Welcome to SPACE, our adult continuing education program which offers interactive monthly courses for personal enrichment! Learn more here.

LanguageFantasy StudiesCreative Writing • General Humanities

General Humanities Modules

A Brief Exploration of Japanese Poetry

Over the course of this module we will read and explore the work of a few major pre-modern Japanese poets in translation, putting them in their historical, cultural, and religious contexts along the way, but always focusing on the poetry itself. Group discussion is strongly encouraged. Poetry and poets covered will include that of the Manyōshū, Saigyō, Princess Shikishi, and Bashō. Time permitting, we can add to the list.
Precepted by Robert Steed and Pilar Barrera.

A Casual Look at Etymology in Paleontology

Have you ever wondered what Tyrannosaurus Rex means? How about Basilosaurus? Deinosuchus? Gigantopithacus? Argentavis? Okay you have to know Megalodon, right? Well, if you are interested in learning about the meaning behind some of your favorite prehistoric animal names, then join me for this sit down discussion. No prior knowledge of a secondary language (namely Greek and Latin) is required. This module is intended to be a fun chat to help you better identify certain creatures the next time you head to a natural history museum -- or the next time the topic shows up on Jeopardy!
Precepted by Joshua Sosa.

A Cultural History of Anime

In this module we will look at the historical development of anime, with special attention to its uses in re-imagining post-war Japanese culture and society. From Momotaro’s Divine Sea Warriors to mushroom-cloud explosions and kawaii aesthetic, come explore how anime shapes Japanese (and others’) perceptions of Japanese history and culture.
Precepted by Robert Steed.

Ancient Egyptian Mages

An examination of who used magic in Egypt, with an emphasis on characters within literary genres and known professions. This includes the story of Khufu, the Nubian sorcerers, the use of Shabtis, and later stories, including Lucian and the inspiration for Fantasia. This also includes priests, healers, and professional magic users. What do we know about fictional and nonfictional magic users? How and why did they practice? What areas did they work in?
Precepted by Shawn Gaffney.

An Intensive Reading of the Tao Te Ching (Daode jing)

"The Way that can be talked about is not the lasting Way": so begins this classic text of world literature and Chinese philosophical and religious thought. The Tao Te Ching has been read, interpreted, and applied in a variety of ways throughout Chinese and world history. We'll do a close reading as well as explore the larger commentarial tradition surrounding it, using it as a gateway to explore further dimensions of East Asian culture and to spark conversations within the class.
Precepted by Robert Steed.

Buddhism 1: Introduction to Early Buddhism

In this module we will explore the formation and development of early Buddhist traditions, focusing on the life of the historical Buddha, the Deer Park Dharma Discourse, the formation of the Sangha (Buddhist monastic community), and the foundational teachings of the Four Noble Truths, the Three Marks of Existence, and the Chain of Dependent Origination.
Precepted by Robert Steed.

Buddhism 2: Introduction to Mahayana Buddhism

Building on the "Introduction to Early Buddhism" module, we will explore the development of Mahayana Buddhist traditions, focusing especially on Madhyamika and Yogacara trends, the Zen and Pure Land Schools, the Heart Sutra, the Lotus Sutra, and interactions with Chinese religio-philosophical systems, especially Daoism, and the fascinating culture of the Dunhuang caves.
Precepted by Robert Steed.

Buddhism 3: Introduction to Vajrayana Buddhism

Building on the previous two Intro to Buddhism modules in this sequence, we will explore the colorful and varied forms of Vajrayana Buddhism, focusing especially on developments in Tibet, but not ignoring the larger world of esoteric Buddhism. The various sects, arts such as the creation of sand mandalas, ritual practices, and various forms of teaching will all be explored.
Precepted by Robert Steed.

Daoism: The School of the Way

In this class we will explore some of the major texts and movements within historical Daoism, especially Laozi, Zhuangzi, and Daoist alchemy and long-life practices. We will also examine how some of these Daoist concepts are incorporated by Ursula K. Le Guin into her speculative fiction.
Precepted by Robert Steed.

Discovering, Understanding, and Loving Haiku

Known as the shortest form of poetry in the world, haiku overwhelm us with their beautiful imagery and evoke incredible emotions. Join preceptors Robert Steed and Pilar Barrera in this module where we’ll explore the historical, religious and cultural background of haiku, read and analyze a variety of haiku by different authors, and play with haiku as you’ll have the opportunity to write your own!
Precepted by Pilar Barrera and Robert Steed.

Egyptian Demons

Introduction to the non-god, non-human, entities in ancient Egypt. Demons were guardians, messengers, and performed other duties, usually as intermediaries between the gods and men. We will consider the category of “demon”, their roles, descriptions, and how they changed over time in the Egyptian worldview. How were demons viewed and why were they necessary? How did they relate to other cultures? What became of Egyptian Demons in later periods?
Precepted by Shawn Gaffney.

Egyptian Execration Texts

These are a special set of Egyptian texts, as well as objects and rituals that accompany them, used to act as either preventative or punitive magic against the enemies of Egypt. They provide a familiar framework from which to start learning about the specifics of Egyptian magic, in that they resemble our notion of “voodoo dolls”. How did they work? Why were they used? How did the object reflect the worldview of the Egyptians?
Precepted by Shawn Gaffney.

Egyptian Magical Texts

Another variation of this class looks at the history of magic writing, starting with the Pyramid texts and their evolution into the Books of the Dead, Coffin Texts, and the Greek Magical Texts. We will look closely at the origin and evolution of Egyptian spells and texts, as well as the culture that gave rise to them. How did magic work? How are writing and magic bound to one another? How are writing, magic, and image related? What were the various spells for?
Precepted by Shawn Gaffney.

Electronic Text Markup With XML and TEI

This module will introduce the markup of literary and historical texts electronically. It will begin with a tour of the Extensible Markup Language (XML) and then the guidelines of the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI). There will plenty of hands-on activities to markup your out-of-copyright texts of choice.
Precepted by James Tauber.

English Sonnet Readings

This module will explore a range of English sonnets, some familiar and some more obscure, looking at the wordplay of all and exploring the contexts and reception of these poets or their authors where known. In the second half of the month, we will also explore the versatility of the sonnet form, looking at adaptations, variations, and the effects thereof.
Precepted by Faith Acker.

Exploring Japanese Picturebooks

Japanese picturebooks are visually stunning, are not afraid of presenting distressing themes, and are emotionally profound. In this module taught by preceptors Robert Steed and Pilar Barrera, we will read a variety of Japanese picturebooks, discuss their motifs, imagery, and illustrations. We will relate their themes to different aspects of Japanese culture, and discuss the role of picturebooks in literature.
Precepted by Pilar Barrera and Robert Steed.

Exploring The Dark Forest

The second volume in Liu Cixin's The Three-Body Problem series continues the story of Trisolaran alien invasion and the range of human responses to that threat. As with the Three-Body Problem module, we will read and discuss the novel, both for its inherent interest and for the ways it can serve as an accessible gateway to various aspects of Chinese history, culture, and science fiction.
Precepted by Robert Steed.

Exploring the Themes of Miyazaki Hayao through Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away

For this class we will take the two films of the title as the primary media through which we explore some of Hayao Miyazaki's major themes appearing throughout most of his work. These include themes of regard for nature, tensions between human society and the natural world, the prominence of shōjo (young female protagonists,) and questions of identity, of friendship, and of trust. Time permitting, we can consider even more.
Precepted by Robert Steed.

Exploring The Three Body Problem

First ever Asian winner of the Hugo award for best novel, as well as winning the Chinese Yinhe (“Galaxy”) award for best novel, and nominated for the Nebula award for best novel, The Three-Body Problem is an exploration of both humanistic and technological themes in the context of Chinese history and contemporary society, all set in a narrative of alien invasion. There are few novels better for beginning to explore Chinese science fiction, so please join us as we take a deep dive into this fascinating masterpiece!
Precepted by Robert Steed.

History of the Book Arts

This module gives an overview of writing and alphabets, literary and other works written on stone, papyrus, wax, and parchment.
Precepted by Larry Swain.

How To Read a Poem

This short course will teach close-reading and interpretation skills for understanding and enjoying great works of lyric poetry from various time periods and cultures. Through paraphrase, commentary, close analysis, and conversation, we will learn to love these literary jewels more than ever before.
Precepted by Sørina Higgins.

Intermediate Egyptian Magic

A continuation of the themes from Introduction to Egyptian Magic. We will add to our repertoire of spell and magical categories, including a variety of specific spells from texts and objects, including magic-medical spells, wands, execration materials, and amulets. This class will also review some of the magic associated with religious rituals and the afterlife. What constituted a magic object and how were they used? What magic was useful for the afterlife?
Precepted by Shawn Gaffney.

Introduction to Ancient Magic 1

An introduction to magic in the ancient world provides a short survey of the earliest known magical texts and objects, including the Pyramid texts, Sumerian exorcism spells, and objects used in different apotropaic rituals. Divination and other forms of magic will be included as well. What was the earliest magic? What did it do and how did it work? Who practiced magic? How was magic related to religion?
Precepted by Shawn Gaffney.

Introduction to Ancient Magic 2

This class continues into module two where we look specifically the Greco-Roman world, magic in myth and literature, and specific spells and objects in use throughout the classical world, including their relations to Mesopotamia and Egypt. This includes the Greek magical texts. What types of magic did they use? Who practiced them and why?
Precepted by Shawn Gaffney.

Introduction to Ancient Magic 3

Last in the sequence of Ancient Magic is the use of magic in the early Christian world, its relationship with contemporary magic, and related texts. We will explore the origins of this magic, how it was used, and how it evolved over time. We will look at both religious and non-religious magic through a number of examples, both verbal spells and magical items, such as Aramaic incantation bowls.
Precepted by Shawn Gaffney.

Introduction to Ancient Magic Series

This is the Landing Page for Prof. Shawn Gaffney's series exploring Ancient Magic.

This page will be updated to reflect which module in the series is being explored in a given month.
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Introduction to Ancient Magic Series:
• Module 1: Introduction to Ancient Magic 1 > Link
• Module 2: Introduction to Ancient Magic 2 > Link
• Module 3: Introduction to Ancient Magic 3 > Link
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NOTE: Students can jump in at any month/part of the Series. There are no prerequisites.

Precepted by Shawn Gaffney.

Introduction to Egyptian Magic

Introduction to the basic magic of Egypt, including medical, religious, and daily magic used by both specialists and ordinary Egyptians. Where was magic used and by whom? How did one practice magic? Examples will be drawn specifically from Egyptian sources. We will also discuss magic as it is explained in theoretical literature, how we can view magic through these theoretical frameworks, and how they might be applied elsewhere.
Precepted by Shawn Gaffney.

Introduction to Linguistics

This course is a basic introduction to the scientific study of the mechanics of language, with a bit of an extra focus on considerations relevant to studying literature.
Precepted by Aidan Aannestad.

Intro to Classical Mythology

As classical mythology is often the gateway into mythological studies, so too will this course be your gateway into classical mythology. We will explore the mythology of the Greco-Roman world in broad strokes, familiarizing ourselves with gods and heroes, before ending the module by dabbling in a bit of comparative mythological study. In doing so, we'll look at excerpts from a few classical authors (in translation), as well as some artifacts and possibly even some historical sites.
Precepted by Joshua Sosa.

Inventing King Arthur: Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain

This course offers an in-depth look at the first complete “historical” narrative of the reign of King Arthur, Geoffrey’s Historia Regum Britania – as well as the centuries-long controversy this book generated. Comprising almost a quarter of Geoffrey’s History (Books 4 – 11), this crucial first account of the king includes the arrival of the Saxons in England, a battle of dragons, the boy Merlin’s prophetic visions, Arthur’s magically-contrived conception, his conquest of Rome, and his overthrown and death at the hands of his nephew Mordred. This course will also look at the battle of books that ensued following the appearance of Geoffrey’s work, with some contemporary chroniclers alleging that Geoffrey had simply made the whole thing up, and others rallying to Geoffrey’s (and Arthur’s) defense.
Precepted by Liam Daley.

Life in the Middle Ages

This module will look at what life in the Middle Ages was like. What did they eat? What about entertainment? What work? What was literature like? People will encounter texts, artifacts, and art to help gain a better understanding of life in the Middle Ages.
Precepted by Larry Swain.

Literature and Mental Health

Throughout human history, people have recorded their mental and emotional experiences through writing, whether directly in autobiographical accounts, or indirectly through characters in fiction. In this module, we'll look at some selections from writings across the ages that express psychological distress of one kind or another and some that show how sufferers from mental disorders have found relief. We'll learn from these how to talk to someone who is struggling in that way, what to say and not to say, and some strategies for managing our own mental health.
Precepted by Sørina Higgins.

Medieval Drama: Staging the English Bible

Stating the history of the world from Creation to Doomsday, the biblical play cycles of fourteenth and fifteenth century England provided a vernacular version of scripture. Part of the days-long civic festivals surrounding key liturgical holidays, these cycles presented a mixture of theatrical spectacle, theological instruction, social commentary, and civic pageantry to residents of York, Chester, Coventry, and other populous cities. Beginning with an overview of medieval staging practices, this course will examine a sample of medieval biblical plays from various cycles including The Creation and Fall of Lucifer, Noah’s Flood, Abraham and Isaac, The Second Shepherd’s Play, Herod’s Slaughter of the Innocents, The Crucifixion, The Harrowing of Hell, and The Last Judgement. The plays will be read in a beginner-friendly modernized-spelling Middle English edition edited by A. C. Cawley, so that familiarity with Middle English is not a requirement. However, scholarly online Middle English editions will also be made available for students wishing to practice their skills in that area.
Precepted by Liam Daley.

Mesopotamian Demons

Demons have played a significant role in ancient cultures beyond just Egypt. Mesopotamia has its own set of liminal entities that reside somewhere between gods and man, with their own responsibilities and roles. This class will explore the features of these beings, including where they are first seen in literature, what roles they play, and what we know about them. Think Pazuzu from the Exorcist.
Precepted by Shawn Gaffney.

Modern British Poetry

In this module we will read and discuss a collection of some of the best British poetry of the 21st century, considering the ways in which each poet addresses the anxieties of our time.
Precepted by Sara Brown.

Music Theory for the Mathematically-Inclined

Music is often described as mathematical but music theory is rarely taught from this perspective. This course will cover traditional basic music theory but will explore some of the underlying mathematical reasons why music works the way it does. Nothing beyond high school math is required.
Precepted by James Tauber.

Nature and Shinto in Anime

Shinto, usually identified as “the indigenous religious tradition” of Japan, heavily influences the aesthetic and worldview of many anime films and series. Join us as we explore aspects of Shinto practice and how they influence and shape the films Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke, as well as the idiosyncratic but popular series Mushi Shi.
Precepted by Robert Steed.

Philosophy in a World of Chaos: Voltaire’s Candide, or Optimism

Why do bad things happen to good people? How can we know which is the best philosophy to live by in a world of chaos? This course shows how Voltaire’s raucous comic novella answers those questions. Join the young Candide on a series of misadventures that includes war, shipwreck, earthquake, religious persecution, dismemberment, amorous monkeys, New World discovery, royal dethronement, and the French. Along the way, he experiences love and loss, acquires a group of misfit companions, and encounters a host of competing philosophies – each trying to explain how the world got the way it is and how to make living there bearable. Though primary emphasis will be placed on the novel, we will also look at short excerpts both from Voltaire’s philosophical writing relevant to the novel and from Leonard Bernstein’s musical dramatization of the work.
Precepted by Liam Daley.

Plague Literature

Pandemics have swept the globe with disturbing regularity throughout human history, and authors have written literature in response to one they experienced or others they imagined in the future. What do historical and imaginary epidemics and pandemics teach us about our own? How do authors use contagion allegorically and metaphorically as social commentary? Put our current COVID-19 into perspective by reading and discussing novels, short stories, poems, and other works set in a time of plague.
Precepted by Sørina Higgins.

Plant-based Entheogens, Shapers of History and Consciousness

In this module we will explore the roles that various plant-based entheogens have played, actively and passively, in shaping human consciousness and history. Tea, coffee, chocolate, nutmeg, cannabis, coca, alcohol, opium, pipe-weed (tobacco), and ayahuasca will all be discussed, both in their historical contexts and for their entheogenic properties. Time permitting, we can cover more.
Precepted by Robert Steed.

Poems with a Story

In this module, we will discuss classic poems using different stylistic and Cognitive Poetics techniques such as the use and connotation of specific words, textual attractors and their effect, the meaning of negative words, etc.
Precepted by Pilar Barrera.

Poetry as Practical Ecology

Through a selection of great poems drawn primarily from the tradition of British, Irish, and American literature, we’ll look at what we can learn from these creative writings about taking care of the planet. We will read and talk about descriptions of nature in these poems, then see what principles of creation care we can extrapolate from the ways they interact with the nonhuman environment, animals, plants, weather, and more.
Precepted by Sørina Higgins.

Reader's Theater: The Tempest

In each module of the Reader’s Theatre sequence, we’ll read aloud and discuss in great detail one of Shakespeare’s genre-bending late plays. Participants will take characters, and we’ll read aloud one scene at a time, talking about how to express and interpret the text.
Precepted by Sørina Higgins.

Religion in the Life and Works of J.R.R. Tolkien

Tolkien drew upon a wide range of religious, philosophical, and metaphysical sources in shaping his legendarium, including Greek, Norse, Germanic, and Celtic paganisms, Catholic Christianities, Eastern Orthodox and Jewish mysticisms, various Neo-Platonisms, and western esoteric traditions among others. Join the discussion as we explore in some depth these sources and how Tolkien weaves them into his web of story-telling and world-building.
Precepted by Robert Steed.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: Text, Translation, Film

Can Sir Gawain keep his honor without losing his head? This short classic of Middle English chivalric romance follows Gawain on a quest testing his heroism, social etiquette, sexual virtue, and existential sense of self. This course explores: first, the extraordinary history of the single, unique manuscript which preserves this poem (as it “slept” on a library shelf for 400 years, escaped destruction by fire, and was eventually rediscovered in the 19th century); second, the translations which brought this poem to a twentieth century readership – focusing in particular on J.R.R. Tolkien’s; and finally, the 2021 film by David Lowery.
Precepted by Liam Daley.

Tales of Saki: The Best Short-Stories You’ve Never Heard Of!

Something dangerous and unexpected is lurking on the periphery of polite Edwardian society. In an oeuvre of short-stories that is shockingly not more widely known, master of dark social comedy H. H. Munro (alias “Saki”) offers a world populated by duchesses, vicars, foreign ambassadors, and idle London playboys – but also escaped hyaenas, talking cats, werewolves, and malevolent pageant gods. This course examines a selection of Saki’s short fiction, along with a brief look at his biography and historical context. Marked by a combination of acid wit, sudden shocking reversals, and a knack for conveying the unmentionable, Saki’s stories are essential reading for anyone interested in the gothic tale, the comic anecdote, or the craft of short fiction writing,
Precepted by Liam Daley.

The Fantastic in East Asia

Come join us as we explore various aspects of the weird, the strange, the uncanny, the dreamlike, and the visionary in East Asian literature, religion, folktales, poetry, and popular media. Whether it is ecstatic visions in Daoist texts, shamanistic expressions in Chinese poetry, gumiho and ghosts in KDramas, or stories such as that of the Yuki Onna (Snow Woman) in Japanese folklore, we’ll explore them all (and perhaps more!) in this class.
Precepted by Robert Steed.

The History of the Symphony: After Beethoven

This module will be a chronological listening tour of the history of the symphony after Beethoven. We will explore the symphony’s subsequent development in the romantic era, and its rethinking in the 20th century. We will listen to some key works together and discuss some of the innovations introduced in those particular works.
Precepted by James Tauber.

The History of the Symphony: Beginnings to Beethoven

This module will be a chronological listening tour from the precursors of the symphony in the baroque era to the birth of the symphony in the classical era culminating in the works of Beethoven. We will listen to some key works together and discuss some of the innovations introduced in those particular works.
Precepted by James Tauber.

The Other in the Ancient Egyptian World

The Egyptians had a complex view of non-Egyptians. They were both threatening enemies but also potential Egyptians. This course will look at how the Egyptians viewed and depicted the other, the role of the other, and the change in many cases, of other to countryman. This will include a survey of art, literature, and magic as it relates to depicting, describing, and affecting the other and how this reinforced the Egyptian identity. Who were the “others” in the Egyptian worldview? How were they to be interacted with? Who where the Egyptians in their own view?
Precepted by Shawn Gaffney.

The Picture of Dorian Gray: “It was a poisonous book”

This course offers a close examination of Oscar Wilde’s gothic masterpiece on identity, guilt, and the power of art. In a Faustian bargain, Dorian enjoys seemingly eternal youth while his painted likeness bears the physical (and moral) consequences of a life of debauchery and wickedness. But Dorian learns that sooner or later, as the old saying goes, everyone gets the face they deserve. Focusing mainly on the text of the novel itself, this seminar will also touch on its publication history, its reception in Victorian society, and the life of its author – Wilde’s rise to international celebrity, his “fatal friendship” with Alfred Lord Douglas, and his trial and imprisonment for “gross indecency” in which this novel was presented as evidence of Wilde’s guilt.
Precepted by Liam Daley.

Victorian Gothic: Exploring Dracula

When we think of Gothic Horror, Bram Stoker’s Dracula immediately comes to mind. In this Module, we will explore the reasons why we are drawn to this compelling yet terrifying character, and how Stoker was connecting with Victorian anxiety towards the Supernatural and the Other.
Precepted by Sara Brown.

Warring States Era Chinese Philosophy: Attaining Flow

Confucianism, Daoism, Legalism, Mohism---these Chinese philosophical systems all have their foundational roots in the Warring States period of Chinese history (475–221 BCE), and as such share a set of common interests, even if their proposals for attaining those interests greatly differ. In this module we will cover the basic concerns of each of these systems, paying attention to their differences as well as their similarities, and perhaps most importantly, seeing how their proposals for the attainment of human flourishing may still have something to offer to contemporary people.
Precepted by Robert Steed.

Weird Languages

Many people do not realize the variety of languages structures and strange language phenomena that exist in the worlds languages. This class will introduce a number of features that can be found across the globe. These include object agreement, verbs that necessarily encode the shape of items, ergativity, discourse particles, languages with 20 grammatical gender classes, pronoun hierarchies, circumfixes and infixes, and the complex systems of taboo words that arise in some languages. We will look a number of these, at what is rare, common, surprising, but all of which are real. Language families from Africa, the Caucasus, Siberia, Australia, and the Americas.
Precepted by Shawn Gaffney.

Wisdom Literature: The Book of Job

Let's do a close, detailed, literary reading of the Book of Job in the Bible, taking our time to contemplate each verse, sentence, phrase, and word. What literary techniques does the author use? How is the book structured? What genre conventions does it use or subvert? We will ponder these questions and others as we move slowly and respectfully through this beautiful ancient text.
Precepted by Sørina Higgins.
If you have any questions about the SPACE program, please reach out to [email protected].