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Rutgers offers new courses for spring semester

Students hoping for classes unlike the usual core requirements and major electives will soon get their wish. Rutgers is offering several new and signature courses for the Spring 2016 semester.

The signature courses offered are "foundational courses covering engaging topics of grand intellectual sweep and enduring importance," according to the School of Arts and Science Signature website.

These courses have been specifically designed for the SAS Core Curriculum and fulfill at least two goals out of the three 21st century challenges, areas of inquiry and cognitive skills and processes.

"Our Signature Courses prompt students to examine both what they want to be, and who they want to be by discovering their values, talents and passions," according to the brochure.

"The Coming Apocalypse" and "Normality and Abnormality" are two such signature courses available for the spring semester.

Richard Miller, instructor of "The Coming Apocalypse" and a professor in the Department of English, said his class is a course about confronting the unknown.

“The goal, in sum, is for the students to leave the class seeing narrative as a cognitive strategy for making sense of the world," he said.

Caitlin Chasmar, a School of Arts and Science first-year student, decided to take "The Coming Apocalypse" because it fulfilled multiple SAS core requirements.

“I am expecting to have a lot discussions about topics I have never considered before, and to consider varying perspectives on the world,” Chasmar said.

Miller said he is going to run the course as a mixture of lectures and class discussions.

“There is now support for teaching assistant-led discussion sections, which allows the course to run as a four credit enterprise," he said.

Chasmar said she would love for Rutgers to offer more out of the box classes to learn about subjects she will not have the opportunity to study after graduation.

Miller said the signature courses lead students into discussing life’s biggest questions.

“I wish I could take all of them myself,” he said.

Another signature course offered this spring is "Normality and Abnormality" by Allan Horwitz, a professor in the Department of Sociology.

“The course is structured around the question of how much (of what) we think is normal or abnormal stems from culture, and how much (is) from biology," Horwitz said.

Topics such as obesity, phobias, psychoactive drugs and sexual behavior are going to be discussed in the class.

“As an SAS signature course it affords a great deal of leeway for what topics it covers,” he said.

Since the lecture halls are large, he said one-on-one interactions with the students would be very difficult.

“There are also 15 discussion sections for the class, so that's where students have more time for intensive discussion of the course material,” Horwitz said.

This class is full for the spring semester.

Other courses, like "Civilization and its Discontents," taught by Jonah Siegel and Douglas Jones, professors in the Department of English, is a new course with a small enrollment at the moment.

“It looks like we will be closer to 20 students. We would be glad to have more,” they said.

This class was meant to introduce students to some of the most influential texts in Western culture, as well as to the ways in which people talk and argue about what they contain, they said.

The class would involve discussions on the works of Plato, Sophocles, Hobbes, Locke, Kant, Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, Lincoln and King, all famous philosophers. Parts of the Bible, the Koran, the Declaration of Independence and the Federalist Papers will also be looked at, according to the course description.

The two professors hope to lecture as little as possible.

“We will have short presentations, often based on visual material that illuminates what one of the texts is trying to do, or how it has been received," they said.

They also hope to view some of this material in museums in New Jersey and New York.

“The course was born as a core course. The focus not just on discussion, but on thinking about ways we discuss, and will be unique,” the professors said.

Civilization and its Discontents should be of interest to anyone who wants to strengthen his or her skills in reasoning or communication, they said.

“(Students) should also be able to better recognize some of the sources of interest and of beauty in the objects around them,” they said.

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