Foundations Programs in the Humanities

Questions about the meaning and purpose of life are central to human existence. Every area of the Rhodes curriculum touches in some way upon such questions, whether directly as in moral philosophy, epic poetry, and political thought, or indirectly as in studies of the history of medieval Europe, economic theory, and the physical structure of the universe. The programs Life: Then and Now (“Life”) and The Search for Values in the Light of Western Religion and History (“Search”) help students think about these issues and so provide the foundation for the entire curriculum.

Life and Search students meet in small groups led by faculty members to analyze challenging and controversial texts that have shaped and reshaped thought, particularly in Western societies. Because of its prominence in world history, these courses pay special attention to the Bible and the traditions that have emerged in relationship to it. Life and Search courses endeavor to make the familiar unfamiliar by examining critically the logical and historical foundations of received opinion and texts. They also make the unfamiliar familiar by studying traditions, artifacts, and issues that most students have not yet encountered. Through both programs, students learn to appreciate the role of historical context in shaping values, beliefs, and practices and to reflect critically on their own values, beliefs, and practices. Life and Search stress skills that are central to the whole curriculum: careful reading, analytical writing, critical thinking, and discussion.

At the start of their first year in the College, most students choose to pursue Life or Search (or other coordinated courses outside Life or Search that fulfill the F1 Humanities requirement), and generally remain in their chosen program until they have completed it. Search and Life share many features but also are distinctive. The following descriptions clarify the differences.

Life: Then and Now

The student who chooses the Life: Then and Now program completes a three semester sequence of courses. The first courses are taken in the fall and spring semesters of the first year. The third course may be taken at any time in the remaining three years of the student’s college career.

The first two courses in the Life sequence are Religious Studies 101-102, The Bible: Texts and Contexts. These courses introduce students to the academic study of the Bible and the traditions of interpretation and reflection based upon it. This two semester sequence follows a basic chronological development, from the earliest biblical sources to modern interpretations. The first semester of the course is taught by members of the Department of Religious Studies with primary competence in the study of the Bible and the second semester by members with expertise in theological reflection and the disciplines of the history of religion. Both courses emphasize careful textual analysis, clear and effective writing, and active discussion with peers. Complete descriptions of these courses may be found in the Religious Studies section of the catalogue.

The third Life course is chosen from a variety of offerings in Religious Studies, Philosophy, and Greek and Roman Studies. These courses build on the skills and base of knowledge developed in first year Life and further refine and augment them. The third Life course is selected from an array that includes advanced study of the Bible, theology and ethics, philosophy, and the history of religions. The spectrum of upper-level Life courses will change periodically to reflect student and faculty interests but includes staples such as “Archaeology and the Bible,” “King David,” “Sex and Gender in the New Testament,” “Paul,” “Contemporary Theology,” “Holocaust,” “Islam,” and “Religious Traditions of Asia,” “Religion in America,” “Medieval Philosophy,” and “Ethics.” With a wide variety of choices, students may select a third Life course that suits their interests and best complements their overall academic plan.

The Search for Values in the Light of Western History and Religion

The “Search” curriculum is a three-semester sequence of Humanities courses that focuses on major works that have formed the western tradition. In a small, seminar setting, Search students and faculty engage in sustained examination of vital questions arising from an individual’s relationships to the natural world, human society, and the products of human culture.  We approach these questions by interrogating central texts within, and written in contestation of, western intellectual traditions, including Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Students read the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament, and the Qur’an in conjunction with other selected works from the ancient and medieval worlds. The texts we study over the course of our three semesters speak directly to each other, often radically critiquing the traditions out of which they emerge.  In Search, we critically examine the assumptions that emerge from these disputed traditions, assumptions that underlie cultures and institutions in the modern world.  Throughout, we stress the skills that are central to the whole curriculum (careful reading, analytical writing, critical thinking and discussion), and we equip students to enter into a lively and lifelong conversation of ideas. 

Humanities 101 and 102

The first semester of Search focuses on the ancient world and follows the history and literature of the Israelites and the Greeks.  Texts include the ancient Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh, the Hebrew Bible, and the selected works of Homer, Thucydides, Plato, and Aristotle.  The second semester of Search covers literature from the Hellenistic period to the Middle Ages.  Texts include Virgil’s Aeneid, the New Testament, the Qur’an, and Dante’s Divine Comedy. During the first year of the course, all Search colloquia follow a common syllabus; every 2-3 weeks, all Search students meet for a plenary lecture delivered by one of the Search faculty.


Humanities 201

The third semester of Search pursues the questions raised in the first year as they play out in the modern world. Students trace the roles of biblical and classical heritages in the shaping of the values, character, and institutions of Western culture and its understanding of self and world.  Different sections follow different themes and disciplinary focuses determined by the instructor.