Collage of images representing the Contemporary Civilization class experience

Contemporary Civilization

COCI CC1101 and COCI CC1102 — The purpose of Contemporary Civilization, or “CC”, as it is popularly known, is to introduce students to a range of issues concerning the kinds of communities—political, social, moral, and religious—that human beings construct, and the values that inform and define such communities. Founded in 1919 to prepare students to confront "the insistent problems of the present," Contemporary Civilization has evolved continuously while remaining a constant element of the Columbia College curriculum. The course asks students to read texts that offer a wide range of perspectives, to experiment with ideas, follow their own inquiries, and present their own perspectives about the issues that these texts raise. In doing so, students develop their skills as thinkers and communicators.

The aim of Contemporary Civilization is not to endorse or celebrate the often conflicting ideas of the authors studied in class, but rather to engage with them critically. By exploring a range of perspectives, students will gain a better sense of the ideas that have shaped the world they have inherited, develop the power to imagine experiences and understand opinions different from their own, and test their own values in a way that may strengthen them or prompt revision. The ultimate goal of Contemporary Civilization is to foster a community in which students can deepen their understanding of the world and their place within it, recognize the limits of their own perspectives and experiences, and engage respectfully with one another across their differences.

For information about registering for Contemporary Civilization, please refer to the College Bulletin, Engineering Bulletin, or General Studies Bulletin, and consult your advising dean.


Violin Family Professor of Philosophy

711 Philosophy Hall

(212) 854-8618

The Readings

Because Contemporary Civilization is a year-long course, readings are necessarily selective. Every three years, faculty revise the syllabus, and many instructors supplement readings with their own selections. The factors that lead to the adoption of a text include historical influence, the demonstrated ability of a text to provoke productive discussion, and the relevance of a text's ideas to the pressing problems of our world.


Plato, Republic
Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics
Aristotle, Politics
Augustine, City of God
The Qu’ran
- Al-Farabi, On the Perfect City-State *
- Ibn Tufayl, “The Story of Hayy ibn Yaqzan” *
- Ibn Rushd, “On the Harmony of Religion and Philosophy” *
- Aquinas, On Law, Morality, and Politics
Christine de Pizan, The Book of the Body Politic
Machiavelli, The Discourses OR The Prince
- Council of Castille, “El Requerimiento” *
- Vitoria, On the American Indians *
- Leon-Portilla, The Broken Spears *
- Codex Telleriano-Remensis *
- Columbus, “Letter of Columbus to Luis de Santángel” *
- Garcilaso de la Vega, Royal Commentaries of the Incas and General History of Peru *
Luther, “Preface to the Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans” *
Luther, “Concerning Governmental Authority” *
“The Twelve Articles of the Swabian Peasants” *
Luther, “Friendly Admonition to Peace Concerning the Twelve Articles of the Swabian Peasants” *
Descartes, A Discourse on the Method OR Meditations on First Philosophy
Hobbes, Leviathan
Locke, The Second Treatise of Government
Rousseau, Discourse on the Origin and Foundations of Inequality among Men
Rousseau, On the Social Contract


Smith, The Wealth of Nations
Kant, Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals
Bentham, “Of the Principle of Utility” *
- United States Declaration of Independence *
- United States Bill of Rights *
- Paine, Common Sense *
- “The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, 1789” *
- De Gouges, “Declaration of the Rights of Woman” *
- Sieyès, “What Is the Third Estate?” *
- “Haitian Constitution of 1801” *
- “The Haitian Declaration of Independence, 1804” *
- “The 1805 Constitution of Haiti” *
Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman
Tocqueville, Democracy in America
Tocqueville, “Essay on Algeria” *
Mill, On Liberty
- Walker, Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World *
- Douglass, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” *
- Truth, “Ain’t I a Woman?” *
The Marx-Engels Reader
Darwin, Descent of Man *
Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals
Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk
Du Bois, “Of the Culture of White Folk” *
- Gandhi, “Hind Swaraj or Indian Home Rule” *
- Ambedkar, Annihilation of Caste
Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth
Arendt, Crises of the Republic
Foucault, Discipline and Punish
- Fields, “Slavery, Race, and Ideology in the United States of America” *
- Combahee River Collective, “A Black Feminist Statement” *
- Saidiya Hartman, “Venus in Two Acts” *
- Saidiya Hartman, Lose Your Mother *
- Chakrabarty, “The Climate of History: Four Theses” *

- Whyte, “Is It Colonial Déjà Vu? Indigenous Peoples and Climate Injustice" *

Text Availability

All readings marked with an asterisk (*) are available to faculty online in the CC Reader and should be shared with students on CourseWorks. All other readings can be purchased through the Columbia University Bookstore. Digital and print copies of most books can be borrowed from Butler Library.

Students who identify as first-generation, low-income students may use the First-Generation, Low-Income (FLI) Partnership Library. Their website has instructions on how to borrow books from the FLI Library’s collection of digital and print copies and a guide to other low-cost options.

If you are having difficulty obtaining the required texts for any reason, please write to the Center for the Core Curriculum: