Fall CSP Seminars

Students in a classroom with a professor lecturing

In the fall seminars, students develop their analytical and writing skills in an intensive focus on topics drawn from a variety of academic disciplines and cultural perspectives.

Fall 2019 CSP Seminars

CSP Plus Seminars

Each year the Core Program offers a few special Cultural Studies Program courses that allow students to explore a topic in more depth. While standard CSP seminars earn 4 units, these CSP Plus courses earn students 8-units. (Students typically enroll in 16-18 units per semester.) CSP Plus courses are typically taught by more than one faculty members and either have expanded meetings or, in some cases, are connected to a 4-unit CSP seminar with a 4-unit course in another department. CSP Plus courses provide both students and faculty with opportunities to experiment, discover, and innovate within an exciting educational environment.


CSP 1 - Expulsions: Un/documented Migrants, Refugees, and the Stateless (8-units)

This special 8-unit CSP course is designed to immediately confront incoming Occidental students with the urgency of the contemporary global crisis embodied by forced migration, refugee flows, and statelessness. The essential conundrum students will be forced to face is how denial of basic rights produces such expulsions and, thus, how we must collectively think about how broader struggles for freedom, equality, and democratic representation are essential to counteracting the forces that impel expulsions at the global and local levels. For more information about this exciting program, see the CSP 1: Expulsions webpage

Anthony Chase (Diplomacy and World Affairs), Dolores Trevizo (Sociology), and Sophal Ear (Diplomacy and World Affairs)


CSP 5 - The ASSETS Program (Aspiring Scholars Studying Economics To Succeed)

Economics affects everyone’s lives. Learning about economic concepts can help you to understand the news, make financial decisions, shape public policy, and see the world in a new way. ASSETS is a unique integrated first-year learning community for students interested in economic and social issues. The ASSETS program combines ECON 101 (Principles of Economics I), ECON 102 (Principles of Economics II), and two economics-related CSP courses (CSP 5: Economics by Example and CSP 56: Increasing Returns to Economics), letting you complete your two required first-year Cultural Studies Program seminars, as well as the year-long economics introductory sequence. For more information about this exciting program, see the CSP 5: ASSETS webpage. 

Mary Lopez (Economics) and Kirsten Wandschneider (Economics)


Standard CSP Seminars

CSP 2 - Psychoanalysis: The Interpretation of Dreams

The work of Sigmund Freud continues to be of signal importance to students of literature, psychology, feminist, and critical social theory. This course is designed to introduce students to his work as one of the great achievements of the human imagination. There will be close readings of The Interpretation of Dreams, Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality and Beyond the Pleasure Principle. We will also read two case studies central to the emergent feminist critique and re-analysis of Freud’s work: Anna O and Dora, An Analysis of a Case of Hysteria. In addition to recognizing his contributions to contemporary thought, this course will remember Freud as a great writer. There will be writing assignments in psychoanalytic genres: case history, dream interpretation, and a death wish analysis.

G. Elmer Griffin (Critical Theory and Social Justice)


CSP 3 - Transnational Feminist Film

This course uses a feminist lens to analyze transnational documentary and feature films. We will examine the politics of gender in films produced in the West and the Global South and we will assess the flows between “first world" and “third world" cinematic traditions. Students will gain the necessary skills to analyze representations of gender, race, class, nationality, and sexuality in transnational film. The course considers how film can be a powerful tool that operates in the perpetuation of “third" and “first world" hierarchies and the economic, racial, and gendered inequalities that stem from histories of colonization. We will also consider how film can offer a critique of these dominant ideologies and inequalities that reflects postcolonial relations between “first" and “third" worlds. We will turn to feminist film theory, documentary film theory, cultural studies and postcolonialfeminist theory in order to facilitate our analysis and class discussions of these films.

Viviana MacManus (Critical Theory and Social Justice


CSP 4 - Nature from the Inside Out

How do humans relate to the natural world, and how have writers, scientists, and others theorized this relationship? This course explores nature “from the inside out” using an interdisciplinary approach, focusing primarily on the fields of literature and psychology, in order to better understand individual and collective experiences of natural environments--including urban greenspaces. We will examine a range of topics, including how the natural world has been conceived by authors from the 18th century through present day; how our own experiences of natural environments shape cognition, behavior, and well-being; and how our environment is in turn shaped by our actions. In keeping with our theme, we will not only study these ideas inside the classroom--we will also venture outside on a series of field trips to different natural spaces in and around Los Angeles, where students will apply course concepts firsthand. This a team-taught course with both instructors in one classroom simultaneously for almost all  class sessions.

Sarah Ostendorf (Writing and Rhetoric) and Aleksandra Sherman (Cognitive Science)


CSP 6 - Women and the Arts of East Asia

This seminar explores the many ways in which women in East Asia have engaged with art—as producers, as patrons, and as objects or subjects of the gaze. At the same time, we will study how gender and womanhood have been conceived and contested in China, Japan, and Korea. We will investigate topics such as shifting ideals of beauty; bodily modifications; Buddhist conceptions of the feminine; performing “women” in theater; and representations of gender in anime. Readings and discussions will be supplemented with hands-on activities, including ink painting, pottery making, and the tea ceremony. Ultimately, we will develop critical tools for examining how women have been represented in East Asian visual culture and how they have exerted their own forms of artistic agency.

Yurika Wakamatsu (Art and Art History)


CSP 7 - Psychosocial Determinants of Health Disparities

Disease prevalence, severity, and treatment varies across sociodemographic groups. Understanding why health disparities occur is key to determining how inequalities might be alleviated. Central to detangling health disparities are psychological, socio-cultural, cognitive processes, and behaviors that are related to ethnic, cultural, and gender identity experiences. The focus of this course is on research that a) describes health disparities, b) investigates factors that explain differences, and c) proposes interventions to treat at-risk populations. This course will emphasize the theme of equity in health across multicultural groups.

Patricia Cabral (Psychology)


CSP 8 - Great Ideas and Healers in the History of Medicine

From the Hippocratic Oath in ancient Greece to the sophisticated medical technologies of today, we will explore the work of doctors, nurses, midwives, and inventors who devoted themselves to the art and science of healing through the ages.

Nina Gelbart (History)


CSP 9 - Ecomusicology

This course examines the relationship between music, sound and the environment. In the first part of this course we will review evolutionary theories of music-making among early homo sapiens and of acoustic communication among birds and mammals. Later, we will explore case studies of musical traditions from around the world that mediate relationships between humans and their surroundings. Finally, we will consider how music production in the Anthropocene relates to environmental sustainability. Here we will focus on the environmental footprint of human sound production as well as the role of music in contemporary environmental protest movements.

Shanna Lorenz (Music)


CSP 10 -  Literature and Philosophy: The Dionysian in Modern Thought

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 raving 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 Existenz, Bataille's notion of excess, and Derrida's "non-concept" of difference. Beginning with an exploration of Dionysian poetics in Ancient Greece, this course will attempt to show what thinkers like these found so inspiring in this ancient god, and what the writers and thinkers of our own time might yet find in him still.

Damian Stocking (Comparative Studies in Languages and Culture) and Sidney Mitsunaga-Whitten (Comparative Studies in Languages and Culture)


CSP 11 - Philosophy in the Twilight Zone

Philosophical inquiry is the examination of the concepts we use to make sense of our world, ourselves, and our circumstances. Philosophical method makes use of the imagination to put those concepts under stress, as we attempt to understand how we would use those concepts in non-actual situations. By considering possible situations and possible worlds, we will explore some of the main issues in philosophy. Rod’s Serling’s classic television series, The Twilight Zone (1959 - 1964), will form our shared experience and will be the catalyst for our imaginations as we take up the practice of philosophy. Some reference to more recent dramatic work, such as Black Mirror, may also be included.

Saul Traiger (Cognitive Science and Philosophy)


CSP 12 - Religion and Violence

This course interrogates the relationship between religion and violence. Through a survey of the scholarship on religion and violence and a series of focused studies on topics like the "revolutionary suicide" at Jonestown, the Cristero Rebellion in Mexico, and 9/11, this course will offer a broad overview of religion and violence in the Americas. Using these case studies, we will ask a series of analytical questions: Can religion motivate violence, or do they merely sanctify it? What are the sources of religious authority (such as leaders, scripture, tradition, and ritual practice) that can militate for or against violence? And what kinds of speech and action are properly understood as violent?

Michael Amoruso (Religious Studies)


CSP 13 - Utopias and Dystopias

The utopian instinct – the desire to imagine a perfect society without war, violence, suffering, or injustice – is a fundamental human impulse. Images of political perfection can be found throughout cultures and across history. Yet, since the middle of the twentieth centuries, dystopian nightmares seem to occupy the political imagination far more frequently. Are utopias naïve acts of wishful thinking at best and totalitarian blueprints at worst? Or do contemporary political challenges, from economic inequality to climate change, demand new forms of utopian thinking? Looking at utopias and dystopias in both political philosophy and literature, this course will explore these themes, with the goals of understanding not only the particular utopian dreams and dystopian nightmares, but also the broader functions and goals of politics and political theory. Reading selections from Plato, Aristophanes, Thomas More, Margaret Cavendish, Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Octavia Butler, among others, this course will also critically examine cornerstone political values, including, freedom, equality, community, hope, and justice.

Michael Sardo (Politics)


CSP 14 - The Birth of the Universe

Our understanding of our place in the universe is as dynamic as the universe itself. Cosmology, the history of the origin, evolution, and ultimate fate of the universe is full of instances where a widely accepted belief was shown to be most likely false. Our current cosmological theories are further riddled with many issues that are not yet fully understood. In this course, we will read popular texts by such authors as Carl Sagan, Alan Lightman, and Priyamvada Natarajan to learn what we know about some recent burning cosmological questions: Why do scientists support the Big Bang Theory? What are dark matter and dark energy? What does the future hold for our universe? In our discussions we will focus on how these scientific ideas are developed, tested and eventually accepted (or rejected). This writing-based course will emphasize group work, including personal feedback from your peers, and in-class discussions. No prior knowledge of mathematics or astronomy is required.

Sabrina Stierwalt (Physics)


CSP 15 - Planting Seeds: Urban Green Schoolyards

In this community-based learning course, students will be introduced to educational, economic, environmental, and public health perspectives related to urban green schoolyard design and implementation. The course includes off-campus visits to school sites and presentations by experts in landscape design, water conservation, and public education. Throughout the semester, students will learn how to use social science and life science research tools to evaluate the impact of green
schoolyards. The semester will culminate in a green schoolyard project with community partners in the Northeast Los Angeles neighborhood. The course will include two 1.5 hour lecture meetings per week and occasional trips to the participating schools.

Bevin Ashenmiller (Economics) and Marcella Raney (Kinesiology)


CSP 16 - Los Angeles Urban Cultures and Countercultures

This course explores the multicultural politics of Southern California since the late nineteenth century by focusing on the role of Chinatown, Black L.A., the Latino Eastside and Northeast Los Angeles, in defining, elaborating, and staging an alternative to the region’s ideological and cultural norms. We emphasize urban neighborhoods as crucibles of a bold and controversial multiracialism as the course takes us from the railroad era and Arroyo Culture through the mid-20th century freeway era and the more recent rise of urban transit and gentrification trends. We examine a series of bohemian revolts against increasingly oppressive and conformist norms and the development of a counter-hegemonic political aesthetics particularly expressed through music and the visual arts that would inform and inspire movements for liberation and expression by African Americans, Latinos, and Angelenos of all ethnicities by the early years of the twenty-first century. Students will engage in oral history and sociological field interviews with artists and community members in neighborhoods such as Chinatown and Northeast LA.

Jeremiah Axelrod (History) and Jan Lin (Sociology)


CSP 17 - Spinning Science: How Storytelling Drives the Perception and Progress of Science

In this course students will develop a sophisticated understanding of the nature and process of scientific inquiry and communication, tracing the development of scientific information from original measurements to online broadcasts.  Students will hone the skills necessary to evaluate and utilize scientific information reported in both peer-reviewed journals and popular media sources.  Practice in reading primary scientific articles for comprehension, writing clearly about scientific topics for a broad audience, and delivering engaging scientific presentations will be a major focus of this course.  Overall, students will gain perspective on how scientific knowledge is established and communicated to inform the actions we take as a society and in our personal lives. 

Natalie Muren (Chemistry)


CSP 18 - 19th-Century American Literature

In “The American Scholar,” Ralph Waldo Emerson urged the spirit of a young nation to take control of its literary destiny, so as “to look from under its iron lids, and fill the postponed expectation of the world with something better than the exertions of mechanical skill.” In the half century following Emerson’s invocation, American literature more than fulfilled this charge, establishing itself as a unique and prosperous field. This course will look at this first great explosion of American letters, from the Romantic movement that Emerson founded, through realism and regionalism, to the birth of modernism, while considering such crucial themes as individualism, the education of women, the problem of slavery, and the growing modernization of the nation.

Devin Fromm (Core Program)


CSP 19 - Racial Crossings in 20th Century Hollywood

In this course, we will investigate how Hollywood movies from the Silent Era to the end of the century reveal both entrenched and changing attitudes to race and ethnicity. We will explore stereotypes, gender ideas, presentations of whiteness, interracial romance, and immigration history. Our goal is to increase writing skills, while gaining literacy about the power of Hollywood to shape, or break images of the ethnic and raced other in America.

Adrienne Tien (American Studies)


CSP 20 - Human Rights: Explorations of International Justice around the World

What are the rights of humans and our role to preserve them? This course will examine the origins of human rights and the intellectual theory and discourse that frame them. First, we will examine the moral, philosophical, legal and political bases for international human rights. We will then focus at the level of “real world” action, controversy and struggle, exploring the complexity of actors and organizations involved in human rights advocacy and enforcement. We will then apply these theories and applications to view specific topics—including immigration, torture, peace-keeping, and gender-based repression. In addition to other formal essay assignments, you will be asked to identify an organization that is working in the human rights sector and contribute some thinking, based on theory and practice, to improve the cause.

Nathan Graeser (Core Program)


CSP 21 - Myths and Metaphors

Reading  health trends as texts, this course is an examination of some perplexing dilemmas facing Americans today and the intellectual tools we use to interpret our world. On the one hand, these include issues exposing inequality that demand justice activism; and on the other, those arising from the pathology of privilege that tend to involve conspiracist thinking and boundary work. Using theory from Religious Studies, Feminist Literary Studies, and Critical Disability Studies, topics will include: The Pure Body, Diet as allegory, toxin cleansing as metaphor; Super babies; Food sovereignty, Food fear: Organics as liberation, GMO’s as “frankenfoods”; Neurodiversity: autism, eugenics, ableism, and the vaccine conspiracy; Circumcision: mapping identity onto the (cultured) body; Body Hacking: realizing our cyborg selves.

Brian Clearwater (Core Program)


CSP 22 - Revolutionary Movements and Liberation Struggles

This CSP seminar traces the theory and practice of revolution in modern history. The course begins with a brief overview of revolutionary theories and transformations within a global historical context. We then turn to the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment as the paradigm shifts which brought a revolution in thought and subjectivity in Europe. From there we focus on the French Revolution, following its legacy and impact through the revolutions of the 19th century, the rise of Socialism and Communism, the Russian Revolution, the Chinese revolution, decolonization, and the global revolts of 1968. The course looks closely at how these revolutions in thought and politics changed the way people understood their relationship to state and society. In the search for global connectivity, we review revolutionary movements beyond the western European and United States  to include cultures and civilizations of  Asia, the Middle East and the Americas. We will ask a number of questions, including: what causes revolutions? Who makes a revolution? What is the meaning of success or failure in a revolutionary situation?

Marla Stone (History)


CSP 23 - The Craft of Creative Writing

Through the development of resources such as voice, imagery, character, and narrative, students will build writing skills and begin to concretize their identities as writers. We will read and respond to works of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, perform in-class writing exercises, attend author readings, and critique creative work during in-class discussions. We will give equal focus to analytical and creative work, in order to reflect on the powers and possibilities of the craft of writing.

Zinzi Clemons (English)


CSP 24 - The Politics of Water

This course introduces students to the politics of water from the local to the global levels. Students will learn how increasing scarcity of water is related to factors such as climate change, urbanization, population growth, and tensions between uses (e.g. agriculture, manufacturing, energy generation, etc.). Local case studies include lessons from Flint, Michigan and local Los Angeles water issues. International cases will examine the impact of large dams in India, water wars over municipal water services in Latin America, mining and other extractive industries worldwide, and the privatization and commodification of water, including the business of bottling water. Global water governance will be examined as well, including the campaigns to legalize a human right to water within the United Nations, and the place of water in the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.

Madeline Baer (Diplomacy and World Affairs)


CSP 25 - Food Revolutions in Early Modern Europe

Food has always been fraught with politics and class and culture. This class examines revolutions in food supply and their role in defining European culture and history between the 15th-18th centuries. The Industrial Revolution was famously preceded by an Agricultural Revolution in Northern England and the Dutch Lowlands in late Medieval Europe, as well the revolutionary impacts of the Columbian Exchange on new crops to feed a rapidly expanding world population. A century of famine and war during the ‘Little Ice Age’ fed into more famous political and cultural upheavals of the eighteenth century. Approaching larger issues of economic production and technological development from the perspective of food, this class incorporates issues of climate, environment and culture in the early modern history of Europe.

Kathryn Renton


CSP 26 - Cowboys, Soldiers, Manly Men: Representations of Masculinity

In this course we will explore representations of masculinity through a range of popular and scholarly texts. We will evaluate and critically analyze constructions of masculine identities, as we consider how these identities are created, negotiated, and explicated in theories of gender, sexuality, ethnicity, race, and class. We will examine stereotypes of manhood and the symbols, myths, practices, and ideologies that form the basis for these stereotypes. We will also look at the ways social institutions create and sustain definitions and depictions of masculinity. There will be required film screenings for this course—days and times to be determined once we meet as a class.

Julie Prebel (Writing and Rhetoric)


CSP 27 - I Ob.ject: Designs for an Improved Universe

This course investigates the history, present and future of technologies as they mediate the relationship between the human self and the perceived object. It takes its inspiration from the early 20th Century German Bauhaus and Soviet Constructivist schools of design and architecture and other “utopian” collectives who sought to resist the status quo and reinvent the physical world to build a more equitable society—from the anti-industrial Arts and Crafts movement in the 19th Century to today’s DIY. We will engage the Critical Making Studio, a student-run maker space in the Library / Academic Commons in applied activities using digital photography, VR, 360 imaging, 3D printing, and/or photogrammetry to reimagine a future world in proposals for objects of our own design. In this writing-intensive course, you will be introduced to library resources and consultation for written assignments that develop ideas and respond to the debates and debacles of world-changing design.

Christopher Gilman (Center for Digital Liberal Arts)


Other Core Courses 

Please note: These 1-unit courses do not fulfill the first-year CSP seminar requirement.

The courses listed below allow students to earn 1-unit of credit while learning about mathematics and science (CSP 96), the culture of Los Angeles (CSP 98), or the arts (CSP 99). CSP 98 and CSP 99 are open to enrollment by all Occidental students, while CSP 96 is only open to first-year students. These special CSP courses have now been renamed to be CORE courses to remove any confusion with the required first-year CSP seminars.

CORE 96. Experiencing Science and Mathematics (1 unit)

This course is designed to expose students to mathematics and science to broaden their awareness ofthe 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. CORE 96 is only open to enrollment by first-year students.

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


CORE 98. Experiencing Los Angeles Cultures (1 unit)

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.


CORE 99. Experiencing the Arts (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.