Fall Semester

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 2018 CSP Seminars

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. 

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

CSP 2: Science and You

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. 

Andrew Udit (Chemistry)

CSP 3: No Justice, No Peace: Thinking, Resisting and Writing for Justice

How do we know injustice when we see it? What does justice require? This class will examine these questions in three parts. First, we will critically engage three theories of justice provided by political philosophers: Iris Young, Philip Pettit and Charles W. Mills. Second, we will examine three cases of injustice that have been covered by the national media and addressed in popular culture: The Standing Rock Protest of the South Dakota Access Pipeline, the infamous North Carolina bathroom bill, and the O.J. Simpson trial. The aim of this part of the class will be to use these real world examples to engage further the theories of justice we read in the first part of class. And finally, in addition to the other formal essay assignments required for class, you will be asked to identify organizations in Los Angeles and in your respective hometowns that are doing work to restore justice on issues you care about and contribute some thinking that can tangibly contribute to the cause.

Ainsley LeSure (Politics)

CSP 4: The Game of Go and Society

The course will introduce students to the cultures around the game of Go (Japanese: Igo; Chinese: Weiqi; Korean: Baduk)—an ancient strategy board game played in East Asia for more than 2,000 years. Currently, there are more than 40 million Go players in the world. We will use the game as a window to looking to a variety of topics, including East Asian arts and cultures, international relations, sports and gender, artificial intelligence, etc. We will survey broadly the literature, anime, films, and documentaries related to Go. The other essential part of the course is to learn to play the game. The game of Go is both intellectually rigorous and creative. We will devote plenty of time in game practices and reviews. The course will culminate in a class tournament.

John Liu (Sociology)

CSP 5: From Low Culture to High Art: The Evolution of Comics and Graphic Narrative in the 20th Century 

Comic books were once viewed as the lowest form of mass culture, and even considered an intellectual and moral threat to young people. Today, "graphic literature" is a celebrated medium supported by a mainstream apparatus of publication and criticism. We will study the history of this hybrid medium, from its origins as disposable children's fare to its current array of serious adult genres (novels and short stories, memoir, documentary journalism, and biography). The emphasis will be on American comix, but some attention will be paid to international works in translation. This course may be particularly attractive to students interested in the creative arts and humanities, but the variety of course texts and contents should appeal to students with broad topical interests in 20th-century history and culture. 

Raul Villa (English, LLAS)

CSP 6: 20th-Century Hollywood Representations of Race and Ethnicity

This course uses Hollywood film from the Silent Era to the start of the 21st century to examine changing American attitudes to race and ethnicity.  We will analyze how ideas about whiteness and gender intersect constantly with these representations. The focus of our class discussions and writing assignments will be on how these films have created, shaped, or broken images of the raced other in America.

Adrienne Tien (Core Program)

CSP 7: “In the process of shattering their chains": Modern Literatures of Resistance in the U.S. and Middle East

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.

Amy Tahani-Bidmeshki (American Studies)

CSP 8: 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 poetrywith 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 differance. 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 Literature and Culture)

CSP 9: Cowboys, Gender, and Power 

A study of the popular American "Western" in various forms (fiction, film, television) in the first half of the 20th century. We will pay particular attention to the genre's elaborate, sometimes ambivalent presentation of ideas of "manliness," and to the historical and social contexts in which that presentation developed; we will also spend some time discussing associated issues of race and power. Toward the end of the class we will examine a few of the Western's transformations in the late 20th and 21st centuries. 

John Swift (English)

CSP 10: Sport in Film

From The Freshmen (1925) to Rocky (1976) to Bull Durham (1988) to Remember the Titans (2000) to Blue Crush (2002) to Bend It Like Beckham (2002) to The Fighter (2010), sport has been a central theme in film for close to a century. This course will explore such topics as race and class, gender, sexual orientation as depicted in sport film. Students will explore additional topics including motivation, personality, friendship, competition and group dynamics through film (an additional two hours per week is spent viewing films).

Lynn Mehl (Kinesiology)

CSP 11: Humor, Laughter, and a (Morally) Good Life 

As Ted Cohen writes: “The fact of jokesthe fact there are [stories meant to make us laugh]is something of note, something worth thinking about." In this course, we will do exactly that: we will think seriously about jokes and joking matters. Questions we will ask include: What makes something funny? Why do we laugh? What is the relationship between the aesthetic experience of humor and other aesthetic experiences like that of horror? What is the relationship between joking and absurdity? Is having a sense of humor a virtue, or is failing to have a sense of humor a vice? How does humor help build or define a community? Can morally bad jokes be funny?

To tackle these questions we will read both historical and contemporary philosophical accounts of jokes, humor, the absurd, and the relationship between these things and living a (morally) good life. Supported by the College’s Mellon Grant for the Arts & Urban Experience, we will also take advantage of living in the creative city of Los Angeles to watch films, attend comedy shows, and learn from guest speakers.

Clair Morrissey (Philosophy)

CSP 12: Philosophical Perspectives on Death

In this course, we will draw on philosophy, literature, psychology, and film in order to consider the significance of death for the way we live our lives. We will address four main sets of questions: (1) Is death bad for the person who dies? And does the fact that we will die undermine the meaning of our lives or make our lives absurd? (2) Can we survive bodily death? And does it matter what happens to our remains after we die? (3) Does the nature of our grief over the deaths of people who are close to us, for example, our parents or our spouses, help determine the significance of our relationships with those people? (4) How, if at all, are our values shaped by the assumption that others will live on after we die? The course may include work by Albert Camus, Alfonso Cuarón, Joan Didion, Leo Tolstoy, and Claudia Rankine.

Ryan Preston-Roedder (Philosophy)

CSP 13: 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 (Philosophy)

CSP 14: Chaos

Just how predictable is our universe? In this seminar, we will learn about chaos, i.e., the sensitivity of dynamical systems to small differences in initial conditions. We will also learn about the butterfly effect, period doubling, fractal dimensions, and strange attractors. Then applications of chaos theory will then be explored. We will learn how the mathematics of chaos helps us to better understand science, economics, psychology, and our environment. This course includes group work in the classroom and computational work. 

Janet Scheel (Physics)

CSP 15: 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 postcolonial feminist theory in order to facilitate our analysis and class discussions of these films.

Viviana MacManus (Critical Theory & Social Justice)

CSP 16: Representation and Visual Culture

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. 

Courtney Baker (American Studies & Black Studies)

CSP 17: Myths and Metaphors of Modern American Life

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, GMOs 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 (Religious Studies)

CSP 18: Asian Student Movement

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.

Paul Nam (History)

CSP 19: Los Angeles from Local to Global

Los Angeles is referred to as a collection of neighborhoods as well as a global city, an important node in the global economy. This course explores Los Angeles’s built environment, natural and open spaces, and role as a global city by examining its neighborhoods, history, geography, and political economy. The course draws from interdisciplinary perspectives from sociology, political science, environmental science, economics, critical theory, urban planning, and urban design. The course provides a framework for examining and understanding cities and the urban structures, systems, and processes that define them. Through lectures, readings, films, speakers, class discussions and field trips, students will gain a greater understanding for the rich complexities of Los Angeles and a critical perspective on the past, present and future of cities.  

Martha Matsuoka (Urban & Environmental Policy)

CSP 20: Exploring Experimental Poetry

While poetry often gets framed as a path for individual expression, poetry has proven especially effective for questioning the terms of cultural belonging, political agency, and collective memory. This CSP will examine poets from several different cultural traditions. Poetic form is constantly changing along with our rapidly changing world, in order to address the gaps and contradictions that narrative cannot always fill. For that reason, this course is interested in the centrality of experiment to poetic creation. Close readings of poetry from Phillis Wheatley, Derek Walcott, Solmaz Shariff, Marlene Nourbese Philip, Philip Metres, and Kevin Young will provide test cases for improving our skills in writing thesis-driven, researched based argumentative essays.

James Ford (English)

CSP 21: Who Do You Think You Are? An exploration of the cognitive and psychosocial development of college students 

College is often a time of substantial intellectual, emotional, cultural and social development. The course introduces multidisciplinary perspectives on strategies for holistic success in college. Students will explore the relationships between cognitive, social, and emotional competence, and use this knowledge to act in ways that promote healthy intra- and inter-personal development and effective functioning within and among different societal groups. Students will also explore models of identity development, and strive to understand cultural considerations related to the development of young adults. This course will include experiential components, written assignments, as well as a quantitative project that will allow students to survey their peers about transitions to college.

Carmel Levitan (Cognitive Science), Rob Flot (Student Affairs), and Vivian Garay Santiago (Student Affairs)

CSP 22: Pirates, Slaves, and Empire

This course considers the role that piracy and the transatlantic slave trade played in the foundations of Atlantic empires. Discussions will focus on interactions between pirates (male and female), sailors, captives, privateers, corsairs, chartered companies, and European colonizers. Through historical accounts, fiction, and film we will examine life on the high seas, the local and global in the movement of people, goods and ideas, and the regulatory role of the state. We will be attentive to the position of pirates as an emerging social group, as well as addressing themes such as capitalism, citizenship, masculinity, revolt, the Middle Passage, and profit vs. morality. In addition, we will analyze representations of slaves and pirates in popular culture.

Lauren Brown (Spanish & French Studies)

CSP 23: Neorealist Cinema: From Rome to Watts to Tehran

In this course, we will explore neorealism as a stylistic and humanistic alternative to traditional Hollywood filmmaking, studying the pioneering work of Vittorio De Sica (Bicycle Thieves) in relation to more recent directors Charles Burnett (Killer of Sheep), John Cassavetes (Opening Night), and Abbas Kiarostami (Close-Up). Our goal will be to broaden our knowledge of how these artists' vision, values, and understanding of life and people work together to open us to new ways of seeing and being in the world.

Ara Corbett (Writing & Rhetoric)

CSP 24: Diversity and Secularism in the (Ottoman) Middle East

These days much is written about religious discord in the lands of the former Ottoman Empire (Iraq, Syria, Israel, Egypt, Turkey). While the wanton violence of the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) towards minorities was unprecedented, the general problems faced by minority populations in the region are well-documented. Some argue that inter-religious strife in the Middle East is a consequence of the failure of secularism to take root in the region, while others pin the blame on a general Islamic intolerance towards other faiths. However, other scholars attribute religious conflict in the region to factors such as the imposition of secularism and modern liberal governance. This class is an inquiry into these arguments. Accordingly, we will examine the region’s historical experience with: religious tolerance, minority status, sectarian identity, secularism and the emergence of modern democratic forms of governance.

Michael Gasper (History)

CSP 25: From Emaki to Anime: Medium and Message in Japanese Art

How does an artwork convey a message? How does an artwork’s medium affect the ways in which the viewer perceives and interprets its message? Over the course of the semester, we will seek to answer these questions by unpacking the complex mechanics of meaning-making unique to individual media in Japanese art—from medieval handscrolls (emaki) and early-modern woodblock prints to contemporary performance, film, and anime. We will investigate topics such as the cinematic qualities of handscrolls, a temple that materializes paradise, defective tea utensils that deconstruct artistic hierarchies, and contemporary installations that dissolve the viewer’s body. In addition to developing foundational skills of critical looking, thinking, and writing, we will ultimately cultivate our ability to interpret how individual media shape the meanings and messages that they communicate to their viewer.

Yurika Wakamatsu (Art and Art History)

CSP 26: Roots and Routes in Oceania 

Oceania, as proclaimed by Epeli Hau'ofa, is comprised of a “sea of islands" that cross the boundless Pacific Ocean. The course begins by centering indigenous knowledge systems about pathways for human migration and trade through seafaring. We discuss indigenous seafaring as a social practice and system that encouraged long-distance, two-way crossings. The waterway not only facilitated material exchange (i.e. canoes, stone tools, etc.), but reflected Oceanic epistemologies about space and place that involved the connection between the land and the sea, as well as the underworld and sky. When viewed in this way, Euro-American colonial cartographies that have defined Pacific island communities since the eighteenth century are challenged in favor of interconnected Oceanic narratives about the sea as home (the sea as a collection of communities). Ultimately, students are asked to consider Pacific Islander art—from painting and tattoos to music and performance—as yet another means of indigenous interconnectivity, while simultaneously engaging scholarship about colonial, postcolonial, and imperial enterprises in the Pacific. 

Kelema Moses (Art & Art History)

CSP 27: 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 to his work as one of the great achievements of the human imagination. There will be close readings of The Interpretation of DreamsThree 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 28: Human/Nature: Literary Visions of a Complex Relationship

The relationship of human beings to the natural world is indeed a complex one. The very notion of a distinction between the two realms has long been fundamental to our understanding of ourselves as a species, while at the same time the sense of how these apparently different spheres co-exist and inform one another has changed dramatically over time. Today increasing concerns over global change leave us wondering whether there is still any room in between a humanly constructed world and a natural environment beyond or outside it. This course will read a selection of literary efforts—from the classical world to the contemporary—that seek to define or make sense of the human/nature dynamic, with the goal to understand better how representations of this relationship have evolved over time, what constitutes the key themes of different historical perspectives, and how these differing views can help us make sense of the human age in which we find ourselves today.

Devin Fromm (Core Program)


Other CSP 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 99 is open to enrollment by all Occidental students, while CSP 96 is only open to first-year students.

CSP 96. Experiencing Mathematics and Science (1 unit)

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. Open only to first-year students.

CSP 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.

CSP 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.