In Montserrat, dozens of seminars are grouped into five 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:
- The Nature World more »
- The Divine more »
- The Self more »
- Global Society more »
- Core Human Questions more »
Humans have always sought to understand the world we inhabit and our place in it. Our sciences, arts and literature, philosophy and religion are all aspects of this search for understanding. Humans have the ability to describe and shape their environment, and therefore the environments of all other inhabitants of our planet. But what have been the consequences and what are our responsibilities? Our seminars this year will address questions such as: How do organisms and the environment interact in their intertwined paths of development? How are humans affecting the natural environment? How can mathematics be used to study both nature and aspects of human culture such as music? How has the idea of the frontier and the history of westward expansion shaped Americans' ideas about nature and our place in it? What do our choices of what and how we eat tell us about ourselves and our relation to the rest of the natural world? Finally, how do we deal with illnesses and other challenges to our well-being? Can we reconcile a belief in the goodness of the natural world with the presence of elements of that world that cause suffering?
Through history and across cultures, human beings have posed fundamental questions that have been answered by some reference to the Divine, to a relationship with a Higher Power, a power acknowledged to be greater than any human power; to a communal and individual relationship with a Self-Emptying Love, a love experienced as greater than any human love; to a search for Absolute truth, truth encompassing the relative truths of human experience. Belief in and experience of a transcending power, a state of contentment deeper and richer than the transient states of human consciousness, a loving, Self-giving and Self-sacrificing God, has led to explanations about the purpose of life and death and of good and evil. It has led to an understanding of humanity’s relationship to the Divine considered Creator, and of the relationship of creatures to that Creator and to one another. But the answers are not simple; many questions remain and many challenges have been raised.
Each of us experiences the world as a being who is self-aware, reflective, and connected with others. In other words, we filter our lives through the paradigm called the self. Courses in this cluster draw from a broad range of disciplines — literature, philosophy, science, history, the arts, and social sciences — to explore idea of the self and its relationship to society and to others. What is this fundamental unit in the experience of being human? How does it develop? How are individuals shaped by social forces, even as individuals act to shape those in turn? Is the self something to be discovered or something to be created? Does it even make sense to talk about an entity called “the self” in an age of neurobiology?
References to living in a “global society” are part of our daily discourse. What, however, does this phrase mean, and how did we get here? What are the benefits and costs of the circulation of goods, services, ideas and peoples among nations and cultures? How do cultural differences compete and enrich life worldwide? Students and faculty will explore together the moral implications of living in an increasingly global world as well as the many political, economic, social and cultural ramifications of this universal process of globalization.
Throughout history and across cultures, human beings have posed fundamental questions about the meaning and purpose of life. Many of these questions are variations of the one posed by Leo Tolstoy: “How, then, shall we live?” The kind of ethical reflection such questions demand is central both to a liberal arts education and to human existence as such. Each year, students and faculty together reflect on this question by relating it to a compelling issue or theme that is explored from a variety of perspectives. The theme for the coming year is: "If freedom is good, but order is necessary, how then shall we live?"
For a complete list of current Montserrat seminars, please visit the Registrar's website.