Liberal Studies Seminars

Each year, Duke GLS offers a wide array of Liberal Studies (LS) Seminars developed exclusively for its students, including the GLS core course.  Students in the program also can take graduate courses (500-level and higher) from across campus.  For further details about course grades and requirements, see the RegistrationDegree Requirements or Academic Policies pages.  

Martin Eisner
LS 770-91
Summer 2017
Wednesdays, 6:00 - 9:00 pm - Begins Wed., June 7; Ends Wed., August 9
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A close reading of Dante’s whole poem (Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise) in its philosophical (Plato, Aristotle), theological (Augustine, Aquinas), historical (Papacy vs. Empire, Florentine factionalism), and literary (Virgil, Arthurian romance) contexts, as well as an exploration of its influence on later thinkers, artists, poets, and popular culture (Machiavelli, Botticelli, Borges, Eliot, Rodin, Dali, ‘Se7en’).  Each class will require a close reading of several canti of Dante’s poem, along with a supplementary reading.  These secondary readings consider the poem from a variety of perspectives:  as an historical document produced at a specific space and time; an aesthetic object which uses particular narrative strategies to produce meaning; and an ethical and political treatise that both problematizes and prioritizes a certain set of values.

Course Materials

Four books to buy:


            Inferno, Tr. Mandelbaum.  9780553213393

            Purgatorio, Tr. Durling.  9780195087451

            Paradiso, Tr. Kirkpatrick.  9780140448979

            Vita nuova, Tr. Mortimer.  9781847493583 (try

One recommended book:

            Virgil, The Essential Aeneid, Tr. Lombardo.  9780872207905 or Tr. Mandelbaum

N.B. All other readings on Sakai

Course Work

            Course participation and in-class Provocation (25%)

            Three Short Papers (50%)

            One Final Paper (25%)

About Martin Eisner
Romance Studies

Martin Eisner is Associate Professor of Italian Studies at Duke University and Director of Graduate Studies for both the Department of Romance Studies and the Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies. He specializes in medieval Italian literature, particularly the works of Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio, as well as the history of the book and media.

Deborah T. Gold
LS 780-57
Summer 2017
Mondays, 6:00-9:00 pm - Begins WED., May 17; Ends Mon., July 24
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The purpose of this course is to better understand the processes of aging and dying from both social science and humanities perspectives.  Because both aging and dying are culturally bound, they have a profound influence on the expression of societies’ feelings.  We will take a multidisciplinary perspective, combining social and behavioral science information (using a biopsychosocial approach) and the way in which American society has manifested its anxiety over aging and death in its arts as well as sciences.

The course will include an overview of the biomedical aspects of aging and dying, the social and psychological impact of these components of life, as well as the clinical outcomes of aging and dying in an aging society.  In addition, film (and possibly literature and poetry) will serve as the lens through which we can see the impact of aging and dying on the arts.

Requirements include weekly response papers about the readings, a midterm and a final research paper.

About Deborah T. Gold
Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences; Sociology, Psychology & Neuroscience

Deborah T. Gold is Professor of Medical Sociology in the Departments of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences, Sociology, and Psychology & Neuroscience at Duke University Medical Center, where she is also a Senior Fellow of the Duke Center for the Study of Aging and Human Development. Professor Gold received her B.A. in English and Latin from the University of Illinois, her M.Ed. in Reading from National Louis University, and her Ph.D. in Human Development and Social Policy from Northwestern University. Her primary research interests are in the psychological and social consequences of chronic disease in the elderly.  She has done seminal research on osteoporosis and its impact on quality of life.  She has also studied the psychosocial impact of breast cancer, Parkinson’s disease, syncope, head and neck cancer, Paget’s disease of bone, and dementia in older adults. Her current research examines compliance and persistence with medications for older adults with chronic illnesses.

Robert Healy
LS 760-31
Spring 2017
Tuesdays, 6:15-9:00 pm
Location TBA
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*New Course*

How do we protect important species, ecosystems and cultural sites when local populations, often desperately poor, compete for the same resources?  Is our own role as tourists helpful or destructive? What is “ecotourism” and has it been successful in its goal of achieving multiple objectives? This course integrates several disciplines to study tourism motivation and tourism policy, design and management of protected areas, “gateway communities,” resource governance, sustainable agriculture and forestry, community development, and cultural production and handicrafts. It considers tourism both as a possible source of negative impacts on protected areas and as a potential source of local economic development.

The course will introduce learners to three important bodies of theory--management of natural resources, tourism, and local economic development. It will include literature representative of each field and case studies from both developed and developing countries, covering locations from the tropics to the polar regions. It will also bring in ideas from history, anthropology and literature. 

The course will be taught as a seminar.  Participants will be required to read one or two books and about two dozen articles. Course requirements:a two-page reading reaction, due each class session; class participation; Sakai discussion board; a 10-12-page research paper on a topic of their choosing; and class presentation of a paper proposal. The instructor has many potential topics to suggest.

About Robert Healy
Nicholas School of the Environment

Bob Healy is Professor Emeritus of Environmental Policy in the Nicholas School and of Public Policy Studies in the Terry Sanford School. Before coming to Duke in 1986, he was a researcher with The Urban Institute, Resources for the Future and The Conservation Foundation/World Wildlife Fund in Washington, D.C. He has written ten books, mainly on issues of land use, environmental management and economic development. The latest are Knowledge and Environmental Policy (MIT 2011) and Environmental Policy in North America (Toronto 2013). Locally, he has long been involved with efforts to protect the New Hope Creek watershed. He holds a Ph.D. in Economics from the University of California at Los Angeles.

Ylana Miller
LS 780-64
Spring 2017
Wednesdays, 6:15-8:45 pm
Location TBA
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The current international climate and, in particular, that of the U.S., has generated a tendency to focus on conflicts and differences between Americans and the peoples of the Middle East.  Yet the historical relationships of Americans with the area encompass a complexity of fantasies and realities, interests and commitments, influences and fear, wishes and disappointments.  This course will explore particular instances of this encounter focusing primarily on the ways in which both the U.S. government and the American public have understood the region, the effect that U.S. actions or inactions have had on the area and the ways in which both can be analyzed from a variety of perspectives.  Materials used in the course will draw from both U.S. views of the Middle East and from evidence of the ways in which Americans have been represented and understood in the area.  The focus of the course will be on studying and analyzing specific instances of U.S. political intervention, economic interest, and military action from World War I to the present.  Among the subjects that will be included will be the significance of oil, the historical relationship with Iran, the Arab-Israeli conflict and the emergence of Islamic political movements.

Texts will include selections from a range of studies, including as examples Epic Encounters by Melani McAlister, US Policy towards Israel by Elizabeth Stevens, and American Orientalism by Douglas Little.  We will also be reading foreign policy documents readily available now on the web and viewing films, as well as reading literature as vehicles to understand dimensions of this relationship beyond the formal one of policy.

Course requirements include: participation in weekly class meetings and discussion; two short papers based on the readings; an independent research project resulting in a final paper.

About Ylana Miller

Ylana Miller (Ph.D. Berkeley) is visiting Associate Professor in the Department of History and a graduate of the Duke-UNC Psychoanalytic Institute.  She teaches a range of courses on the history of the modern Middle East, including “Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict” as well as “History of Zionism and the State of Israel.”  Dr. Miller has published Government and Society in Rural Palestine – 1920-1948 (University of Texas Press), and her current research project is Constructing a Framework:  How US-Israeli Relations Defined the Meaning Given to Victory in 1967.

Edward Tiryakian
LS 780-99
Spring 2017
Tuesdays, 6:15-8:45 pm
GLS Conference Room
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*New Course*

In a year of acrimonious debate with presidential contestants hurling invectives at each other, and in society pulling apart at the seams, even during the national anthem, while overseas a radical religious cult has strewn mayhem and violence in civilian populations forcing them to flee from their homeland, there is an acute need for alternative visions. This seminar attempts to do so with three interrelated positive themes.

Providing a sociological frame, we start with sociologist Pitirim Sorokin’s pioneering study: “Altruistic Love: A Study of American Good Neighbors and Christian Saints,” 1950. We then move into the first theme, “Heroes,” embodied in the recent film “Sully,” seen by millions of Americans: why was that film so popular, and how does it couple with 9/11 after 15 years, in the same locale? After this initial discussion we take up two heroes, both women who engaged in heroic careers in times of war: Dr. Mary Edwards Walker, the only woman to earn the US Medal of Honor, who engaged in spying for the North, and Joan of Arc, put on trial in 1431 with her “immodest garments suited to the male sex.”  The next unit will deal with two saints: Francis of Assisi who lived in a period of urbanization and income inequality founder of an order of voluntary poverty, and was canonized two years after his death in 1228. The second saint, Mother Walatta Petros, is a 17th century saint of the Ethiopian Church, opposed to the Jesuit missionary influence, who wrote a remarkable biography and ethnographic study, just recently published by Princeton University Press.

To do justice to the final theme, “Saviors,” we will look at two who qualify in the 20th Century: Mahatma Gandhi of India and Martin Luther King, Jr. of the United States. Just as the recognized founder of Christianity, they put passive resistance or non-violence into practice, as the hallmark of their civic action. And as a further common denominator, all three died a violent death.

The seminar will give much weight to class discussion, a mid-term, and a final power point presentation by a team.

About Edward Tiryakian

Edward Tiryakian, Professor Emeritus of Sociology, has taught many courses in GLS, from “Altruism and Philanthropy” to “The Sociology of Disasters.”  Past president of two national organizations and past director of International Studies at Duke, he is widely traveled and published in sociological theory, sociology of religion, sociology of development.

Abdul Sattar Shakhly
LS 770-88
Spring 2017
Thursdays, 6:15-8:45 pm
GLS Conference Room
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*New Course*

This course introduces one of the most popular examples of world literature in the West, The One Thousand and One Nights (alf layla wa layla) or The Arabian Nights. The course focuses on the internal structure of The Arabian Nights, its relationship to world literature, its significance as both high literature and folklore, and its sphere of influence.  A collection of Oriental frame tales, it captured the imagination of generations of Western readers and prominent writers. The Arabian Nights presents in classical Arabic and in the vernacular: fairy tales, romances, fables, legends, parables, anecdotes, erotica, debates, and adventures in which the main narrative is embedded within a preliminary narrative.  Students will examine other texts of world literature to identify structural and thematic comparisons.  For example, The Decameron written 1351-1353 by Giovanni Boccaccio contained 100 fabliaux, fairy tales, and folk tales from ancient lineage that in turn provided Chaucer with the general framework of The Canterbury Tales, where the tales of the various pilgrims are embedded within the frame story of the journey. The Night’s narrative techniques have long appeared in the works of other Anglo-American and European writers.  We will read selected works by Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, Edgar Allen Poe, John Barthes and A.S. Byatt.  We will also consider and discuss differences in translations of The Arabian Nights, such as those by Richard Burton, Edward Lane, John Payne, and Hussain Haddawi, in an attempt to assess the role of translation and its theories in comparative literature.

Required Texts:

The Arabian Nights, Hussain Haddawy (trs.). Norton Critical Edition ISBN: 978-0-393-92808-2

Giovanni Boccaccio, The Decameron. Penguin ISBN: 13-978-0-140-44930-3

Chaucer. The Canterbury Tales. Penguin ISBN 978-0-14-042234-4.

S. Byatt, The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye .ISBN: 13- 978-0679762225

Course documents (prepared by the instructor and available on the course Sakai site)

Course Requirements:

  • Class attendance, presentations and active participation in discussion. 20%
  • Weekly Sakai forum: students will post a thoughtful response (300-500 words) to posted questions concerning the readings. Engagement with other students’ posts is encouraged. In order to receive credit, responses must be posted before noon on the day before the material is to be discussed. 20%
  • Mid-term paper of 5 to 8 pages (1000-1500 words). 20%
  • Term paper topic proposal with annotated bibliography (must contain a minimum of seven citations). 10%

Term research paper of 10 to 15 pages (2000-3000 words). 30%

About Abdul Sattar Shakhly
Department of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies
Frank Lentricchia
LS 770-89
Spring 2017
Wednesdays, 6:15-8:45 pm
GLS Conference Room
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*New Course*

In this course, we will not assume a singular essence of something called “poetry,” which can be found everywhere and nowhere in particular, and which can be revealed for its meanings and values by a single method of reading.  Instead, we’ll proceed on the assumption that different and discrete “poems” require different approaches of reading.  We’ll read a number of short poems from the late 19th through the 20th centuries.  Perhaps 50 in all, maybe 5 per week.  Because these poems are short, you might be tempted to conclude that the reading burden for this course is light.  That would be a mistake. Reading a poem well—intensively, closely and with an eye for detail—will require multiple readings of, and meditations upon, each poem.  Each week you should find time to read and re-read many times the 5 poems assigned—in effect, to live with them and  make them part of you to the point that they resound in your head as you go about your day.  That is how you should prepare for class.

REQUIREMENTS:  faithful and punctual attendance; several short essays of 2-3 pages in length.



About Frank Lentricchia

Frank Lentricchia, a novelist and literary critic, is the Katharine Everett Gilbert Professor Emeritus of Literature.  He received his Ph.D. from Duke in 1966 and has taught at UCLA, UC-Irvine and Rice University.  He has taught poetry, film, literature, and fiction courses.

Amy Laura Hall
LS 780-98
Spring 2017
Mondays, 6:15-8:45 pm
GLS Conference Room
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*New Course*

Some contemporary writers in North America draw on a tradition of apocalypse -- or anticipation of "the end times" -- to draw readers into their stories.  Some of these same writers also seek to elicit a political commitment to change.  A key example is Margaret Atwood, who is the author of dystopian novels and also an activist for environmental justice.  Well before Atwood, Charlie Chaplin created his iconic film "Modern Times," which was both fantastical and radically political. We will consider this tradition. 

In a 2014 essay on "The Topics Dystopian Films Won't Touch," Imran Siddiquee noted: "While recent dystopias warn youth about over-reliance on computers, totalitarian rule, class warfare, pandemic panics and global warming, very few ask audiences to think deeply about sexism and racism."  In this class, we will consider the intersection of apocalyptic, gender, race, sex, and technology, in works that do and do not directly address racial and gender justice.  The course will include the artistry and politics of Charlie Chaplin, Gene Roddenberry, Prince Rogers Nelson, Octavia Butler, William Gibson, and Margaret Atwood.

Assignments will include weekly papers and regular participation.



About Amy Laura Hall
Divinity School

GLS Advisory Committee Term: 2021-24

Amy Laura Hall is the author of four books: Kierkegaard and the Treachery of Love, Conceiving Parenthood: The Protestant Spirit of Biotechnological Reproduction, Writing Home with Love: Politics for Neighbors and Naysayers, and Laughing at the Devil: Seeing the World with Julian of Norwich. She has also written numerous scholarly articles in theological and biomedical ethics. Her new essay on Kierkegaard and love will appear in the T&T Clark Companion to the Theology of Kierkegaard (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2019). Her book Laughing at the Devil was chosen for the 2019 Virginia Festival of the Book and as a focus lecture for the Chautauqua Institution in June, 2019. She continues work on a longer research project on masculinity and gender anxiety in mainstream, white evangelicalism.

Professor Hall has served on the steering committee of the Genome Ethics, Law, and Policy Center, the Bioethics Task Force of the United Methodist Church, and as consultant on bioethics to the World Council of Churches. She has served on the steering committee of the Genome Ethics, Law, and Policy Center and as a faculty member for the Focus Program of the Institute on Genome Sciences and Policy. She served as a faculty adviser with the Duke Center for Civic Engagement and as a faculty advisor for the NCCU-Duke Program in African, African American & Diaspora Studies. She currently teaches with and serves on the faculty advisory board for Graduate Liberal Studies and serves as a core faculty member of the Focus Program in Global Health. Hall serves as an elder in the Rio Texas Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.

Susan Thorne
LS 770-34
Fall 2016
Thursdays, 6:15-8:45 PM, Sept. 1-Dec. 1 (no class on Nov. 24)
Carr 242
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The U.S. invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan has prompted considerable reflection on the ethics and efficacy of US foreign policy.  This course locates these discussions in the very broad historical context of Europe’s colonial from Columbus to the present. We will be focusing primarily if not exclusively on the ways in which Empire(s) transformed European culture at least as much as the European colonial powers transformed colonial cultures and the cultures of colonized populations.  To what extent was Western civilization itself a product of the colonial encounter?  What role did colonialism play in the industrial revolution, on which Europe’s global dominance would increasingly depend? What role did the colonies play in making the European working class “safe” for democracy?  How has political culture in the overdeveloped world been affected by postcolonial migrations?  And, finally, what lessons might be drawn from the history of previous colonial encounters regarding the legal and ethical bases, as well as future prospects, of what some have begun to call the present age of American Empire?

Assignments include weekly posts of your reaction to the readings and an independent research paper.

About Susan Thorne

GLS Advisory Committee Term: 2019-2022

Susan Thorne, Associate Professor of History, teaches courses on the social history of Britain and the British Empire, and on the history of European expansion more generally. She is currently working on Charles Dickens’ influence on Anglo American “ways of seeing” the children of the urban poor.  The Dickensian Affect:  Reckonings with Reform in Early Victorian Southwark (in progress) juxtaposes Dickens’s representation of criminal poverty and urban childhood in his most popular novel, Oliver Twist (1837-8) to archival accounts generated by the poor law’s reform during the 1830s and hungry ‘40s. 

Martin Miller
LS 780-79
Fall 2016
Mondays, 6:15-8:45 PM, Aug. 29-Nov. 28 (no class on Oct. 10)
Carr 241
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The primary focus of this course is the interrelationship between national identity and the phenomenon of exile. We will cover the 19th and 20th centuries and center our readings on developments in Europe, Russia and the US. Nation-states are comparatively recent historical institutions, and definitions of belonging (citizenship) have varied widely. Because of huge waves of migrations beginning with the era of the French Revolution, large transfers of populations have taken place with motives ranging from the need to escape from religious and political persecution to the search for either intellectual liberty or a more secure economic existence.

We shall be studying examples of these migrations and the experience of exile within the context of the demands of national identity and criteria of loyalty to the state. In some cases, exile has stirred extraordinary creativity, as witnessed by the large number of famous cultural figures in the Western world whose finest work was done outside of their country of birth. In other instances, exile has been dominated by depression, mourning and nostalgia for the lost homeland and its culture. In yet others, groups of politically committed exiles have devoted their lives to establishing conditions that would make it possible for them to return to their homelands from which they were driven or expelled. We will investigate the history of those who have been expelled from their country of origin and the nature of their experiences in the societies where they found asylum. One of our central questions will be to determine whether nationalism and exile are in necessary opposition to one another. To put it another way, must our notions of national identity and citizenship be dependent upon the need to define unacceptable differences?

Course requirements: Several short response papers and a research paper due at the end of the course.

Required books: (available at the University textbook store)

Dahbour, O. and M. R. Ishay (eds.). The Nationalism Reader

Kramer, Lloyd, Nationalism in Europe and America (UNC Press, 2011)

Simpson, John (ed.). The Oxford Book of Exile

About Martin Miller

Martin Miller received his Ph.D. in Russian history at the University of Chicago and has taught at Stanford University and the New School for Social Research. He has been a member of the History Department at Duke for many years. Dr. Miller has conducted archival research in Russia and Western Europe, and has received numerous grants, among which are the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Ford Foundation, the National Council on Russian and Eastern European Studies, and the International Research and Exchanges Board (IREX).