Chair of Contemporary Civilization: Prof. Matthew L. Jones, 514 Fayerweather; 854-2421
COCI C1101-C1102: Introduction to contemporary civilization in the west. The central purpose of “Contemporary Civilization” or “CC” is to introduce students to a range of issues concerning the kinds of communities— political, social, moral, and religious—that human beings construct for themselves and the values that inform and define such communities; the course is intended to prepare students to become active and informed citizens. Founded in 1919 as a course on war and peace issues, Contemporary Civilization has evolved continuously, while remaining a constant and essential element of the Columbia College curriculum. The course asks students to read closely texts in various traditions of argument and to construct arguments of their own, both in speech and in writing, about some of the explicit and implicit issues these texts raise.
Both the form and the content of the course contribute to the achievement of its aims. The discussion format is intended to respond in a palpable way to the existence in these traditions of different and often conflicting points of view; to embody the possibility of reasoned discourse among people who hold disparate convictions; and to help students sharpen their own skills of thought and argument about matters of current personal and civic concern through participating in and extending the debates of the past. The Contemporary Civilization syllabus introduces students to a set of ideas and arguments that have played a formative role in the political and cultural history of our time, alerts them to ideas that have not held an influential role in that history, and acquaints them with some exemplars of critical thinking about alternative cultures, institutions, and practices.
Because Contemporary Civilization is a yearlong course, readings are necessarily selective. While these readings change from time to time, the factors that lead to adoption of a text always include historical influence, the presentation of ideas of enduring importance, and the demonstrated ability of a text to provoke productive discussion. Among the readings currently required in the course are the Bible, the Qur’an, and works by Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Machiavelli, Descartes, Hobbes, Locke, Hume, Smith, Rousseau, Kant, Burke, Tocqueville, Mill, Hegel, Marx, Darwin, Nietzsche, DuBois, Freud, and Woolf.
All information concerning registration in COCI C1101-C1102 is included in the registration materials sent to students. Students normally take Contemporary Civilization in their second year at Columbia.
Courses of Instruction
COCI C1101-C1102 Introduction to contemporary civlization in the west (4 points). Taught by members of the Departments of Anthropology, Architecture, Classics, English and Comparative Literature, French, German, History, Italian, Journalism, Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures, Philosophy, Political Science, Religion, Slavic Languages, Sociology, and Spanish; members of the Society of Fellows and Senior Scholars. Major works by over twenty authors, ranging from Plato to modern writers. Students are expected to write at least three papers, to complete two examinations each semester, and to participate actively in class discussions.