2015-16

Sex of the Spirit: Toward a History of Sexuality and Religion in American Culture

Faculty leader: Jeffrey Kripal, J. Newton Rayzor Professor of Religion
Student participants: Elliott Berger (Religion), Jade Hagan (English), Nathanael Homewood (Religion), Erin Prophet (Religion), Eleanor Vainker (Anthropology)

With the important exception of fundamentalism and terrorism, most discussions of religion in the public today revolve, implicitly or explicitly, around a single topic: sex. Whether the discussion is about the teaching of evolution in the public school system (evolution takes a lot of sex), the moral status of homosexuality and the family, women's access to adequate health care, abortion or female ordination, what is really being debated is “sex and religion.” Special attention will be given not just to the political and social dimensions of this centuries-long discussion, but also to the ontological or spiritual dimensions, that is, to the questions of what “sex” and “spirit” are and how they might be related.

 

The Quantified Self: A Techno-Human Experiment

Faculty leader: Kirsten Ostherr, Professor of English
Student participants: Svetlana Borodina (Anthropology), Rachel Conrad (English), Charles Nichols (Anthropology), Elliott Storer (Anthropology), Brandon Williams (Philosophy)

We live in the era of big data. Commercial entities like Target use predictive algorithms to identify pregnant customers and sell them baby supplies. Insurance companies use financial credit scores to assess the health risk profile of potential clients. Telecommunications corporations track the daily movements and interactions of the 90% of American adults who own cell phones. The public and private activities of our daily lives leave digital residue that is reshaping our understanding of selfhood, social relationships, and human behavior. This seminar will explore the role of data in the pursuit of self-knowledge and understanding of the world around us, looking at how the meanings of “data” change over time. We will develop critical frameworks for analyzing what it means to quantify the self, while also exploring new models for humanist engagement by mounting experiments in “life hacking.”