Core Program

Overview | Requirements | Courses | Faculty


The Core Program is a cross-disciplinary array of courses required of all students. providing  the intellectual foundation for Occidental's commitment to excellence, equity, service, and community. Core classes ask students to engage in analytic and creative thinking: posing questions from different points of view, solving problems, formulating hypotheses, gathering evidence to support claims and arguments, drawing appropriate conclusions, and expressing ideas clearly. These classes explore the large questions which we believe all students must address in order to participate fully in their academic careers, their vocations, and their lives: questions of human cultures and beliefs, of creativity, and of the physical world. Students are asked to examine previously held ideas in the context of new and challenging ones, to experiment imaginatively, to articulate similarities and differences, and to revise both ideas and written work. Methods and materials vary, in disciplines ranging from the humanities to the social sciences, to science, mathematics, and art; and analytic thinking may take place in the context of a lab, in the close reading of a text, on a stage, in a lecture hall, on a computer screen, in a screening room, or in the field. Assignments will also vary from papers, to arguing a thesis, to problem sets, to research term papers, to lab reports, to paintings.

The first-year Cultural Studies Program Seminars are the centerpiece of the Core Program.  These are small seminars, each designed by a faculty member around a topic in his or her field of expertise, emphasizing discussion, critical analysis, and intensive instruction in writing. Students take one seminar in the fall and one in the spring, for a total of 8 units.  In the fall seminars, faculty and students jointly explore human culture from a variety of disciplinary as well as cultural perspectives. Spring seminars approach topics from a global perspective and stress the writing of scholarly research-based essays,  Successful performance in Cultural Studies Seminars, along with a satisfactory writing evaluation, satisfies the college's first-stage writing requirement (see the College writing requirement) and is equivalent to two semesters of English composition. The Seminars for the coming year are described below. Students may not drop a Cultural Studies Program Seminar.

In addition, students participate in the study of culture as embodied in the arts and sciences as well as in the humanities and social sciences. We require a minimum of three courses  (12 units) taken in academic departments that provide significant experiences in (a) diversity in the United States, (b) global connections between cultures, regions, and nations, and (c) a region of the world other than the United States.  One of these (or an additional course) must focus on a period prior to 1800, and one (or an additional course) must treat the theory or practice of the fine arts.  Individual courses can meet a maximum of two Core requirements.

Lifelong learning requires a basic understanding of the theory and methods of the sciences. Accordingly, students are required to take a total of three courses (12 units) in the sciences and mathematics. Of the three, at least one must be a laboratory science.

Finally, graduates of the College must demonstrate proficiency in a language other than English. The various ways of satisfying this requirement are detailed in the requirements for Undergraduate Study.



1) Culture and Fine Arts: 

A minimum of 12 units (16 or 20 units are recommended) continue and expand on the first-year CSP seminars by situating the study of culture and the arts in specific disciplinary and geographical contexts. Students must enroll in a minimum of four units in each of three different categories.   Four units must represent study of historical periods prior to 1800, and four must be devoted to the fine arts. The pre-1800 and fine arts requirements may be met in courses also representing one of the three major categories of culture requirements, although no course may satisfy more than two requirements.  Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate examinations may not be used to satisfy any of these requirements.

Students who matriculated at Occidental prior to fall 2013 must meet 12 units of the culture requirement as follows:

four-unit course must be chosen from each of any three of the following six cultural/geographical categories:

Africa and the Middle East (CPAF)
Central, South, and East Asia (CPAS)
Europe (CPEU)
Latin America (CPLA)
U.S. Culture (CPUS)
Intercultural (CPIC)

Some of these courses are also designated Pre-1800 (CPPE) or Fine Arts (CPFA).

Students who matriculated at Occidental in fall 2013 or later must meet 12 units of the culture requirement as follows:

One four-unit course must be chosen from each of the following three categories:

Global Connections (CPGC)
Regional Focus (CPRF)
U.S. Diversity (CPUD)

Some of these courses are also designated Pre-1800 (CPPE) or Fine Arts (CPFA).

Courses will be listed in the Catalog and online Course Counts with both pre- and post-2013 designation.


2) Science/Mathematics Requirement. A minimum of 12 units in science and mathematics. Four units must be in a science course with a laboratory component. The remaining 8 units may be taken from among any of the courses that satisfy the Science/Mathematics requirement. Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate examinations may not be used to satisfy any of these requirements.

3) Foreign Language: 0-8 Units.  All students must achieve Language 102-level proficiency in a language other than English. Students may not take Language 101 for credit if they have taken more than one quarter in college or more than one year in high school (grades 10-12) 

Placement: Students may begin study of a new language at the 101 level if they have not taken it previously for more than one quarter in college or more than one year in high school (grades 10-12).  They  are not required to take the College’s placement exam. First-year students may take the Occidental College Placement Exam either on-line for French, German, and Spanish, or during orientation for other languages taught at Occidental if:

a. they have taken more than one quarter in college or more than one year in high school (grades 10-12)
b. they have participated in after-school or weekend language programs; or
c. they have extensive background in but no formal training in a language.

Students can fulfill Occidental's language requirement in one of five ways:

  1. by completing a language course numbered 102 at Occidental, or the equivalent course in any foreign language at another accredited institution. Online courses in a foreign language are not accepted for transfer or to fulfill Occidental’s language requirement.
  2. by receiving an exemption-level score on Occidental's placement and/or exemption exam given during orientation. (see language studio website for language specific details).
  3. by earning an appropriate Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) II score (560 or above on French, Spanish, or Latin; 550 or above on German or Chinese; 540 or above on Japanese; or 560 for other languages):
  4. by earning an Advanced Placement test score of 4 or above or.
  5. for some languages not taught at Occidental, students may by taking the ACTFL oral proficiency interview (OPI) and the writing proficiency test (WPT) in the languages currently available. Please see the Keck Language and Culture Studio about demonstrating proficiency via ACTFL.

Foreign Language Exemption Policy
International students whose language of education has been in a language other than English and who have completed six years of elementary education or more in a foreign language are exempt from the foreign language requirement. Such students should contact the chair of one of the foreign language departments to confirm their fulfillment of the foreign language requirement.

Transfer students may meet the Core requirements through classes taken before matriculation at Occidental, or through classes taken at Occidental, or (as is the case for most transfer students) through a combination of both. Transfer students must take the equivalent of two Cultural Studies Seminar (8 units or 2 classes), a minimum of 12 additional units or 3 classes in distribution courses in culture (including pre-1800) and the fine arts, as described above, and 12 units or 3 classes in science and/or mathematics, including a designated lab science course.  They must also complete the language requirement. Appropriate equivalents are determined in consultation with the Core Program Office and the Registrar.

Cultural Studies Seminar  (4 units). A conventional English composition class, or a course specified as "writing-intensive," will ordinarily satisfy this requirement. Any four-unit course in Occidental's Department of English Writing will meet the seminar requirement. The first stage of the writing requirement is a different requirement, and is explained under the Writing Program.

Culture and Fine Arts Distribution Courses (Minimum 12 units or 3 full classes, 16 or 20—4 or 5 full classes—recommended).  Transfer students must take a minimum of 4 units or one full class from each of three groups listed above (U.S. Diversity, Global Connections, and Regional Focus), and must take 4 units or one full class in courses designated "pre-1800" and 4 units or one full class in courses designated as "fine arts." The pre-1800 and fine arts requirements may be met in courses also representing one of the three major categories of culture requirements, although no course may satisfy more than two requirements.  

Mathematics and Science (12 units or 3 full classes). Most transfer students have met at least some of these upon entry. Of these, at least one class must include a laboratory or field component.

All of these Core requirements should be completed by the end of the junior year.


Cultural Studies Program Fall 2016 Writing Seminars

Fall 2016 Courses

This course offers students the opportunity to analyze the sociohistoric, legal, and cultural tensions surrounding various (im)migrant communities in California. Students will explore the various waves of (im)migration across time to understand the diverse communities of California. Students will also build critical and interpretive capacities through the examination of state policies, statistics, and various historical and empirical studies. Additionally, through the construction and revision of several expository and research-based writings on immigration, students will hone their writing, argumentation, and presentation skills.

The California Immigration Semester meets not only the Fall CSP requirement, but provides 16 units of credit—a full semester's course load—while meeting the Core U.S. Diversity and Global Connections distribution requirements and providing coursework that can potentially be applied toward majors in Spanish, CTSJ, and Sociology.  This program is ideally suited for students interested in the social sciences or humanities, or for anyone interested in immigration within the United States and California specifically.

Many “off-island” Pacific Islanders have made Los Angeles their home. Pacific Islander festivals, artists, museum exhibitions, and civic organizations have contributed to the urban fabric of the city. This course will engage with scholarship about indigeneity and diaspora in order to think about the ways in which Oceanic art and culture shapes the Los Angeles landscape. Alongside this urban narrative of space and cultural contact, we will also consider Hollywood’s role in the fabrication of island(er) identity in the media. We will discuss and analyze the intersection and disjuncture between diaspora and representation after screenings of Bird of Paradise (1932), South Pacific (1958), Hawaii Five-O (1968/2010), The Descendants (2011), and Disney’s Moana (2016).

Until not long ago, Latin America was best known for its economic, social, and political turbulence. With most of the region in the hands of authoritarian governments, human rights violations were widespread and ranged from a lack of free elections to "disappearances" and state-sponsored genocidal violence. Today the region is, to varying degrees, almost all democratic.  While problems such as poverty, organized crime and violence against women still take a toll on individual rights, the region should not just be known for its problems.  Argentina's post-dictatorship experience has become a model in transitional justice studied around the world, and gay marriage has made surprising headway.  Today there are many resources available for the promotion and protection of human rights in Latin America -- from national legislation promoted by local activists, to treaties and a regional court. While focusing on political, social and legal developments rather than on literary analysis, this class relies substantially on short stories, a play, testimonial essays and films to explore human rights-related problems and progress in Latin America over the last 60 years. 

Taught in English. Ever since the emergence of serialized formats of fiction in the 19th century, the phrase “to be continued” has left readers in a state of suspense. Eager to keep reading along at home, they now had to impatiently wait for the next installment in order to continue. This course will examine the aesthetics and practices of seriality from the mid-19th century to the present. We will consider how the concept of seriality, as a common logic underlying mass media production, and the series as a distinct form of open-ended composition, articulate themselves in different historical periods across different media (literature, art, television, film), in works ranging from the "mass productions" of popular culture to the artistic experiments of the avant-garde. Course material includes Goethe, Poe, Dickens, Kafka, Benjamin, Deleuze, Warhol, Eco, “The Perils of Pauline” (1914), and “Twin Peaks” (1990-91). 

Who should you believe:  the sculpted Adonis who attributes his heavenly body solely to Product A, or your middle-aged doctor as he looks over horn-rimmed glasses and preaches to you his mantra of fruits and vegetables?  This course will explore how science is portrayed to the public, with the aim of deconstructing issues to objectively evaluate the merits of the arguments.  The first part of the course will explore in great depth the perpetual, self-corrective process of the scientific method to demonstrate the necessity of research and contradictory viewpoints.  The focus will then shift towards topics that include, among others, health/fitness, biotech, and the environment. 

 Be prepared:

  • This course includes a rigorous writing component, requires intensive group work both within the classroom (e.g., presentations) and beyond (e.g., community engagement), and emphasizes development of oral presentation skills.
  • Students enrolling in this course must have a solid background in high school chemistry and biology.

During the first half of the 20th century—a time of great social, political, and technological change—many writers, artists, and musicians sought new and innovative modes of expression. While their works varied in both genre and style, modernists shared a common desire, in the words of the poet Ezra Pound, to “make it new.” Focusing on the period from 1870 to 1970, this interdisciplinary course will examine the history of a tumultuous century through an exploration of the radically new forms of literature, art, and music it produced. How did writers, artists, and musicians deal with issues of race, gender, and sexuality? How did they react to brutal wars and periods of intense political oppression? And what exactly does it mean to be “avant-garde”? From Wilde to Woolf, Kandinsky to O’Keeffe, Stravinsky to Sgt. Pepper, this course will examine what it means to create modern works for a modern world. Open only to first year frosh.

How is identity represented in visual culture?  This course looks at motion pictures, print media, and art, and asks who gets represented and how? We focus on the depiction of race, gender, sexuality, and nation in the late-20th century/early 21st century to uncover how larger ideas about individual and communal identities are produced and circulated. Students will learn how to identify and negotiate the multiple interpretations elicited by an object of study and to make a compelling argument for a particular reading. We will explore numerous methodologies—including art history, cultural studies, film analysis, gender studies, race criticism, and more—and apply these in our critical writing.

Some have discounted the youth of our society as apathetic and trivial, becoming further distanced from society at large and ever more self-absorbed in their own cyberworlds of social media and networking. In the recent past, however, the strength and ideologies of youth toppled governments and changed the world. The focus of this course will be on examining and analyzing pivotal historical student movements in Asia: the Anpo movements in 1960s Japan, the democratization movement of the 1980s in Korea, and finally 1989’s Tiananmen Demonstrations in China. Points of comparison are the student movements in 1960s America and the most recent Occupy movements.

This course examines the social and cultural factors that shape growing up in the United States. Students will study the process of socialization and the influence of various institutions (family, school, media, etc.) on children and adolescents. Emphasis is placed on understanding how intersections between race, gender, citizenship, language, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, etc., impact access and opportunity when coming of age.

The ancient Romans had a flair for the dramatic, creating spaces and staging performances which matched the grandness of their empire. Gladiatorial games, theatrical productions, chariot races, and other festivals played an integral role in the civic, religious, and cultural life of the ancient Romans. This course offers an introduction to the various forms of public entertainment offered during the Roman Republic and Empire. Students will read selections from ancient authors and consider theories about the gaze and spectatorship.

More than simply a “god of wine,” Dionysus was for the Ancient Greeks a god of ecstatic self-abandon, of gushing fertility, of violent dismemberment and unexpected rebirth. In myth he was attended by crazed Maenads and mischievous Satyrs; amongst humans he was worshipped with festive dances, communal shouts, ritual obscenities, and (perhaps most importantly) with poetry—with the literary genres of ode, comedy and tragedy that were invented specifically to honor him.  What could be farther, we might ask, from the cool, reasonable practice of philosophy than this wild, uncanny, irrational god? And yet, as we shall see in this class, this reckless god of madness and poetry stands at the foundation of some of the most important ideas in modern philosophy—Hegel’s phenomenology of spirit, Nietzsche’s will to power, Heidegger’s philosophy of being.  Beginning with an exploration of Dionysian poetics, this course will attempt to show what Hegel, Nietzsche, Heidegger and others found so inspiring in this ancient god, and what the writers and thinkers of our own time might find in him still.

Many students know the typical novel focuses on a single character’s life journey—what literary scholars call the “bildungsroman.” In this class we will examine an understudied subgenre—the künstlerroman or “life of the artist.” We will consider key features of this narrative form and how it alters across literary, film, visual art and musical genres. By framing fugitive slave narratives as “escape artists”; by exploring visual artists like Jean-Michel Basquiat and Kara Walker; by watching Black Swan starring Natalie Portman and Spike Lee’s Bamboozled, we will understand the complexity of taking up the artist’s journey in the modern world and how this path becomes a metaphor for past and present social struggles.

Discuss how to become a multi-varied individual while learning about people who experienced either the European Renaissance or the Enlightenment of the 14th through 18th centuries.  That was a period of artistic and scientific innovation, religious reform, classical revival, and politics of global encounter. Consider the relationship of contemporary “individuality” to the characteristics of men and women of early modern times.  Two films with memorable lead characters will be The Return of Martin Guerre and Belle. Learning collaboratively, students examine the lives of a diversity of men and women and the controversies their lives provoked. Open only to first year frosh.

In recent years scholars of human migration have begun to see music as a rich source of information about migrant communities and cultures. Because migrant communities do not always have access to other forms of communicative media, music can sometimes offer a unique glimpse into the worldviews and immigration histories of those who have voluntarily and involuntarily left their lands of origin. Why do people migrate and how can music help us to understand the varied circumstances that have historically impelled migration? How does music inform migrant’s attitudes about their communities of origin and about their host societies, and articulate the new social locations and economic possibilities that emerge post-migration? How are contemporary patterns of global migration different from early migrations and how can music help us to understand those differences? In this course we will approach music as a lens through which to understand the complex socio-economic circumstances, motivations, and life trajectories of diverse migrant communities.

This course surveys African musical elements as they exist in North, South and Central America as well as in the Caribbean Islands.  Through readings, lectures, videos and sound recordings, we will trace the historical origins of some traditional aspects found in Africa and relate them to the development of many musical genres found in the Western Hemisphere.

Although many people and communities claim to value “equality” as a basic principle of justice, what we do and should mean by this ideal is up for debate. In this course, we will explore both historical and contemporary philosophical accounts of the value of equality as a moral ideal, with special attention to economic and social inequality. We will ask: Why should we value equality? Should we value equality for its own sake, or only instrumentally? What kinds of inequities should we care about (i.e. – wealth, resources, opportunities, standing, or something else)? How should a commitment to equality inform our education system and healthcare system?

This course examines classic and contemporary texts categorized as nature writing. We will explore three themes in close readings of these texts: 1) nature writing as literary genre, 2) nature writing as development of spiritual consciousness, and 3) nature writing as expression of ecological/environmental concern. Focusing on North America, we will give special attention to California and the West, as we review the connection between nature writing and emergent environmental ethics in a time of environmental crisis. This writing seminar will draw from the skill and power of nature writing to advance our own efforts at effective writing.

As a first-year seminar, this course is intended to introduce you to the critical thinking and writing that will be expected of you throughout your career at Oxy. Although our study will focus on a single topic—visual storytelling in narrative film—the skills you learn in this course should transmit seamlessly to your other courses. In particular, you should learn to read primary sources (in our case, the films themselves and what the filmmakers say and write about their work) sympathetically and critically. Then you will critically engage with scholarly and other analyses of these sources. The result, after careful reading and deep thinking, will be to assert your own positions regarding the material in interesting, sophisticated, and clear ways both verbally and through writing.

Ideally, you will gain more confidence in your writing abilities, which you can carry with you as you respond to any number of writing situations at Oxy (and beyond). We’ll work together towards developing, shaping, and polishing clear, organized, coherent, detailed and compelling essays, the main form of expression in college writing at all levels.

This course will examine the social, historical, and spatial forces that have shaped the formation of Los Angeles as a diverse and multiracial, multiethnic city. We will explore central concepts such as urbanity, diaspora, migration, and racial inequality through critical, cultural, and visual theories. Our course materials will also include nonfiction readings in a range of genres, though much of our consideration of the intersecting structures of race and place will be through representations of LA in literature and film. Writing is central to this course: both in terms of our reading and interpretation of writing about LA and in terms of the writing students will produce—reflective, creative, and expository. This class has required film screenings outside of regular class time and includes a “light” community-based learning component as we explore certain cultural artifacts and spaces in Los Angeles, such as Chinatown or Union Station (in our study of Polanski’s film and Blade Runner), or museum exhibits.

This course will consider how Los Angeles has been represented in a cross section of 20th century literature, film, music and popular culture. We will examine contradictory visions of the metropolis as a land of promise and peril where issues of space, race, and class intersect to create an urban culture in which conflict and cooperation exist in productive tension.  Primary texts in the various media will be supplemented and contextualized by secondary readings in social history and cultural theory. Cultural events in greater Los Angeles may be incorporated if appropriate opportunities come up.

Community is something we largely take for granted. It is a notion around which we organize our lives, as we all belong to and participate in various communities—from our neighborhoods, to our interest groups, to our nations—yet, at the same time, it is a notion we often struggle to understand or explain. What is a community, exactly; how and when do we belong to one, and what does such belonging mean to our sense of personal and social self? Literature has long meditated on these questions, from essays on the meaning and nature of community to stories about different communities, and their struggles to articulate and develop their shared sense of purpose. This course will read through a selection of these efforts, with the goal to better understand how different communities come into being, what they aim to accomplish, and how or why they succeed and fail.

Once upon a time, mess was something people ate. (At a particularly hungry juncture in the book of Genesis, for instance, an elder son named Esau sells his birthright to his brother Jacob for a “mess of pottage.”) However, over the course of the nineteenth century, the word mess gradually extended the range of its meanings to include more abstract states of mixture; it enriched, piecemeal, its spiritual resonances and cultural applications. Today our appraisals of messy situations, messy feelings, and messy political processes owe their cogency to the nineteenth century’s formalization of this fine term for formlessness. This seminar tells the story of the concept’s evolution by sampling eight distinct types or episodes of mess: the culinary kind, of course, as well as the semantic effect called ambiguity, the affective fields of impertinence and righteous outrage, architectural motifs of sprawl and waste, the info-fuzz termed white noise, and the strange medleys of free jazz. Course texts include a mock-epic by Joel Barlow titled “The Hasty-Pudding” (1796), Elizabeth Stoddard’s female bildungsroman The Morgesons (1862), Pauline Hopkins’s racial-uplift melodrama Contending Forces (1900), the Watts Towers in South Los Angeles, and Kendrick Lamar’s multi-vocal masterpiece, To Pimp a Butterfly (2015). 

In this course we will study representations of infectious disease from the Early Modern period to the present day, using these texts as case studies for some of the most pressing political, philosophical, and aesthetic concerns of our age. Plague narratives are an ideal arena in which to investigate the legal, ethical, and conceptual relationships between individual subjects, bodies, and the “body public,” questions about human nature and the state of nature, and questions about how governments form and what the best types of government are. We’ll also analyze how disease in these texts highlights or complicates contemporary conceptions of “otherness,” and how plague narratives employ different narrative frameworks (providential, rational, existential, etc.). Finally, we’ll consider how these texts metaphorize illness and contagion as a way of thinking about other topics (for example: colonialism, print culture, revolutionary politics, and moral decline)—but we’ll also think carefully about the ethical and aesthetic implications of those metaphors. Readings to include Defoe, Dracula, Camus, Zika, and zombies.

This class will investigate the urban environmental factors that contribute to poor human health and diseases through technical readings, informed discussions and critical analysis. Writings will effectively communicate research methodologies and outcomes in a non-technical and common language. Through readings and discussions, we will identify specific chemicals in urban pollution that are linked to inflammatory diseases and consider the communities most affected by these pollutants with a focus on California and, specifically, the Los Angeles Basin.

The title of this course comes from Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth (1961) in a hopeful overture for the decolonizing world. He says, “The peoples of the Third World are in the process of shattering their chains, and what is extraordinary is that they succeed” (34). During Fanon’s lifetime, there may have been some positive results from decolonization, but was liberation achieved? Fanon also focuses on the fact that “decolonization is truly the creation of new men” (2), but what does all of this mean? Who was the “new man”? the “new woman”? What does emancipation signify to this emerging agent? What happened and happens in the process of global decolonization? Using Fanon’s concepts as the theoretical basis of our class, we will examine the representation of the emerging “new man” in novels and short stories by Native American, African American, Chican@, and Asian American writers as well as in works from Palestine, Egypt, and Iran. We will begin in the mid-twentieth century and work through the present day to understand how literatures of resistance have offered challenges and critiques to the notion of emancipation and to Fanon’s concept of the “new man” while expanding upon and complicating his idea.  

The focus of this course is an investigation of how Hollywood film from the silent era to the start of the 21st century reveals both entrenched and changing American attitudes to race and ethnicity.   We will explore Hollywood presentations of whiteness, passing for white, interracial romance, and gender.  Our goal is to learn the cinematic history and gain literacy about the power of film to create, shape, or break images of the ethnic and raced other in America.

At present, 70% of American Indians live in urban areas such as Los Angeles. This course will investigate the challenges and adaptations native communities face in the urban diaspora and investigate the role religion plays in organizing their urban experience (in addition to providing a background in Native American traditions). Special attention will be given to issues that involve the encounter of traditional life ways with the U.S. state, social justice, and issues of religious freedom.  Course materials—which will include case studies, ethnography, film, and literature—will emphasize native voices.  And the class project will be to research and map American Indian landmarks in Los Angeles



This course is designed to expose students to mathematics and science, to broaden their awareness of the research questions asked in those disciplines, and to introduce skills and ideas scientifically shown to improve persistence in college, especially in science and math majors. Students may acquire one semester unit of credit for attending eight on-campus events during a semester. Certain seminars and class meetings will be mandatory; students will select additional events from a list of events provided each year by the instructor. A short two-page paper is due on the last day of class.

This course is graded CR/NC only and will not meet specific Major/Minor or Core requirements. Students may take this course twice, for a maximum of two units being applied toward graduation. Prerequisite: open only to first year frosh.

This course is designed to expose students to some of the many cultures of Los Angeles, a vibrant microcosm of the "complex, interdependent, pluralistic world" of the 21st century described in Occidental College's mission statement. Students may acquire one semester unit of credit for participating in five off-campus "cultural encounters" during a semester. Students will select these events from a list compiled each year by the Core Program or they may propose their own experiences for approval.  A short two-page paper is due on the last day of class.

This course is graded CR/NC only and will not meet specific Major/Minor or Core requirements. Students may take this course twice, for a maximum of two units being applied toward graduation.
1 unit

This course is designed to expose students to the arts, to broaden their cultural horizons, and to instill in them a desire to expand their knowledge of and attention to the arts. In addition, the course is designed to prepare students for life-long learning, for engaging in their communities, and for having the basis for further exploration in the field of the arts. Students may acquire one semester unit of credit for attending eight on-campus events during a semester. Students will select these events from a list of events compiled each year by the Arts Committee; at least two of the events attended must combine an arts presentation with a lecture or discussion by the artist or a faculty member. A short two-page paper is due on the last day of class.

This course is graded CR/NC only and will not meet specific Major/Minor or Core requirements. Students may take this course twice, for a maximum of two units being applied toward graduation.
1 unit

Cultural Studies Program Spring 2017 "Global Issues" Research Seminars

This course studies China’s cultural, political and social development in a global setting from the early 19th century to the present. It delves briefly into China’s historical background prior to its opening to the Western world forced by Britain in the Opium War, before exploring the profound changes brought by globalization. Western influences in China, from Christianity to Marxism, will be examined with a focus on key events such as the Taiping Rebellion, Boxer Rebellion, Xinhai Revolution, May 4th Movement, Communist Revolution, and China’s recent rise as a global power. Students will gain a unique perspective from which to understand the consequences and impact of globalization on our rapidly changing world.



What is the role of animals in your life?  How and why do you decide who to nurture and who to eat? This course explores the intimate and changing relationship between human and non-human animals, including an examination of how we conceptualize animals:  as companions, food, workers, representatives of self, and more; the rights - or lack thereof - of animals; our animal industries: factory farming, shelters & rescues, animal workers, entertainment, fighting, races, hunting, medical research, and more; boundaries between human and non-human animals; violence against animals, both individualized and institutionalized; animals as a concept: and the social construction of the difference between human and non-human animals.

Market researchers claim your generation is more gender fluid and “queer” than previous generations. Despite increased visibility of transgender, trans*, gender queer, non-binary, bi-gender, and agender, identities in popular culture, the US Census uses only two, mutually exclusive, gender categories: male or female. Given current political struggles over access to public restrooms, safety, and healthcare, this course asks, what does it mean to be counted? We'll take a critical, inquiry-based approach to the social construction of gender in its personal, political, and economic contexts. The course is organized as a class-wide research project that involves a reflexive essay about your own gender identity, structured interviews with peers, and the design of a survey that investigates the range of gender identities at Oxy. Through this research process, you will gain experience in analytical writing about different kinds of social data (qualitative and quantitative), be introduced to some basic principles of survey design and data analysis, and critically evaluate the problems and significance of quantifying human identity and experience.

Citizen science, or crowdsourced science, is a collaboration between scientists and members of the general public to collect and provide access to data for scientific research. Recent advances in mobile technology and computing have allowed citizen scientists to make substantial contributions to scientific research at an unprecedented scale. In this course, we will trace the history of public participation in science and explore how these collaborations between professional researchers and the public have impacted scientific research, the scientific community, and public perceptions of science. Over the course of the semester, students will critically evaluate and directly engage in citizen science by participating in a variety of citizen-science projects, analyzing open datasets, and conducting an original research project.

Conflicts related to group identity or opinion are all around us. Warring religious groups, segregation in housing, income inequality, as well as policies on climate change, immigration, guns, and marriage are all examples of groups in opposition. This course explores the dynamic nature of group formation and dissolution by focusing on individual beliefs. In particular, we will look at how individuals and social structures adapt in order to achieve moderation in the face of conflict. Drawing upon evidence collected through collaborative projects, you will use sociological, economic, and cognitive theories to pose critical questions about group integrity and personal adaptation. Working with your peers, you will then examine these questions using computer models and produce a final research project. No programming experience is required, but we will introduce tools for simulating social dynamic processes that you will be able to apply to other social and ecological phenomena. By studying what structural forces bind us together, you will come away from the course with a toolkit of quantitative and qualitative strategies to address conflict in new situations.  

The Russian Experience focuses on the enigma and riddle known as “Rus”, “Russia”, “The Russian Empire”, “The Soviet Union” and “The Russian Federation”. This strange land has been a combination of great extremes: West and East, blinding poverty and dazzling wealth, great talent and shocking brutality. The course focuses on the period of Russia's explosion onto the world stage both politically and artistically, beginning with the reign of Alexander I, the Napoleonic Wars and the Decembrist Revolt, and following the development of Russian society and the Russian/Soviet State through the 19th and 20th Centuries, up to the current post-Soviet Russian Federation. There will be equal emphasis on internal politics, the arts, and international relations.

This is a 4-unit course with two linked seminar sections.

Taught in English. After Hitler’s seizure of power in 1933, Los Angeles became an unlikely cultural sanctuary for thousands of German artists and intellectuals who fled the Nazi regime. Many of these German expatriates ultimately settled in the U.S., where – simultaneously attracted and alienated by their new surroundings – they made a significant impact on American culture. During their years in exile, they would produce a substantial body of major works, in which Weimar Germany and its culture – with its mix of 18th-century classicism and 20th-century modernism – served as a key reference point. This seminar will explore German Exile Culture in Los Angeles, spanning film (Fritz Lang, Billy Wilder), architecture (Richard Neutra, Rudolf Schindler), literature (Thomas Mann, Bertolt Brecht, Lion Feuchtwanger), and philosophy (Adorno, Horkheimer). Based on the aesthetic and conceptual specificities of cultural phenomena, class discussions will focus on the relations between art and politics, modernist and mass culture, art and capitalism, culture and democracy.

This course will consider a variety of sources from history, sociology, and the arts to explore the origins of L.A.’s original artistic and creative culture in the Arroyo Seco and its contemporary reemergence in the Northeast L.A. art scene. At the turn of the twentieth century, a celebrated and irreverent “Arroyo Culture” of Arts and Crafts architects, designers, printers, and writers came to prominence in Southern California and across the Southwest and the nation. Yet that Northeast Los Angeles artistic bohemia dissipated by mid-century through freeway construction, disinvestment, and white flight. Gradually, the cultures of the Arroyo region dropped out of the larger consciousness. In this class, we will trace the hidden history of the individual makers and arts collectives that flourished even during these years of obscurity, along with the rise of a new, distinctively Latino expressive culture that would break back into the metropolitan consciousness by the 1970s. Faced with new challenges of gentrification and the continually changing cultures of Northeast LA, we will also explore how the Arroyo region continues to shape our contemporary artistic and bohemian creative culture in twenty-first century Los Angeles. In the process, we will connect students with heritage and arts organizations to do field interviews and archival research. History and sociology studies of bohemia and neo-bohemia will help contextualize our explorations of the role of the arts in defining regional identity and as factors in economic development and community life.

Writing in 1906, the American composer John Phillip Sousa expressed grave concerns about what he termed the "menace of mechanical music." According to Sousa, the advent of devices like the player piano and the phonograph threatened to remove "the human skill, intelligence, and soul" from music and reduce it to little more than "a mathematical system of megaphones, wheels, cogs, disks, and cylinders." More than a century later, musicians and audiences today have embraced musical technology in ways that would have been inconceivable in Sousa's time. How did the introduction of such technologies transform musical culture at the turn of the twentieth century? And how has the subsequent development of new musical technologies changed the way people both produce and listen to music? Through the examination of a diverse range of literature, films, archival materials, and sound recordings, this course will explore the complex and continually evolving relationship between music and technology -- from the primitive phonograph introduced by Thomas Edison in 1877 to vibrant culture of digital sampling, MP3s, and Auto-Tune of the present day.

During the first part of the 20th century Paris was an international hub of intellectual and creative activity. For black Americans, in particular, Paris held the promise of “liberty, equality, and (interracial) fraternity.” There they established connections with African and Caribbean thinkers resulting in an explosion of cultural production that would influence French culture and transform the future of people of African descent. This course will examine black internationalism as experienced in Paris during the Interwar period and the decade following World War II, focusing on themes such as Pan-Africanism, the Harlem Renaissance New Negro, the Jazz Age, and Negritude. Readings will include works by and about figures such as W.E.B. Du Bois, Langston Hughes, Josephine Baker, James Baldwin, Aimé Césaire, and Léopold Senghor.

This course uses Hollywood film from the silent era to the end of the 20 th century to examine changing American attitudes to racial crossings of all kinds. The focus of our class discussions will be on how these films have created, shaped, or broken images of the raced other in America. With the films as our starting point for discussion and analysis, we will explore Hollywood presentations of passing for white, interracial romance, and mixed race characters. As a second semester course in the Cultural Studies Program, the development and exercise of critical thinking and writing skills will be central to all class assignments.

As a major U.S. city that grew in importance during a time of increasing globalization, Los Angeles occupies a unique position within the cultural imagination. This course will explore how the unique geographical and cultural space of Los Angeles has contributed to ways in which the city has been imagined and represented in literature and film. In our explorations, we will consider how L.A.’s roots, migrating populations, shifting community boundaries, and multiple forms of power shape imaginings and lived realities of the city. How do various representations reflect – and diverge from – living communities within Los Angeles? How are the city and its communities shaped by national and global forces? How has Los Angeles as a destination city for migrants shaped the ways it is imagined? How do we reconcile the dueling representations of L.A. as both utopia and dystopia? Over the course of the semester, we will examine a broad range of film and literature that will guide our discussion of these and other questions, interrogating what it means to live in the city of Los Angeles. In addition, the course will include a community-based research project on gentrification in the Highland Park neighborhood by campus.

This course provides a broad and interdisciplinary introduction to free market economics. It evaluates the ethical implications of market economy including income inequality, poverty, private property and democracy and explores the additive concept of social efficiency to the economic analysis of redistribution.

We often think of popular culture as a kind of distraction; we watch films or read novels to escape the real world and its problems. What would be the point of studying "monsters" in literature and film if the books and movies exist only to allow us to escape reality? This course will begin by rejecting these assumptions. By looking at the history of the concept of the monster and by looking at those particular modern monsters, such as Frankenstein's monster and Dracula, we can see the ways in which anxieties about the purity and impurity of race and nation, about who belongs and who doesn't belong to a community, about those who cannot or will not assimilate and thus threaten the body in which they have no place are explored in greater detail than anywhere else. We will ask why race is foregrounded in the contemporary zombie film (a genre which has its origins in the former slave colony of Haiti) and what reality is captured in one its most important conventions, the "necessary" killing of children. We may discover that these forms of popular culture reveal what is most disturbing and dangerous about the societies that produce them, not least our own.

In addition to novels and films, we will read Aristotle, Hobbes, Locke, Foucault and Agamben.

How is Islam perceived, understood, and labeled by Muslims and non-Muslims?  How is it experienced, lived, and practiced or not by its followers?  The course examines diverse narratives associated with Islam in fiction, non-fiction, and films set in the 20th and 21st centuries in different parts of the world--Europe (the Balkans, France), the Middle East (Egypt, Lebanon, Irak) North and West Africa (Morocco, Senegal) and North America. Special attention is given to the cultural, political, and historical contexts of the works studied.

This seminar examines how Latina/os have been represented in U.S. film and television since the early twentieth century and how these images have changed over time in response to social and political change. Particular emphasis will be given to themes of class, gender, sexuality, race and ethnicity as we deconstruct the stereotypes of Latin lovers, bandits, vixens, maids, gangsters, and immigrants. We will also consider how Latina/o self-representation and anti-stereotyping have subverted and resisted these images. Attention to transnational political contexts as well as theoretical frameworks and methodological approaches for cultural analysis will ground class discussions and research projects. 

This course explores the relationship between music and consciousness in different world cultures with the intention of developing an understanding of the role that music plays in ecstatic experiences. Through a survey of various cultures, we will delve into various dimensions of how music operates in culture as an intrinsic part of altered states of consciousness in the human quest for a spiritual connection. This course draws on ethnomusicology, psychology, anthropology, music therapy, dance ethnology, and religious studies. Emphasis will placed upon developing excellent writing skills, research skills, and critical thinking in order to produce a strong and cogent final research paper.

Did you know that if you find a dime in a phone booth you are much more likely to help someone in need? That it might be better to make important decisions in your life based, not on your careful reflection on the matter, but on your gut feelings? In this course we will investigate cutting-edge research in psychology that upends deeply held convictions about our moral behavior. We will examine the implications that this research has in our moral landscape by examining the contributions that different contemporary philosophers have made to this body of research. In the last part of the course we will reflect on how this research can help us understand and address some pressing social justice issues in the Eagle Rock community in particular and the LA area in general.

This course introduces four theoretical perspectives on sexuality: biological (sexuality is a matter of sexual bodies and chemistry), psychological (sexuality is a matter of mental states and processes), social constructionist (sexuality is a cultural and historical product), and conflict (sexuality is a contested arena in which different groups vie for power). With these perspectives in mind, we explore four broad questions: How should we regulate sexual behavior? What is sexual consent? Who's responsible for the fact that sex makes babies? And, what is good sex?

Existentialism is a philosophy that grapples with the problem of human freedom and moral choice in a world that often seems devoid of transcendental meaning or purpose.  In this course we will read literary and philosophical texts from the French, German, Hispanic, and Russian existentialist traditions, and will explore the structures and possibilities of consciousness, knowledge, desire, imagination, aesthetics, ethics, and political commitment. Authors studied will include Albert Camus, Fydor Dostoevsky, Franz Kafka, Eduardo Mallea, Ernesto Sábato, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Leo Tolstoy.


Other Cultral Studies Program Courses

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96 - Experiencing Mathematics and Science

This course is designed to expose students to mathematics and science, to broaden their awareness of the research questions asked in those disciplines, and to introduce skills and ideas scientifically shown to improve persistence in college, especially in science and math majors. Students may acquire one semester unit of credit for attending eight on-campus events during a semester. Certain seminars and class meetings will be mandatory; students will select additional events from a list of events provided each year by the instructor. A short two-page paper is due on the last day of class. This course is graded CR/NC only and will not meet specific Major/Minor or Core requirements. Students may take this course twice, for a maximum of two units being applied toward graduation.
1 unit

- CSP 98: "Experiencing Los Angeles Cultures"

This course is designed to expose students to some of the many cultures of Los Angeles, a vibrant microcosm of the "complex, interdependent, pluralistic world" of the 21st century described in Occidental College's mission statement. Students may acquire one semester unit of credit for participating in five off-campus "cultural encounters" during a semester. Students will select these events from a list compiled each year by the Core Program or they may propose their own experiences for approval. A short two-page paper is due on the last day of class.

This course is graded CR/NC only and will not meet specific Major/Minor or Core requirements.

Students may take this course twice, for a maximum of two units being applied toward graduation.

- CSP 99: "Experiencing the Arts"

This course is designed to expose students to the arts, to broaden their cultural horizons, and to instill in them a desire to expand their knowledge of and attention to the arts. In addition, the course is designed to prepare students for life-long learning, for engaging in their communities, and for having the basis for further exploration in the field of the arts. Students may acquire one semester unit of credit for attending 8 on-campus events (out of those specifically identified for this course) during any semester.  Students will select these events from a list of events compiled each year by the Director of Core; at least 2 of the 8 events attended must be designated starred events which will combine an arts presentation with a lecture or discussion by the artist or faculty member. 

  • This 1-unit course is graded CR/NC only and will not meet any specific Major/Minor nor Core requirement.  
  • To complete the requirement and due before the last day of class, a two-page reflection paper must be turned in electronically.  In an email with specific details, all students will receive a prompt prior to the due date.
  • Students may take this 1-unit course for up to two semesters, for a maximum of 2 units being applied toward graduation.


What former CSP 99 students have said...

"In many ways your time at Oxy is defined by academics and what happens in the classroom. Learning how to prepare for class, take tests, and even reflect are all crucial parts of the academic process.  Something that I think needs to be stressed more often is the visceral, exploratory nature of a program like CSP 99.  Throughout the semester, I have learned to appreciate different forms of expression, and how people are able to approach even simple tasks with very different strategies."

"Experiencing the arts offers students a unique opportunity to enjoy a variety of events put on by Occidental College. These events provide a chance to expand ones intellectual engagement and increase ones musical interest. Authors, musicians, plays, and dynamic films are all offered to broaden students wealth of knowledge. These events reach out into the Los Angeles community to bring various professionals onto campus where they can engage the minds of Oxy’s youth. They provide students with an opportunity to learn about various professions from those who have found success. I have acquired a new wealth of knowledge from participating in these events."

"All of the events I attended this semester were more intriguing than initially expected. Based on other students who had previously taken the class I figured the events would be insightful but my experiences with the events were more impactful than others credited."


Regular Faculty

Carolyn Brighouse, chair

Associate Dean of the College for Core Curriculum and Student issues, Professor, Cognitive Science, Philosophy

B.A., University of Liverpool; M.A., Ph.D., University of Southern California

On Special Appointment

Lisa Filipe

Non-Tenure Track Assistant Professor, Core Program

B.A., Occidental College; C.Phil., Ph.D. University of California, Los Angeles

Anna Katz

Non-Tenure Track Assistant Professor, Core Program

B.A. University of California, Berkeley; M.A., Ph.D. Princeton University

Suzanne Roszak

Part-Time Non-Tenure Track Assistant Professor

B.A. Columbia University; M.A., M.Phil, Yale University; PhD, Yale University