The Debates that Shape the West

This course focuses on some of the key debates gripping societies in both America and Europe. The aim is to provide students with an in-depth understanding of Western thought and culture. The issues discussed in this course are both deep rooted and contemporary. These familiar controversies are intensely debated, throughout the West, in private living rooms, newspaper editorials, university classrooms and presidential elections.
This an advanced level course in oral English. Each topic will be approached through a critical debate and focus on short passages (1 or 2 paragraphs each) drawn from key texts. In some classes short film clips will be used. The course is designed to increase vocabulary, develop reading comprehension skills, and provide students with the opportunity to practice their speaking and listening skills.

Each topic will take 4 hours (2 sessions of 2 hours each).

1. The Topic: Individual Liberty versus Social Control
The Debate: What limits should society place on the free individual?
Key texts: John Stuart Mill, On Liberty; Isaiah Berlin, Two Concepts of Liberty.

2. The Topic: Markets versus the State
The Debate: What role should the government have in controlling the economy?
Key texts: Friedrich Hayek Individualism versus socialism; Articles by and about John Kenneth Galbraith
Flim Clip: Commanding Heights

3. The Topic: Globalization
The Debate: Does globalization equal Westernization?
Key texts: Karl Marx on Westernization; Benjamin Barber Jihad versus McWorld; Tyler Cowen Creative Destruction; Anthony Appiah Cosmopolitanism

4. The Topic: Environmentalism
The Debate: How important is global warming (and what should be done about it)?
Key Texts: Bjorn Lomberg, The Skeptical Environmentalist
Film clip: An Inconvenient Truth

5. The Topic: Conservatism
The Debate: Are the “Neocons” conservatives?
Key Texts:  Articles by Francis Fukuyama, Robert Kagan, William Kristol, Andrew Sullivan, Rich Lowry

6. The Topic: Multiculturalism
The Debate: Islamism vs. liberalism (the battle over wearing the veil, the Muhammad cartoons and the fatwa against Salman Rushdie)
Key texts: M. Walzer On Toleration; Stanley Fish Boutique Multiculturalism

7. The Topic: Feminism
The Debate: The mommy wars (stay at home moms versus working moms)
Key texts: Betty Friedan The Feminine Mystique; Articles by Linda Hirshman and Caitlin Flanagan

8. The Topic: The Posthuman
The Debate: Do developments in biotechnology, nanotechnology and AI threaten human nature, and does it matter?
Key texts: Ray Kurzweil The Singularity is Near; Bill Joy Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us; Francis Fukuyama Our Posthuman Future
Film clip: Fast Cheap and Out of Control

9.  The Topic: Religious revivalism vs. Secularism
The Debate: Is secularism in retreat?
Key texts: Max Weber The Protestant Ethic and the spirit of Capitalism; Manuel Castells The Power of Identity. 

10. The Topic: American Exceptionalism
The Debate: Does America have a special role to play on the world stage?
Key texts: Peter Spiro The New Sovereigntists: American Exceptionalism and Its False Prophets and articles by Michael Ignatieff and Robert Kagan