Thursday, April 23, 2015

Art and Religion in the Curriculum

The fun of my pointless novel continues!

I've brainstormed on material for the protagonist's education in relation to languageshistory, science and math, and philosophy. So now I'm on the last brainstorm for art and religion.

Of course religion is integral to the Christian college. But what about a secular university education?

1. The role of art and religion in a college curriculum, IMO, is to teach students how to be human. You can learn about the science of economics, but ethics is essential when it comes to applying that knowledge. (Yes, it is ignorant to assume unthinkingly that the goal is just for anyone who can to make as much money as possible in whatever way possible) You can learn how to do a lot of things, which might make you a fine communist or a fine capitalist. But without values, you're little more than a dumb animal--maybe dumber.

Beauty and value are important because they make life meaningful. Your yearly salary doesn't matter when you're drowning. And it doesn't matter that you've won a Nobel Prize if you never spent any time with your children and have no healthy relationships. The selfish will die one day and will not be missed. I consider legislators idiots who think public school is only about reading, writing, and arithmetic, while they slash funding for music and pay no attention to the resources needed to redirect students on a trajectory to be a burden on society.

2. The problem of course with teaching values is the question of whose values. Religion can be an incredibly positive force for good in the world... and it can be just as incredibly a negative tool of oppression and evil. I would think a classy undergraduate curriculum would expose students to the great religions of the world--Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, secularism, as examples.

There are some axioms that most religions would accept in some form. Most would have a sense that it is virtuous for individual self-interest to come behind the greater good of the many. There is a balance between "the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one" and "all individuals have certain basic rights." I personally find the idea of a social contract between the members of a society to be perhaps the most useful construct for thinking about human society.

3. Art and literature remind us of a feature of humanity that is almost entirely unique to the human race. Art does not have to represent anything. It does not have to teach anything. I agree with Tolstoy that it is best when it is infectious. But it is valid for its own sake. Literature is the same.

It seems to me that the great art and great literature, even great religions of different world cultures, naturally goes hand in hand with learning their histories and languages.

4. So this alleged first novel focuses on Europe. The first quarter of the novel is in Cambridge. What art and literature of Britain should he study? Shakespeare of course, Dickens, Austin. Locke seems appropriate. The British museum offers a window into some of the art taken from Greece, Turkey, and Egypt in the 1800s.

The second quarter is in Bologna. Obviously that offers all the art of Florence and Rome. In literature there is Dante, Virgil, Augustine, Aquinas. Since Greece is near there is Homer, Plato, Herodotus, and Aristotle. There is Roman and Greek architecture.

The third quarter is in Germany. I suppose there is Goethe and the Brothers Grimm. Of course there is Kant, Heidegger, and Gadamer. There are plenty of museums in Berlin and Munich.

The fourth quarter is in Paris and there is the Louvre. There's Picasso, Seurat, and countless others. For literature there is Sartre and Camus, Foucault. Les Miserables, Voltaire, Montesquieu, Descartes, Rousseau, Pascal.

I'm not sure how much I would weave in or how, but this is part of the territory...

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