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Berea College (Berea, KY 40403-1516)
Jason Elliot Cohen (Project Director: September 2011 to December 2015)
Richard Cahill (Co Project Director: May 2016 to December 2015)

Enduring Questions: Pilot Course Grants
Education Programs

$25,000 (approved)
$25,000 (awarded)

Grant period:
6/1/2012 – 7/31/2015

NEH Enduring Questions Course on "What Is a Neighbor?"

The development of a fifteen-week course framed around the question, What is a neighbor?

Co-directors Jason Cohen and Richard Cahill explore the question of "how we live among fellows and strangers in an expanding world" in the context of East-West encounters culminating in present global events represented by the Arab Spring. Cohen, an English professor, teaches comparative courses in Continental and English literatures, and the history of ideas; Hill, a historian, teaches about the Middle East, Islam, and the Arab-Israeli conflict. The course examines how concepts like brother, friend, enemy, and duty "inform discussions of neighborly proximity, community formation, and early legal codes." The first unit, "Proximity," begins with a comparative study of Christian, Jewish, and Islamic texts on civic and political duties, specifically Augustine's City of God and Confessions; Maimonides' Guide for the Perplexed and "Laws of Kings and their Wars"; Nizam al-Mulk's Siyar al Muluk (Book of Government or Rules for Kings); and Al-Ghazali's On the Duties of Brotherhood. The second unit, "Encounter," focuses on England's literary encounter with the Arab World, as well as the influence of Napoleon's Egyptian campaign on the importation of an Arabian exoticism into French art and culture; participants read The Arabian Nights alongside Edward Said's Orientalism. Unit three, "Obligation," focuses on Ibn Khaldun's systematic treatment of social and natural systems in The Muqaddimah set into dialogue with Thomas Elyot's The Book Named the Governor, an "influential humanist conduct manual." Students also read Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra "to uncover correspondences between Middle Eastern and Western ideas about the ethical obligations owed to a neighbor." Unit four, "Hospitality," contrasts Immanuel Kant's model of "cosmopolitan hospitality" in Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals with Hannah Arendt's The Human Condition, which locates hospitality around the hearth "where we accept strangers without hesitation." In addition to in-class discussions, students participate in an international online student forum with "chat partners" at the American University in Cairo, Egypt (AUC). The general undergraduate course is to be taught a total of four times during the grant period.