As taught Fall 2003.

Inequality is a feature of all human societies, but its shape and form vary over time and place.  Why?  To some, inequality is a necessary condition to motivate individuals or the inevitable outcome of differences in talent or environment.  To others, it is an injustice that limits potential.  It is justified and vilified by religion, philosophy, the natural and social sciences, and popular writers.  We will look at the circumstances, ideas, and actions that reinforce and undermine equality (or at least are claimed to do so).  We begin with Jared Diamond's recent book, Guns, Germs & Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, which examines the development of different societies over long periods of time on all the continents.  We look at how our perspectives on inequality have been shaped by the sacred texts of four of the world's great religions by considering excerpts from the Bhagavad-Gita, the Bible, and the Koran.  We consider more recent debates over intelligence in two radically different books, The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life, by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray, and The Mismeasure of Man, by Stephen Jay Gould.  We examine the perspectives of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels (The Communist Manifesto) and novelists John Steinbeck (The Grapes of Wrath) and Chinua Achebe (Things Fall Apart) on inequality and social organization.

This is a small class in which I always seek to foster class discussion and to help students improve their reading and writing skills.


These words and others from U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, etched in stone at the memorial to him in
Washington, D.C., inspired the nation during the Great Depression and World War II.

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