Few exclamations are more frequently used to capture the tumultuous, turbulent, tormenting, and uncontrollable aspects of human experience. Hell is politics, war, relationships, and life itself—all combined!
For many years, I taught a seminar on “Hell in the Twentieth Century.” Looking back on the trials of that century, I never had any problems finding ten images (and more!): World War I, the Holocaust, totalitarianism, and on and on. Last year, I decided that the time was ripe to move forward. The Twenty-First Century has already set a new record. In a mere 19 years, manifestations of Hell abound: war, terrorism, climate change, populist authoritarianism, ingrained poverty, and the human misery of migration. Thanks to my pedagogical good fortune, which is unfortunately our mutual misfortune as residents of this Solitary Planet, I have created this new course.
I define our Twenty-First Century as the period between the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centers and the Pentagon on September 11, 2011 and the current day.
In this seminar, we will explore our already troubled century of Hell by focusing on four themes:
- The experience of Hell
- The causes of Hell
- The consequences of Hell, and finally,
- The obligation to act on Hell
To address these themes, we will turn to ten widely-recognized contemporary images of Hell. These are: America’s involvement in the Iraq war; genocide; existentialist Angst (in a world without God and in a world with God); tyranny; technological dystopia; moral bankruptcy; poverty; the misery of the migrant; and the destruction of our natural environment.
By the end of the semester, you will see that this course is about much more than than our century. It is about us: our lives and the lives of billions of other people who live in a world that is as unstable as it has ever been before.
I have four equally important goals for this seminar. We will pursue them both simultaneously and consecutively.
- To introduce you to some of the major issues of our times.
- To familiarize you with four key concepts in the study of politics and society—description, explanation, analysis, and prescription. It is crucial that we agree about these concepts. At this strange point in history, we live in a country in which agreement about the definition of a “fact” and the scientific method is in question.
- To develop your reading, writing, and speaking skills.
- Above all, I want to teach you how to persuade. I am committed to the idea that all Notre Dame students should become leaders. Leadership is all about persuasion. Good leadership, to which we should all aspire, is about showing decency, kindness, and compassion.
I have designed this seminar to challenge you both intellectually and personally. To avoid being left behind, you must keep up with all of your assignments. I expect each of you to participate fully in everything we do. This includes speaking in class, communicating with your classmates over Google Docs, and most importantly—daring to think for yourself.
You are now looking at the authoritative syllabus for the seminar. I do not use paper syllabi. That would be soooo Twentieth Century….
Throughout our seminar, I will modify our schedule and assignments on a regular basis. I will add some items and delete others. You never know what surprises you will find on this syllabus. Thus, you are responsible for consulting these pages routinely throughout the semester.
NOTE: Please leave your technology at home. This includes electronic devices of any kind, such as laptops, i-Pads, I-phones, Kindles, video cameras, video games, or other personal digital devices.
My class is a no-tweet zone. Some things are just not dignified!