Making Connections Through Interdisciplinary Clusters

In Montserrat, dozens of seminars are grouped into six broad thematic clusters. Each cluster’s theme raises fundamental questions that each seminar in the cluster addresses in its own way. The seminars in the cluster come together a few times each semester, through common readings and events, to exchange ideas. Thus the cluster format allows students to engage the broad questions generated by the theme from multiple disciplinary perspectives.

The Montserrat clusters are:


Cluster: Natural World

Our attitude toward the natural world is as complex as nature itself. We see it as an object of fascination and of fear. It moves us to wonder even as we struggle with or against it. The fact that we ourselves are part of nature but at the same time stand apart from it — that we enjoy and care for but at the same time seek to manipulate or control it — presents us with a host of questions that are difficult but unavoidable. Such questions can and must be addressed from different perspectives, including art, literature, history, and philosophy. However we approach it, our engagement with the natural world challenges us to think more deeply about what it means to be human. While this year’s seminars address an exciting range of topics, they all explore our shared sense of a “paradise lost” and raise the question of whether and how that “paradise” could ever be regained. A variety of cluster events will highlight this theme and provide an opportunity not just to think about, but to actually experience the fascinatingly complex nature of nature itself.


Cluster: Divine

The seminars in this cluster concentrate on human efforts, past and present, to access the divine – in the written word, in physical art, in self-reflection, in community. In 2014–15 these seminars and the cluster as a whole in our common events will spend much of our time “at the boundaries,” which will be our theme for this year.   That is, we will go to the borderlines between the human and the divine, the temporary and the eternal, and consider how humans have striven to transcend those lines. In tandem with intellectual engagement and reflection “at the boundaries,” we will also push ourselves to and past physical and cultural boundaries, with several seminars and cluster events heading out into various communities within our greater community of Worcester. The healthy discomfort that comes when we bring ourselves to such intellectual, cultural, and spiritual boundaries will be a particular goal of ours.


Cluster: Self

Our theme for this year is: "Bodies, Selves and Societies: The Challenges of Our Age."  Each of us experiences the world as a being who is embodied, self-aware, reflective, and connected with others.  This being, this "self," must make choices about how to live.  In making these choices, we face many challenges, both individually and collectively--including challenges that are biological (such as disease), ethical, political, environmental, psychological, and existential.  What do the choices we make in confronting such challenges reveal about who we are? What can we learn about the meaning of human freedom and flourishing, and the legacy of human struggles for justice, by studying how human beings in other times or places have addressed similar challenges?  How are individuals shaped by natural and social forces, even as individuals act to shape those in turn?  We shall explore these questions and many others in our seminars, as well as through cluster-wide co-curricular activities that aim to build an intellectual and social community.


Cluster: Global Society

Our theme for the year, “Communication Across Boundaries,” emphasizes the many ways in which advances in the arts, mathematics, philosophy and history occur in multilinguistic, intercultural and transnational contexts. Globalization – the increasingly frequent encounter and mingling of ideas, manners, and institutions – demands that we educate ourselves to be citizens of the world. Each course within the Global Society cluster addresses fundamental questions related to globalization from a specific angle. This year’s offerings span an exciting variety of places, periods, and subjects: the development of the US film industry in relation to Latin America and vice versa; how the encounter with “the Other” is shaped by psychology, culture and language; the role of English on the world stage and among recent immigrants to the US; legacies of enslavement and lynching in a global context; and the development of cryptology and privacy in the Internet age. Cluster-wide activities will promote reflection on the cultural connections of the modern world and the common responsibilities of the 21st-century citizen.


Cluster: Core Human Questions

Each year our seminars, common readings, and co-curricular events are oriented toward a theme that contains the question: “How, then, shall we live?”  Engagement with this question is central not only to liberal arts education but also to the meaning of human existence.  Part of what makes each of us human and part of any human community is our ability to remember.  George Santayana said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”, while Homer Simpson once said, “Oh, well, of course, everything looks bad if you remember it.” These two quotes allude to the fact that memories have a personal and a communal aspect.  Memory can preserve, be one source that helps to form one's conscience, and can help give purpose to one's life.  Being human, though, we know that our personal memories and the memories of our communities are neither exact nor static nor always reliable. Sometimes forgetting is what we need to do to carry on with living; other times forgetting can lead to continued moral failures and injustices.  The complex tensions between remembering and forgetting help to forge the reality of our own lives and of the culture in which we live.   Given the central but often forgotten role of remembering in what it means to be human collectively and individually, we have chosen as this year's theme: "Since we need to remember but tend to forget, how then shall we live?"  Each seminar in this cluster addresses this theme through the lens of a different academic discipline, including literature, film, theatre, music, and  philosophy.


Cluster: Contemporary Challenges

Our theme this year is  the persistence of human conflict.  Despite dizzying progress in science, technology, commerce, and refinement of thought, human beings still often relate to one another like the brutal cave dwellers we once were. Is war a permanent part of the human condition?  More broadly, why does conflict (between individuals and groups) continue to define so much of human experience?  Is it a manifestation of innate and insuperable flaws in our nature?  A rational response to the scarcity of resources and real differences among peoples?  Or a dysfunctional social construction that, like so many other challenges in the past, can be overcome through the enlightened application of reason? What are the psychological, social and political factors that might serve to moderate conflict and foster cooperation?  These are among the questions that the seminars in the Contemporary Challenges cluster will examine in 2014-2015, drawing on historical and philosophical perspectives, social scientific research, and contemporary case studies

For a complete list of current Montserrat seminars, please visit the Registrar's website.