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The Harvard Sampler

The Harvard Sampler: liberal education for the twenty-first century

Jennifer M. Shephard
Stephen M. Kosslyn
Evelynn M. Hammonds
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Harvard University Press
Pages: 392
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  • Book Info
    The Harvard Sampler
    Book Description:

    From Harvard University comes essays sampling topics at the forefront of academia in the twenty-first century. Eminent faculty members invite readers to explore subjects as diverse as religious literacy, cyberspace security, epidemiology, questions in evolution, the dark side of the American Revolution, and the biology of the human mind.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-06290-0
    Subjects: Education

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Contributors
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. ix-xvi)
  5. Enhancing Religious Literacy in a Liberal Arts Education through the Study of Islam and Muslim Societies
    (pp. 1-31)
    Ali S. Asani

    Over the two decades that I have been teaching at Harvard I have been asked many questions about Islam, but I was ill prepared when, a couple of years ago, a student asked me over dinner at a restaurant in Harvard Square: “How can anyone who is rational and intelligent believe in and practice a religion that promotes violence, terror, [and] suicide bombings and is blatantly against fundamental human rights and freedom?” Frequently, what characterizes the majority of the questions I am asked about Islam is not just a profound ignorance about a religion practiced by over a billion people...

  6. American Literature and the American Environment: There Never Was an “Is” without a “Where”
    (pp. 32-56)
    Lawrence Buell

    This essay arises from a long-held conviction that the arts and humanities have potentially crucial contributions to make toward full understanding of the multiple, accelerating environmental challenges facing the world today. Those contributions include all of the following and more: the qualitative disciplines’ sensitivity to the importance of subjective convictions and aesthetic preference in affecting personal choice and public action; their attention to the power of rhetoric, narrative, and image to rivet attention and sometimes also galvanize action; and their grasp of particular cultural heritages both as potential resource and as potential hindrance in shaping individual and public horizons of...

  7. The Internet and Hieronymus Bosch: Fear, Protection, and Liberty in Cyberspace
    (pp. 57-90)
    Harry R. Lewis

    It is trite but true: We are in the middle of an information revolution. News, gossip, entertainment, lies, and propaganda move over huge distances in the blink of an eye. All of it, from the newspapers of record to juvenile cell phone photos, to what you bought at the supermarket last Thursday, is archived for parties unknown to retrieve, who knows when in the future. Electronic communication already reaches the majority of the world’s population, and no technological obstacle prevents virtually everyone from having constant access to everything. In parts of the world where connectivity is lagging because cables are...

  8. Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution: Pattern, Process, and the Evidence
    (pp. 91-126)
    Jonathan B. Losos

    Evolutionary biology is unusual: unlike any other science, evolutionary biologists study a phenomenon that some people do not think exists. Consdier chemsitry, for example; it is unlikely that anyone does not believe in the existence of chemical reactions. Ditto for the laws of physics. Even within biology, no one believes that cells do not exist nor that DNA is a fraud. But public opinion polls consistently show that a majority of the American public is either unsure about or does not believe that life has evolved through time. For example, a Gallup poll taken repeatedly over the past twenty years...

  9. Global History for an Era of Globalization: An Introduction
    (pp. 127-155)
    Charles S. Maier

    How better to start a course in world or global history than by recalling one of the great icons of our age: the beautiful image of the earth transmitted from the first manned spaceflight to orbit the moon, Apollo 8, on Christmas Eve 1968. It shows “earthrise” from close to the surface of the moon (see Plate 4). Half of our planet reflects sunlight to the astronauts; half remains unilluminated. With the blue ocean and swirling white cloud cover, it was delicate and evocative. It plucked at the growing ecological awareness of the 1960s and became a reminder of the...

  10. Medical Detectives
    (pp. 156-178)
    Karin B. Michels

    Public health has been relevant since ancient times and remains very much so today. Concerns about deadly flu epidemics, about the consequences of the worldwide rise in obesity, and about the presence of environmental toxins and pollutants in the air we breathe, the food we eat, and the products we use are omnipresent. Moreover, ubiquitous travel has made the world a smaller place and has profoundly influenced the rapidity with which disease can spread, substantially increasing the danger that epidemics may become pandemics. In the current epoch, however, we know more about the causes, vectors, and treatments of diseases than...

  11. The Human Mind
    (pp. 179-211)
    Steven Pinker

    Of all the ways of appreciating Hamlet’s ode to the human being, the scientific study of the mind is perhaps the most enlightening. Ordinarily, we take for granted our capacities for reason, moving, action, and apprehension. We open our eyes, and a world of objects and people displays itself; we feel a desire, and a plan to attain it materializes in our consciousness; we will our limbs to move, and objects and bodies fall into place. Our mental processes work so well we tend to be oblivious to their fantastic complexity, to the awe-inspiring design of our own mundane faculties....

  12. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  13. Securing Human Rights Intellectually: Philosophical Inquiries about the Universal Declaration
    (pp. 212-242)
    Mathias Risse

    The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was passed by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 10, 1948. The evening before, Charles Malik, a Lebanese philosopher and diplomat, one of its drafters, introduced the document:

    [He] pointed each country to places in the Declaration where it could either find its own contributions or the influence of the culture to which it belonged. The Latin American countries had brought to the process the ideas and experiences gained in preparing the Bogotá Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man. India had played a key role in advancing the...

  14. What Is Morality?
    (pp. 243-266)
    T. M. Scanlon

    Terms such as “moral,” “morality,” and “morally wrong” occur frequently in personal discourse and political argument. But it is often unclear what the people using these familiar terms have in mind, and unclear whether they are all even referring to the same thing. For example, many people seem to believe that sexual conduct is a central element in morality. When you read in the newspaper that there is a question about some politician’s morals, you know right away that it has to do with sex. But others believe that, although some moral wrongs, such as rape or infidelity, involve sex,...

  15. Energy Resources and the Environment: A Chapter on Applied Science
    (pp. 267-310)
    John H. Shaw

    Modern industrialized societies depend on tremendous supplies of energy and material resources to fuel their economies and satisfy the needs of their people. These demands have grown rapidly as global population has expanded—indeed, our population has doubled in the past half century, a growth rate unprecedented in our history. As this burgeoning population seeks to modernize, to improve its standards of living, it increasingly depends on a large and steady supply of energy.

    Let’s consider the energy budget of our species, and how it is impacted by industrialization. Hundreds of thousands of years ago, as primitive hunters and gatherers,...

  16. Interracial Literature
    (pp. 311-340)
    Werner Sollors

    The United States now has a president whose mother was a white American from Kansas and whose father was a black African from Kenya. There may be nothing unusual in that for today’s student generations, but not so long ago a person like Barack Obama would have been called a mulatto and generated worries that his “miscegenous body” unites diferent races—races that, like species, should not have been, and should never be, united. For example, a mixed-race couple in Anna E. Dickinson’s novel What Answer? (1869) encounters this bias in America, where doors were shut and extended hands withdrawn...

  17. “Pursuits of Happiness”: Dark Threads in the History of the American Revolution
    (pp. 341-366)
    Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

    According to a recent survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, 74 percent of Americans think there is a heaven, but only 59 percent believe there is a hell. Americans like to look on the bright side. Perhaps our optimism is grounded in the stories we tell about our nation’s founding. We want to believe with Jefferson that “the pursuit of happiness” is one of the “inalienable rights” of humankind.

    Today, happiness is a growth industry in the United States. While researchers attempt to measure it, marketers offer formulas for its pursuit. On colleges campuses across the...