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Winter 2023 Contemporary Civilization Mini Core Class: Reading Politics and the Politics of Reading

Old Woman Reading a Lectionary

Reading Politics and the Politics of Reading | Courtney Bender, Ada Byron Bampton Tremaine Professor of Religion

Contemporary Civilization is an exercise in reading politics. But it is also a course that makes multiple claims about how reading is (or, should be) connected to political action and mobilization. Throughout the syllabus, reading appears as a crucial site for transformative political potential: learning to read well, critically, and independently is seen as a necessary condition for political freedom. The CC syllabus is filled not only with arguments about why reading is important to shared political futures, but also brims with advice about how one becomes a good reader, and offers various techniques for the same.

None of this will come as a surprise to Columbia alumni whose nostalgia Contemporary Civilization often carries the sense of loss - or maybe sting of guilt - for not having been able to really "finish the reading."

Over a series of three evenings in January with Professor Courtney Bender, we will explore how "reading" is a frequent site where authors identify a crucial connection between personal self-formation and collective political action and identity. We will pay particular attention to passages where authors confidently make claims for the power of certain kinds of reading practices for the attainment of power, freedom, and social transformation -- and to other texts that are more circumspect or critical. We will use texts by Niccolò Machiavelli, Martin Luther, Rene Descartes, Immanuel Kant, Mary Wollstonecraft, David Walker, and James Baldwin to think about the conditions of reading today, in our particular political climate.

*This event is sold out, but you can still sign up for the wait list.



Wednesday, January 11
Wednesday, January18
Wednesday, January 25

6:30–8:30 p.m.

Refreshments will be provided.


Tickets: $160 for three evenings
($100 for Young Alumni in class years 2013-2022)


To be confirmed upon registration


Questions? Contact Us

Registration opens about five weeks prior to the start of class. Have questions about the course or registration?

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