to Italy. We will try to discern what Virgil is saying about the causes of Rome’s greatness, and thereby (though indirectly), the causes of its later decline.


Tolstoy: Tales of Death and Life, Passion and Heroism

Litzi Engel and David Townsend

In the shorter works that we will read —“The Death of Ivan Ilyich”, “The Kreutzer Sonata”, “Master and Man”, “Father Sergius”, and “Hadji Murat”— Tolstoy asks his perennial question, “What do men live by?” These luminous, searching stories look to the concrete details of the human world to show God’s presence and absence in our hearts and minds.

The Western: The Cowboy and His Role in Shaping the American Vision Through Cinema
“Formation of a Genre”

David Carl and Krishnan Venkatesh

In our segment titled Formation of a Genre, we will study the early development of the American Western and the evolution of the figure of the cowboy from John Ford’s seminal Stagecoach (1939) starring John Wayne, to his portrayal of Wayne in his later masterpiece The Searchers (1954). We will see how the heroic figure of the cowboy collides with a range of societal norms, moving from the savior of his community, in Fred Zinnemann’s High Noon (1952), to tormented outsider in Ford’s later work. We will look at challenges to the gender normative figure of the cowboy in Nicholas Ray’s Johnny Guitar (1954) and the portrayal of the female heroine in each of these films. We will study each of these films with an eye to their technical innovations and mastery as well as consider how the Western genre itself develops over a 27-year period.

Learn more about Film at Summer Classics

10 A.M. TO NOON AND 2 TO 4 P.M.

Infinity in Mathematics from Zeno to Hilbert

Philip Lecuyer and Peter Pesic

The concept of infinity has haunted Western mathematics and philosophy since early Greek times. Through blackboard presentations by participants and discussions, we will explore some crucial texts and arguments: Zeno, Aristotle, and Euclid first presented the paradoxes of the infinite as well as its mathematical powers; Galileo reopened those paradoxes, which Georg Canto addressed with arguments so bold that they continue to divide mathematicians; L. E. J. Brouwer led the fight to remove the infinite from mathematics, but David Hilbert vowed that “no one will drive us from the paradise that Cantor created for us.” We will visit that paradise.

Learn more about the Science Institute