Our Online Lecture Series
Season 2 | Summer 2022

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Social & Political Theory

Lecturer

Dr Eric Hendriks-Kim

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Philosophy [2]
(Wittgenstein)

Lecturer

Prof Ljiljana Radenovic

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Neuroscience

Lecturer

Natalia Zdorovtsova

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Writing

Lecturer

Ben Sixsmith

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Christianity, Islam, Modernity

Lecturer

Esmé Partridge

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Old English Poetry

Lecturer

Ancient Days

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Akkadian

Lecturer

LMR

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Epidemiology

Lecturer

Philippe Lemoine

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Early Modern English Literature [2]
(Milton)

Lecturer

Jane Cooper

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Subject: Social & Political Theory

(Counter-Worlds: Plans for an Anti-Western World Order)

with Dr Eric Hendriks-Kim
 

The American empire is waning. Its prestige as the bearer of the liberal democratic order has taken a beating. And the rise of China is putting tremendous pressure on America’s elusive ‘number one’ status. It is becoming increasingly difficult to deny, ignore, or trivialize that several geopolitical powers are unwilling to conform to the American-centric liberal world order. Seen from the American center, these are ‘bad regimes’ that place themselves outside the global world order. But none of these regimes wants to see itself as a failure in the periphery of an America-centered world. Each wants to center the world on itself and set the standard of political legitimacy. However, to become the center of a new world, one needs a new story; a new empire comes with a world vision. To this end, a motley crew of philosophers, apologists, reactionaries, and imperialist hopefuls is at work designing such visions: from the dreamy Chinese Tianxia theorists and Xi Jinping universalizers to Islamist imperialists and Russian Eurasianists. They all denounce the liberal, American-centric West, which is to be dethroned, and lay claim to the definition of world and worldness.

 

This lecture series delves into their philosophies and politics and how these interact and blur. Recurrent themes will be how imperialist motifs creep into social and political theory, imperialism’s little-understood idealistic character, and people’s tendency to imagine the world as centered.

 

There will be four lectures, the second, third, and fourth of which will include recommended readings made available to participants.

 

Lecture 1: World centering empires (Tuesday 28 June, 7pm BST)

World empires are imagined world centerings. In the imperialist mind, the imperial center carries and represents the world order. This first, introductory lecture will compare several historical and contemporary imperial imaginings, from Cyrus the Great styling himself “king of the universe” to contemporary musings about the “Free World.”

 

Lecture 2: The American world empire (Tuesday 5 July, 7pm BST)

Like the Chinese dynasties and other empires, the American empire has a concentric structure. Or rather, it depicts the world as a concentric structure. The core of the empire is urban coastal America. Around this are numerous rings, running from the well-aligned Anglosphere to the barbarians—the ‘bad regimes’—at the world’s edge. Which ring of the America-centric imagining are you in? How real is this imagined America-centric world?

 

Recommended reading (will be made available to participants): an extract from Salvatore Babones’ American Tianxia.

 

Lecture 3: Counter models and Pan-Asianism (Tuesday 12 July, 7pm BST)

Today, all the most crucial alternative world designs polemicize against the American-centric world imagination. They are (reactionary) countermodels. This lecture will distinguish between countermodels that claim cultural particularity and alternative universalisms. In practice, the two types tend to blur into each other, as I will illustrate with the case of mid-twentieth century Japanese Pan-Asianism.

 

Recommended reading (will be made available to participants): Nishida’s 1943-essay “The Principle of the New World Order.”

 

Lecture 4: Theorists of the new Chinese empire (Tuesday 19 July, 7pm BST)

China’s intellectuals are busy devising alternative world visions in which China is central and serving as the model of political legitimacy. The idea of the imminent emergence of ’a new era’ (xin shidai) in which China will set the tone internationally is ubiquitous. Political philosopher Jiang Shigong presents ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics’ as the emerging world model. Next, there is the Tianxia School of Confucian-inspired thinkers such as Zhao Tingyang and Xu Jilin.

 

Recommended reading: Xu Jilin’s essay “The New Tianxia.”

 
 

Subject: Philosophy [2]

(Wittgenstein)

with Ljiljana Radenovic

This course is an introduction to the philosophical thought of one of the most important figures in early analytic philosophy: L. Wittgenstein. Wittgenstein’s philosophy has attracted a lot of attention and has been widely discussed but his manuscripts are hard to get into for the beginner. The main goal of this course is to provide students with the basic Wittgenstein’s ideas so that they can proceed to read his philosophy more easily. At the end of the course it is expected that the student will gain basic grasp not only of the Wittgenstein’s philosophy but also of the ideas that motivated early analytic philosophers such as Frege, Russell, and philosophers of the Vienna circle.

 

The focus of this course will be on the early and later Wittgenstein’s views about language and thought and the differences between the two. Among the issues to be addressed are the following: What is the main goal of Tractatus and in what respect Wittgenstein’s views were different from Frege’s, Russell’s and the philosophers of Vienna circle. What is the picture of language that Wittgenstein held in the Tractatus? Why did he abandon such picture? What is the relationship between language and understanding in Tractatus and how that changed in Philosophical Investigations?

 

Lecture 1 (Monday 27 June, 7pm BST)

In the first lecture we cover the philosophical background of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus. We address the origins of the problems of logic and mathematics that Frege, Russell as well as early Wittgenstein were occupied with and track these problems to the foundational crises of mathematics.

 

Lecture 2 (Monday 4 July, 7pm BST)

In this lecture we summarize Wittgenstein’s picture theory of meaning developed in Tractatus that aims to explain how language and reality relate. This includes the concepts such as: simple names and simple objects, elementary propositions and molecular propositions, simple and complex possible state of affairs etc. We also explain Wittgenstein’s view of logic and his take on metaphysics in his early philosophy.

 

Lecture 3 (Monday 11, 7pm BST)

In the third lecture, we move to Philosophical Investigations and highlight Wittgenstein’s departure from the view of language he held in Tractatus. We analyse the Augustine’s quote that Wittgenstein uses as the opening for his PI, and then move on to cover his concept of language games.

 

Lecture 4 (Monday 18 July, 7pm BST)

In this final session, we explore Wittgenstein’s concept of family resemblance and his view of concept acquisition. Our goal here is to see how language and the world relate within his new ‘theory’ of meaning and how this relation differs from the one he offers in Tractatus. Finally, in this final lecture we will tackle the question whether Wittgenstein’s later philosophy leads to relativism and social constructivism.

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Subject: Neuroscience

(Building the Brain)

with Natalia Zdorovtsova

This lecture series is a Cambridge neuroscientist’s perspective on what it takes to build a brain. While it may seem obvious to many that the emergence of the mind has something to do with the brain, it took humanity centuries of philosophical and scientific inquiry to get us to our current level of understanding. What have we learned so far, and what questions remain unanswered? Is neuroscience undergoing a paradigm shift?

 

In four parts, Natalia Zdorovtsova will be presenting a picture of how we’ve gone about studying the brain throughout history, and how a diverse range of scientific methodologies have unlocked new ways of studying the relationship between Brain and Mind. Students will cultivate an understanding of how the world shapes the way our brains develop—and how, in turn, we shape the world.

 

No scientific, mathematical, or technical knowledge will be assumed prior to the course. The focus will be on tracking the historical waltz between philosophy and neuroscience, and seeing how we can all apply findings from neuroscience to our own lives.

 

Taster Session: What even is autism? (June 27th, 5:30pm BST)

This taster session will explore how we’ve come to think about Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Autism is a commonly-known condition, but very few people know much about it past the Rain Man-esque stereotype. To what extent have our social beliefs and historical circumstances shaped our construction of the diagnostic label? What kind of disorder is autism?

 

Lecture 1: What is Complexity? (July 2nd, 5:30pm BSTpm)

This lecture serves as a general introduction to the topic and what students can expect to learn from the course.

- There are patterns all around us. Similarities exist between structures across the entirety of the natural world, at every scale:

  • Connections between brain cells (neurons)

  • The cellular structures of plants

  • Trees

  • Forests, rivers, coastlines, and weather patterns

  • Zooming out: the structure of the universe as a whole

- Can certain mathematical rules describe the similarities of the patterns we see across nature?

 

Lecture 2: A History of Neuroscience—From Static Modules to Dynamic Networks

(July 9th, 5:30pm BST)

This lecture will cover the evolution of neuroscience as a field, with a focus on its gradual transition to modularity-based theories to an appreciation of the brain’s unfathomable complexity.

- A history of how we’ve thought about the mind

- A history of our quest to understand the brain (early inquiries into electrophysiology and Neuroimaging).

- Theoretical developments

- Philosophical issues

 

Lecture 3: The Developing Brain (July 16th, 5:30pm BST)

This lecture will talk about human brain development—the biological processes by which the brain builds itself through an interaction between the Agent and the Environment.

· Tracking neurological, cognitive, and behavioural development across childhood

· Neurodevelopmental disorders: trajectories of difference

· The epigenetic landscape, heritability, and individuality in development

 

Lecture 4: Where do we stand? (July 23rd, 5:30pm BST)

This lecture will wrap up the series, bringing together concepts from lectures 1-3 in order to present a picture of lifelong neurodevelopmental change. Students will get a sense of how these concepts fit together, and how they might be able to include them in their own lives.

- What have we discussed in this lecture series?

- What is neuroscience good for?

 

Subject: Writing

with Ben Sixsmith

This course will not tell you what to write. It will not tell you exactly how to write. No one can train you to create beautiful prose and poetry as someone might train you to solve equations or to fix a car. What this course will focus on is more the act of writing. It is for people who want to write but never thought of themselves as „writers”. How does one find time? Where should one work? How does one get ideas? How does one struggle with the urge to write a page and tear it up (or, perhaps, delete the file). The course aims to embolden its students to focus on their long-neglected aspirations and ideas with confidence and dedication.

 

Lecture 1: Productivity (Wednesday 7-8pm BST, 29 June)

How does one find the time to write amid work, family, chores, sleep et cetera? How does one resist the siren songs of Netflix and the TL? We will cover how to find time - and how to protect it.

 

Lecture 2: Inspiration (Wednesday 7-8pm BST, 6 July)

Where does one get ideas, and, perhaps more importantly, how does one stick with them? We will cover different sources of inspiration, and consider how to live with the critic in one’s head.

 

Lecture 3: Style (Wednesday 7-8pm BST, 13 July,)

No one can teach you how to write. But to some extent we can be taught how not to write. This lecture will focus on five dreaded sirens of style, from cliché to obscurantism.

 

Lecture 4: Editing (Wednesday 7-8pm BST, 20 July)

So, you’ve written something! Pat yourself on the back. But is it as good as it could be? In this session we will learn about polishing our work so it could be its best, with advice from the lecturer’s experience on what to do, and what not to do, to maximise your work’s potential without being tempted to destroy it.

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Subject: Old English Poetry

(Exile & Elegy)

with Ancient Days

The aim of this course is to strengthen a student’s understanding of Anglo-Saxon poetry through close study of it’s most enduring and prescient quality, the elegiac mood. This course will function as a literature survey with elements of close reading and cross-examination of texts. Considering the limited period of the course, we will maximize our time by closely studying excerpts of several texts rather than just a single text. I will provide concise summaries for each text, as well translations for our excerpts.

 

While the elegiac mode is ubiquitous in both form and function of most Old English poetry, we can examine different styles of poems to glean more clarity about both the Old English canon and the Anglo-Saxon mind. We will study mainstay poems such as “The Wanderer” and “The Seafarer” in conjunction with more ‘obscure’ poems such as “The fortunes of Men”, the gnomic poetry, and the Old English translation of Exodus. The elegiac mood will be the fulcrum around which we can discuss notes of history, culture, and poetics/language.

 

At the conclusion of this course, students will possess a comprehensive understanding of the form and function of the elegy in Old English poetry, as well as a good foundation of texts from which they can pursue further reading. Literature surveys should not only serve to expose students to topics of literature, but also dispense them the tools with which they can further mine those topics for more value and understanding. Many individuals are interested in Old English poetry, but are unaware of much of the canon beyond “Beowulf”. This course will emphasize the primacy of reading primary sources and the rewards from internalizing their thematic mechanisms and wisdom.

Lecture 1 (Thursday 30 June, 6pm EST)

We'll begin with a brief introduction to Old English language and poetry. We will specifically define the elegy and elegiac mood and establish their roles in the metric, thematic, and tonal character of Anglo-Saxon poetry. This discussion will of course include contextual discussion of history.

Lecture 2 (Thursday 7 July, 6pm EST)

We will examine the elegy as form by cross-examining “The Wanderer”, “The Seafarer, and “Deor”. We will discuss the form and function of the elegy in terms of both poetics and Anglo-Saxon culture.

Lecture 3 (Thursday 14 July, 6pm EST)

This lecture will focus on the elegiac mood that proliferates through all genres of Anglo-Saxon poetry. Here we will use excerpts from Beowulf, the Maxims, “The Wife’s Lament”, and others to illustrate the long reach of the tradition of the elegiac mood.

Lecture 4 (Thursday 21 July, 6pm EST)

Battle poetry will be central to the final day of the course. We will discuss excerpts of “The Battle of Maldon”, “The Dream of the Rood”, and the Old English “Exodus”. We will draw some final conclusions about Anglo-Saxon poetry and its lasting influence.

Subject: Christianity, Islam, Modernity

with Esmé Partridge

Is Islam opposed to modernity? Countless polemicists have argued so. But how do we define modernity, and what is its relationship with Islam from a philosophical and theological standpoint? This course will explore different perspectives on this question, beginning with the Orientalists who portrayed Islam as a regressive religion in the shadow of a more ‘Enlightened’ West; a contrast which may be reflected in substantial differences between Enlightenment philosophy and Islam as a religion. However, some have argued this to be a false dialectic; could it be that Islam may actually be closer to the model of an ‘Enlightened’ religion, with a potentially more rationalistic philosophy and aspects akin to Deism and Protestantism? Some have even claimed that it is in fact the West which holds a dogmatic and absolutist conception of truth while Islam, at least in pre-modernity, was more epistemically humble and pluralistic in practice. This course will entertain all of these approaches.

Lecture 1 (Monday, 7:30-8:30pm BST, 27 June)

We begin with Orientalism, looking at how Europe viewed Islam in relation to itself during the colonial era. This period saw the formation of a sharp alterity between the ‘Enlightened’ West and the ‘tyrannical despotism’ of the East. We will consider whether there may be an element of truth to such a view, looking at how Islam compares to Christianity, and see how it has had a long-lasting impact on attitudes today. 

 

Lecture 2 (Monday, 7:30-8:30pm BST, 11 July)

In the second session we then look at alternative views which defy the Western stereotype of Islam as an absolutist or totalitarian force. If we look back to pre-modern times, we find that Shariah Law was not historically as monolithic as it is made out to be, with a complex legal system that responded to the demands of local contexts. Some have even argued that pre-modern Islam was pluralistic; a claim which challenges Orientalist accusations of despotism.

 

Lecture 3 (Monday, 7:30-8:30pm BST, 18 July)

In the third session we look at the philosophical chasms between Islam and Western modernity (that is, the European Enlightenment), exploring the areas where there is truth in claims that they are fundamentally opposed to one and other. In the fields of metaphysics and epistemology, for example, Islam - much like Christianity - poses a fundamental challenge to the anthropocentrism and naturalism of the Enlightenment worldview.

Lecture 4 (Monday, 7:30-8:30pm BST, 25 July)

Finally, we will look at counterarguments which challenge the notion that Islam and Enlightenment philosophy are incompatible. It has been suggested that Islam itself has certain rationalising tendencies which render it a forerunner of modernity, perhaps even resembling Deism. Beyond Orientalism, was there a reason that Enlightenment thinkers like Kant had a fascination with Islam? Some have even suggested that the religion marked a kind of early Reformation, and may even potentially be more at ease with the modern world than Christianity; a view which would fundamentally challenge the Orientalist stereotype.

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Subject: Akkadian

with LMR

This lecture series is a linguistic survey of Akkadian - the language of Assyria, Babylon, and their dependencies from the 3rd millennium BC to the 1st millennium AD.

Akkadian is not an easy language to learn, despite being extremely simple and elegant in its structure, and despite its huge historical importance. Akkadian texts constitute the bulk of all surviving written material from antiquity - particularly the pre-classical period - and the language and the cultures who used it continue to exert influence on the cultures of the modern Middle East and Southwest Asia to this day.

My hope with this course is to provide an accessible overview of Akkadian as a language and to equip participants with the knowledge and tools to further explore the history and culture of the Ancient Near East.

To this end, I’ll also be covering the basics of the Cuneiform writing system as it pertains to Akkadian and walking through practical examples of its use in short exerpts from some of the most “accessible” texts currently available.

Lecture 1 (Tuesdays 3-4pm BST, 12 July)

This first session will provide an introductory explanation of Akkadian’s position within the Semitic language family and its historical context and use, including a brief exploration of the Cuneiform writing system as used when writing Akkadian.

 

Lecture 2 (Tuesday 3-4pm BST, 19 July)

The second session will focus on the basics of phonology and word derivation, with a complete survey of nominal morphology (inc. nouns and pronouns, adjectives, and their behaviour) building up to looking at several short nominal phrases.

 

Lecture 3 (Tuesday 3-4pm BST, 26 July)

This lecture will consist of a complete survey of verbal morphology across the 4 principal verbal stems and their minor counterparts. This will equip the students to tackle more complete texts in the final part.

Lecture 4 (Tuesday 3-4pm BST, 2 August)

This last session will consist of the application of material from Parts 2 and 3 to the reading of a selection of short excerpts from some of the more “accessible” Akkadian texts, principally the Codex Hammurapi.

Materials used and covered

The material will be largely derived from LMR's own practical experiences with the language, though the lecturer will make frequent references to two works: John Huehnergard’s Akkadian Grammar and Richard Caplice’s Introduction to Akkadian.

 

Subject: Epidemiology

with Philippe Lemoine

Throughout the pandemic, epidemiological models have been used everywhere around the world to guide policy, in particular by using them to make epidemic projections. In this series of lectures, you will learn in non-mathematical ways how compartmental models, the most commonly used class of epidemiological models, work but also their limitations and why epidemic projections so often failed during the pandemic. This will also illustrate more general features of scientific modeling and the epistemological questions they raise.

 

Lecture 1 (Thursday, 6:30-7:30pm BST, 23 June)

We'll start with a brief discussion of scientific modeling in general. We'll talk about what is a scientific model, how it relates to theory and data, as well as what makes a model good or bad.

 

Lecture 2 (Thursday, 6:30-7:30pm BST, 30 June)

After that, we'll go over the SIR model, which is the basic model of the epidemiology of infectious diseases. I will describe the main assumptions of the model and explain how it works in non-mathematical terms.

 

Lecture 3 (Thursday, 6:30-7:30pm BST, 7 July)

Next, we'll discuss how the SIR model can be extended to make it more realistic, which will demonstrate how flexible compartmental models are in general, but also how unrealistic most epidemiological models are.

 

Lecture (Thursday, 6:30-7:30pm BST, 21 July)

Finally, I will argue that, however flexible this modeling framework is, no amount of tinkering with it may be enough to produce a model that can be used to guide policy. We'll see how modifying the assumption of homogeneous mixing, which says that people have contact with each other randomly, can produce very different results and may explain some puzzling facts about the pandemic.

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Subject: Early Modern English Literature [2]

(Milton)

with Jane Cooper

Lecture 1 - Milton’s early poetry: Comus and Lycidas (Thursday 30 June, 8pm BST)

According to basic chronology, my first lecture will focus on Milton’s 1645 poems – especially his great elegy, Lycidas – and his masque, Comus. I will examine the problem of rhetorical power over virtue and vice in Comus; Milton’s presentation of agency makes for interesting comparison with the complex theodicy of Paradise Lost.

 

Lecture 2 - Paradise Lost, Part 1: Milton the exegete (Thursday 7 July, 8pm BST)

Closely examining some crucial passages relating to the Fall of Man in Paradise Lost, I will explore Milton’s defense of free will. I will relate this defense with Milton’s own exegetical liberty which suffuses his various political and theological heterodoxies as well as his Biblical epics. In doing so, I will trace some of the critical disputes about the relationship between his republicanism and Paradise Lost.

 

Lecture 3 - Paradise Lost, Part 2: Rethinking the problem of Satan (Thursday 14 July, 8pm BST)

Looking at Milton’s mythopoetic characterisation of Satan in Paradise Lost, I will focus on the themes of self-constraint and intellectual slavery, rethinking the popular characterisation of Satan as a hero or anti-hero. I will provide close analysis to support the argument that much of Satan’s rhetoric is superficial in its mastery and servile to a fundamental sophistry (incurvatus in se). I argue that this anticipates Satan’s rhetorical decline in Paradise Regain’d.

 

Lecture 4 - The 1679 poems: Samson Agonistes & Paradise Regain’d 

(Thursday 21 July, 8pm BST)

I will outline the context of antinomianism and the ways in which Milton adhered to and departed from this doctrine. I will explore how Samson Agonistes deals with internal and external slavery, and argue that the poem’s justification of Samson’s act of violence is actually a conservative scriptural reading of the Bible story. Milton’s view of internal liberty as opposed to corporal suffering shapes his presentation of the Son in Paradise Regain’d. This lecture will reflect on Milton’s blindness.