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Cultures and Contexts

Cultures and Contexts prepares students for life in a globalized world by introducing them to the ways in which humans come to understand themselves as members of social, religious, national, and regional collectives and by fostering their appreciation of the dynamics of cultural interaction and influence. Individual sections focus on specific social or cultural groups different from the dominant traditions of contemporary North America. They share a common concern to examine the ways cultures have interacted, for example, through trade, colonization, immigration, religious dispersion, and media representation; how such groups define themselves against internal and external difference; and how the dominant perspective of Western modernity affects comprehension of the ways in which people outside that position understand, experience, and imagine their lives.

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Expressive Culture

Art arouses pleasure, wonder, confusion, curiosity, and many other things. How is art made, and for what purpose? How do artworks convey meaning or feelings? How does social context shape the making of art? In Expressive Culture, students explore the complexities of artistic expression by focusing on one of five media: sounds, images, words, performance, or film. Each course introduces requisite historical, formal, and critical vocabularies; examines fundamental issues associated with interpretation of the arts; and investigates the complex relations between artistic activity and other facets of social and political life.

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Natural Science

Natural Science courses examine the foundations of the physical sciences—physics and chemistry and/or the broad diversity of life sciences—biology, neuroscience, and physical anthropology. At its core, the physical sciences seek to understand the role of matter and energy in explaining a broad range of phenomena, such as the large scale structure of the universe and the factors that affect the earth’s climate. The life sciences courses use a thematic approach to introduce students to the foundations and frontiers of scientific investigation in the life sciences.

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Quantitative Reasoning

Mathematics is both a curiosity-driven endeavor and a powerful analytical tool. Mathematics strives to deduce universal rules that govern numbers, geometry, and logic. When applied to the analysis of data, mathematics allows us to derive conclusions, for example, about the likelihood of random events or the effectiveness of medical therapies. In today’s data-driven world we are constantly bombarded with numbers, from projections of the national debt to the likelihood of catching the flu, so citizens of the 21st century need an ability to critically evaluate numerical information.

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Societies and the Social Sciences

We live in a world molded by massive social, political, and economic transformations, and to be thoughtful, responsible citizens we need to understand them. From the nineteenth century to today, drawing on earlier movements, thinkers have developed new methods for understanding the complexity of these phenomena by studying societal structures and human behavior.

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Texts and Ideas

Texts and Ideas is the name for a diverse group of humanities courses that study challenging, influential texts about big ideas: freedom, the nature of the soul, the place of humans in the natural and animal world, beauty, citizenship, morality, the imagination, the use of the past, and many more. Some courses explore a single theme or a set of closely related ideas; others investigate the relationship between two periods of intellectual history, for example, selected writings in the philosophy and literature of ancient Greece and Rome and their reception in a later era

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