War and Peace in the Bhagavad Gita

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Wendy Doniger’s War and Peace in the Bhagavad Gita is possibly best described as a biography of the Bhagavad Gita. She explores the book’s history and the somewhat contradictory way an epic call to battle has come to be something of a pacifist icon.

The Gita incorporates into its seven hundred verses many different sorts of insights, which people use to argue many different, often contradictory, ideas. We might divide them into two broad groups: what I would call the warrior’s Gita, about engaging in the world, and the philosopher’s Gita, about disengaging. The Gita’s theology—the god’s transfiguration of the warrior’s life—binds the two points of view in an uneasy tension that has persisted through the centuries.

Doniger traces the book’s  place within the wider landscape of Hindu literature, and chronicles how major political and philosophical thinkers from Gandhi to Modi to Walt Whitman have grappled with and reinterpreted the text over the ages. Interested? Read more here.

 

Notes from the November 2014 EnCore Book Club: Angela Carter

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Hard-Core alums gathered on Guy Fawkes Day (November 5th) to discuss Angela Carter’s award-winning novel, Nights at the Circus. Over delicious El Pelon Mexican fare and several bottles of wine and beer, we bantered about Cockney accents, multiple voice narratives, and fin-de-siecle Europe’s fascination with the freaky, the sleazy, and the revolutionary.

Is Fevvers (supposed to sound like “Feathers”), the Winged Victory, the virginal Flying Lady, the toast of Europe, a big fraud (both in terms of her girth and the magnitude of her deception)? Hard to say, since we can’t be sure we can trust any of the witnesses to her Grand Tour through London, St. Petersburg, and Siberia.

After Morrison, Poe, and Carter, we will be taking one last plunge into Gothic lit with our December 3rd choice: Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The House of the Seven Gables.

Join us at 6pm on the first Wednesday of the month for free food, boozes, and talkiness. No need to read the book, just come with some conversation to contribute.

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“The Meaning of Human Existence”

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Biologist Edward O. Wilson has spent his life studying evolutionary biology, writing books, and winning Pulitzer prizes, among other things. He is still going strong at 85 years old, and recently published “The Meaning of Human Existence,” a book intended to explain and convince the general public of the scientific theory of evolution. Drawing on analyses of evolutionary processes,    Wilson constructs a unique social commentary centering around what he calls the

“Paleolithic Curse: genetic adaptations that worked very well for millions of years of hunter-gatherer existence but are increasingly a hindrance in a globally urban and technoscientific society.” Among other ways in which our genetic adaptations ill suit us for contemporary conditions, he notes our penchant for racism, our refusal to curb population growth, our failure to cooperate with one another on a scale commensurate with the challenges we face and our devastation of the natural environment.

In between comparing human altruism to ant behavior and speculating on the value of religion in society, Wilson “appeals to reason and imagination in hopes of enlightening us about our nature and inspiring us to change our destructive ways.”

Interested?Read more here!

“The Intelligent Plant”

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Vegetarianism and veganism have been on the rise in recent years, and adherents often cite consideration of animal rights as a motivation. But what if they heard that plants can also feel pain? It is already well-known that plants respond to external stimuli such as sunlight, air quality, and other basic factors, but a mysterious CIA study said to have been conducted in the late 1960s reportedly found that plants also “listened” and responded to the actions and even thoughts of those around them, including displaying signs of stress and pain on witnessing violence against themselves or other life forms. Although this research has since been discredited by several expert plant scientists, it sparked the imagination of the nation and provoked a lively public debate on the issue. A controversial 2006 article published in a plant science journal attempted to explain what scientists know about so-called “plant neurobiology:”

Plants are able to sense and optimally respond to so many environmental variables—light, water, gravity, temperature, soil structure, nutrients, toxins, microbes, herbivores, chemical signals from other plants—that there may exist some brainlike information-processing system to integrate the data and coordinate a plant’s behavioral response. The authors pointed out that electrical and chemical signalling systems have been identified in plants which are homologous to those found in the nervous systems of animals. They also noted that neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, and glutamate have been found in plants, though their role remains unclear.

The scientific community in general acknowledges that plants have advanced sensory systems, and there have been several intriguing experiments which provide a window into plants’  chemical “communication” systems and even evidence that plants can “learn” behaviors within their lifetime. However many see the anthropomorphizing of plants as being an embarrassment to the field of plant study as a whole, and “the use of the word “neurobiology” in the absence of actual neurons was apparently more than many scientists could bear.” However an incorrigible fascination with “plant intelligence” stretching all the way back to Charles Darwin to continues to fuel interesting research on the subject.

Find out more here, and give us your feedback below!

Wander with Odysseus: The Odyssey as an Alternate Reality Game

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What if instead of simply reading about Odysseus’s journey, you could experience it with him? John Fallon, an innovative middle school teacher, had the idea to craft an alternate reality game (ARG) to help build enthusiasm for classics like the Odyssey  in his seventh-grade class.

Rather than merely reading about the adventures of Odysseus in English class, students can walk a mile in his shoes by channeling the skillset of the Greek hero who masterminded the Trojan Horse and outwitted the Cyclops.

ARGs are designed and run by development teams called ‘puppet masters’ who combine the digital and the real to deliver intricate narratives that blur the line between reality and fiction. Players enjoy a great deal of agency as they solve elaborate puzzles while they negotiate a world of phony websites and documents, midnight phone calls, and park bench envelope exchanges, to name a few of the tactics that can make these games indistinguishable from everyday life.

Fallon noticed that students became more engaged in the Odyssey through the ARG than when he had taught it through traditional teaching methods, and that “‘they did a better job of making their individual versions of Odysseus more clever and better problem solvers rather than just a cardboard cutout hero who bashes his way through problems. This likely stems from having experienced some difficult problem solving of their own in similar circumstances.’”

Other educators and programmers have also experimented with ARGs to help students learn about Japanese internment camps, code-breaking, and other lessons. While there is still significant debate about the efficacy and practicality of implementing ARGs and other immersive learning techniques in the educational system on a wider scale, Fallon and many others believe that they pose an exciting new opportunity to expand student learning in unique ways.

What do you think? Check out the full article here and feel free to add your feedback in the comments below.

 

“Using Sophocles to Treat PTSD”

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Prof. Esposito has written to us here at the Core blog to let us know about an extensive and interesting article from the most recent Harper’s Magazine, entitled “Using Sophocles to Treat PTSD”. He writes:

I thought you might be interested in it especially since it’s about the performances of Sophocles’ Ajax, Philoctetes, and Women of Trachis (as well Euripides’ Bacchae) done by the NYC-based company Theater of War who performed Ajax at Boston University in December, 2011 and will be performing again (this time both Ajax and Philoctetes) at the 25th anniversary celebration of the Core on May 1, 2015. Bryan Dorries, director of Theater of War, sent it along to me, and expressed his excitement about returning to BU with his company next May.

Here’s the opening of the article:

With its winding lanes and stands of cherry trees, Camp Zama, a U.S. Army base twenty-five miles outside Tokyo, feels more like a meditation retreat than a military facility. Until it was seized by the First Cavalry in September 1945, Zama was the West Point of the Imperial Japanese Army. Through the decades, the forest has been pushed back to accommodate a larger airstrip, a fire has taken out the old Japanese barracks, and most of the camp’s remaining structures have been replaced with drab buildings set discreetly into the lush green prettiness. One structure from the Imperial era remains: a large theater. Its exterior is plain but grand; its cavernous interior is decorated like a wedding cake, white with yellow piping. The charm of the building is difficult to reconcile with what happened outside its walls, in 1945. When the few Japanese soldiers left at Zama learned of their country’s surrender, some drew swords, cried, “Long live the emperor!” and stabbed one another to death or committed hara-kiri.

The full piece is behind the Harper’s subscriber-only paywall, but Core students can access it here (as it pertains to our study of Ajax in the first-year Humanities).

The Evolution of Religion

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Check out this new graphic created by Simon E. Davies and shared by Jesus Diaz, gives us a fascinating visual of the evolution of the world’s major religions. Click here to see a larger version.

Professor Ricks edits a compilation of Bob Dylan’s lyrics

26A43074E-0B18-1715-CC6DFC40F7224C44Christopher Ricks, a professor in the Core Curriculum second year humanities, latest project has been editing and writing the introduction for an annotated and illustrated book by Bob Dylan that includes all of his lyrics. The Lyrics: Since 1962 is over 1,034 pages long according to Broadway World and gives the officially released lyrics of Dylan’s songs as well as variant and revision lyrics.

Professor Ricks has to say about the book that, “For fifty years, all the world has delighted in Bob Dylan’s books of words and more than words: provocative, mysterious, touching, baffling, not-to-be-pinned-down, intriguing, and a reminder that genius is free to do as it chooses. And, again and again, these are not the words that he sings on the initially released albums.”

However, if this book sounds like a must-have, you’ll be disappointed to hear that only 3,000 copies will be printed and sold at a whopping $200.

Apple Picking with The Word and Way Society

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This past weekend, the Word and Way Society took a group of eight students apple picking at Honeypot Hill Orchard. For many of the students, this was their first experience at an orchard.

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Notes from the October 2014 EnCore Book Club: Edgar Allan Poe

'Poe Returning to Boston'/ Image via Stefanie Rocknak

‘Poe Returning to Boston’/ Image via Stefanie Rocknak

Pumpkin beer, pumpkin “blondies,” pumpkin whiskey (that’s right), pumpkin ice cream, Halloween-themed Jo-Jos, OTTO pizza, wine and cider and hot tea and more; this was the fall spread that the EnCore book club attendees tucked into as they pulled out their copies of Edgar A. Poe’s short stories.

One could title this meeting “From Victorians to the Void.” The discussion ranged widely for three hours. We began by sharing our particular attitudes towards the ghostly and the gruesome. What were the scariest films we ever saw? Were we most disturbed by the brightly eerie moments from The Shining? The blood-spattering scenes from Saw? The banality of 80′s kitsch from American Psycho?

We discussed Poe’s incessant themes of young, beautiful women dying young, of catatonia leading to premature burials, of the “Imp of the Perverse” within us all which threatens to blow off our tightly screwed lids. But we aren’t Victorians; does this mean we are any less obsessed with death?

Somehow, we veered from talk of serial-killers and psychopaths to the inner demon latent within the average Joe, and to the existential dread we push aside every day. Neil Gaiman once said of Poe that he not only saw the skull beneath human flesh, but that he “could not forget the skin that once covered it.” Perhaps this accounts for Poe’s enduring fascination and creepiness; in the end, nothing is scarier than what is irrevocably human.

If you could not join us for this meeting, worry not; the November book club will take place on the 5th (Guy Fawkes Day!). The EnCore book club will discuss Nights at the Circus, by Angela Carter, a Gothic wit in her own right. Whether you get your hands on the book or not, join us at CAS 119, for victuals and verbosity, verisimilitude and villainous alliteration.

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