Past Program Topics

2018 – 2021 Mind and Body: The Future of Being Human

We are living in a time of rapid re-categorization of “the human being.” Neuroscientists continue to push our understanding of the brain into territories affecting our beliefs about the “mind,” “soul” and “will”; biologists claim animals show empathy, culture, and emotional lives that have more in common with ours than we ever imagined; social activists claim gender, race, and biology are identities to be selected, rather than inherited; technological entrepreneurs are actively pursuing initiatives to integrate the human brain with machines and make machines able to learn, self-organize, and invent; medical researchers hope to clone our organs and transplant them into our bodies, or splice out disease-causing DNA in utero, prolonging human life, perhaps, indefinitely; NASA has plans to colonize Mars. We seem perched to transcend the traditional limits of “the human condition” upon which millennia of human cultures have been built. Or are we? And if we do, what then? What will we say to an artificial intelligence that may demand to know what makes a mind a mind, a person a person, or someone valuable? Or anything valuable? What can it mean to be human in an age when traditional markers of humanity are up for grabs? What is the best future we can imagine? How can we get there? This year, we won’t be looking to the past as a guide to answering traditional human questions. We will be looking to the future and developing answers to current questions so that it can be a bright one!

2016 and 2017 Programs:

The Great War Era: Cultural Splendor or the Collapse of Civilization?

Master Box 1:35 - British and German Cavalrymen WWI Era - Panzer ModelsBetween 1900 and 1925 dramatically competing trends developed in the Western and global worlds.  Dramatic advances in the sciences, new developments in art and literature and political progress seemed to presage a new epoch of an advancing civilization.  Some thinkers even felt that material advances would make us a more virtuous people.  Then came he shattering experience of the Great War which developed into a pogrom against humanity on a previously unimaginable scale, leading Isaiah Berlin to characterize the 20th century as, “the most terrible …in Western history.”  The Great War would cast a shadow over the rest of the century. Can the splendor and the terror of this era be reconciled?  What is the relationship between them, if any?  The New Jersey Scholars Program will explore these issues through the lenses of history/politics, art, literature and science.  It can be argued that the conflict between these two trends is still with us today.  Our inquiry methods will include scientific analysis, primary source exegesis and formal and contextual analysis of art and architecture, both in an interactive lecture and seminar setting as we investigate these issues in an inter-disciplinary manner.

2014 and 2015 Programs:
Climate Change and the Human Experience

Climate change is a complex, controversial, and challenging global problem and will probably be the most important environmental issue of the 21st century. Scientists from around the world are virtually certain the earth is warming due to human causes (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Report, October 2013), yet their characterization of the uncertainties in this complicated planetary problem leaves some people doubting about its causes and consequences. The New Jersey Scholars Program will explore the science of climate change, as well as its social, political, and economic implications. Our interpretive tools will be the lenses of various disciplines such as science, literature, politics and sociology. Our inquiry methods will include interpreting scientific data, discussing case studies, questioning guest speakers, delving into primary literature, analyzing the political process and examining the divergent viewpoints of different stakeholders in this global issue likely to have significant impact on New Jersey, the United States, and the world.

2012 and 2013 Programs:
Immigration: Demographic Disaster or Cultural Recreator?


“There is a limit to our powers of assimilation, and when it is exceeded, the country suffers from something very much like indigestion,” bemoaned The New York Times over a century ago, in the middle of the greatest wave of immigration this country had yet seen. Since then, many places in the world have become the refuge, the workplace and the home to millions of immigrants, legal and illegal, from countries near and far. What explains this massive movement of people? What are its implications, both for the immigrants who leave home, family and history behind to reinvent themselves in their host country and for those countries themselves? Can nations continue to absorb, economically and socially, wave upon wave of newcomers? Can they afford not to? During this summer’s interdisciplinary course, students will explore these questions through the lenses of history, economics, literature, and art and architecture.

2010 and 2011 Programs:
Human Rights: Past. Present. Future. 


Duties and obligations.  Rights and dignity.  Originating in the scriptures of many world religions and later articulated in the United Nations Universal Declaration of 1947, an exploration of what we now call “Human Rights” is central to understanding the past, present, and future of human civilization.Where does the concept of human rights come from, and how has it changed over time?  How do philosophers and religious scholars address this issue?  How does art, architecture and literature reflect and affect our understanding of human rights?  Are human rights universally and/or are culturally determined?  How will people understand human rights in the future?Join the New Jersey Scholars Program this summer as we study the past, present, and future of human rights.  Using the disciplinary lenses of history, literature, law, philosophy/religion, art and architecture, students will grapple with the questions posed above and discover how the disciplines of study connect to each other shedding light on this momentous issue.  Join us as we come to further understand the power of this idea and contemplate its transformation through time.

2008 and 2009 Programs:
India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh: One History. Three Countries. Shared Future.  


 The Republic of India, the world’s largest democracy. The Islamic Republic of Pakistan, homeland of some of our earliest human settlements. The People’s Republic of Bangladesh, currently one of the worlds most densely populated countries. Nearly 1.4 billion people today live in one of these three countries. Prehistory and history meet on the banks of the Indus River, ancient civilizations passed through these lands, and tales of political intrigue and transformation continue to dominate our news.Join the New Jersey Scholars Program for an in depth exploration of the history and politics, literature, art and music, and religion of these three key South Asian countries. How does the watershed year of 1947 continue to impact lives today? How will General Musharraf’s government be remembered? Why and how did East Pakistan transition into Bangladesh? Students will also explore the literature of the region and readings will include works by Salman Rushdie, Jhumpa Lahiri, and the first Asian winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913, Rabindranath Tagore. The study of music and art from the region is also central to a clear understanding of shifts in culture and expression: how has Islamic architecture affected the region and reflected its culture?; what are the key themes in a typical Bollywood movie?; how is Indian music constructed around melodies rather than harmonic chord changes? Finally, a clear appreciation of religious and philosophical traditions is essential to our study. From an analysis of ancient Vedic rituals to explorations of Zoroastrian, Muslim, Hindu, Jain, Buddhist, and Sikh beliefs, students will dive into the world of rich insight, philosophical reflections and ritual beauty.

India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. A serious scholar of world history and contemporary politics can not ignore the significant contributions of these nations to our global community. Join the New Jersey Scholars Program in an inspiring, challenging, and insightful study of South Asian history, politics, art, music, literature, religion and philosophy and discover a wondrous world.

2006 and 2007 Programs:
Africa — The Sub-Sahara


Ask someone to tell you quickly what they associate with Africa, and the answers you’ll get will probably range from cradle of humankind and big animals to poverty and tribalism. How did one continent come to embody such extremes?” So wrote Jared Diamond in the September, 2005 issue of National Geographic devoted entirely to the African continent. This summer, the New Jersey Scholars Program will investigate answers to that question. What characteristics could be found in African cultures and environment before major western incursions? Did the frenzied 19th century European land-grab immeasurably damage African societies and their surroundings, or did well-established cultural folkways and eco-systems survive that violent ordeal? Finally, how have the African past and the conditions of 21st century global life laid down daunting challenges to African states seeking to build a better world for their peoples? The New Jersey Scholars Program will examine these questions through the disciplinary lenses of history/economics, literature, the arts, and the environment. Focusing on sub-Saharan Africa, students in the NJSP will learn to relate these disciplines to each other while building a textured and complex understanding of a continent that has resisted western understanding for centuries. As we enter the 21st century, there can be no doubt that Africa will be central on the international agenda. The key to world stability may well depend on a sophisticated understanding of this complex continent. The 2006 New Jersey Scholars Program will help build that understanding.Scholars will have stimulating academic days combining lectures, seminars, research and fieldwork. They will have extensive reading assignments and will prepare several short papers in advance of their culminating achievement, a major interdisciplinary research project on a topic of special interest. During the course of their studies, Scholars will leave campus on a field trip and also create artistic, musical and dramatic works that will be exhibited in an Arts Festival, to which all parents and past New Jersey Scholars are invited.

2004 and 2005 Programs:
Jerusalem and the Middle East: Historical Crossroads, Religious Roots, Contemporary Perspectives


Jerusalem, known in Hebrew as the city Shel Zahav or “City of Gold”, in Arabic as Al Quds or “the Holy”, and for Christians as “Jerusalem the golden”, is a sacred place to the three religious traditions of Judaism, Islam and Christianity. It is also the center of violent political upheaval and geopolitical crisis. Join the New Jersey Scholars Program this summer as we explore the complex and fascinating city of Jerusalem and the Middle Eastern region. The students will study Jerusalem in the context of the Middle East and will explore the development of religious beliefs, cultural currents and political conflicts. Too often Americans fall short in their comprehension of this complex region because news clips and sound bites bombard us with simplistic explanations for current conflicts. Few Americans have a nuanced understanding of the history and culture of the region and an appreciation for the three faiths that strive to flourish in this land of upheaval and confrontation. Our attitudes toward the Middle East are often rooted in two dimensional stereotypes rather than reality. Students in the New Jersey Scholars Program will uproot these stereotypes by studying Middle Eastern art/architecture, history/politics, religion and literature. What are the roots of the present conflict? How do the three faiths relate to each other and to that conflict? How do the regions political and cultural currents become distilled at Jerusalem? With attention to detail, complexity and the interrelatedness of our four disciplines, we will answer these questions and develop a rich understanding of Jerusalem and the lands surrounding this ancient axis mundi, or center of the world.

The key to world peace in the 21st century may well depend on a sophisticated understanding of this complex region. The 2005 New Jersey Scholars Program will help build that understanding.

2002 and 2003 Programs:
The Birth of the Modern: The European and American Technological Revolution of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries


The world of 1800 was one that would have been largely recognizable to Julius Caesar. No information moved across land faster than the speed of a good horse, and most people’s knowledge of the world was restricted by the boundaries of their village. Today, our world has changed almost beyond understanding. A person in New Jersey can chat with someone in China while watching a live video feed of the Tour de France; entire communities and industries exist in something called “cyberspace”, and scientists talk seriously about the possibility of “terraforming” Mars into a habitable home for the exploding human population. In short, there is almost no aspect of our lives that has been left unaffected by the remarkable technological revolution of the last two centuries.

What changes in the European and American world caused this incredible technological odyssey to begin?  What have been the social, political and aesthetic consequences of this revolution?  How has it affected our view of the world and our place in it?  This year and next, the New Jersey Scholars Program will explore answers to these questions.

The theme of the course will be transformation, and we will address the ways in which technology has allowed us to transform our world, and the ways in which technology has transformed us.  We will examine these issues through the lenses of History, the History of Science, Art and Architecture, Music, and Literature.  Among other topics, we will examine the changing role of science and scientists, the social and political impact of industrialization, the impact of new materials and new technologies on artistic expression and how literature and the arts have helped us come to terms with our constantly transforming world.

Our world at the beginning of the twenty-first century is a place of possibilities undreamed of at any other point in history.  These possibilities are one result of the remarkable technological evolution of the last two hundred years.  This New Jersey Scholars Program will trace this evolution and examine both its impact on our world, and its meaning for the future.

2000 and 2001 Programs:
The First Millennium: The Mediterranean Middle Ages to the Eve of the Renaissance


What happened after the fall of the Roman Empire, and how did the Renaissance come about? This years New Jersey Scholars Program will explore answers to these questions. The theme will be voyage, literal and metaphysical. The Program will address the restless, sea-faring nature of Western man, and with it the re-emergence of the individual from the comparative anonymity of the Middle Ages. We will investigate philosophical, scientific and theological voyages of the mind. The Program will go far in explaining the uncomfortable union of Aristotelian reason with Christian revelation. Using the disciplines of history, literature, philosophy, science, art and music, we will explore the great events and personages of the Italian and Eastern Mediterranean. Venice, Rome, Florence, Constantinople and Jerusalem will be our “ports of call.”

We will study systems of government, such as the monarchies of Northern Sicily and the republican experiment in Venice. Religion will play center stage, first with the arguments regarding the divinity of the Trinity, then with the Carolingian fusion of the Roman Catholic Church with feudal kings, and finally with the propagandistic campaigns known as the Crusades. We will study the major visual developments, examining paintings, sculpture and architecture from Palermo, Venice, Byzantium and other sites. In literature, we will look at early Dante, the lyricism of Petrarch and Bocaccio, among many others. Finally, we will also investigate the crucial role played by eastern scientific studies in preserving and extending the scientific heritage of the classical world.

This Program will examine how this epoch set the foundations of the modern world. For example, our own political development and thought find their roots in the controversies and struggles during this period. Artistically, the First Millennium explored issues of representation and architectural conventions we still use today. Our present western scientific tradition was radically affected by the classical works that were recovered from the Near East. Literary issues and models pioneered during this period still affect how we think and write about ourselves. As we look forward to the beginning of a new millennium, it is a perfect time to reflect on how the first millennium set the basis of our present world.

1998 and 1999 Programs:
The Western Experience and Asia: The Collision of Cultures


Ever since the European world explorations in the 15th century, Western cultures collided with Asian cultures. On the surface it might appear that the Western powers exerted a complete mastery over Asia, at least until the 20th century. In reality the cultural collision between the West and Asia profoundly affected both regions. The 1998 and 1999 New Jersey Scholars Program will investigate the complex cultural interchange between the West and Asia, studying history, literature, art and architecture, and music. How did the specific historical background of the two regions shape the conflict between them? How did their economies connect or collide with each other? Was the Western incursion a disaster for Asian culture, or was the Western presence more superficial and ephemeral than one might suppose?

1996 and 1997 Programs:
The Idea of Wilderness: 1600 to Today


Wilderness was regarded by these early settlers as a moral and physical wasteland and, to be sure, wilderness recreation was the last thing on John Winthrop’s mind.The settlers built a civilization from the raw materials of this storied continent. In its vastness and wealth, the land became a basic ingredient of American life, inspiring generations of poets, philosophers, politicians and entrepreneurs.Yet as we enter the 21st century, the last remnants of these once seemingly endless stretches of untamed nature are being fiercely defended as sacred ground by environmentalists and appreciated as tranquil vacation spots by millions of others.What brought about this remarkable transformation in the American perception of wilderness?How did the idea of wilderness evolve from earthly hell to peaceful sanctuary?What were the Old World roots of our concepts about wilderness? And did they differ from those of the native peoples who had populated the New World for a millennia?Are today’s claims for wilderness preservation the interest of a privileged elite? Or are there meaningful connections between the environmental movement and other social movements focused on issues of justice and equality?These and other issues will be discussed in an interdisciplinary manner through the lenses of literature, art, science and history. In addition, the nearby New Jersey Pinelands will be one of our “tests,” the location of field work, and will pose the challenges of a real-world case study. We’ll spend two nights there canoeing and camping.The Pinelands represent the largest tract of open space on the Mid-Atlantic coast, and as a consequence, development pressures are heavy.What should be the future of the Pinelands? What, if anything, should be protected?

Even more past topics:

1994 and 1995 Programs:
The Northern Renaissance

1992 and 1993 Programs:
The Twentieth Century

1990 and 1991 Programs:
From Victoria to Lenin

1988 and 1989 Programs:
Romanticism and Revolution

1986 and 1987 Programs:
The Medieval World

1985 Program:
The Middle East

1983 and 1984 Programs:
Russian Studies