What Course Should I Take This Summer?

I’m trying to figure out which Teaching Company course I’d like to take in the evenings after work this summer. I’m going to pretend it’s real school and take them just a few nights a week. I’m going to get the DVD of whichever course I order.

So here are the courses, with the descriptions from the Teaching Company website, that I’m considering. My comments on each follow in italics.

Introduction to Number Theory

Called "the queen of mathematics" by the legendary mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss, number theory is one of the oldest and largest branches of pure mathematics. Practitioners of number theory delve deep into the structure and nature of numbers, and explore the remarkable, startling, and often beautiful relationships that exist among them. Gain deep insights into the complex and beautiful patterns that structure the world of numbers, the branches of study that reveal these patterns, and the processes by which great thinkers establish new truths through dazzling mathematical proofs.

OK, so math has never been my strong point, but I’ve had people tell me that I would probably love this kind of stuff. Maybe that’s just what people tell people who aren’t good at math. But I really think I would enjoy a course like this. And if I hate it … well, at least I tried. And people who claim I'm "so left-brained" will be proven wrong, once and for all.

American Mind

Americans pride themselves on being doers rather than thinkers. Ideas are naturally suspect to such a people. But ideas are at the root of what it means to be American, and today’s habits of thought practiced by citizens throughout the United States are the lineal descendants of a powerful body of ideas that traces back to the first European settlers and that was enriched by later generations of American thinkers.

Behind this nation’s diverse views on religion, education, social equality, democracy, and other vital issues is a long-running intellectual debate about the right ordering of the human, natural, and divine worlds.

In their own times such great thinkers as Jonathan Edwards, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, William James, Martin Luther King, Jr., and many others engaged in lively and often contentious debate that helped mold America’s institutions and attitudes. Their approach was frequently honed by ideas from abroad—from Locke, Hume, Kant, Darwin, Marx, Freud, and Gandhi, among others.

This immensely stimulating conversation that made the U.S. what it is today is the subject of The American Mind, a series of 36 lectures that offers you a broad survey of American intellectual history.

I hated my seventh-grade American history class, and my hatred of it bled over into my eleventh-grade American history class, and my hatred of that led me to avoid American history classes completely when in college. So, while I have a working knowledge of American history, I’m far from an expert. And I think it would be really interesting to study American history in terms of the intellectual history. The idea really appeals to me.

Books That Have Made History: Books That Can Change Your Life

What makes a written work eternal—its message still so fundamental to the way we live that it continues to speak to us, hundreds or thousands of years distant from the lifetime of its author?

Why do we still respond to an ancient Greek playwright's tale of the Titan so committed to humanity's survival that he is willing to endure eternal torture in his defiance of the gods? To the cold advice of a 16th-century Florentine exiled from the corridors of power? To the words of a World War I German veteran writing of the horrors of endless trench warfare?

Most important of all, what do such works—"Great Books" in every sense—mean to us? Can they deepen our self-knowledge and wisdom? Are our lives changed in any meaningful way by the experience of reading them?

In this course, Professor J. Rufus Fears presents his choices of some of the most essential writings in history. These are books that have shaped the minds of great individuals, who in turn have shaped events of historic magnitude.

This course does not analyze the literature or discuss it in detail; rather, it focuses on intellectual history and ethics. What Professor Fears does is to take the underlying ideas of each great work and show how these ideas can be put to use in a moral and ethical life.

Beginning with his definition of a great book as one that possesses a great theme of enduring importance, noble language that "elevates the soul and ennobles the mind," and a universality that enables it to "speak across the ages," Professor Fears examines a body of work that offers an extraordinary gift of wisdom to those willing to receive it.

From the Aeneid and the Book of Job to Othello and 1984, the selections range in time from the 3rd millennium B.C. to the 20th century, and in locale from Mesopotamia and China to Europe and America.

I salivate when I read this course description. Plus, the first lecture is on Bonhoeffer. 'Nuff said.

Philosophy of Religion

The central questions of this course are:

- Can humans know whether the claim "God exists" is true or not?
- If so, how?
- If not, why not?
- Are these first three questions actually useful?

These questions have perplexed us since the first moment we were capable of asking them. Philosophy of Religion invites you to explore the questions of divine existence with the tools of epistemology, the branch of philosophy that concerns itself with what we can know.

In Professor James Hall, Chair of the Department of Philosophy at the University of Richmond, you have an unusually qualified teacher. The son of a Baptist minister (who himself later became a university professor), Professor Hall first trained at a seminary before taking his doctorate in philosophy and embarking on a teaching career nearly 40 years ago.

I listen to a lot of preachers and apologists, and I read a lot of Christian apologetics and atheist/agnostic apologetics, and half the podcasts I download have to do with these topics. So, as you can see, the idea of the philosophy of religion interests me … but, believe it or not, I never took a Philosophy of Religion course in college. I think it’s about time I took one.

Iliad of Homer

When John Keats first read Chapman's translation of the epics of "deep-brow'd Homer," he was so overwhelmed, so overcome with the joy of discovery, that he compared his experience to finding "a new planet."

When you join Professor Elizabeth Vandiver for these lectures on the Iliad, you come to understand what enthralled Keats and has gripped so many readers of Homer.

Dr. Vandiver is a recipient of the American Philological Association's Excellence in Teaching Award—the most prestigious teaching award available to American classicists—and several other major honors for teaching excellence.

Her compelling look at this epic masterpiece—whether it is the work of many or indeed the "vision" of a blind poet who nevertheless saw more deeply into the human heart than almost anyone before or since—demonstrates why she is held in such immense regard.

Like most English majors, I’m familiar with Homer’s Iliad, but I’ve never read the entire thing cover to cover. I have a copy of it, of course, plus a companion study guide, that I started reading a couple of summers ago, but I kept thinking it would be so much more fun to study it as part of a class, with an expert who can provide more food for thought than I can come up with myself. This course will allow me to do that.

Oh, I love playing school. More than anything. Which course do you think I should take this summer?


Jared said…
I would vote for philosophy of religion. I took a similar course in college, religious epistemology. One of the absolutely most definitive texts on this subject is still Hume’s Dialogues concerning natural religion. On the other side Alvin Plantinga is also very well respected.
Sherry said…
Definitely introduction to number theory. American Mind seems to be history, which is boring and besides, historians tend to change facts to fit their alleged versions of what actually happened before they were born. You've probably already read all the "Books That Made History" so if you're looking for an easy "A", go for it.

Philosophy of religion? That's a tough one. The title doesn't make any sense to me. Why must there be a philosophy? Either you do good and feel good or you do bad and feel bad. I guess it would be interesting to learn about different religions, if that's part of the course, but I don't get the reasoning.

Meanwhile, I dunno nothing about the Iliad of Homer except that I once read it when I was about ten years old and was bored to tears . . .

Go for the numbers.
Anonymous said…
Sounds like "Sherry" needs a Phil. of Religion class.
Anonymous said…
forgot to add: I would do the "Books" class or Phil. of Religion. I went to the links for both and they look fascinating. Could u take 2 classes?
Anonymous said…
Just wanted to offer an apology to Sherry. I don't know her but I realized that she might have been kidding with her post. In which case I apologize for my first comment.
Sherry said…
I wasn't kidding with my post, Anonymous. I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. We know more about the Bible and have more missionaries than any other church in the world, and help more people than any other church that I know of. If you can think of another one that does more, please let me know.

Just a thought.
Waterfall said…
OK, enough. I've signed up for "Books that Made History." It was a toss up between that and Philosophy of Religion. I'll try to talk Hubster into ordering two courses.

Jared--I keep hearing about Plantinga, and that it's difficult reading but worth it. I also have a friend who is working on his doctorate in theology, so when I do decide to delve into Plantinga, I'll have some help!

Anonymous--Please leave your name in the future. Thanks for your feedback.

Sherry--Philosophy of religion, from what I know, explores, among other things, the various arguments for and against a religious worldview. And I've read some of the books in the "Books" course, some of them multiple times, but that doesn't mean I don't still have a lot to learn! And you read the entire Iliad when you were 10? I'm impressed, even if you were bored!
Rose said…
Well, damn. You have just shown me something I've never thought about, classes like these. I think I'll peruse the list and find one for me.

As for your choices, Lliad was the only one not interesting to me. Religion brings up too many answers that need questions for me right now. Numbers are veeerryyy interesting but takes a lot of concentration, also lacking in my state of mind. The book class does sound like the best. Although once read, unless you use the knowledge gained, once you're gone, it didn't go any good to read it.
Keep us posted on what you learn.
Waterfall said…
Rose: I love these classes. The best ones, in my opinion, are the music courses by Robert Greenberg. I've listened to just about all of them over the past few years--it was one *good* thing about having a long commute to work!

I'll definitely keep everyone posted on how the "class" is going!
Jammie J. said…
I say go for Books that Made History!
Oh, but you already did.... umm, well, my logic was that with your penchant and love for books, you should definitely take a class that you would love and enjoy.

The description for the numbers class made me feel a little ill to my stomach just reading it. Then again, like you, I'm not real strong on numbers. Ugh. *shudders*

The others were interesting, particularly the Philosophy of Religion.

What fun and interesting descriptions. :)
Jammie J. said…
Oh! I forgot to say on the reason you should (and did) choose the class you chose, you used the word "salivate" in your thoughts about it. Anyone who salivates over something when they're pregnant should certainly follow their salivations. It's good for the baby! :)

Now I'm just being silly...
Waterfall said…
Jammie J: Yes, I should definitely give in to my cravings!! :)

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