Reflections Seminars: Winter 2024

Second Semester Students

Gothic Literature and the Romantic Tradition

  • Jean Coléno (Humanities) and Jay Shea (English)
  • Monday & Wednesday 2:30-5:30
  • CREDITS: Humanities 345-102 and English 603-102
  • Pre-requisites: Humanities 101 and English 101

This paired English/Humanities course will examine the Romantic tradition and the Gothic novel. The first third of the Humanities course will focus on the Enlightenment world view, which emphasized objectivity, science, and reason. The rest of the Humanities course will examine the Romantic world view, which challenged Enlightenment assumptions by emphasizing subjectivity and strong feelings. The Humanities course will include one short Gothic novel, Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, as well as some Romantic poetry and short fiction. In addition, the Humanities course will examine famous works of visual art that are linked with the Enlightenment and Romantic movements.

In the English portion of our seminar, we’ll trace the origins of the Gothic. We will learn about the conventions that helped define it both as a literary genre born in reaction to the Enlightenment, and as an aesthetic mode transcending any single historical period, artistic medium, or genre. We’ll seek out the moody, strange, and supernatural; we’ll study philosophical concepts and aesthetic responses like the “the Sublime” and “the Uncanny”; and we’ll meet living dolls and doppelgängers, heroines and hero/villains, who test the limits of death, morality, reason, knowledge, sanity, selfhood, and what it means to be human.

Our primary focus will be Mary Shelly’s novel Frankenstein and its contexts—though we will also sample Romantic and pre-Romantic “graveyard” poetry and read a nightmarish German tale published just before Shelly’s novel: ETA Hoffmann’s eerie and influential “The Sandman” (“Der Sandmann“).

The unseen world: Magic in Ritual, Art, & Literature

  • Gray Miles (Humanities) and Rebecca Million (English)
  • Tuesday & Thursday 2:30-5:30
  • CREDITS: Humanities 345-102 and English 603-102
  • Pre-requisites: Humanities 101 and English 101

Not so long ago, most humans lived in a world where substance was changeable and the natural world— indeed the very air around them–was inhabited by unseen beings and spirits. They felt connected to that unseen world and believed that it could be made manifest and even manipulated, if they only knew the way to do it. That way was Magic.

People used Magic in everyday ways: You snuck a love potion into someone’s drink, went to see a witch to help protect a child, or consulted a sorcerer about how to buy a cow. But our ancestors also knew Magic could be abused by people who wanted to get something from you – Magic was a power that could be misused by tricksters and charlatans, and worse, there was something called Dark Magic: a volatile, destructive power that could be wielded against you at any time. As monotheistic religion took hold in the imaginations of people, Magic came to be seen as a competitor to religion. Later, this came to mean Magic was a sin, and worse, it meant being in league with the Devil; yet a kind of magic remained in religious rites, liturgies, and everyday worship. As science took hold and the world became modern, Magic was seen as irrational superstition, a marker that divided the world into the primitive and the advanced, the ignorant and the wise. The Western world’s powerful experts sought to erase Magic from the human experience in the name of enlightenment and rationality, science and commerce. Still, the memory of Magic and the thinking behind it remained as a kind of Shadow Self for the rational world of science.

This course will seek to understand the role that Magic has played (and continues to play) in the human journey, tracing the story of Magic through the work of historians, anthropologists and sociologists like James Frazier, Owen Davies, Marcel Mauss, Bronislaw Malinowski and Sigmund Freud. At the same time, we will explore the ways in which Magic has always lived–in the imagination, in works of art and literature like Fantasy and Magical Realism, stories where the veil between the unseen world and the world of substance around us grows thin and then dissolves … with a sprinkling of Starstuff, an incantation, a wave of a wand—or sometimes just a fervent wish.


Fourth Semester Students

Staging the Strange: Disorientation and Ethics in Immersive Performance

  • Mikaela Bobiy (Humanities) and Jay Shea (English)
  • Tuesday & Thursday 11:30-2:30
  • CREDITS: Humanities Ethics 345-BXH and English Applied Themes 603-BXE
  • Pre-requisites: Humanities 101 & 102 and English 101, 102 & 103

In this paired English and Humanities Reflections seminar, we will seek out the strange in drama, literary fiction, film, and performance art, with special attention paid to historical and recent trends in role-playing games and immersive and interactive theatre.

We will address motifs of theatricality, artifice, ritual, and reenactment as they intersect with concepts such as the uncanny, the weird, and the absurd. Studying recent examples of experimental performance, like Bo Burnham’s Inside, Nathan Fielder’s The Rehearsal, and Marina Abramovic’s The Artist is Present, we will delve into the ethics in/of performance—both as something applied and born of the medium itself. In addition to reading literary and philosophical material, students can expect to write about and to perform in interactive theatre and RPG exercises.

Texts may include selections from Erving Goffman’s The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, Martin Esslin’s The Theatre of the Absurd, and literature and film by Samuel Becket, David Lynch, and Igmar Bergman. 


Questions? Contact Gabrielle Bernardin, Reflections Administrative Assistant: at or by MIO.

Last Modified: December 5, 2023