How Core courses will be carrying on

If you did not see the Director’s email from 3/13 about the way our spring Core courses are adjusting in response to the COVID-19 crisis, you can now find that message on the program website: http://www.bu.edu/core/covid-19.

How One Alumna Is Spending Her Time At Home

Many millions of people are staying at home, to minimize the risk of transmission, and to adhere to social distancing and shelter-in-place advisories. We caught up with one of our alumni, Kim Santo (Core ’98, BU ’00 & ’02), on Facebook, to ask how she’s prioritizing self-care and healthy habits.

Kim writes:

“Hello, Core! Here are a few self-care recommendations for people stuck at home for the time being.Clockwise from the center top:

  1. Snacks: Prunes and Pistachios!
  2. Bar soap (everyone is scrounging for anti-bac liquid – a humble bar of moisturizing bar soap works just fine)
  3. A way to listen to music, either a Bluetooth speaker or headphones or both
  4. Some good books, of course. Are we not Core? Cmon now. And…
  5. Caffeine-free herbal teas are good nerve tonics, but if you want the caffeinated stuff, I recommend plain ol green tea such as Japanese Sencha or Chinese Mao Jian.”

Sound suggestions! Kim is often to be found in the EnCore Facebook group, and has made a commitment to attend as many of our weekly Digital Core Tea gatherings on Zoom through the remainder of this spring semester.

The Devlin Award

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Every year, the Core Curriculum awards two students with the James Patrick Devlin Memorial Award, in memory of one of the founding members of the Core who inspired students and colleagues alike. It is presented on the basis of the excellence of a first-year Core essay, as recommended to a committee of Core professors by other Core professors.

The James Patrick Devlin Award means a lot to the Core community, and each year some of our professors and founders talks briefly about why it is important to them. Below are comments that Professors Nelson and Jorgensen made about the award and its namesake, during the Spring 2017 Core Banquet:

The arete, or excellence, of a Core student is to think well — to think deeply, originally, and clearly, and then to express their thoughts clearly, persuasively, and even elegantly. We have students who achieve this, and they are who the Devlin Award is for: for first year students who wrote outstanding essays. – Professor Stephanie Nelson

The award is based on your best paper from first year and on recommendations from professors. James Devlin was a great teacher, a great lecturer, one of the founders of Core, and an inspiration to everyone who was there to start. – Professor Brian Jorgensen

Devlin Award winners receive a prize of course books, and a cash stipend. These prizes are actually funded by donations from the Core community, especially alumni, as gifts made during BU’s annual Giving Day. Current first-year students will be invited to submit applications for consideration, upon their return to campus after Spring Break. To see a list of past winners, visit the Core website.

A Paradigm Shift of his Own: Revisiting Thomas Kuhn

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The great thing about science is that it’s not always right. For all the theories, equations, and experiments, scientists are just at the mercy of their subjective opinions as any other thinkers– In other words, science relies on subjective perspective and the consensus of the scientific community to establish what a culture views as an accepted scientific truth. Or at least that’s how Thomas Kuhn saw it, as you can see for yourself in a recent article that revisited Kuhn’s landmark 1962 work The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. In it, author James Franklin examines Kuhns thesis that scientific theories are no better than ones in the humanities in that they rely on accepted paradigms, and how his theory of Paradigm Shifts changed the scientific and artistic world. When the accepted paradigm or established way of thinking is challenged, the culture faces a radical reassessment of what was previously considered “truth”, and thus a new paradigm must be created.

What is your favorite example of a paradigm shift in culture? Or do you have an example of a personal paradigm shift that changed your specific world view? Let us know in the comments!

The Triumphs and Challenges of Chinese Students in American Universities

More often than not, American students entering college feel a sense of anxiety and anticipation as they confront a way of life that is seemingly novel to them. However, this anxiety is diminished by the things that are not novel, namely the language, culture, and mannerisms that remain consistent throughout America. Some students though take the brave step of attending university outside of their home country, for these students the transition to university life is as novel as it could be.

In a recent post on the Asian Review of Books, Peter Gordon reviews Yingyi Ma’s new book, “Ambitious and Anxious: How Chinese Students Succeed and Struggle in American Higher Education,” which analyzes the experience of Chinese students at American universities. In her book, Ma dispels many stereotypes about Chinese students, but in particular she tackles the misconception that Chinese students who attend American universities have stupendous wealth. In fact, many Chinese students who attend American universities come from more modest backgrounds. Ma also describes the immense stress and anxiety that comes with being an international student. To this point, Ma recommends that American universities do better at including Chinese students in university social life.

This all brings to the forefront questions of inclusivity. It is important to ask if we, here at Boston University and the Core Curriculum are doing enough to facilitate a smooth transition for all our international students. How can we in our daily actions make people feel a little more included today, despite their different background and heritage? This is what we must ask ourselves.

A Tour of Ancient Athens, or the Ups and Downs of Core

As any student who’s been on our Summer Study in Greece program can testify, visiting Athens at any time is a life changing experience. But it would be a dream to see it at the height of its glory, and luckily artist Dimitris Tsalkanis made that dream come true. Tsalkanis spent 13 years making a 3-D recreation of Athens as it looked from the Mycenaean period (1600 BCE) to the Early Modern period (AD 1833). Take a look for yourself, and imagine what it would be like to take a walk to the Piraeus with your good friends Socrates.


While writing this, a few of us struck up a conversation in the Core office about what it really meant to go down to the Piraeus in The Republic, and the significance of other characters going down in our curriculum. First there’s Odysseus, who descends into Hades using the same verb that Socrates uses to describe going down to the Piraeus. Dante also descends into Hell, but he also comes back up again. And plenty of other Core friends make similar climbs, from Petrarch reading St. Augustine on Mount Ventoux to Moses and Martin Luther King, Jr. on their mountaintops.

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Just take for example this very real representation of Dante’s descent into Hell, as imagined by an animated princess and her demon cat friend. These ups and downs have captured the human imagination, not just those in Core. However, Core is absolutely full of them, with our heroes going from Hell to Earth to Heaven and back again. But unfortunately, this is just a blog, and I’m out of time to list every single one. So please, I invite you to continue the discussion in the comments below!

Core Writing Fellow Releases New Book on Heritage Tourism in Washington, D.C.

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Lauren Kerby, a former Core Writing Fellow and current education specialist and lecturer at Harvard Divinity School and alumni of Boston University’s Graduate School of Religious Studies, is releasing her new book,Saving History: How White Evangelicals Tour the Nations Capital and Redeem a Christian America,this spring.This debut book is forthcoming through the University of North Carolina Press as the first title in the new Where Religion Lives series, and will explore the historical and political narratives crafted and reinforced by Christian heritage tourism in Washington, DC. From the press website:

Millions of tourists visit Washington, D.C., every year, but for some the experience is about much more than sightseeing. Lauren R. Kerby’s lively book takes readers onto tour buses and explores the world of Christian heritage tourism. These expeditions visit the same attractions as their secular counterparts — Capitol Hill, the Washington Monument, the war memorials, and much more — but the white evangelicals who flock to the tours are searching for evidence that America was founded as a Christian nation.
The tours preach a historical jeremiad that resonates far beyond Washington. White evangelicals across the United States tell stories of the nation’s Christian origins, its subsequent fall into moral and spiritual corruption, and its need for repentance and return to founding principles. This vision of American history, Kerby finds, is white evangelicals’ most powerful political resource — it allows them to shapeshift between the roles of faithful patriots and persecuted outsiders. In an era when white evangelicals’ political commitments baffle many observers, this book offers a key for understanding how they continually reimagine the American story and their own place in it.

You can pre-orderSaving History: How White Evangelicals Tour the Nations Capital and Redeem a Christian Americahere.

Core Authors in the News!

Some content for your viewing pleasure…

Are you exhausted by the prospect of reading another new translation or adaptation? Are you looking for a new way to experience the story of your favorite hero? Perhaps you should go back to basics and experience a classic text the classic way!This articlediscusses the impact of hearing the full text of Homer’sOdysseydelivered how it was meant to be–out loud!

Are you instead interested in the state of Confucianism in the world? While Confucius institutes at universities across the United States may be closing,this article discusses how the 21st century is bringing a renewed reverence for the philosopher across China.

Looking for some CULTURE? This article presents a modern review of our favorite Mesopotamian dude, the legend himself, Gilgamesh.

Happy reading!

A Multimedia Experience: Attar’s “Conference of the Birds”

In Fall 2019, Sassan Tabatabai convened a workshop for Digital/Multimedia Expression, in which students created a multimedia online edition of excerpts from The Conference of the Birds. This edition consists of student-created images and collages that strive to retell Attar’s story in a remediated fashion, in an effort to breathe new life into an ancient (and typically under-appreciated in Western universities) text.

Explore the project online here.

A man whose eyes love opens risks his soul –
His dancing breaks beyond the mind’s control. -Farid Attar

Shakespeare Work Sold for a lot of Money! (clickbait)

Can you put a price on wisdom? Or is life-altering wisdom simply priceless? Recently, one of our alumna, Cat Dossett, sent us a video describing how Shakespeare’s first folio of comedies, histories, and tragedies was estimated to be worth between four and six million dollars. Enjoy:

Beyond being a collectors item, how much is this knowledge actually worth? Would humanity as a collective be willing to pay six million dollars for the works of Shakespeare, if they had never been published and were lost to time? Is there an ethics to an antiquities/books market, let alone the art market? Does this transaction signify something greater about contemporary consumerist culture?