Course: Creating Wisdom

HC 221H

Professor: Louise Bishop

Scientia is the Latin word for “knowledge”; sapientia is the Latin word for “wisdom.”  In this course we will consider how wisdom has been defined and created.  We’ll also consider the creation of knowledge and its relationship to wisdom.

Knowledge is a good place to start. See the Oxford English Dictionary entry, which includes acknowledgement, recognition, acquaintance, friendship, intimacy, understanding, intelligence, perception, and consciousness among the word’s many meanings. Wisdom has the same sort of long pedigree in English: it involves concepts of judgment, sound sense, enlightenment, learning, sanity, reason, dignity and respect, while the word “wisdom” also seems to have been used jocularly and/or ironically for a very long time. What does it mean to be knowledgeable? To be wise?  How distinct are these concepts?

This course will concentrate on human culture’s most powerful vehicle with which to explore, understand, create and contest both knowledge and wisdom:  telling stories. Stories – narratives – carry knowledge and create wisdom in their many pre-modern forms.  In his book The Literary Mind (Oxford UP, 1996), Mark Turner suggests that narrative—story – is the foundation of language itself. Reading pre-modern texts with attention to discovery, interpretation, and use can help us understand the value of narrative, our own positions within a sea of story, and how we make sense – knowledge, wisdom – of the world. We'll use many kinds of tales (a tale is also a "mere story," according to the OED) and their "translations" (meaning "to carry, to transfer") to grapple with representations of self and other, and with the value of imagination and emotion. We'll let the root of education – educare, to lead forth – lead us to new sorts of intellectual and emotional knowledge and wisdom as we consider the ways pre-modern cultures produced and saved these tales. We’ll also investigate how and why we’ve gotten our hands on them in 2017 Oregon. Your literary journey starts here.

Possible choices for texts include The Epic of Gilgamesh, Trojan Women (and Trojan Barbie), Prometheus Bound, Consolation of Philosophy, The Book of Job, The Bhagavad-Gita, the poetry of Rumi and Mirabai, Hamlet.

Close reading is vital; interpretive muscle grows from it. Written work for the class will include ungraded response papers, two 1500-word formal papers, class presentations, and a comprehensive final examination. Some special events related to the class, such as films or readings, may be arranged during the term.