AMS 110 Pathways to Cultural Knowledge I


As societies inherit and then redefine their own cultural realities, they also accumulate selective knowledge that is important in shaping their religious, political, and philosophical identities. But how is this cultural knowledge transmitted usefully and memorably to others? While reading an eclectic range of texts including biblical works, heroic epics, philosophical treatises, modern performance poetry, and more, we will explore varied communication strategies in oral storytelling, written manuscripts and papyri, printed texts, and even sign language and the internet. This multi-disciplinary approach opens a space for us to critically examine our own biases and to recognize the value and meaning in complex texts emerging from diverse cultures, religious perspectives, media, and time periods.

This course is the first part of a yearlong sequence. The semester will be governed by two organizing principles. First, we will group texts according to their cultural and thematic contents, paying special attention not only to similarities among different traditions but also to their important differences that make each text and tradition unique. Second, we will regularly be introducing new theoretical concepts related to communication strategies as we build a toolset for interpreting works arising in a wide variety of cultural contexts and time periods.

This course is also structured around fulfilling the F1 requirement. As such it will:
• “engage students in a critical examination of the values they hold as individuals and their social and historical location” through exploration of “the complex legacies” of formative texts and traditions. As we proceed through the course, we will therefore endeavor to understand how these texts, traditions, and communication strategies generate meaning in their original context, but we will also emphasize (in both our class conversations and also our daily written reflections) their implications for our own values and activities on a personal level as they affect us every day.
• “offer academically ‘sound and comprehensive’ exploration of biblical texts and traditions” as it engages students in “a critical examination of personal, social, and cultural values through the academic study of biblical literature and of traditions that are productively compared with it.” Several of this semester’s texts are themselves integral parts of the Biblical canon, but every text we will consider this semester has been selected in large part because it can help us to understand the historical context of those Biblical texts, illustrate their reception in cultures beyond those of their earliest audiences, and/or examine traditions and values that often contrast with Biblical perspectives.


Degree Requirements