Academic Year Seminars


Small Virtues, Big Lives: On Meaning-Fullness 
R. J. Snell
The Witherspoon Institute

In our time many are hesitant about seriousness. We value spontaneity and irony more than seriousness. Aren’t serious people likely to be dogmatists or fundamentalists, people serious about things that many people can no longer take very seriously? Aren’t many people agnostic about the “big stories” of meaning that seriousness assumes? Are agnostics or others suspicious of seriousness unable to live full lives, and in what ways can those who remain committed to the “old” seriousness share virtue with existential agnostics? Many, not all, such agnostics have turned to notions such as “the practices of everyday life,” “the school of life,” or “the art of living” in order to imbue their daily lives with a sense of purpose or beauty that they no longer find in traditional ideas of transcendence, religion, living according to nature, citizenship, or humanism.

In other words, should serious people also be serious about the everyday practices, not only because they are part of living well, but also as a place of contact and accompaniment with existential agnostics? Perhaps, even, as a way to show how the small virtues point beyond themselves to something bigger, something the tradition took with utter seriousness?

Open to all Princeton undergraduates, the seminar will meet twice per month on Fridays, 12:45-2:45pm, lunch provided.

Location: The Witherspoon Institute, Whelan Hall.

Dates: 2/8; 2/22; 3/8; 4/5; 4/26; 5/3.

For more information, contact at R. J. Snell at rsnell@winst.org.

 

God, Love, and Law: A Conversation
Luis Tellez, The Witherspoon Institute

Luis Tellez, founder and president of the Witherspoon Institute, will lead this seminar using his recently published book, Integrating God+Love+Law Into Your Life, a brief but profound guide to living an examined and fulfilling life. Drawing from thirty years of experience helping Princeton students navigate life in the Orange Bubble and beyond, Tellez returns to lead the academic year seminars, which he began in the Fall of 2013. Eschewing the third person, Tellez’s book demands that you frame the great questions in life with immediacy, asking not ‘How should one live one’s life?’ but rather ‘How should I live my life?’ Over the course of this seminar, Tellez will argue that the key to a well-lived life is attaining an understanding of ‘love’ and ‘law.’

Open to all Princeton undergraduates, the seminar will meet twice per month on Fridays, 12:45-2:45pm, lunch provided.

Dates: 2/15; 3/1; 3/29; 4/12.

Location: The Witherspoon Institute, Whelan Hall.

For more information, contact at Luis Tellez at ltellez@winst.org. 

 

Heroes and Saints: Myths and Legends
José Pérez-Benzo, The Witherspoon Institute

I want a hero: an uncommon want.’ Though ours is an age suspicious of the very notion of heroism, this seminar will argue that human nature contains within itself an ineradicable desire for heroes. We will examine heroism not primarily as a concept in the abstract, but rather we will witness how people both historical and fictional have embodied the concept of heroism in history. Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar, Augustine and Abelard, Cesare Borgia and Thomas More—these figures and many others we will study both exemplified and shaped their respective communities and cultures, simultaneously illustrating both how heroism changed from the Ancient to the Medieval to the Modern periods and how the need for heroes endured despite such changes. Through readings taken from Homer and Plato, Plutarch and Cicero, Machiavelli and More, we will survey the present day in search of heroes who reflect and shape our contemporary world. Everyone has heroes. It behooves us to know who our heroes are, because we become that which we admire.  

Open to all Princeton undergraduates, this seminar will meet twice per month on Wednesdays from 6:00 to 7:30 pm, dinner provided.

Dates: 2/6; 2/20; 3/6; 4/3; 4/17; 5/1.

Location: The Witherspoon Institute, Whelan Hall.

For more information, contact José Pérez-Benzo at jperezb@winst.org.

 

The Art of Friendship
José Pérez-Benzo, The Witherspoon Institute

True to its name, this seminar aims to treat friendship not as a theory but as an art, identifying the particular set of practices and actions associated with the classical ideal of friendship and seeking to embody them in our own lives. While we will devote some initial discussion to the philosophy of friendship, as beautifully laid out in Michael Pakaluk’s elegant anthology Other Selves: Philosophers on Friendship, the bulk of the discussion will turn on such questions as: How do I make friends? How do I tell a flatter from a friend? How do I befriend people who do not share my values? Is it ever appropriate to dissolve a friendship, and if so how? How do I maintain friendships across distances? This seminar will seek to address these vexing questions about the art of friendship by viewing art in a twofold sense as both craft and culture. Viewing the art of friendship through the lens of culture by appreciating depictions of friendship in poetry and prose, in painting and in sculpture, will bring into sharper focus the craft of friendship in our own lives. It is the goal of this seminar to form and foster friendships, with Virgil and Dante, Roland and Oliver, Rosalind and Celia, Francis and Clare, Tolkein and Lewis, and dozens more as guides.

Open to all Princeton undergraduates, this seminar will meet twice per month on Wednesdays from 6:00 to 7:30 pm, dinner provided.

Dates: 2/13; 2/27; 3/27; 4/10; 4/24.

Location: The Witherspoon Institute, Whelan Hall.

For more information, contact José Pérez-Benzo at jperezb@winst.org.

 

The Witherspoon Shakespeare Society

The Witherspoon Shakespeare Society seeks to approach Shakespeare’s plays not as texts to be dissected, but as dramas to be enacted. The Society will perform live readings from beginning to end, without worrying about forgetting half-memorized lines or constantly consulting footnotes. Using Harold Bloom’s magisterial Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human as a foil and a guide, the Society will perform a judicious selection of plays designed to examine and challenge Bloom’s Nietzschean reading of Shakespearean characters, or rather, persons, who are on Bloom’s reading fundamentally free artists of themselves for whom the act of speaking is a kind of contempt. Through performance and subsequent discussion, we will question whether Shakespeare’s plays hinge on a plenitude of meaning, or whether they are nothing more than a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury. In other words, for the purposes of this Society, “To be or not to be: that is the question.”

For more information, contact José Pérez-Benzo at jperezb@winst.org.