Thursday, April 18, 2019

Lectures Spring and Summer 2019


From world maps where Greenland appears larger than Africa to historical maps that show European claims to the world but leave off its actual indigenous occupants, to Google Earth which shows different political boundaries to different users depending on what country they're in, maps distort our picture of the world around us. We'll look at how maps convey different worldviews both accidentally and deliberately.  


From nuclear war and superplagues to asteroids and alien invasions, popular culture continues to obsess about the idea of the world's destruction. We're look at the first mythological predictions of the end and see how the popularity of apocalyptic writing influenced Judaism, Christianity, and the Western world ever since.


Magna Carta, the great charter issued by King John of England in 1215, is often cited as a core, foundational document of modern democracy. By contrast, John who is regarded as one of England's worst kings (there has never been a John II) had no intention whatsoever of making monarchy constitutional. We'll look at what John and his nobles thought they were signing up for with Magna Carta.


Of books included in the canon of the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament, the Book of Daniel was the last to be written. By putting visions into the words of characters who lived centuries earlier, the book's authors were able to "predict" events that had already occurred in order to give credibility to additional predictions about the immediate future. Will look at the consequences of the inclusion of this kind of literary prophecy for adherents of Abrahamic faiths who have read such predictions literally.


The Wars of the Roses, a series of civil wars fought between 1455 and 1487 by English nobles seeking to control the crown, have been cited as the inspiration for the fictional wars in "A Game of Thrones." As the popular HBO series concludes, we'll look at the actual Wars of the Roses and the lessons they have for our own time.


The United States is often compared with ancient Rome. Washington DC's monumental architecture was modeled on Rome's and the architects of the US Constitution looked to the constitution of the Roman Republic for inspiration. How did ancient Rome's constitution work and why did the Republic ultimately fall under the sway of Roman Emperors?  


In the Book of Deuteronomy, a god divides humanity “according to the number of the gods,” granting Israel to Yahweh, who later will ride through the clouds defeating the old gods and forces of old. The origins of the God of Israel are still uncertain and scholarly opinion remains divided. We will look at the available Biblical and extra-Biblical sources to trace the evolution of a typical Near-Eastern warrior god who throughout the centuries displaced or absorbed older gods and their attributes, ultimately becoming the only true God, creator of the cosmos. 


Noah’s Ark remains one of the best known stories of the Bible. We’ll look at the many flood stories that predate Genesis by centuries and millennia. While some people still read the story literally and imagine it is history, others look for a kernel of historic truth around which these legends grew. We’ll examine these theories and the thesis that the flood story is entirely mythic.


The world’s religions have complex and often troubling relationships with the institution of slavery. Although some Christians fought for abolition of the slave trade based on their faith, others used the Bible to justify keeping other humans as property. The Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam arose in an era of slave societies. We’ll look at their long, complex, and often unfortunate relationships with the institution.


Long before modern science confirmed the individuals are naturally born with different sexual orientations, people were aware of homosexuality and created different cultural responses to the phenomenon. We’ll look at how homosexuality was understood in ancient Greece and Rome and the ways some expressions were received with acceptance while others were met with intolerance in Antiquity.


Modern people use the word “Gothic” to describe a kind of architecture from the Middle Ages, even though it has nothing to do with the barbarian Goths. When the architecture was new nine centuries ago, it was called “modern” and it represented something very new. Although people of the Modern Era disparaged their immediate predecessors with terms like “Medieval” and “Gothic,” the Middle Ages were anything but backward. In fact, they anticipated the Modern Era which followed.

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