Guidelines for Papers and Suggested Paper Topics
HMXP papers are to be
written about YOURSELF in connection with one of our TEXTS.
Okay, gang. I'm providing a link here to some alternative paper topics. They
were written by a committee, not by me, and I do not approve of all of them. You
may use them as long as the following is the case:
- You must write a classical argument. That means that you do more than argue;
you also object and reply.
- Your paper must have a focused topic from personal experience.
- You must use MLA format correctly, which the footnote on page 4 does NOT
do. Note also that citations do not go inside quotation marks.
- You write me a paper proposal describing what you want to do with one of
the suggested topics. If you choose one of them, you will need to develop
and shape it according to the requirements for my section.
- You may not write awful generalizations about "today's society," a
phrase that one of the topics actually uses. I consider it to be meaningless paper jargon.
Here is the link:
Alternative Paper Topics.
I have used red boldface below to mark some topics that
will work particularly well for Paper 1. Do not use an author in more than
one paper; otherwise, you have considerable flexibility. It is perfectly okay to
skip ahead and write about a topic related to an author we have not yet
discussed. There are even some topics here related to authors that we will not
discuss. It is also okay to write later in the course about an author from
earlier in the course.
Before suggesting some possible topics for the first unit,
I want to cover some very important points that apply to all three papers.
- All papers must be submitted in both hardcopy (see
“Format for Papers” ) and electronic copy (turnitin.com). Our class I.D. and
enrollment password appear in the syllabus and at the top of the calendar of
- All papers must have a focused topic, which means a specific
illustration from your personal experience. Papers that are a string of unsupported generalizations will
- All of the papers you write this semester must not only
make reference to one or more of the readings from The Human Experience but also consider both sides of a controversial issue
(argument-objection-reply is the triad to keep in mind). In other
words, all of your papers must be classical arguments; see the linked page on
the classical argument. The common book and the films that we will view
provide appropriate textual connections.
- In your paper, use your focused topic (just one main illustration)
and something from at least one of the readings to critique or interrogate or evaluate
a position/thesis/controversial idea. You should be fairminded (consider
both sides), but you should aim to make a judgment. At the end of your
paper (conclusion section), reflect on how your inquiry illuminates your sense of self, which is
our major concern in HMXP 102. All of these principles for developing your
paper hold for all of the topics below.
- Your thesis should be an idea (you want to argue
that . . . and then fill in the blank with a clause that expresses something
controversial). Your thesis may not be a mere topic (it may not just announce
that you will discuss X focused topic; instead give me an idea about
X). You must also have an "although" clause and a "because" clause in your
thesis. As follows: "Although . . . , I will argue that . . . because. . .
A qualification, then your main point, then a reason/argument that supports
the main point. The although and because clauses are in opposition. All
three parts of the thesis must contain and be about the focused topic.
- You may want to conclude your paper by reflecting on
the self in connection with the context of a particular unit
(for example, two contexts are education and autonomy). As a result of
arguing for a thesis in connection with a focused topic and one or more (con)texts,
what have you learned about the self in general and your self in
- Every paper must have a list of works cited. If you
cite material from The Human Experience, you need to refer to it in the
works cited list as a work in an anthology. If you cite two more more selections from
our anthology, you must use cross-referencing.
- Responding to each part of a topic is essential, but
a successful paper requires much more. The topics below provide ways of getting
started, not directions for assembling a whole paper. Much depends on your
own initiative and exploration. Be sure to do extensive prewriting. Let
me emphasize: The following topics are starting points, not blueprints for
papers. Making the paper uniquely your own will take time and ingenuity.
Regardless of which topic you select, you will need to examine and
evaluate who you are.
Unless you want to read ahead (I whole-heartedly
endorse doing so), your textual connections
are limited early in the course. Plato's "Allegory" is in a sense our "default" text for
the first paper.
Many other topics are possible. If you do not want to
write about any of the topics below, feel free to suggest your own. I would
be happy to discuss it with you. Please get my approval if you want to pursue
a topic not suggested below.
More than likely, any paper that you write about the self
and nature will require that you do some research beyond reading the anthology
pieces and reflecting on your own experience. That is because very few of us
are experts on science. Given the necessity to do research, do not leave your
work until the last minute. That advice goes for all the papers, by the
Under no circumstances should you write about the self as
a generic category or as an abstraction. This course asks you to reflect
on who YOU are. You may not write about "the individual in today's
society," "people," "some people," "most people,"
"other people," me, or this course. The first five are paper jargon; the
last two are inappropriate.
Caveat: It is not appropriate to write a justification
of the existence of God or of biblical inerrancy (especially the literal truth
of the creation story in Genesis). Come see me if you want to talk about
this, but you should absolutely not attempt one of these topics in 5-6 pages.
If you do not understand the assignment after reading
this sheet multiple times, it is your responsibility to seek help.
Plato: Paper 1
- Are you a cave dweller? Have you ever been? Do you know someone who is?
Explain how Plato’s “Allegory” illuminates your situation (or someone else’s)
as regards a specific issue. When is it okay to stay in the cave? (One
student wrote about the desirability church-as-cave following the death of
her father when she was 10.)
- On page 4, Plato alludes to Homer’s
Odyssey, Book 11. Find
the statement that Achilles makes there about life and death. Explain
it in the context of Plato’s “Allegory” and a specific issue. Then
apply both Plato and Homer to some specific issue related to life and/or
death in your experience.
- How do we know what is
a truth and what is
the truth. What
is the difference between truth and Truth? Take an issue that you care about
and discuss it in connection with Plato’s “Allegory.” In affirming one
position over another, are you espousing truth or Truth? How can you be sure
that what you consider to be true is not just your own opinion? Does it
matter? What is the role of context and point of view? Be sure to illustrate your issue with a concrete personal experience.
- Plato's "Apology" is about civil (dis)obedience. If you have ever experienced
anything analogous (e.g., you broke a law that you consider wrong and suffered the consequences), you might have a good focused topic for
a paper in connection with Plato. Nice connections are possible to
Thoreau's Civil Disobedience, by the way.
- Alternatively, Socrates speaks in the "Apology" of an inner
voice (guidance, intuition) that has helped him since an early age. If you
have ever had a psychic experience (a prophetic or revelatory dream, a
precognitive insight, an
intuitive flash, a near-death experience, an astral projection, etc.), you
could make an excellent connection to the "Apology."
- Similarly, as we will reveal in our discussion, Plato believes in
reincarnation. Do you? Why or why not?
(click the blue link)
This topic could be a very nice alternative to a
Plato paper for the first assignment. MBTI is a personality test that you can print out and take on your own. Once
you have established your four-letter personality type, look up a description on
the internet. For example, your professor is ISTJ, so he would type "ISTJ" into
a Google search. You can write a great paper that uses this description as your
textual connection (background 1) and then, in the argument/objection/reply
sections evaluates your personality's role in
something that happened to you (focused topic). Good connections may also be made to Plato's
text. How is your personality keeping you in the cave, as it were? In what
sense do you need, as it were, to walk away from Omelas? How does knowing your
personality type improve your self-understanding? Note: It is okay for the MBTI
to be your sole textual connection.
- LeGuin's "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas"
(which we will discuss later in the semester) is a version of "The
Allegory of the Cave," but it adds various psychological themes: the
unconscious, the shadow, the role of scapegoats, fertility ritual, guilt, the transition from
innocence to experience, happiness, individuation, etc. The story also has
sex, drugs, and alcohol! In what way are YOU like (or unlike) those who
walk away from Omelas or those who stay behind or the child in the basement?
What does walking away from Omelas represent? Which is better--staying put
or walking away from Omelas? And why do you think so?
- [Regarding a previous year's common book: You can also relate the story to other things that we are reading,
particularly Timmerman's Where Am I Wearing?. The idyllic situation
in Omelas, says the narrator, depends on "the existence of the child" (par.
17). In the same way, doesn't our having nice inexpensive clothes require
that children work in sweatshops in third-world countries? How can we be
rich if we do not make somebody poor? LeGuin's story gets at this
difficulty. We live in a binary, predatorial universe. What do you think?]
Walls: Paper 1:
2015-2016 Common Book (these topics appear, in more readable format, at the end
of the Walls PowerPoint).
Values: In her interview at Point Loma Nazarine
University (available on Youtube.com), Jeannette (mis?)quotes Oscar Wilde as
stating, “A necessity is a luxury once sampled.” Another version of the
is “A luxury once tasted becomes a necessity.” (The
Internet assigns the statement and others like it to various people, so who
knows who originally said it?) Her point is that we think that we cannot survive
without things we have grown accustomed to. Did reading
The Glass Castle help
you see any of your values in a different light? Is anything that you always
considered a necessity really a luxury? Here is a great opportunity to make a
connection to Brian Swimme’s piece on consumerism. (For “values” see TGC,
Science vs. religion: Jeannette makes
statements about science and religion on pages 104-05 and 261. Can you embrace
religious faith AND reason/science? Of course, science and religion start from
very different assumptions, which are mutually exclusive, or
are they? Using
connections to Jeannette’s book and a narrowly focused experience of your own,
explain where you stand on a spectrum ranging from science’s materialism to
religion’s emphasis on things not seen. Where does the author stand vis-à-vis
science and religion?
City life vs. wilderness: Rex Walls, for all his problems, loved
nature. “‘These cities will kill you,’ he said” (34). Later, Jeannette writes a
paragraph that begins, “Dad missed the wilderness,” in which she develops her
father’s biophelia (106; see also the top paragraph on 185). Later, of course,
working in “untamed country” in upstate New York seems to do him some good
versus the temptations of NYC (262). On the other hand, one might argue that a
couple of days in the desert would be more likely to kill you than life in the
city. Using an example from your own experience, engage with Rex’s view and its
opposite in order to inquire into your own environmental ethic. Will cities
really kill you? If so, in what sense?
vs. benefit: To a large
extent, The Glass Castle
is a book about growing up while “living in a state of
neglect” (193). Yet Jeannette suggests that a hardship that one considers a
curse may become a blessing in later life. As her mother says, “‘What doesn’t
kill you makes you stronger’” (179). Believe it or not, Jeannette even states in
her Point Loma Nazarine interview that her parents gave her “incredible gifts.”
In the same interview, she mentions a specific example, how her father pimped
her out in a bar. She calls it “the worst experience of my life . . . but also
the best experience of my life.” What is the worst experience in
your life? Is there
something in your own life that seemed like a curse at the time but is in
retrospect a blessing? How might a Wallsian approach shed a positive light on a
dark moment in your life?
perpetrator: When Jeanette is sexually assaulted by
Uncle Stanley, her mother tells her “that sexual assault was a crime of
perception” and that her uncle was “‘so lonely’” (184). Think about a time when
someone harmed you in some way. Then think compassionately about why s/he might
have done that. For example, maybe you were bullied, as Jeannette was by Dinitia
Hewitt. Does Jeannette’s awareness to the ills in Dinitia’s life have a
corresponding realization about your own antagonist?
Pride: This concept, which
Christians consider a “deadly sin,” is a major theme in TGC. See the
earlier slide that lists all the page numbers where pride rears its head. In
that context, consider how your own pride may (or may not) have been a problem
for you in a specific situation. For example, have you ever resisted authority
just for the heck of it?
Gross: No longer in the anthology
- "Hindu Female Deities" gives you an opportunity to reflect on the
patriarchal nature of the Christian faith as you may have experienced it.
Identify some aspect of your Christian practice--perhaps, in the spirit of
L&J, some of the metaphorical or imagistic language frequently used in your
church--and try to raise your awareness of assumptions and context. In other
words, in what respect is your faith or religious practice an extension of
culture rather than a reflection of transcendent truth? This topic ties in
nicely with the theme of leaving the cave and illustrates one of this
course's fundamental points: knowledge is a construct.
Lakoff and Johnson
- How would these authors read Plato’s “Allegory”? Does their approach
suggest a way of critiquing him—of finding him guilty of the thing that he
criticizes? If Plato had not been so eager to advocate the role of the
philosopher, might he have been less critical of those who do not espouse a
philosophical approach to human experience? Is there actually a positive way
of viewing the cave dwellers? Or in Emerson’s terms, does the metaphor you
use to describe your life enable or prevent self-reliance?
- The authors discuss argument as war. Come up with a similar metaphor
relevant to your own life,
discuss it, and evaluate it. You might then make a connection to Plato: Does
your metaphor obscure the truth or liberate you from mental darkness, and how
do you know that it does one or the other?
- You are taking this course during the lead-up to the
2016 presidential primary season. What
metaphors do you find in the media's reports of the primaries? What are
the strengths and weaknesses of viewing politics, say, as war? How does
political metaphor relate to YOU?
Morrow and Tyson: No longer in the anthology
- The authors are writing against the black-and-white thinking that
pervades literalist Christian interpretation of the Bible. In other words,
they oppose the binary of heterosexual (good) and LGBT (bad). They
oppose heterosexism on two basic grounds: 1) if one cherry picks the
scriptures, then a literal interpretation of culturally bound statements on
homosexuality is illogical and heterosexist; and 2) normal sexuality is a
continuum that includes orientations other than heterosexuality. For some of
you, reading Morrow and Tyson's argument must have been a bit like getting
dragged out of Plato's cave or seeing the scapegoat in LeGuin's cellar. How
did you react to the message that heterosexuality is not the only normal
sexual orientation and their implication that your Bible-based condemnation
of homosexuality (or of any position other than heterosexuality) is
intellectually suspicious? Are you going to stay in the cave, or will you do
some version of walking away from Omelas?
Nussbaum and Bandura: Bandura is no longer in the
- Nussbaum's text nicely articulates a rationale for becoming the kind of
"cosmopolitan" that Winthrop's Global Learning Initiative seeks to create;
however, it is possible that you can experience what Bandura calls
"disengagement in the exercise of moral agency." So here is the question:
are you a cosmopolitan with active moral agency (what Kelsey Timmerman calls
a "glocal" who thinks globally and acts locally), are you a provincial
thinker who really does not care about anyone beyond your immediate sphere,
or are you somewhere in between these extremes?
Using a focused topic, argue for your location on a continuum that ranges
from a cosmopolitan/glocal point of view to provincial disengagement.
- Mill uses words like “doctrine,” “creed,” and “dogma,” which are
essentially what Emerson calls “the dear old doctrines of the church.” Take
one such idea, discuss your position on it, and then evaluate your adherence
to it. In taking the position you do, are you a cave dweller? Are you
- The author mentions “sophism” on page 36 ("The gravest
of them is, to argue sophistically, to suppress facts or arguments, to
misstate the elements of the case, or misrepresent the opposite opinion").
Figure out what this term means. Then discuss an example of it from
contemporary America or from your personal experience. Do you think that your
example of sophism is as bad as our authors suggest? Does it make you a cave
dweller? Does it make you self-reliant? Does it have anything to do with
metaphor? Plato disapproved of the sophists too, by the way, and it would be
very helpful to make a connection to what he says about them.
- Mill's point, of course, is that free thought and
expression are good things, but can you think of a case in which censorship
can be beneficial and/or justifiable? This is a tricky topic because the
temptation will be to generalize. Be sure that you start with a narrowly
focused topic; otherwise, your paper will go awry.
- If you found “Self-Reliance” to be hard to read, that is because it is
aphoristic: each sentence is a kernel of meaning that can stand alone. Go
http://transcendentalists.com/self_reliance_analysis.htm and have a look
at the sentences that are listed there (or find an interesting sentence or
passage of your own). Then write a paper in which you discuss a focused topic
in order to support or challenge something that Emerson asserts.
- Various other approaches to “Self-Reliance” are also possible. Have a
look at the questions that appear on the website mentioned in #9 and use one
of them as the foundation for a paper.
- It may be appropriate to discuss “Self-Reliance” in connection with
liberal and conservative politics. Lakoff writes about liberal vs.
conservative in “Metaphor, Morality, and Politics, Or, Why Conservatives Have
Left Liberals In the Dust” (available at
http://www.wwcd.org/issues/Lakoff.html). How does an understanding of
metaphor suggest an evaluation of your liberal or conservative stance on a
particular political issue (one that you can illustrate with a specific
example, of course? Are you really as politically “self-reliant” (in the
Emersonian sense) as you thought when you started addressing this topic?
- Many of you have gone on trips with your families, church groups, or high
school classes. Emerson says, "Traveling is a fool's paradise."
Based on your experience as a traveler, argue for or against his statement.
This is one of the best topics on the whole list.
- Here is material from bartleby.com:
Man the Reformer. III. Essays.
A Lecture Read before the Mechanics Apprentices' Library Association,
Boston, January 25, 1841. Emerson, Ralph Waldo. 1909-14. Essays and English
Traits. The Harvard Classics
" . . . youth who is still under the dominion of his own wild thoughts, and not
yet harnessed in the team of society to drag with us all in the ruts
of custom, I see at once...."
Emerson, of course, is not talking about sports teams, but his use of the
word "team" CAN be related to your own experience on a team in high school
or in college. How does the experience of teamwork relate to
Emersonian self-reliance, and how (paradoxically) can teamwork on the court
or playing field lead to self-reliance when you are on your own apart from
This is a film that you will have to watch on your
own; there are clips on Youtube.com.
- Write a paper about an experiment that you conduct on the power of
attraction (i.e., the so-called "secret"). Select something that you
would like to have--not a house or a million dollars but something modest.
For example, one of the speakers in the film says, "Make it your
intention to attract a cup of coffee today." One of my former students selected more time with her son as
the thing that she wanted to attract; Winthrop then had a snow day. Another
student set out to attract his next girlfriend; he then met her at a party. In my own case, the secret worked
with a chicken sandwich. I was getting dressed after a swim at the old
gym and thought, "I'd really like to eat some chicken today." Within
half an hour, someone brought me a chicken sandwich from Dinkins--a person who
in all the years that I have known her brought me food only that one time.
As these examples suggest, it is important to pick something that can actually
come to you within the time frame of this paper assignment. Unite desire
with imagination. Feel gratitude for the object of your desire as if you
are already in possession of it. Release to the universe an image of
having the thing that you desire. But do not emphasize WANT: Do
not say, "I want a cup of coffee."
desire, but also means
and the universe is likely to give you more lack if you say "want." Instead, as the
movie suggests, say, "I am so happy and grateful now that...." After you have
set the wheels of attraction in motion, sit back, wait, and see what happens.
Write a paper about the success or failure of your experiment. Why did
it work or not work? What other explanations might be ventured?
What have you learned about your self in the process? Of course, some
of you are saying, "It's not biblical!" Oh really? See Paul's comment in
Philippians 4:6. See also Mark 11:24. When he says that we should pray "with thanksgiving," he
means that we should think about what we want as though we had it already,
as though it were a present fact in our lives. That is the law of attraction
in a nutshell.
- Possible topics related to David G. Myers’s “Ingroup and
Outgroup”: If you choose to connect your paper to Myers’s interesting
selection, try to locate a focused topic in connection with one of his key
words and phrases. These include bias, favoritism, self-serving bias, ethnic
pride, conformity, prejudice, fraternity, sorority, race, religion,
conformity, nonconformity, norms, stereotypes, white pride, black pride, male
superiority, and feminist consciousness.
- Here are some questions that Myers asks: "Is
ethnic pride conducive to prejudice? Does women's solidarity with other
women stimulate them to dislike men? Does enthusiastic loyalty to a
particular fraternity or sorority lead its members to deprecate independents
and members of other fraternities and sororities?" (62). A focus within
one of these questions would be enough material for a whole paper.
- Myers writes: "In short, it appears that people's
attitudes are formed partly as mirrored images of surrounding attitudes, be
those attitudes of 'White pride,' 'Black pride,' 'male superiority,' or
'feminist consciousness'" (63). A focus within one of these areas would
be enough material for a whole paper.
Although it is written much differently than Myers’s selection, W. E. B. DuBois’s
The Souls of Black Folk may be considered an illustration of
what it feels like to be a member of an “outgroup.” Once again, you need to
evaluate an idea/thesis related to a focused topic in connection with the
reading. Here are some suggestions to get you started. Remember that I am once
again suggesting areas of inquiry, not ready-to-write-about focused topics; put some
major effort into focusing and prewriting.
- DuBois says, “The shades of the prison-house closed
round about us all” on page 65. This statement alludes to William
Wordsworth’s poem “Ode: Intimations on Immortality,” line 67. Place the
“prison-house” metaphor in its original context (i.e., go read the poem and
figure out what WW is saying). Is he saying the same thing that DuBois is saying?
How can you apply the writers’ opinions/situations to your own experience or
someone else’s? Have the shades of the prison house closed around you too? Why
or why not?
- Here is DuBois again: “the Negro is a sort of seventh
son, born with a veil, and gifted with second-sight in this American world,--a
world which yields him no true self-consciousness, but only lets him see
himself through the revelation of the other world.” He calls this phenomenon
“double-consciousness” (65). On the same page, DuBois adds that “the doors of
Opportunity closed roughly in his [the black man’s] face.” He is suggesting
that African Americans’ state of socio-economic disadvantage is imposed on
them by persons who unjustly subjugate them. On the other hand, The Souls
of Black Folk also contains statements suggesting that African Americans
are at least partly responsible for their own situation. What is your own
view of what DuBois calls “Negroes’ social responsibilities” (68)? Be sure to
illustrate your paper with a focused topic and to consider both sides of the
issue that you construct.
- Write a paper about what DuBois calls the “innate love
of harmony and beauty” and “the soul-beauty of a race” (66). What does this
mean? How can you illustrate it? Do African Americans have a “soul-beauty”
that is exclusive to them? Have they merely developed a faculty that lies
latent in other races? Or are these the wrong questions to ask? (I once
had a very good paper on this topic that used hymns as a focus.)
- DuBois’s phrase “wooing false gods” is highly
provocative (66). What kind of false god or gods might he be talking about? How
does your own experience (or someone else’s) illustrate such falseness?
Almost nothing is only true or only false (or wholly good or wholly bad);
therefore, it will be essential to examine the plusses and minuses of your
focused topic. The paper you write in response to DuBois's phrase may well
make a connection to race, but it does not have to (there are plenty of false
idols to go around). You do not have to be African American to write about
Loury and McIntosh
- You could write a paper in connection with Loury's phrase "racial
authenticity" (71) or about related phrases--"one's genuine self" (72) and
"mythic authentic blackness" (73). Does a focused topic illustrate one
of these phrases or not?
- Loury writes on 73: "Who am I, then? Foremost, I am a child of
God, created in his image, imbued with his spirit, endowed with his gifts, set
free by his grace." You could write a paper in which you take this apart
and agree or disagree.
- If you have ever encountered a conflict like Loury's betrayal of Woody,
you could write a paper about it: was it right or wrong given the
- Loury and McIntosh agree that "racial identity in America is inherently a
social and cultural, not simply a biological construct" (Loury 70).
Using an example from your experience (or from the experience of some whom you
know) and argue for or against this idea.
- The following authors fall into this category: McIntosh, Gilligan (from
a former edition of the book),
Sojourner Truth, bell hooks, and the unidentified authors of "Declaration of
Sentiments" (from a previous edition). But of course "feminism" is defined in various ways (see hooks's selection). Using a specific example, talk about your preferred
orientation toward feminism. Are you against all sexism wherever it may lie?
How does your position relate to age, class, and race? Are you a woman who
hates men? Are you a man who hates women? If you are a man, are you a
feminist, a misogynist, or a little of both?
No longer in the anthology (but the blue link is to the text)
Just as the African American students in our class may find DuBois especially
provocative, the women may gravitate to Carol Gilligan’s
In a Different Voice,
but you do not have to be black or female to write about either of these
selections. Nonetheless, the female students may want to think about issues in
their lives from Gilligan’s feminist perspective. Here are some suggestions:
- She writes about a study that related “the view of self
and thinking about morality to experiences of moral conflict and the making of
life choices” (84). This is a powerful nexus of ideas. What sort of personal
experience illustrates it? (She goes on to mention abortion, but please
realize that your professor is weary of abortion papers.)
- She mentions “the differences between the sexes” on page
85. It would be impossible to catalog all such differences, but you could
write a good paper about one difference that stands out in your experience.
Be sure to make reference to some of Gilligan’s statements on gender
- A whole paper could be written to illustrate or
challenge or qualify this statement on page 87: “Since masculinity is defined
through separation while femininity is defined through attachment, male gender
identity is threatened by intimacy while female gender identity is threatened
by separation. Thus males tend to have difficulty with relationships, while
females tend to have problems with individuation.”
- There is a paper to be written about “children’s games”
and the “sex differences in the games that children play” (87). Gilligan
argues that boys are to rules and girls are to feelings and relationships.
Does your own experience (or someone else’s) illustrate or qualify her point?
- Competition (see page 88) opens up many fruitful topics,
particularly for those of you who are on an athletic team.
- Evaluate this interesting statement: “While for men,
identity precedes intimacy and generativity in the optimal cycle of human
separation and attachment, for women these tasks seem instead to be fused.
Intimacy goes along with identity, as the female comes to know herself as she
is known, through her relationships with others” (89).
- Competition (see page 88) opens up many interesting
topics, particularly for those of you who are on an athletic team.
- Write a paper about what Gilligan calls “fear success”
in connection with a competitive activity (90).
- On 91-92 the author discusses “masculine values,”
“moral concern,” “moral weakness,” “moral strength,” and women’s roles. She
states that “morality is conceived in interpersonal terms and goodness is
equated with helping and pleasing others.” Do you agree? How might you
illustrate your position? What is your own position on women’s roles and on
your particular role as a woman? Be sure to focus on an example of one role.
- On page 93 Gilligan quotes someone who asks, “What
does morality mean to you?” You cannot write about all of morality;
however, one moral strand, if properly illustrated and critiqued, should yield
a good paper.
- Critique the statement on page 101 “that narcissism
leads to death.”
No longer in the anthology (but the blue link is to the text)
Mary Field Belenky’s “Silence” offers numerous other possible directions for
interesting papers. It is no longer in the anthology, but I can provide a
copy if you want to write about it. Consider the following:
- “Words were perceived as weapons” (98).
- “The inability of the silent women to find meaning in
the words of others is reflected also in their relations with authorities”
- If you have ever said that something is against your
religion, this is your opportunity to look into the reasons why (or why not)
in connection with page 100.
- Write a paper about a sex-role stereotype.
- “…play itself is a precursor to symbolization and
meaning-making. Play provides children with their first experiences in
creating metaphors” (103).
- If you think that any of these authors--DuBois,
Gilligan, or Belenky--is out of date, write a paper in which you use a
personal experience (or the experience of someone whom you know well) to argue
Hemingway, "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber":
No longer in the anthology (but the blue link is to the text);
The story provides insight into numerous issues:
hypocrisy, fear/courage, dysfunctional relationships, animals/hunting, manly
activity, “bitchery,” and perhaps others. Pick one of these themes and write
a paper that brings together material from the story and something from
personal experience. Remember that your paper, like all your papers, must be
argumentative—it must argue for a thesis but then consider reasons why you
might be wrong.
Take an ad and explicate it with respect to the idea of
dissatisfaction/craving and your own sense of these things. What is the
“philosophy” behind your ad? If you select an ad from a magazine, make sure
that you include it with your paper. If you use a TV commercial, you must at
least provide a detailed description of the ad; a video copy of it would be
Swimme writes of initiation into the world of consumerism
and calls consumerism a “cosmology.” Do you agree? What’s your own
cosmology? Is it true that there is little or no “authentic spiritual
development” these days? Is your consumerist cosmology of what Tillich
calls "ultimate concern"? Are you guilty of idolatry in your emphasis on
Who represents consumerism on a scale equal to that of
Martin Luther King, Jesus, and others? Identify and write an evaluative essay on
such a person.
You can make a great connection to Guha's
Environmentalism: A Global History, par. 16 (the last 10 lines of the
par.). Consumerism has global environmental implications. Guha's statement
is astounding (and damning). Think about your comfortable lifestyle--your
car, the utilities in your home, your air travel, etc. Your lifestyle--our
lifestyle--is built on the backs of people like those Timmerman writes
about. If you are going to be a global citizen--Timmerman's "glocal"--what
things will have to change in your lifestyle? Select one aspect of the way
you live and evaluate it.
Sometimes you just have to have the next version of the
iPod (or whatever). Write a paper that evaluates this need.
Can your work experience or that of someone else whom
you know be characterized as slavery or as alienation?
Write in Marxist terms about your collision with another
“The bourgeoisie has torn away from the family its
sentimental veil, and has reduced the family relation to a mere money
relation” (116). Agree or disagree in connection with a focused topic.
Do we have “royalty” in this country? Why do we who work
hard for low wages tolerate people who make $1 million for a thirty-minute TV
show or more than ten times that much for a movie? Why do humans not only
tolerate but need to elevate a small segment of our population?
Marx writes, "The more people place in God, the less they
retain in themselves." Do you agree or disagree--and why? You
will need to account for his scattered statements about religion if you
choose this topic.
Establish what Marx means by “bourgeoisie.” Then
evaluate this statement: “Its fall and the victory of the proletariat are
equally inevitable” (121). Of course, he was wrong. Work with a focused
topic to try to explain why.
“Social scum”: If you are familiar with such people in
your home town, write a paper about how they relate to or illustrate (or not)
Marx’s ideas. (Walls's family could be considered in this category. You
might make some nice connections to TGC.)
Friedman and Marx are diametrically opposed: whereas Marx
believes that the free market enslaves and alienates, Friedman thinks that
it is the rising tide that floats all boats. Using an experience that you
have had with capitalism or one of its subcategories (e.g., a job), argue that one or the other is more correct in your case.
In the process, you may want to refer to "The Universal Declaration of Human
Menkiti: No longer in the anthology
The following homology sums up the author’s main point: in
terms of personhood, African society privileges community over the individual,
whereas Western society privileges the individual over community. That is
a straightforward point, but the article raises many issues that you might write
- What are some images “of the lone individual” in our culture?
- Menkiti asserts that “language and its associated social rules” foster a
sense of community in traditional African society. Cannot the same be said of
our culture as well?
He also attributes “a long process of social and ritual
transformation” to African culture as if we lack identity-related rituals in
our own culture. These “rituals of incorporation,” he says, involve “the
overarching necessity of learning the social rules by which the community
lives.” These include “those of initiation at puberty time.” Again, he is
writing about traditional African society, but we too develop in our knowledge
of social rules through ritualistic activities, do we not? How might identity
formation in America be “processual” and/or ritualistic?
Menkiti associates “personhood” with “ethical maturity.”
Echoing other thinkers he states that “the transgression of accepted moral
rules gives rise not just to a feeling of guilt but to a feeling of shame—."
There is an important nexus of concepts here—transgression, moral rules,
guilt, shame—about which you could write a fine essay.
Menkiti brings up the issue of animal rights and states
that “the domain of animals is bound to undermine, sooner or later, the
clearness of our conception of what it means to be a person.” Do you agree or
disagree? (Please bear in mind, however, that this is not the time or place
to write the standard freshman paper on things like chicken farms or the
testing of substances on house pets or vivisection.)
Of course, the article raises the issue of freedom. If
one’s identity/personhood depends on connections to community, can one be free
nonetheless? On the other hand, is it possible to be an isolato and still be
constrained? In your opinion, what is the essence of freedom? Does it really
have to do with being a part of a community (or not)?
Find out more about Existentialist Philosophy and try it
on for size. Does it fit? Why or why not?
Does the African American community emphasize community
over individual or the reverse? In other words, does the development of
personhood echo Western culture or African culture?
Kamkwamba: A former common book
Pages 99-100 mention family traditions: “In our culture,
family life follows many rules that have been passed down by our ancestors”
(99). What rules have been passed down in YOUR family? To what extent are you
tradition’s pawn? Obviously you would need to focus on just one tradition and go
William basically uses what we call the Law of Attraction,
which is the subject of a book and a film called
The Secret. My list of paper
assignments includes an excellent experience-based topic related to using the
LOA. This topic goes hand-in-hand with the sense of conviction about something
that others considered crazy or something that they considered garbage. See
188-90. What do you make of humans’ basic conservatism (their resistance to any
kind of change) versus William’s (and your own) use of desire, imagination, and
gratitude to achieve your goal? Here are some statements that relate to the LOA
to help you get started:
73: “‘When you go to see
the lake, you also see the hippos.’”
269: “‘I try, and I made
275: “‘Whatever you want
to do, if you do it with all your heart, it will happen.’” Moral of the
280: “I went to sleep
dreaming of Malawi, and all the things made possible when your dreams are
powered by your heart.”
8 in the back matter:
“‘Trust yourself and believe,’ I told them. ‘And whatever happens, don’t
What is the role of the feminine in William’s book?
Consider talk about girls (64), mention of prostitutes in bars (34), PDA (26),
breast milk image (59), the fact that daughters never eat with the father or son
with the mother (99), and the issue of pregnancy and the body (100-01). What do
you make of the relative dearth of information about women in the book, and how
does that intersect with your own human experience?
Have you ever believed strongly in something that others
thought was crazy? If so, you could possibly get a nice paper out of it in
connection with William’s similar situation.
Has a book ever had an impact on you like the impact
science books had on William? Here too there are possibilities for excellent
Bellah, "Community Properly Understood: A Defense of
No longer in the
anthology (but the blue link is to the text)
Evaluate Bellah's idea that groups need not only "a
contractual association" but also "common values." Write about one element of
your own value system in connection with a group of people who share your view
Bellah is critical of "'ontological individualism'--the
belief that the truth of our condition is not in our society or in our
relations to others, but in our isolated and inviolable selves." Of course,
he is describing Emerson's position. Whose view do you favor?
Bellah mentions "conservative and liberal, Republican and
Democrat." Which are you? Why are you one or the other as regards a specific
value or issue?
Bellah, "Why Do We Need a Public Affairs Mission?--The
Moral Crisis in American Public Life"
Bellah argues (along with Lincoln) that "true freedom is
the freedom only to do that which is good, just and honest" rather than "the
freedom to do anything they [people] want." Which view do you espouse in your
own life? Argue that one view is right or stake out your own definition.
Building in Menkiti's views on freedom would also help.
Bellah's statements about "the overclass" and "the
underclass" and about workers' loss of economic ground relate not only to
Marx's distinction between bourgeoisie and proletariat but also to John
Edwards's campaign speeches about "the two Americas." Do you think that there
is truth to such distinctions in present-day America? Careful now: Do not
forget the need to have a focused topic in your paper.
Pinker ("My Genome") and Ridley ("Human Nature"):
Pinker is no longer in the anthology.
- Both Pinker and Ridley take stands on the age-old controversy that is
summed up by "nature vs. nurture." Using something that you enjoy doing
(e.g., one student wrote about playing softball), argue that your interest
falls in a particular spot on the nature-nurture continuum.
- Eiseley does not know exactly what causes the transition from inert matter
to living matter, but he sees a whisper of it in the fact that "a sunning
backsnake" is "like the very simulacrum" (my italics) of the metaphor
("the egg of night") that he uses to describe the secret. This lack of
clarity leads him to suggest in his final sentence that there is some kind of transcendent
mystery behind nature. What I want you to think about is the
possibility that there is divinity in nature. Have you ever heard
someone say, "Nature is my cathedral," or "All I need is God in nature"? Do
you agree or disagree with this kind of thinking? Why or why not? Make an
argument. Do not just rehearse your preconceptions; really give the
opposition its due this time. What if you are wrong? Be sure to
discuss a focused topic--not all of nature in general but perhaps some
specific person or experience.
- In paragraph seven, Eiseley discusses myth in a way that may or may not
connect with Quinn's use of the term (you should make your own case for
connection or disconnection). He mentions two specific types of
myth--theological and scientific--but we deal with many other categories of
myth every day, do we not? Pick one and evaluate it. Does it work for you?
Why or why not? And if not, what should you do about that? If your myth now
lies in ruins, what are you going to do about it?
Sandel: No longer in the anthology
- The author discusses what we call "designer babies." I do not want you
to write an awful generic regurgitation of commonly held maxims on this
subject; however, you could get a very good paper out of considering the
opposite of what Sandel is talking about. He is writing about using
technology to enhance the genome; you could write about using technology to
avoid unacceptable genetic deficiencies. Here is an example of the kind of
personal experience that would work as a focused topic. One of my students,
who started out as prolife, spent the summer shadowing her mother, a nurse,
at a home for persons with a specific type of retardation. After realizing
that abortion based on prenatal screening is justifiable in such cases
because it could prevent a lifetime of institutionalization and suffering,
the student embraced a qualified version of the prochoice position. There
are, of course, ways to object to her conclusion; but you get the idea:
focusing your topic is key.
Sovacool and Brown: No longer in the anthology
- These authors suggest that our attitude toward the use of energy depends
to a large degree upon the myths we tell ourselves about it. They state that
"investigating energy myths pushes otherwise invisible elements of our
culture to the foreground" (par. 10). Using one such
myth (or a tight nexus of myths) as your focused topic, analyze your own
position as regards the energy issue. In other words, do what the authors
call "demystification" (par. 8). (Note that par. 5 provides an excellent
example of myth: "Paul Bunyan and Babe the Big Blue Ox.")
Wilson: No longer rin the anthology
(no longer in the book; the chapter is from the book
Future of Life, which is on reserve for CRTW 201 in the library)
- Human beings are "the planetary killer" mentioned in the
human actions are responsible for the high rate at which species are going
extinct. Write a paper in which you discuss the situation of one endangered
species (or of one extinct species). Ultimately, this topic invites you to think
about who you are as a co-participant with other living things in the natural
world. Does your attitude toward the species you choose to write about
reflect your overall relationship to the natural world? Do you even care?
Why or why not? Do you agree with the position that economic development and
environmental preservation are mutually exclusive (think, for example, about
the spotted owl)? In other words, do not forget the fact that YOUR OWN
biophilia/biophobic attitude is the main event that you will use the species
(focused topic) to understand better.
- Quinn's story points out that evolution is a "myth" because the way we
tell the story of evolution focuses on human beings and ignores other forms of
life. The way the character Ishmael (a gorilla) uses the term "myth" is
problematic in some ways, but let me be clear about the way in which evolution
is a problematic topic for a HMXP paper. Some of you will be tempted to assert
(a) that the Bible (a nonscientific source) overrules the science of evolution
or (b) that evolution is "just a theory." The former (a) is a false use of
authority (I did not say just that the Bible is a "false authority"; I
mean that using it to disprove science is jarringly illogical; the Bible
conveys truth but not always fact). The latter
(b) reflects a misunderstanding of definition: a "theory" is an idea that has
received scientific support; you mean "hypothesis" (an idea that has not yet
been proven and needs to be subjected to the scientific method). However, you
can write an excellent paper if your time at Winthrop, especially your
exposure to biological science, has led you to shift paradigms from creation
to evolution. Our course's four main questions--what do I believe, why do I
believe it, and what if I'm wrong, and what can I learn about myself by
thinking through an issue like this?--are very relevant here. I will not allow
you to write a Bible-based paper that argues for the falsity of evolution
(such an argument is a fallacy; therefore, it is inappropriate in college
writing; in fact, it is as inappropriate as any other false use of authority
across disciplinary boundaries), but a science-based paper that argues for the
falsity of the biblical creation accounts (there are two, remember?) could
work very nicely. In other words, in the spirit of Winter and Tillich,
you can explore that story not as natural history but as an allegory of some
truth about human nature. If you write about evolution, though, you should read the
selections by Winter, Ridley, and Morrow and Tyson in your anthology. Finally, you may not write a
paper about the paragraph that you are now reading or about me, Dr. Fike. The
course is about who you are; analyze yourself. If you are ticked off
that I will not accept an anti-evolution, pro-creationism, pro-intelligent
design paper that just recapitulates your preconceptions, pick another topic.
Bodian: No longer in the anthology
- A paper related to the interview with Arne Naess would also require some
research. Naess asks, "Why do we think that economic growth and high levels
of consumption are so important?" He is critiquing the widespread idea that
promoting the environment and safeguarding the economy are not complementary
imperatives--i.e., you cannot have both a healthy economy and a clean
environment. Using a focus on one specific thing on which you have done some
research, take a stand that this dichotomy is true or false.
- Another sort of paper is possible here, one that might connect to Wilson's
text. Are you a proponent of "deep ecology"? Do you favor "shallow
ecology"? Do you fall somewhere in between these extremes? Why? Bringing in
information about Rachel Carson (also mentioned in Swimme's text) could
enhance a paper on deep ecology.
edition, 2011): No longer in the anthology, but the blue link is to the text.
- The author presents a couple of helpful terms to enhance your discussion
of your orientation toward nature: biophilia and biophobia. He argues that
Native American culture had the right orientation toward the land. What does
he mean by this? Do you agree or disagree? How do you know?
- At the same time, he seems critical of genetic engineering and
nanotechnology. He mentions problems like ozone depletion and global
warming. What do you think about just one of these issues? Are you an
activist? Do you not care at all? Or are you a "free rider"? And why
is that? Like some of the topics above, responding to Orr will require some
Other Topics on Nature
- You could begin with an important experience you have had with nature and
then relate it to one of the anthology pieces. The trick here is to be
evaluative, for otherwise how can you be argumentative? You could also begin
with an environmental issue that you really care about and relate it to one of
the texts in the anthology. In the latter case, you might make connections to
the selections by Sovacool & Brown and Guha.
- Lewis asserts that one's "natural self" must
become a "new self." He believes that one's commitment to Christ must be
total if one is to overcome the despair that results from realizing the
weakness of human will power. Then he makes the following statement about trying to have it both ways: "For what we
are trying to do is to remain what we call 'ourselves', to keep personal
happiness as our great aim in life, and yet at the same time be 'good'. We
are all trying to let our mind and heart go their own way--centred on money or
pleasure or ambition--and hoping, in spite of this, to behave honestly and
chastely and humbly. And this is exactly what Christ warned us you could not
do. As He said, a thistle cannot produce figs." Lewis is getting at the
difficulty of living a spiritual life in a material(istic) world--a conflict that
manifests in everyone's life to one extent or another. Take your own
situation (or that of someone you know well) and examine it in the terms Lewis
provides. In turn, evaluate his position. As you prepare to write your
paper, consider questions like the following: Is it possible to be a
"Christian businessman"? Is it really necessary to be in the world but not of
it, and what does this distinction mean anyway? What would Jesus do?
Elsewhere Lewis says, "Aim at heaven and you get earth thrown in. Aim at earth
and you get neither." Do you agree or disagree--and why?
- The selection "Religious Diversity" by Peterson et al. can provide a way
of understanding Lewis's position on Christianity and of exploring your own.
Peterson and his coauthors describe and critique three categories:
exclusivism, pluralism, and inclusivism. Which category is Lewis in? Which
are you in, why do you think so, and is that a good thing?
- In "What Faith Is" Tillich defines "idolatry" as faith in which "finite realities are
elevated to the rank of ultimacy." If you have done this in your life, the
object of your idolatrous faith could be a good focus for a paper in which you
evaluate your passion for it and, in turn, Tillich's sense that idolatry leads
to "existential disappointment." Does your experience with putting ultimate
faith in unworthy objects illustrate or qualify his assertions?
- In his piece called "Dynamics of Faith: Symbols of Faith"
(from The Dynamics of Faith, available in the library), Tillich lays
out a theory of signification and symbolization that dovetails very nicely
with Winter's piece on reading the Bible allegorically. You could take a
Bible story that you have always interpreted literally and use their
approach to look at that story in a new way. If the story is not literal
history, then how should it be read? You may also be able to make a good
connection to what Mill calls "dead dogma" and "living truth."
- Moore raises the possibility that we may find spiritual significance--food
for the soul, if you will--in ordinary moments. All of us have
experienced such moments, though we may not realize it. Write a paper
about a significant spiritual experience that you have had either in church or
in an secular situation. In other words, try to illustrate or challenge
Moore's sense of the spiritual in the ordinary. Does the everyday world
present a "veil of ordinariness," as theologian James I. Cook calls the way
that God speaks to us through natural phenomena?
- The distinction between "soul" and "spirit" is thorny, but one
possibility is that soul is to wholeness as spirit is to our immortal part.
Keeping that distinction in mind, write a paper about something that feeds
your soul, making sure to note any qualifications (objections) that may
Monroe (this text is chapter 8 in
Journeys Out of the Body,
available at the library)
- "'Cause the Bible Tells Me So" is not in your anthology; it is
chapter 8 in his book Journeys Out of the Body, which you can find
in Dacus. It may be the most challenging reading of
the entire semester insofar as your own belief system is concerned. Monroe's
experiences out of the body directly challenge many things that you have been
taught, particularly in church. Write a paper in which you juxtapose your
belief and Monroe's on a particular issue. Has reading his text caused you to
reevaluate? If not, is Monroe wrong--and why? It is not satisfactory to say
that he was "insane" or that he was "messing with demonic forces," as some of
my previous students tried to claim. If you are tempted to fall back on one
of those old saws, ask yourself why you are so resistant to finding his
experiences credible or why you think that they were evil. Try to get at the
heart of something in your own belief system: what do you believe, why do you
believe it, and what if you are wrong and Monroe is right? What implications
follow from Monroe's implicit claim that we--as humans--are more than physical
matter? What might you be missing?
- In connection with Monroe, you may also write a paper about a psychic
experience that you have had (or one that someone whom you know well has
had). Describe it. Argue for a thesis about it. Object that these arguments
are problematic. Concede a little but then rebut the objections. Examine the
implications of the thesis that you have now demonstrated. Suitable focused
topics include a variety of psychic experiences: a dream or related series of
dreams, a near-death experience (NDE), an out-of-body experiences (OBE),
precognition, telepathy, synchronicity, clairvoyance, clairaudience,
meditation, an experience of guidance, spontaneous healing, and various
others. But these are the main ones that you--or someone you know--may have
Armstrong, King, Camus
- Armstrong makes some really interesting statements about the unconscious
mind and creativity on page 237. Do her comments remind you about anything
in your own experience that you might fruitfully connect with Moore or
- King makes an excellent statement about the difference between "physical
force" and "soul force." Can you explore these concepts in connection
with anything from your own background?
- Camus's Sisyphus, unlike Marx's proletarians, achieves happiness despite
the futility of his work. How might you discuss your own work in
connection with these two authors, and how might you suggest that Sisyphus's
joy can be an inspiration for you in your own work?