Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 1 hour / session

Recitations: 1 session / week, 1 hour / session

Course Objectives

The core goals of the course are:

  1. To read a series of interesting texts
  2. To discuss these in both literary and psychological terms
  3. To write and revise good essays
  4. To improve your communication skills

Course Description and Overview

Each year we pick a unifying theme for the spring course. This year's theme is "Permission and Prohibition." The title was given to us by a previous Concourse student, who told us that this was a traditional Islamic view. If something was not explicitly forbidden, it was implicitly permitted. We will explore this theme in several ways:

  1. What are you allowed to (or willing to) eat? Why? There are a variety of things you will not eat. We will look at some Biblical sources of dietary regulation and read the work of Paul Rozin on "Disgust."
  2. Looking at the religious and cultural ramifications of choices about food and other social practices, we will read Mary Rowlandson's autobiographical Narrative of the Captivity and the Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson relating her experiences as a captive of Native Americans in colonial New England.
  3. Making the connection between gustatory and moral disgust we will spend some time with cannibals: in Herman Melville's novel Typee.
  4. There are things you do not or cannot do, not because they are morally repellant, but because they are not acceptable to your family or your culture. Kafka's "Letter to my Father" explores this theme of what the family will sanction (Isn't it interesting that "sanction" could mean "permit" or "prohibit" in that sentence?). We will go on to read Kafka's stories Metamorphosis and The Hunger Artist to see how these issues play out in his fiction.
  5. Next, we will turn to Shakespeare's Twelfth Night for its exploration of what is permitted and prohibited to each gender in a world that seems to give its characters unlimited choices.
  6. We conclude with Anita Desai's book, Fasting, Feasting which explores family, gender, and cultural constraints across national and ethnic boundaries and also asks what happens when your rules are not the rules of the people you live with.


This is a HASS-CI (Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences Communication Intensive) course. Like other communications-intensive courses in the humanities, arts, and social sciences, it allows students to produce 20 pages of polished writing in four assignments, with one required revision. It also offers a variety of possibilities for oral expression, through presentations of written work, student-led discussion, and oral reports. The class has a low enrollment that ensures maximum attention to written and oral communication.

Please see assignments for detailed instructions for the written work.

Oral Presentations/Reports

Each student will give two oral reports, format (i.e. single or team presentation) depending on class enrollment. The first (10 minutes maximum) will initiate discussion in a recitation by presenting information about the day's reading, discussion questions, illustrations as appropriate, and a brief handout, including a bibliography. The handout will be submitted for a grade. The second presentation takes place during the class in Ses #24 when the research papers are due and will summarize your thesis and main points. You will submit it as an abstract, attached to your research paper.


You are expected to be in Lecture and Recitation. Part of your grade will be based on class participation (see below).


The final for this course will consist of take-home essays on topics tied closely to the texts that you are reading.


For the final grade, you will be evaluated on the basis of:

Requirements Percentages
Attendance and participation 10%
Written work 60%
Exam 15%
Oral presentations/reports 15%



1 Introduction: On course themes and writing expectations  
2 Eating: Hunger, taste, and smell  
3 Disgust  
4-7 Bible Essay one due in Ses #7
8-9 Mary Rowlandson  
10-13 Melville, Typee Revision of essay one due in Ses #10
14 Library research workshop Essay two due
15-18 Kafka  
19-23 Shakespeare, Twelfth Night

Topics and research summaries due in Ses #22

Conferences in Ses #22

24 Reports on research papers Essay three due
25-26 Desai, Fasting, Feasting  
27 Conclusion