July 19–23 Seminar Schedule - Summer Classics 2021

Choose Your Seminar:
Great Discussions on Great Books

Week 3 includes online seminars as well as a week of in-person seminars on our Santa Fe campus.

Week 3 | July 19–23, 2021


Schelling’s Philosophical Investigations into the Essence of Human Freedom

Topi Heikkerö and Ian Moore
10 a.m.–12 p.m. MT | 12–2 p.m. ET, Online

Schelling’s Philosophical Investigations into the Essence of Human Freedom counts as one of the greatest works of German philosophy and speculative theology. In this short treatise, which marks a turning point in continental thought, Schelling attempts nothing less than to reconcile human freedom with the need for a rational system. Along the way, he argues that God must have a dark ground within himself if God is not to be compromised by the existence of radical evil in the world, an evil whose possibility is nevertheless necessary for God’s own self-revelation. In this seminar, we discuss and carefully analyze the entirety of Schelling’s 60-page treatise.

Text: F. W. J. Schelling, Philosophical Investigations into the Essence of Human Freedom (tr. Jeff Love and Johannes Schmidt). State University of New York Press, ISBN-13: 9780791468746

The Science Institute
General Relativity: A Trip to the Fourth Dimension

Peter Pesic and Paola Villa
July 19–30 (two weeks), 10 a.m.–12 p.m. MT | 12–2 p.m. ET, Online

Most popular expositions of Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity avoid dealing with his actual equations; this limits any deeper understanding. In contrast, we study the math involved in his equations, discussing in detail how they are derived and what they mean. If you are comfortable with high school algebra, have taken a beginning calculus course, and are not afraid of equations, you can do it. We go through a concise exposition of Einstein’s field equations by Lillian Lieber, which Einstein himself “warmly recommended” as “clear and vivid.” Her book is a classic that embraces the mathematics other books avoid, highlighting its beauty and intelligibility. In addition, we read sections from Einstein’s 1916 paper that introduced general relativity.


  • Lillian R. Lieber, The Einstein Theory of Relativity: A Trip to the Fourth Dimension. Paul Dry Books, ISBN-13: 9781589880443
  • Manual of additional readings provided

Homer’s Iliad

Eric Salem and Sarah Stickney
10 a.m.–12 p.m. MT, In-Person

“Sing, goddess, the anger of Peleus’ son, Achilleus.” So begins Homer’s epic poem, set in the tenth and final year of the Trojan War. Insulted by Agamemnon, Achilleus stays back from the fighting until his companion Patroklos is killed by Hector. He then joins the battle to avenge Patroklos’s death, knowing that doing so means he himself will die at Troy. In the course of unfolding the story of Achilleus’s anger, the Iliad presents a vision of human life that invites us to think deeply about the nature of honor, friendship, civic life, familial ties, and mortality.

Recommended Translations: Homer, The Iliad of Homer

  • tr. Richmond Lattimore. University of Chicago Press, ISBN-13: 978-0226470498
  • tr. Joe Sachs. Paul Dry Books, ISBN-13: 978-1589881266

Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro

Michael Golluber and Ned Walpin
10 a.m.–12 p.m. MT, In-Person

Mozart’s brilliant opera buffa (with its equally brilliant libretto by Da Ponte) presents a day of madness unlike any other. Stunning and exquisite music reveals to us more about the opera’s buffoonish characters than these characters can understand about themselves. But what is revealed to us about our own characters as we laugh at crossdressers, skirt-chasers, philanderers, and a wide array of other scoundrels? Le Nozze di Figaro begins with Count Almaviva demanding his feudal right to bed his servant Susanna on her wedding night before her husband, Figaro, can sleep with her. As things progress, Figaro comes dangerously close to having to bed his own mother. At the end, the Count declares his love to Susanna, who is really his own wife disguised as his servant. Who wants to be caught in the middle of this one? What a feast!


  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, The Marriage of Figaro: Vocal Score. G. Schirmer, Inc., ISBN-13: 9780793512089
  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, The Marriage of Figaro: Libretto. G. Schirmer, Inc., ISBN-13: 9780793525928

Austen’s Sense and Sensibility

Ron Haflidson and Krishnan Venkatesh
10 a.m.–12 p.m. MT, In-Person

Sense and Sensibility tells of sisters Elinor and Marianne Dashwood. As the novel unfolds, both fall in love, and both see that love come under threat. These two sisters, it seems, could not be more different, and by tracing their respective romances, readers are offered contrasting portraits of women in love. Throughout the novel, Austen explores the dynamic interactions between reason and emotion, virtue and vice, love and money, men and women, and, of course, sense and sensibility. Participants, whether longtime Austen fans or first-time readers, are sure to enjoy Austen’s singular ability to illuminate our human condition in such a way that provokes both insight and laughter.

Text: Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility. Penguin Classics, ISBN-13: 9780141439662

Augustine’s Confessions

David Carl and David Townsend
10 a.m.–12 p.m. MT, In-Person

The genre of autobiography was effectively inaugurated by Augustine’s Confessions, a stunning account of the life of an African teacher and leader struggling to find his identity and calling during the turbulent decline of the Roman Empire. Through deeply moving personal narrative, the author investigates the meaning of sensation, childhood, idea, free will, time, the practice of reading, and the very nature of language. As it charts the emerging life of a great soul, this great book challenges its readers to distinguish love from lust, freedom from fate, and truth from appearance. You are cautioned that your relationships to family, friends, children, and parents—as well as your sense of love itself—may be altered as you explore what it means to be a human being in the world.

Text: Augustine, Confessions (tr. John K. Ryan). Image Classics, ISBN-13: 9780385029551


Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling

Rebecca Goldner and Krishnan Venkatesh
1–3 p.m. MT | 3–5 p.m. ET, Online

Writing under the pseudonym Johannes de Silentio, Kierkegaard subtitles Fear and Trembling with A Dialectical Lyric, and, appropriately, the work transcends easy classification. It begins with imaginative explorations of Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac and ends with a consideration of the daemonic. Along the way, we meet the knight of infinite resignation and the knight of faith, and we consider the paradox that separates them. Wrestling with faith, reason, and ethics through many authorial voices, Fear and Trembling astonishes and amazes in its attempt to speak of what cannot be spoken.

Text: Soren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling/Repetition: Kierkegaard’s Writings, Vol. 6 (tr. Howard Hong and Edna Hong). Princeton University Press, ISBN-13: 9780691020266

Mann’s The Magic Mountain

Kathleen Longwaters and Julie Reahard
2–4 p.m. MT, In-Person

Thomas Mann set out to write a short, satirical piece on life in a sanatorium. Twelve years later, he ended up with a novel of more than 700 pages, The Magic Mountain, published in 1924. Just as its central character, Hans Castorp, comes down with a bit of a bug while visiting a sanatorium, only to be diagnosed with tuberculosis and persuaded to remain there for seven years, Mann appears to have been held in a greater grip by the elements of the novel than he first realized. And just as pilgrims brought together on a journey often share a single goal but little else, Mann’s characters, thrown together on the mountain, share disease and a confrontation with death. This commonality throws into sharp relief their differing inclinations and world views, ultimately shedding light on the intellectual and spiritual conflicts of pre-war society.

Text: Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain (tr. John E. Woods). Vintage, ISBN-13: 9780679772873

Jorge Luis Borges: Selected Fictions

David Carl and Caleb Thompson
2–4 p.m. MT, In-Person

“I suspect that good readers are even blacker and rarer swans than good writers.”—Borges, This Craft of Verse

Jorge Luis Borges is not only one of the 20th century’s greatest Spanish-language poets but also one of the most important fiction writers of all time. With brilliant storytelling and innovative style that consistently rank him alongside Kafka, Woolf, and Joyce, Borges helped raise Latin American literature to international attention and created a new genre: short prose pieces that defied conventional categorization and revolutionized the possibilities of literary fiction. As we read some of Borges’s most famous “fictions,” we witness a prodigious mind exploring ideas about history, infinity, personal identity, relationship to the divine, and the importance of literature in human life.

Text: Jorge Luis Borges, Labyrinths. New Directions Paperback, ISBN-13: 9780811216999

Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon

Andy Kingston and Maggie McGuinness
2–4 p.m. MT, In-Person

Milkman Dead, so named for his extended years at his mother’s breast and for a mistake on his grandfather’s post-slavery identity papers, is on a quest. When that quest begins, it seems to be a search for treasure, but as Song of Solomon unfolds Milkman discovers a family, national, and racial history full of ghosts and blood. He must learn to speak to strange and powerful women, and, ultimately, he encounters his own bare self. Milkman’s inchoate and almost half-hearted mission to find something—a sack of gold—that he believes he is owed becomes an exploration of what it is to be a person in the grips of history and a meditation on the nature and uses of freedom.

Text: Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon. Vintage, ISBN-13: 9781400033423

American Poems

Phil LeCuyer and David Townsend
4–6 p.m. MT | 6–8 p.m. ET, Online

Walt Whitman declared: “I say that democracy can never prove itself beyond cavil, until it founds and luxuriantly grows its own forms of art, poems, schools, theology, displacing all that exists or that has been produced anywhere in the past under opposite influences.” In light of this challenge, our seminar considers shorter works by American poets: Abraham Lincoln, Emily Dickinson, Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, e. e. cummings, Janet Lewis, William Carlos Williams, George Oppen, Langston Hughes, Robert Frost, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, as well as Whitman himself. We also read an essay by Louise Glück, the 2020 Nobel Laureate for literature. While examining a selection of classic short poems, we hold in front of us the question of what is distinctly American in the language, concerns, poetic technique, and voices we encounter.


  • Walt Whitman, Song of Myself. Dover Thrift Editions, ISBN-13: 9780486414102
  • Additional readings provided