In an age marked by an increased polarization about a host of social and political issues, with the on-and off-campus debates about “free speech versus safe spaces”, the need for empathic understanding and the capacity for dialogue becomes all the more important. This course will examine a series of contemporary social issues of local, national, and international importance from multiple perspectives with the goal of better overall understanding of both the issues at hand as well as the ways in which we engage with them, with the goal of increasing our capacity to engage in meaningful, constructive, and productive dialogue. Because dialogue is the central tool of engagement, we will also engage in a dialogue about dialogue, as it were, exploring different models as well as critiques. This perhaps more important part of the course will involve applying theory and research that can shed light on how it is that we come to adopt the particular positions that we take, with the goal developing greater agility.
The format of the course will involve two parts. Time will be dedicated to understanding the relevant positions on the social issue in question, and then models of dialogue will be applied. The class will explore a series of core issues such as nationalism, race relations, gender issues, and immigration. In addition, each semester specific issues will be covered in conjunction with current events and student interests. Various models of dialogue will be explored, and in the process, as will the very notion of dialogue be excavated, drawing from research on decision making, epistemology, and mentalization. The end goal will be to have students develop the capacity to more effectively engage with issues, themselves, and others in relation to contemporary social and political issues.