What Does it Mean to be Human?

Seminar: Callaway S420, Tuesday/Thursday 2:30-3:45PM


Rose Deighton West & South Asian Religions rose.deighton@emory.edu
George Inglis Genetics & Molecular Biology g.s.inglis@emory.edu
Brett Murphy Psychology brett.adam.murphy@emory.edu
Kim Loudermilk Interdisciplinary Studies klouder@emory.edu
Teaching Assistant: Namrata Verghese, namrata.susan.verghese@emory.edu

Required Materials: Assigned readings from empirical articles, literary texts, and other sources will be distributed via Canvas. Given that assigned materials or the seminar schedule may change over the semester, please consult Canvas for the most up-to-dateversion of the syllabus and seminar overview.

Course Description:
What does it mean to be human? What is a human being? At first glance, this is a simple question with a simple answer: a human is a person; we are human. A
quick Google search demonstrates that a human can be viewed simply as a “being” that is
distinct from an animal or, in science fiction, an alien. Does our humanity only exist when contrasted with some “inhuman” other?

When experts from different fields define the human being and the significance of
human life in a positive or constructive way, the answers become more complex. Biologists may view the human’s existence as an intricate collection of cells; psychologists see the
distinct emotional intelligence exhibited by humans as their defining characteristic; scholars of religion view the instinct to relate to some ultimate being (God, divine) and to organize their lives accordingly as a central mark of human life.

By taking an interdisciplinary approach and combining concepts from psychology, religion, and genetics, we will grapple with the question, “What does it mean to be human?” Students will consider and reflect upon the competing claims of these fields and learn to
appreciate the moments of both agreement and difference. Students will develop their own
answers to this central question, using their own academic pursuits to personally define what it means to be human.

Course Objectives & Learning Goals:

1. Disciplinary Content:
Students will be introduced to three major fields of study: biology, psychology, and religion.

2. Interdisciplinary Learning: Students in this course will gain competency in the foundations of interdisciplinary studies and the nature of interdisciplinarity. Students will then apply this skill set to their own research and writing, using knowledge and perspectives from the disciplines introduced in class. Through this approach, students will learn how to unite concepts from each discipline to answer complex, meaningful questions.

3. Writing Skills: As a writing-intensive course, IDS 220 requires students to author a minimum of 20 pages of academic writing throughout the semester. Students will be invited to edit and revise some of their work with the feedback from their instructors and peers. Throughout the course, students will improve their writing mechanics, fluency, and their ability to craft a compelling argument or narrative.

4. Exposure to Variety: Students in this course will encounter a variety of learning materials, including: books, articles, poems, podcasts, videos, lectures, art, dance, movement, and music. Students will be expected to participate in hands-on activities that highlight some of the central questions of IDS 220. Through exposure to nontraditional forms of learning, students will broaden their own perspectives on how to effectively communicate complex topics. Furthermore, students will develop the openness to view both the learning experience and the knowledge-content as important dimensions of education.

5. Creativity: Students are expected to be creative in their thinking and writing, especially in the development of their final group projects. Creativity can be expressed in an unlimited number of forms, whether as a new approach to an old topic, an insightful question, or a non-conventional and engaging presentation style. Students will be encouraged to think critically on how to display their ideas in a unique, authentic, and inspiring way.

Course Assignments:

The objectives listed above will be achieved through a combination of readings, lectures, class discussions, frequent writing exercises, and a cumulative paper and final group presentation:

Class Participation (25%)

Class Participation (25%)

A primary objective of this course is to learn how to think within and across disciplinary boundaries. If we elaborate our knowledge by thinking about its relation to evidence from other disciplines or by talking about it–explaining, summarizing, applying, or questioning–we are more likely to generate innovative solutions to complex humanistic problems. Students will be asked to elaborate upon the perspectives obtained in readings through participation in class discussions. To make meaningful contributions, students must be prepared to articulate what they’ve learned from the assigned readings. Students are expected to complete assigned readings by the start of each class and to come prepared to discuss the subject matter in depth. Over the course of the semester, each student will also present a brief personal statement on a reading. Participation will be graded on a check scale (✓-, ✓, ✓+, equivalent to 1, 2, or 3 points). The lowest two participation grades (including unexcused absences) will be dropped..

Reflection Papers (30%)

Each week, you are required to write a 1-2 page reflection to demonstrate your knowledge and articulate your critical evaluations of the concepts covered in the assigned readings. Students will be randomly assigned to write a reflection on materials for seminar on the Tuesday, or the Thursday of each week. Reflection papers will be due on Canvas by Sunday at midnight (e.g. 11:59PM), preceding the relevant classes. For instance, a paper submitted on Sunday, 1/20 will cover material assigned for discussion either on Tuesday, 1/22, or Thursday, 1/24. Three reflections (one per Unit) will be randomly chosen for in-depth instructor feedback and letter grading, the rest will be graded on a check scale (see Class Participation, above). Papers graded on a letter scale will be more heavily weighted than those graded on a check scale.

Independent Research Paper (25%)

Early on in the semester, you will select a topic of interest related to the overarching course theme, “What does it mean to be human?” and, through analysis of existing literature across fields, will synthesize a thoughtful response to this fundamental question. There will be several assignments related to the paper due throughout the semester, including a project proposal (10% of section grade), annotated bibliography (10%), and rough draft (10%). The final version of the research paper (70%) is due on Canvas by the start of class (2:30PM) on Tuesday, April 23rd. Importantly, this will be an individual effort.

Final Group Assignment (20%)
To complement the independent research paper, the instructors will assign students to small groups to exchange their own ideas and perspectives, providing an interdisciplinary answer to, “What does it mean to be human?” Students will share the results of their own ongoing research and, together, analyze the confluence and divergence of their independent topics. To complement the group project, students will be asked to write a reflection paper on how the group work has impacted their understanding of what it means to be human (10% of section grade). This paper will follow the same format as other discussion reflection papers (see above). Ultimately, groups will synthesize and present their findings in a non-traditional format (90% of section grade) during the final exam period on Thursday, May 2nd, from 3:00 5:30PM. More details on the format and timeline of this assignment will be shared throughout the semester.

Course Policies:

Class Conduct: In order to establish an environment where individuals feel comfortable sharing their opinions and asking questions, we expect teachers and students to be respectful of one another, ourselves, and the course material.

Communication: It is important to check our class Canvas site regularly. As the semester progresses, we will post lecture materials, upload grades, and make announcements on

Canvas: While the course guidelines in the syllabus will not change, the seminar schedule, or specific materials assigned for each class may be updated. The “Seminar Overview” tab on Canvas will always contain the most recent information about the material and course schedule. If you would like to speak to us directly, please contact us by email. We will respond to emails and post answers within 24 hours if they are sent Monday-Friday between 9:00 A.M. and 5:00 P.M. Please make an effort to keep your questions clear and specific. If you have more extensive questions or concerns, please set up an appointment.

Office Hours: We are available for further discussion by appointment. We are more than happy and willing to meet with you outside of class time, however, we require at least 48-hour notice so that we can coordinate a meeting time.

Attendance: All students are permitted 2 absences each semester without penalty. Afterwards, failure to attend class due to an unexcused absence will result in a “0” participation grade for a given day. Permitted excuses include: physical illness, death of a close friend or family member, religious holiday observance, or personal/family emergency. Excused absences will not receive a participation for that day. Travel for holidays or breaks are no excused absences, especially in regard to the final exam period (i.e., final presentation).
Documentation should include relevant dates. If you cannot attend class due to an excused absence, it is your responsibility to learn what you missed by contacting an instructor, the TA, or a peer.

Technology: Laptop computers and smartphones are not permitted during class. Please come to class with your readings printed or with ample notes in your notebook to consult during our discussions. Please keep technology in your backpack.

Grading: All assignments will be graded using criteria developed by all instructors. If you have questions about how an assignment was graded, you welcome to ask us for clarification
outside of class time, starting 24 hours after grades have been returned. All written
assignments should be uploaded to the Canvas site in either .doc or .docx format. Late
assignments will not be accepted.

Assignment Deadlines: Reflection papers must be submitted in either the .doc or .docx
format on the Canvas site by the end of the Sunday (11:59PM) preceding discussion of the
relevant materials. Late submissions will not be accepted. Similarly, other assignments related to the independent research paper and group final project must be typed and uploaded to the Canvas site in either .doc or .docx format by the start of class time (2:30 PM) on the day that they are due. Extensions will only be granted upon receipt of appropriate documentation.
The course is graded on percentage system.
A 93-100% A- 90-92%
B+ 87-89% B 83-86% B- 80-82%
C+ 77-79% C 73-76% C- 70-72%
D+ 67-69% D 60-66%
F <60%

Academic Dishonesty: Academic misconduct is an offense defined as any action or failure to
act which is contrary to the integrity and honesty of members of the academic community. Students are responsible for familiarizing themselves with the Emory Honor Code and for acting in accordance with its principles at all times. Violations pertaining to this course include, but are not limited to, the following:
1. Plagiarizing, whether intentionally or unintentionally, in any assignment
2. Seeking, acquiring, receiving, or giving information about the content or conduct of an
examination, knowing that the release of such information has not been authorized
3. Intentionally giving false information to professors, instructors, or university officials for
the purpose of gaining academic advantage
4. Falsifying, altering, or fabricating academic records, forms, or correspondence,
including, but not limited to, transcripts, withdrawal forms, degree applications, or letters
of recommendation, whether the documents/information are submitted within Emory.

Spring 2019: Course Schedule

1/15 (Tues) All Course Introduction
1/17 (Thurs) All What Does It Mean to Be Human? Perspectives from 3 Fields

1/22 (Tues) Loudermilk Introduction to Interdisciplinarity
Moran, Introduction From Interdisciplinarity;
Dreyfuss, “Something Essential about Interdisciplinary Thinking”

Unit I: Identity ,What Defines a Human Being?
1/24 (Thurs) Inglis Fate: A Cellular Perspective
 Dr. Susan Solomon: The Promise of Research with Stem Cells
 Dr. Madeleine Lancaster: Growing Mini Brains

1/29 (Tues) Murphy Know Thyself?
Howard Thurman, “What do you want, really?”
David Chalmers, “How do you explain consciousness?”

1/31 (Thurs) Deighton Islam and Human Creation
 Asma Lamrabet: “Women and Men in the Qur’an” 35- 49.  
Farouk Khaki: Ted Talk We Resist: A Queer MuslimPerspective

2/05 (Tues) Deighton Sufism and “How to Be Human”
 Sa’diyya Shaikh: “Ibn ‘Arabi and How to be Human.” 91-108.

2/07 (Thurs) All
Overview of Independent
Research Papers & Final Projects:
Writing Workshop

2/12 (Tues) Murphy Describing and Categorizing Personalities
Measuring Personality: Crash Course
2/14 (Thurs) Inglis The Microbiome
 Rob Knight: “How our microbes make us who we are.”
 The Atlantic: “How your social life changes your microbiome.”

2/19 (Tues) Loudermilk & Verghese Interdisciplinary Discussion TBD –
 Unit II: Division, What Pulls Humans Apart?

2/21 (Thurs) Deighton Building the “Self” by Constructing the
Edward Said: Orientalism. 1-15.
 Shafique Virani: TED Talk “The Clash of Ignorance.”
Trita Parsi and Elham Khatami: “Let Rumi Be Played by a Middle Easterner”
Final Paper Proposal
2/26 (Tues) Inglis “Degenerates”: Genomic Variation & Bias
Ellen Jorgensen: What You Need to Know About CRISPR
Human Testing, the Eugenics Movement, and IRBs Bernhard et al. 2016, Soc. Cog. and Affective Neuro.

2/28 (Thurs) Murphy Personality Disorders that Pull Us Apart
 DSM 5: personality disorder descriptions and criteria Psychopathy lecture
3/05 (Tues) Murphy Othering & Hatred
Reading Packet #3
Take the Race Implicit Association Test
Eye of the Storm (1970)
3/07 (Thurs) Deighton Islamophobia in the West
Rory Dickson: “Religion as Phantasmagoria: Islam in the End of
Faith” 37-54.
Suzanne Barakat: TED Talk “Islamophobia Killed My Brother. Let’s End the Hate.”
Annotated Bibliography
3/12 (Tues) – No Class (Spring Break) – –
3/14 (Thurs) – No Class (Spring Break) – –
3/19 (Tues) Inglis Artificial (Epi)Genomics
 Ed Boyden: A Light Switch for Neurons  
 Carlos Guerrero- Bosagna: What is Epigenetics?

3/21 (Thurs) Loudermilk &
Verghese Interdisciplinary Discussion TBD –
Unit III: Harmony, What Brings Humans Together?
3/26 (Tues) Inglis Animal Models of Behavior
Razafsha et al. 2013, Neuroscience Sweis et al. 2018, Science
Submit a video of an animal expressing a human behavior
3/28 (Thurs) Murphy Empathy
Bloom “Empathy and its Discontents” Baron-Cohen,
“Empathy is Good, Right?” Carl Rogers defining “empathy”
4/02 (Tues) Deighton Divine Love, Human Love Omid Safi
Radical Love. (Selected Poems.)
Omid Safi “The Sufi Heart” Podcast: [45 mins]
4/04 (Thurs) Deighton Sacred Friendship
 Hillary Taylor: “Three Faiths, One Feast “
 Elif Shefak. The Forty Rules of Love, Selected Passages.
 *Bring in an inspiring and affirming quote, poem, or passage.*
4/09 (Tues) All Final Papers: Peer Review  Final Paper:
Rough Draft
4/11 (Thurs) Murphy Romantic Attachment TBD
4/16 (Tues) Inglis The Essence of Time
 Marco Sotomayor: How does your body know what time it is? The Tick-Tock of the Biological Clock
Buonomano 2007, Nat. Chem. Biol.
4/18 (Thurs) Loudermilk &
Verghese Interdisciplinary Discussion TBD
 Final Projects & Course Summary
4/23 (Tues)  – Final Group Projects: Work Day  – Final Paper,
due by 2:30PM
4/25 (Thurs)  – Final Group Projects: Work Day (Course Evaluations / Reflection)  – –
5/02 (Thurs)  – Final Group Projects
During Final Exam Period, 3:00-5:30PM  – Final Projects