One of the strange, interesting, and unexpected experiences I have each semester at Conn is making connections across classes that initially appear to be completely unrelated. I believe that doing this is in keeping with Conn’s nature as a small liberal arts college. Many of my classes draw students from a wide variety of backgrounds and majors, which means that I get to hear how those students draw connections between their interests and the class subject material such as a biology major’s take on Aristotle’s De Anima. There are plenty of subjects that I’ll never take classes in, but I still hear how they connect from students who are passionate about them. Part of the aim of our new curriculum, Connections, is to get all students to look at the similarities between seemingly unrelated subjects. I’m envious of future Conn students because I wish I could experience some of the ways Connections will continue to transform the way we learn. The curriculum was launched in 2016, so this year’s incoming class will be the first to experience it throughout their four years.
This past semester I took History of Ancient Philosophy, a philosophy course, and Confucian Traditions, a history course. The course in ancient philosophy was centered on Western philosophies—especially those of the Ancient Greeks Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, whereas early in the semester the course in Confucianism focused on major Chinese thinkers from that tradition, such as Confucius (Kongzi), Mencius (Mengzi), and Xunzi. All of these thinkers are considered important figures in the Axial Age, the period from 800-200 B.C.E. when many significant developments in religion and philosophy occurred in Chinese, Greco-Roman, Indian, and Persian cultures. Other famous thinkers and religious leaders that lived during this period include the Buddha, Zoroaster, and many of the Abrahamic prophets such as Jeremiah.
One of the deepest connections that I made between these two courses came in November when I read my Confucian Traditions professor’s research on Han Dynasty Confucian scholar Dong Zhongshu at the same time as Plato’s Republic in Ancient Philosophy. Among the many seemingly odd and outlandish suggestions in Republic is the suggestion of philosopher-kings, basically the idea that philosophers should rule over everyone. I found myself comparing this idea to the life of Dong Zhongshu who was a seminal figure in creating the role of Confucian scholar-officials in the Han and future dynasties. This led to the eventual development of the Confucian-based Imperial Examination system that lasted for over 2,000 years. Since we happened to study both of these topics at the same time, I went from one day talking about the ideal philosophical state to the next day discussing how the Chinese attempted to implement it. Similar to my experience, everyone gets to make their own connections depending on what classes they take each semester. No matter what combination of classes you take here, you will get to do this too.