Complex Problems Seminars

Complex Problems seminar descriptions are listed below. You can filter the seminars by clicking a course tag on the left or choosing a semester.

Coming to Terms with Past Violence

Embedded in the fabric of every national narrative is the attempt to understand past violence. Words like reconciliation, reckoning, justice, impunity, accountability, and forgiveness all have distinct connotations depending on their specific national context and the actors who employ them. […]

What is Legitimate?

The course explores how and why equilibria around questions of legitimate action in the areas of domestic governance, foreign policy, and international interventions form and why they often remain contentious. The course encourages students to understand ideas of legitimacy as […]

The Problem of Freedom

This course considers why freedom is an enduring human desire and why that desire is complicated and problematic. Over the course of the semester, students examine why freedom is a problem, at once eliciting strong attachments and deep controversies. Students […]

The Era of Bad Feelings

America is more divided than ever today. Or is that true? How far back does this phenomenon go? The course examines the politics, culture, and history behind the current Era of Bad Feelings from the Civil Rights and Vietnam era […]

Post-Truth America

When do the virtues of majority rule spill over into the vices of populism? Can we have informed citizens without a shared understanding of the methods for establishing truth? What poses the greater threat: politicians who deceive us, or the […]

Plasticity: Shaping The Brain

The great discovery of neuroscience is that the brain is fundamentally characterized by “plasticity”—a radically open-ended potential for both creative and destructive difference. But now that plasticity has been discovered, why do we so often continue to ignore or diminish […]

Displaced Lives in the DMV

This course approaches cities and transnational migration in the context of the history and culture of the Washington DC region and its immigrant communities. The first weeks introduce DC; questions about race, gentrification and displacement in the DMV; key issues […]

Antisemitism: Enduring Hatred

Hatred of the Jewish people and Judaism appeared in antiquity and continues to this very day.  The phenomenon puzzles scholars, pundits, politicians, Jews, and people around the world.  We will study this complex problem, focusing on specific episodes of this hatred in the past and present, emphasizing its long history in the U.S.  We will read […]

Death Penalty Perspectives

Death Penalty Perspectives (3) The U.S. death penalty is primarily applied to murderers for heinous crimes, while at the same time there is evidence of the execution of innocents, as well as unequal punishments such as Life Without Parole (LWOP). […]

A Problem Like Maria

A Problem Like Maria (3) We trust our nannies with our dearest possession, our children, yet why do we view them with such ambivalence? And why has there been such little curiosity, in terms of biography, social history, and psychology, […]

Trump and the Constitution

This course will consider challenges the Trump administration poses to constitutional democracy and the rule of law.  Other presidents have pressed the limits of executive power, especially since 9/11 But the Trump presidency raises new questions that go to the […]

Is Feminism Dead?

Donald Trump shocked the political establishment, the pollsters, and the pundits when he defeated Hillary Clinton in the Electoral College in 2016. The loss would have been demoralizing in its own right for people excited by the possibility of breaking […]


Everyone wants to be happy, but what exactly is happiness and how is it attained? In our relativistic age, many people think that happiness is purely subjective and entirely relative to each individual. Moreover, our awareness that different cultures and […]

How Are Latinx Changing US

This class adopts a less Western-centric way of framing knowledge by focusing on a U.S. ethno-racial minority group within the U.S. Latinxs are shifting the economic, political, cultural, and social landscape of USAmerican society. Latinx communities bring forth questions of […]

Living as a Digital Citizen

 Digital citizenship broadly describes what it means to live in our networked world. The Internet fundamentally improves the economic and social life of those who gains access, but every click also leaves a trace of our digital footsteps. This course […]

The Bacon Terminator

What if the whole world went vegan? A vegan lifestyle claims to be the solution to diverse worldwide complex problems such as (1) diseases of affluence (such as heart diseases, diabetes and cancer) (2) malnutrition (3) animal rights and (4) […]

Imagining the Future

How do we imagine the political structures, landscapes, challenges, and bodies of the future? This interdisciplinary course traces the visual, literary, and political implications of the way the future has been imagined through the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Exciting and […]

Act Like a Man

This course examines the search for and performance of ideal models of American manhood on theatrical, political, and social stages. Through investigating gender theory and masculinity studies, reading and analyzing plays, viewing theatrical productions and films, unpacking political posturing, and […]

Jihad: From the Caliphate to ISIS

No Islamic concept has generated as much disagreement and as many questions as jihad, a concept that is now in common use in Western media and literature. What exactly does jihad mean? Jihad has been often equated with arbitrary violence, […]