Fall 09 Humanities Discussion questions
Prepare at least one of these questions before coming to class each week.
Week 1: Focus on Augustine
Augustine merits extended consideration because of the tremendous intellectual influence his writings had throughout the Middle Ages and well beyond. His own life and career nicely encapsulate some of the broader changes that were taking place at the time in what was to become Western Europe. Born a pagan, partner to a concubine, rhetoritician, experienced a dramatic conversion, became a Christian a celibate and a monk.
a) To what extent should Augustine be regarded as part of the Roman classical world, and to what extent should he be understood as a medieval figure?
b) It is said that Aug's Confessions was the first autobiography in Western literature. Why do modern readers enjoy a biographical approach to history so much? What are the advantages and limitations of historical biography as a genre?
c) What was the issue that separated Augustine from Pelagius and defined the course of Christianity?
d) What was going on in other two major civilizations around this same time period? Han dynasty? Gupta Empire? What was the nature of their religious orientation?
e) What is the story about the role of human beings on earth that Augustine or Ashoka or Confucius would tell?
Week 2: Islam
1. In 21s C America, what are the most common misconception s about Islam and its early history?
2. Islam interacted with literally all the civilizations in Afro-Eurasia during the postclassical centuries. What evidence of that interaction can you find in art, literature, architecture, music, poetry or dance?
3. How do the pillars of the Islamic faith relate to the pillars of your own faith? (We started this in class a couple weeks ago but now you are in a position to build on this answer.)
4. Comparing the rise of Islam with the rise of Christianity, why was Islam so successful so quickly? Why did Christianity struggle to establish itself?
Week 3: Community, Authority and Society
a) What is the proper relationship of faith and reason?
b) What is the proper relation of the individual to community?
c) What is the proper role of authority, tradition and hierarchy in human affairs?
How would Augustine have answered these questions?
About 100 years later we have Benedict of Nursia; how does he answer these questions?
How would a Buddhist or a Hindu or a Jew answer these questions? (We’ll hold off on the Muslim for a couple hundred years…)
How do You answer these questions today?
Week 4: Christianity and the Medieval Mind
1. First the facts and the underpinning: We are exploring Scholasticism, which is a major philosophical and theological change from What?
· In what context, in Europe’s Middle Ages, did people contemplate questions of philosophy and theology? Give us Dates!
· Who contributed answers to these contemplations?
· Describe the difference between monasticism and scholasticism
· Give us language. What was the procedure known as lectio? Model this for us. What was a gloss? Give us an example.
· Look again at Benedict and his Rule but this time, tell us about what we can learn form his style of writing. Who is his audience? How is the audience of the Scholastics different?
2. The hallmark of Scholasticism was ARGUMENT.
· How is it possible to argue with a sacred text? Who is competent to interpret the Bible?
· Describe the relationship between interpretation and argument. Can a person reasonably “argue” that there is a God or is this simply a matter of faith?
3. Does scholasticism represent an important stage in the gradual overthrow of ancient texts as the ultimate intellectual authority, to be replaced by reason and empiricism? Or did scholasticism reinforce the dominance of ancient textual authority, merely postponing the end? To what extent do modern classrooms bear the imprint of scholastic methods?
4. Bernard of Clairvaux...who was he?
· Why was he so threatened by Aquinas?
· The motto of the Scholastics was, “One must believe in order to understand.” Clairvaux had a different idea: Believe like a child believes, simply and unquestioningly. How do you see each of these perspectives present in classes you are taking or in curriculums (educational or spiritual or other) that you are being asked to embrace?
5. Compare the perspectives of Pope Innocent III and St Francis by reading the excerpted writings of each, Reading 2.18 and 2.21. Then, look back at the Sermon on the Mount on page eight and compare all three.
Week 5: We'll divide into focus groups for this week's work. Questions marked ** will require going beyond the texts to discover answers.
Crusades: What question does this reading prompt? What makes a crusade successful?
Literature: What question does this reading prompt?
of the Middle Class: What question does this reading prompt?
Crusades: What question does this reading prompt?
What makes a crusade successful?
Romance Literature: What question does this reading prompt?
Rise of the Middle Class: What question does this reading prompt?
(These questions are from the introduction to the text in the AR)
Who was Einhard and how did he get his job?
According to Einhard, what are the qualities of a successful leader?
Are these qualities especially appropriate to Europe's medieval period or are these universal?
Is Einhard's picture of Charlemange different from the one presented in The Song of Roland?
Compare Einhard with Procopius. **
Who is Einhard's equivalent in the Bush administration? **
I. Political/Social Overview
1.What events affected the position of the Catholic Church in the 14th C?
2. In what ways did warfare change in
the West between 1300 and 1500?
3. What was the precipitating issue of the Hundred Year's War? What were the main results of the Hundred Year’s war?
4. Compare the sense of identity
in early medieval period to the 14th C.
5. What contemporary connections can you make between the paradigm shifts that were occurring in this 14thC and those that we are dealing with in our own?
II. Plague group
6. What was the Black Death? Where did it begin and how? What were its results in W. Europe (Political, social, spiritual, economic)?
7. Take us back to other instances of plague. How did the plague effect the history of these other civilizations?
8. As described in reading selection 3.1 from The Decameron, traditional rituals of grieving and burial were abandoned at the height of the plague in Florence. What replaced these rituals? What happens when people's rituals are abandoned?
9. Boccaccio observes three strategies for dealing with the Plague. What are they and which one would you choose?
10. Lead class discussion on this question: In what ways does the threat of AIDS resemble that of the Black Death?
III. Christine de Pisan Group
11. Tell us the “Tale of
by presenting the position of the judge, the husband, and Filipa herself. Should the laws enter the bedroom of its citizens? What are examples of
12. Does Filippa’s objection to the double standard anticipate modern
(What is “feminism”?) In what ways does this selection address the issues of Adversity and Challenge?
13. Lady Reason has an interesting explanation for
why women don't learn more. What is it? What did Christine de Pisan see as the chief obstacle to
her own intellectual advancement? Lines?
14. Pisan's Book of the City of Ladies is a reference to Augustine's City of God. What's her message in this reference? Remind us about what Augustine was espousing in (what we read of) The City of God then, offer your thoughts on what de Pisan might be asking her readers to consider.
IV. Social Realism
15. Looking at the writing of De Pisan, Boccaccio and Chaucer's writing, 'splain us what makes their writing innovative? What is social realism? What is vernacular literature?
16. Compare Chaucer's descriptions of the Wife of Bath and the Miller, then pick a passage form Marie de France's lais and describe differences you find. What do you think contributes to these changes?
17. What is the story of the Decameron? What is the story of Canterbury Tales? From the brief excerpts, observe how has character development changed between the tales. What are examples of contemporary tales of the same structure? (there is a fantastic website devoted to the Decameron. Check it out!)18. Help us understand the nature of realism in the world of painting and sculpture. Give us the connection to changes in cathedral architecture and decoration. Then go on to describe what devotional realism is and how it is an innovation in sacred painting. Who are the heavy hitters in devotional realism? What is the relationship of devotional realism to social realism in literature?
V. Hildegarde of Bingen
19. Give us background info on Hildi beyond what's in the text. (For instance, Fiero tells us she entered the monastery at 8. Why so young?) On what subjects did she write? What would de Pisan's Lady Reason have to say about Hildegarde?
20. It is said that She wrote music and texts to her songs, mostly liturgical plainchant honoring saints and Virgin Mary for the holidays and feast days, and antiphons. What are these? Bring examples and explain.
21. Fiero asks, "What role does revelation play in Hildegard's visions?" I ask, what is the difference between a vision and a revelation?
22. What would Masters and Johnson (or Dr. Ruth) have to say about Hildegard's perspectives on sex?
Week Eight: Cultural Heritage of Asia
Everyone: We are going to look closely at Machiavelli so be sure, whether this is your area or not, to read his excerpts in Fiero.
Women: Marinella and Cereta
What defects does Marinella list in her complaint against the male sex?
How do these compare with the defects men traditionally ascribe to women?
What class of men and women is she talking about?
How does that compare to the target population of Castiglione’s remarks?
How do her perceptions differ from modern norms and ideals?
Who was Cereta and why do we read her excerpt? What has she to offer us?
Why are outstanding women so few in number, according to Cereta?
Come up with a discussion question on your topic and lead this discussion in class.
Fiero asserts that the writing of Pico, Alberti and Castiglione is a departure from “exclusively feudal and Christian educational ideals.” What were those, what's different t and why did this departure occur?
Pico: Who was he, and what is his point of view?
Pico: What does he mean when he claims that human nature is situated but not determined?
Alberti: Who was he and what was his point of view?
Alberti – what does he consider important in a (son’s) education? What is his position on money-making? What are “the noble professions?”
What defines these guys as “Classical Humanists”?
Come up with a discussion question on your topic and lead this discussion in class.
Week Ten: Humanism and Art
For this week see the Meaning , Feeling Form ppt.
Week 11: Reformations
1. What were Luther's main complaints against the church?
2. Why, in your opinion was the 16th C a time when satire was revied as a popular genre? Why was the Kydian Revenge Tragedy so popular?
3. What factors contributed to the popularity of Shakespeare's plays in his own time?
4. How does Othello compare as dramatic experience with Everyman (Chapt. 12)?
5. What was at the root of the reforms of the reformation: changes in philosophy? Changes in economics? Changes in self-identity?
For this week also consult the questions posed in the ppt. Reformations
Week 12: Counter-Reformation
One person in each group will need to collect examples of the images or music excerpts so they can be shared with the class on Friday
Focus on Arts: The arts were promoted by the Catholic Church almost as propaganda during the Counter-Reformation. What was the message?
· How does Caravaggio’s The Crucifixion of St. Peter illustrate the immediacy of religious experience? How do you respond to this work today? Is our response different from the response elicited in the 17th C?
· Define for us and give examples of the following terms: Mannerism, Trompe l’oeil, baldacchino (Pronounced baal da KEE noh), irrational space.
· How do the techniques of Baroque painters diverge from the “rules” of Renaissance artists?
· Take us through a comparison of the Last Suppers of Leonardo and Tintoretto. Use the structure we used in reading the paintings of the Renaissance: How does Form create meaning? What is the Meaning? What is the Feeling State the artist is attempting to create?
· Are these artists just better at what they do (better painters, sculptors) than the artists of the Medieval period or are they expressing something Different hence the difference in the product? Defend your response with examples.
Focus on Architecture: What can we learn from the built environment as we consider changes in societies?
· Bernini’s Four Rivers: meaning, form, feeling state
o The four rivers were the Ganges, the Nile, the Danube and the Plata. How did he choose the Plata?? What is the obelisk—an Egyptian fertility symbol-- doing in this sculpture?
· For that matter, what is an obelisk doing in St. Peter’s Square, the heart of the most Holy Catholic piazza? Is there a relationship between the cartouche of baroque ornamentation and the cartouche of Egyptian hieroglyphics?
· Fiero suggests that Bernini’s baldachino in the Vatican presents “a mixture of authoritarianism with sensualism.” What does she mean by that?
· Tell us how the intereior of St. Peter’s is “designed to reflect the mystical and evangelical ideals of the Catholic Reformation.”
· Sousa offered that the Piazza of the Vatican was designed to look like a key, referencing the Petrine Theory. Are there other theories about Bernini’s intentions?
· Back to Bernini: How do the mystical and the sensuous overlap in The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa?
Focus on Music:
· What do the terms “baroque” “gothic” and “medieval” have in common? What do we mean by Baroque music? How does the baroque period in music intersect that of art?
· Tell us about the cross fertilization of Northern and Southern musicians (i.e. German and Italian) and how each contributed to what became known as Baroque music.
· Teach us about counterpoint, fugue form and Polyphony. What do these have to do with the presentation of an ordered universe?
· Discuss the Opera as the ultimate example of Baroque taste for theatricality?
Week 13: African Spheres
Week 14 Ebb and Flow of Empires