HC421H - Emerson, Einstein, and ?: Transformational Leadership for the 21st Century

Professor: Barbara Mossberg

4.00 credits

  • CRN 16544: Monday & Wednesday, 8:00-9:50am @ CHA 301

Poetry, philosophy, and science merge, converge, blur, and blend in this study of genius that rocked—and still rocks—our world. Bursting and bending disciplines, joyously defying definitions of field—Einstein the scientist played the violin, urged people to study poetry and wrote poetry himself; Emerson the poet urged people to study science and history— Emerson and Einstein are epic iconic minds and legends defining their two centuries—and ours. Emerson said, “To be great is to be misunderstood.” Yet despite the seeming inpenetrabilities of e=mc2 and “The American Scholar,” lectures, journals, and essays considered “genius,” Emerson and Einstein were celebrities, famous as public intellectuals who were understood more than not, and popular. Probably the two most quotable people, it is as writers in the public realm and popular culture that they became movers and shakers, as metaphor-makers that they became change-agents. Their metaphoric imaginations challenged and changed science and social sciences in how we think about our world and what “matters,” from transformative emergent complexity and chaos theories to civil and human rights and environmental policies.

Now, as our own century faces titanic challenges globally and locally, who—and how—is our E2? Is it a being? Is it plural? Is it solely human? And what guidance can we get from Emerson and Einstein?

We explore Emerson and Einstein for relevant clues as to what education and thought provides civic, cultural, and intellectual leadership. Humanities advocates, teachers and preachers shaping 19th and 20th century thought, respectively, Emerson and Einstein’s writings continue in our own century to be some of the most influential that have ever been published, spawning continuous revolutions in science, literature, and cultural understanding. As we examine these writings, we will ask, what makes them so powerful? We will investigate formative texts for these great minds’ own learning and development as writers. What did they come to believe and practice as intellectual leaders? How and why did they use their “authority” as peace activists for human rights? We will examine the paradox that such seemingly difficult thinkers express the power of knowledge in ways that seek a common world view, literally and morally, in terms of conscience, courage, empathy, kindness, and goodness. Feisty iconoclasts, Emerson and Einstein’s lives and writings inspire new ways to see our world with imagination and insight as “miracle” worthy of excitement, awe, and wonder, and a rousing social critique to foster better behavior to one another and our earth. It begins with you, writing “My Life as e=mc2."