09.05.2017

Faculty and alumnus contribute to volume about liberal arts education


Faculty members Ewa Atanassow and Geoff Lehman, and alumnus David Kretz (BA 2016) have contributed essays to the recently published volume Back to the Core: Rethinking Core Texts in Liberal Arts & Sciences Education in Europe, edited by Emma Cohen de Lara (Amsterdam University College) and Hanke Drop (University of Applied Sciences Utrecht), and published by Vernon Press. 

Based on a selection of papers presented at a conference in September 2015 in Amsterdam, the volume brings together faculty, university leaders, and students from both sides of the Atlantic to reflect on the recent developments in Europe with regard to higher education in the liberal arts and sciences. In the aftermath of the Bologna process, Europe is currently witnessing a proliferation of liberal arts and sciences colleges and broad bachelor degrees, and the contributors discuss the way in which the liberal arts tradition takes shape or should take shape in European institutions, focusing on teaching methods, core texts, and personal experiences with various curricula. 

The essay authored by Atanassow and Kretz, titled "Thinkeries Ancient and Modern: Aristophanes and Democracy’s Challenges for Liberal Arts Education," revisits Aristophanes’ The Clouds and its democratic context to argue that the play is equally critical of Socratic education as it is of democracy’s narrowly utilitarian approach to learning. The tension between these two critical directions, the authors contend, is at the heart of the play. Atanassow and Kretz move on to discuss that Aristophanes’ challenge merits to be taken seriously by defenders of liberal education today. Looking at how Bard College Berlin responded to that challenge, they conclude that, if it is to be useful for modern democracy, liberal education needs to address the heterogeneity of values, and that a core-text based curriculum is uniquely fit to do so.

Geoff Lehman’s contribution, "Bruegel’s Via Crucis: (Visual) Experience and the Problem of Interpretation," is published in a section which addresses how specific core texts promote the goals of liberal arts and sciences education. Starting from a close reading of the Via Crucis, Lehman argues that sustained engagement with a single work of art over the course of one or several class sessions in a seminar, or even as the basis for an entire course, poses similar challenges and has a similar pedagogical value as the close reading of texts. The multiple vantage points depicted in the Via Crucis not only relate to one other in a measurable, geometric way, they also indicate a diverse but coordinated range of bodily experiences, of states of attention and of interpretive horizons. Lehman suggests that through this perspectival structure of diverse but commensurable viewpoints, the painting articulates an interpretive problem and simultaneously encourages a type of engagement that are both highly relevant for the values of a liberal arts education.

Link to the book