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Boston College (Chestnut Hill, MA 02467-3800)
Alice Behnegar (Project Director: September 2011 to September 2014)

Enduring Questions: Pilot Course Grants
Education Programs

$22,432 (approved)
$22,378 (awarded)

Grant period:
6/1/2012 – 5/31/2014

NEH Enduring Questions Course on "Thinking About Law: What Is It and What Are Its Claims on Us?"

The development of an upper-level undergraduate seminar on the question, What is law and what are its claims on us?

Since 1996, Alice Behnegar has taught introductory and survey courses at Boston College as a non-tenure track instructor, advancing to her current status as full-time adjunct associate professor in the honors program and the political science department. She develops a three-part, upper-level seminar that "confronts and clarifies our perplexity regarding the law." The project director observes that "Students see the diversity of laws in the world and believe it means that there is no single, true standard of justice." They ask, is law "impossible to disobey, usual to disobey, bad to disobey, or good to disobey?" In order to offer a more complex response to the question, What is Law?, the first section probes the traditional premise that the law reflects truth, with readings from the Bible, Thomas Aquinas, Aeschylus, Chinua Achebe, John Locke, and the "disturbing" trials narrated in Plato's Apology and Camus' novel, The Stranger. Skepticism about the law is explored in the writings of Montaigne, Nietzsche, Foucault, and Richard Rorty. In the concluding section, students bring multiple perspectives to bear on their work in preparing for a historical case study and reenactment of the Massachusetts Bay Colony trial and conviction of Anne Hutchinson. The role-playing exercise is supported by core readings and web-based materials from Barnard College's "Reacting to the Past" series. Situated within the Arts and Sciences Honors Program, the new course is open to any student who has completed the humanities and social sciences core required of all Boston College students. Professor Behnegar uses course development time to go beyond her academic training as a political scientist and earlier professional experience as a practicing lawyer to engage with literary texts, contemporary theory, and philosophy.