Common Ground: Politics, Faith, and Community

Fall 2018
Winter 2019
Freshman - Senior
Class Size: 46
16 Credits per quarter
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What do we mean by “community”? We speak of the LGBTQ community, communities of color, communities of faith, community service, even a community of nations – but what do they have in common? What brings people together, makes them open themselves to one another, causes them to make sacrifices for their common wellbeing? How do they agree upon, and express, the terms of the ties that bind them?

We explore these questions from the ground up, from the roots. Our study will be infused with the insights of anthropology and comparative studies of culture, as well as literary and other creative expressions (by, for example, Zora Neale Hurston and Louise Erdrich) about communities, and individuals in community, both in harmony and discord. Our inquiry brings together classic political theories from Plato, Aristotle, Hobbes, and Locke; more modern social thinkers such as Simone Weil, Hannah Arendt, Clifford Geertz, and Robert Bella; religious authors including St. Benedict, the Dalai Lama, and Paul Tillich; constitutions from several nation-states; rules from monastic communities; and utopian visions. We will try to determine how an understanding of human nature, ideals of a good life, and values shapes the forms into which communities evolve (and from which they devolve). These forms are often constituted by laws, moral codes, customs, traditions, faiths, and rituals, and we will consider all of these.

In fall, we lay a groundwork of social and political ideas. We then study a range of examples of communities in our readings. We also lay a groundwork for developing skills in reading complex texts, composing interpretations in essay form, and critical thinking.  Students will begin an out-of-the-classroom exploration of contemporary communities, which they will develop into a substantial research project in winter. This project will apply the theories and models that we have learned to the understanding of the communities observed. In winter we will also deepen our knowledge of intentional communities such as religious orders, communes, and nascent states. Reading, writing, discussion, ethnographic study, and collaboration will be central to our work, with collaboration being at centermost. We read together, write together, and talk together, believing that a community of learners is always wiser than any one of its members. 


Fall 2018 Registration

Course Reference Numbers

Fr (16): 10212
So (16): 10213
Winter 2019 Registration

Course Reference Numbers

Fr (16): 20109
So (16): 20110
Fr - So (1 - 16): 20308
Jr - Sr (16): 20529

Academic details

Preparatory For

humanities, social sciences, and teaching

Maximum Enrollment
Class Standing


In Person or Remote
In Person (F)
In Person (W)
Time Offered
Schedule Evergreen link
see Schedule Evergreen for detailed schedule

First Meeting

SEM 2 C1107 - Workshop
DateRevision 2018-12-14 Now open to all level