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.  

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.

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
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).

Jonathan Shaw
LS 760-14
Fall 2016
Mondays, 6:15-8:45 PM; Aug. 29-Nov. 28 (no class on Oct. 10)
Biological Sciences Building 130
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Darwin’s book (1859), On the Origin of Species, shook the world.  What really was the “Darwinian Revolution”?  Why is Darwinism, or evolution, still so controversial? How do evolutionary ideas affect medicine, agriculture, astronomy, psychology, sociology, even religion? Is evolution and spirituality incompatible?  What IS the evidence for evolution?  These are some of the issues we discuss in The Darwinian Revolution.

This course consists of three (very) general and overlapping components.  In the first section of the course we will read (at least) some of The Origin of Species so we can see how Darwin framed the problem and provided evidence in support of his theory.  Although biology has come a long way since Darwin published his book, it’s amazing that the basic tenets of evolution by natural selection, as we understand them today, were accurately laid out more than 150 years ago.  We will then do some reading to better understand the historical context of evolutionary biology. As we shall see, the idea of evolution was not entirely new with Darwin. Darwin’s really original contribution was in proposing a naturalistic (as opposed to a supernatural) mechanism for evolution – that is, natural selection.  First, of course, we will need to consider what we actually mean by “evolution”, what “natural selection” is, and how scientists study these topics. We will also discuss terms such as “fact”, “theory”, and “hypothesis”, as they are used in the scientific literature and by the public. We will read about and discuss the philosophical implications of Darwinism, and examine the “creationist” alternative to evolution in a variety of contexts from the legal to philosophical.

In the second component of the course we will have a look at the modern evidence for evolution. We examine the history of life on earth as revealed by the fossil record, including human evolution over the last two million years.  We will also discuss other sorts of less direct evidence from the fields of genetics and molecular biology, biogeography, and comparative anatomy.

In the last section of the course, we will discuss some of the uses and abuses of evolutionary ideas.  These include critically important applications in medicine and agriculture, as well as horrendous misapplications of (pseudo)evolutionary ideas, including eugenics and racism.  Here we also examine and discuss current ideas about the evolution of what we think of as uniquely human characteristics such as moral/ethical thinking, and laughter, and discuss the role of natural selection in contemporary human populations.

A couple important points about this course.  You need not be a scientist or biologist!  We will address these issues in a way that is accessible to all.  Who might this course interest?  If you are opposed to the idea of evolution on religious grounds – join us; we need to hear your voice!  If you just don’t know what to think in that regard, and want more information – join us!  If you are interested in biology and natural history – join is; evolution is the glue that holds all of biology together!  The more diverse our class, the more interesting the course.  Several years ago was the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth, and the 150th anniversary of publication of The Origin, so the time is right!



About Jonathan Shaw

GLS Advisory Committee Term: 2021-2024

Jonathan Shaw is a Professor in the Department of Biology. He received his Ph.D. in 1983 from the University of Michigan. Dr. Shaw's research is on the systematics, population genetics, and evolution of bryophytes (mosses). Some of his research interests have included the taxonomy and classification of particular groups of mosses, developmental anatomy, and genetic relationships among populations of very rare species. A current focus in the lab is the evolution of peatmosses (Sphagnum) and Dr. Shaw's field work tends to be in polar and high altitude environments. He has published some 200 scientific papers and has edited two books, one on the evolution of tolerance in plants to toxic metals in the environment, and one on the biology of bryophytes. Dr. Shaw taught for eight years at a liberal arts college (Ithaca College) before coming to Duke in 1996.

LS 770-34
Fall 2016
Tuesdays, 6:15-8:45 PM, Aug. 30-Nov. 29 (no class on Oct. 11)
Perkins Rubenstein 150
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Course Description:

            This course will be taught as a research and writing seminar closely connected to the ADA and to visiting photographers whose work is held in the archive. This course will challenge students to think critically about photography and to frame the subject of photographic meaning personally, historically and conceptually. Students will consider how photography offers insights into subjects such as social change, sexual identity, and regional culture, and how images have shaped our collective understanding of these subjects. Students will write about specific photographs or groups of photographs, taking into consideration their own response to the images, the historical moment in which the pictures were made, the personal history and artistic sensibility of the photographer, the tools of the medium, and the ways in which all of these factors come together to create a meaningful depiction of the world.


       There will be 5 short papers (2 to 5 pages) assigned in response to the visiting artists or reading under discussion. In addition, each student will write one longer paper (6 to 8 pages), devoting more in-depth study to a group of photographs in the archive of their own choosing.

       There will be a series of discussions about photographs in the archive, sometimes led by individual photographers whose work is represented in the archive.

       There will be assigned readings each week covering some of the history of photography and seminal ideas expressed by artists, curators, and critics. Each week 2-3 students will be asked to prepare questions in advance and assist in leading the discussion.      


       I will assess your final grade on a combination of two factors: (1) Preparation for and contributions to class discussions and (2) the quality the assigned papers.

       More than one unexcused absence will impact your final grade.

Required Books

American Photography by Miles Orvell

Beyond Beauty (library copy will be provided)

Beauty in Photography: Essays in Defense of Traditional Values, by Robert Adams

Reading Packet with essays by John Szarkowski, Susan Sontag, Jerry L. Thompson, Robert Coles, Tom Rankin, Margaret Sartor, Walker Evans, among others.


Gregson Davis
LS 770-87
Fall 2016
Thursday, 6:15-8:45 PM, Sept. 1-Dec. 1 (no class on Nov. 24)
GLS Conference Room
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*New Course*

Seminar participants will take part in the joint analysis and interpretation of Homer’s canonic epic poem, The Odyssey, against the background of archaic Greek and ancient Near Eastern heroic narrative traditions (such as the Gilgamesh Epic). In the latter phase of the course, we will examine aspects of the reception of the poem in contemporary Caribbean literature (e.g. Derek Walcott’s play, The Odyssey and Aimé Césaire’s prose-poem, Return to my native land.

In addition to a final seminar paper of approximately 10-15 pages, students will be asked to do a short oral presentation on an assigned research topic related to Homeric epic narrative motifs and their reception in later European and postcolonial literature and film (e.g. James Joyce’s Ulysses; the movie, O Brother, Where art Thou?).

About Gregson Davis
Classical Studies

Gregson Davis, Andrew W. Mellon Research Professor in the Humanities at Duke University, teaches in the Department of Classical Studies and the Program in Literature. He has previously taught at Stanford University, Cornell University, and, most recently, New York University. His primary research specialties are the interpretation of poetic texts in the Greek and Roman as well as Caribbean traditions (francophone and anglophone).