Required Reading: 'Chaos and Civilization'
Exploring the Curriculum
Jun 13, 2024

Required Reading: 'Chaos and Civilization'

Take a closer look at the UATX academic experience.

Maggie Kelly
Maggie Kelly
University of Austin

Our core course sequence, Intellectual Foundations, consists of 15 required seminar classes that will build principled leaders, formed in the great traditions of Western civilization, who can bring ancient and modern insights to bear on today's most urgent problems.

This week, we’re reviewing the syllabus for the required Intellectual Foundations course “Chaos and Civilization,” scheduled to launch in Fall 2024. 

“Chaos and Civilization” Course Description:

This seminar asks what foundational texts of Western civilization can teach us about its origins. How have Western authors imagined the beginning of human life, and why does it matter? What roles do the heroes of Homer, Plato, the Greek tragedies, and the Bible play in the beginning of civilization? Are they agents of order or disorder? The seminar shall address these questions through carefully reading and discussing classic texts, accompanied by weekly Intellectual Foundations lectures.

Required Texts:

Hesiod, Theogony and Works and Days, translated by M. L. West (Oxford University Press)
Homer, The Odyssey, translated by Robert. Fagles (Penguin)
The Five Books of Moses [of the Hebrew Bible], translated by Robert Alter (W. W. Norton & Co.)
Aeschylus: The Oresteia, translated by Robert Fagles (Penguin)
Robert Graves, The Greek Myths, Ch. 39: “Atlas and Prometheus”
René Girard, Violence and the Sacred, translated by Patrick Gregory (Johns Hopkins University Press)

Course Outcomes and Objectives:

Outcome: Achieve a critical understanding of the foundations of civilization.

Objectives: Students will be able to:

  • Display proficiency in the English language through interpretation of texts, persuasive writing, and effective speaking.
  • Describe the vital cultural information preserved and transmitted in Genesis and The Odyssey.
  • Identify fundamental points of agreement and disagreement between the Greek and
    biblical traditions regarding the tensions, paradoxes, and necessary conditions of civilization.
  • Explain the divergent approaches of the Greek and biblical traditions to the problem of chaos. 
  • Explain the similarities that link and the differences that distinguish Homeric, biblical, tragic, and Platonic heroes.
  • Explain how the literary forms of Greek poetry, Greek philosophy and tragedy, and biblical narratives are suited to their content.

The course will emphasize discussion and the ability to communicate clearly and effectively in speech and writing. Students should carefully complete the readings before the class in which they will discuss them.

Reflections: Once each week, students will select a short passage from the day’s reading—say, 5-10 lines—that grabs their interest and unpack it in roughly 400-500 words. 

Some questions students might ponder: What is noteworthy, strange, or surprising about the chosen passage? How does it illuminate or connect with other parts of the text? What questions or issues worthy of discussion in class are prompted by the passage? These assignments will help students to read carefully, think deeply about the text, and develop paper topics.

Electronics: Students may not use laptops, iPads, cell phones, or other electronic devices during class.

Interested in learning more? Apply for a remaining spot in the UATX Founding Class.

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