Course Descriptions

Honors 1: Community and Identity (CI)

Focuses on critical examination of the intersection of gender, racial and ethnic identities and the social and cultural factors that shape and contribute to each. It carries a CI designation and is taken by first year students in spring semester of their first year.  Each section is offered on a different topic.

Examples of courses offered for Honors 1 (topics vary from year to year):

HONR 120: Lockuptown: Incarceration in the United States (CI)
Dr. Jonathan Merritt Nash

Approximately 2.3 million people are incarcerated  in state and federal prisons, county and local jails, juvenile correctional facilities, and immigrant detention facilities. There are more Americans on parole, on probation, or incarcerated – about 6.9 million people – than were enslaved in the decade before the U.S. Civil War (1861-1865)  – about 4 million people. Just as slavery was one of the defining issues of the early United States, mass incarceration is one of the defining issues of today’s United States.

How did the “land of the free” become the land of the incarcerated? To answer this question, we will study incarceration in the United States from the nation’s first prisons built during the late eighteenth century to the spaces of confinement that arose during the “Global War on Terror” at the beginning of the twenty-first century. We will investigate connections that link incarceration with American freedom and the penitentiary with American culture and society. We will also explore the alleged purposes of incarceration and the experiences of incarcerated individuals.

HONR 120: Solidarity & Difference (CI)
Dr. Kelly Kraemer

The United States is growing more diverse year by year and seemingly more divided as well. What does solidarity look like in a profoundly diverse and deeply polarized society? How can people work for social justice together with members of different identity groups? In this course, students will examine gender, race, ethnicity and class in the United States as forces that shape individual and group identities in ways that have the power to both unite and divide us. Students will learn to think critically about their own gendered, racial, ethnic and class identities; understand the social and cultural factors that shape and contribute to each of these identities; examine case studies of inter-group efforts to create justice; and gain experience with resources to foster meaningful solidarity practices that can help to bring about social change. No prerequisites. These issues are explored through the Honors theme of “community” and will introduce students to process and value-based, collaborative theory of leadership directed at improving local communities.

Honors 2: Interdisciplinary Approaches to Communities of Scholarship (T1)

Explores how two different ways of thinking approach common questions and problems. It is a team-taught Thematic Encounter course on the Truth theme and carries two ways of thinking. Ordinarily taken by sophomores in either semester, though students in their first year may choose to take Honors 2 in the spring semester of their first year. 

Examples of courses offered for Honors 2: (topics vary by semester/year):

HONR 202 Controversy and the Scientific Community (HE and NW)
Dr. William Lamberts and Dr. Elisabeth Wengler

An examination of the complex reasons that people discard, modify, or retain their beliefs in the face of new evidence. We will use controversies about heliocentrism, evolution, and climate change as our main case studies. With hands on research-based activities, students develop their understanding of astronomy, evolution, and climate science. Through investigation of the historical contexts in which the science was contested, students analyze how complex social and cultural factors have influenced the application and acceptance of scientific knowledge. Students will compare controversies within the scientific community with controversies between scientists and non-scientists, and will discuss the critical need for scientific literacy among those making decisions.  

HONR 203A Propaganda, Art, and Action (AE and HE)
Dr. Emily Esch and Dr. Rachel Marston

The philosopher Gaile Pohlhaus describes propaganda as “rhetoric that is intended to move its audience directly to action, bypassing the capacity to deliberate.” This course explores how propaganda functions in the contemporary United States, with a focus on its connections to power, language, and community. In this course, we will ask: What is propaganda and how is it related to truth? What is the relationship between propaganda and art? Is propaganda always bad? How is it used by those already in power to maintain support for the status quo? How has the internet and social media contributed to the manipulation of public opinion? How can we recognize when we are being manipulated or lied to? How does propaganda differ from the free exchange of ideas that is essential to democracy? How does propaganda work to divide and create communities? We will examine rhetorical and formal choices to understand the power of language to persuade and coerce. We will explore, through the study and writing of poetry and creative nonfiction, how creative works can function both as propaganda and invite attention and deliberation.

HONR 204A Gender, Mathematics, and Who Gets to Be a Mathematician (AS and HE)
Dr. Robert Campbell and Dr. Erica Stonestreet

This seminar explores how we choose to do mathematics. Most people think of mathematics as a cut-and-dried field where there’s only one right answer. But it turns out that how we choose to do mathematics impacts what mathematics we do and who does the mathematics. We will explore several different philosophies of teaching mathematics, doing and re-doing some basic number theory through the lens of each teaching philosophy to illustrate how the learning experiences differ. Throughout all of this, we will analyze how gender and culture affect and are affected by the choice of teaching philosophy.

Honors 3: Community and Systems (CS)

Examines how constructions of race, gender and ethnicity shape cultural rules and biases, how these constructions vary across time, cultures and societies, and how these forms of identity raise questions of justice with regard to access and participation in communal life..  It carries a CS designation and is ordinarily taken by sophomores during either semester, but juniors may take Honors 3 (HONR 300) in the fall semester if necessary. The only pre-requisite in Honors 1.

Examples of courses offered for Honors 3 (topics vary by semester/year):

HONR 300A Native Assimilation and Revitalization (CS)
Dr. Ted Gordon

Are communities responsible for redressing injustices in their past? For almost a century, the United States pursued a policy of forcing Native youth to assimilate to White American culture. The principle method was family separation. The government mandated that Native families send their children to boarding schools designed to force assimilation. The Order of St. Benedict once operated two of these schools on our campuses and two others, based on the White Earth and Red Lake reservations. In this course, students will examine 1) the systematic injustices of Native American boarding schools, 2) the impacts of these schools on the construction and intersection of Native, racial, gender, religions and class identities, and 3) the ways Native communities resisted forced assimilation.

HONR 300B Queer Intersections (CS)
Dr. Anna Mercedes

This course centers on queer theory, theory related to LGBTQ+ life and liberation. But in interplay with the concept of “intersectionality,” that lens which reveals the overlapping dynamics produced by the experience of more than one social oppression, this course traces intersecting theories and movements in work for social justice. Accordingly, the course has three units: Queer theory and activism in intersection with 1) critical race theory and anti-racist activism, 2) postcolonial theory and decolonial activism, 3) queer theologies and movements to interrupt Christian privilege. The course relies on a Social Justice Education framework in order to equip students to mobilize theory into practices for dismantling social oppressions.

HONR 300C “Guns, Gold, and Slaves: Africa and the British Empire” (CS)
Dr. Brittany Merritt Nash

This course focuses on encounters between Great Britain and the African continent from the trans-Atlantic slave trade to the present. In this course, we will tackle such questions as: How does the history of the Atlantic slave trade illuminate the relationship between race and state power? In what ways did colonialism reshape what it meant to be a woman in West African societies? How did the construction of racial boundaries reinforce European hegemony, and how did community identities change under imperial rule? As we grapple with these and other questions, we will analyze the relationship between race, gender, and structures of power that shape both the past and present. Topics include slavery and imperial conquest; the role of African men and women in reshaping colonial power; cultural exchanges between Africa and Britain; and tensions between “tradition” and “modernity” within African communities.

Honors 4: Community, Research and Social Change (T3)

Taken by juniors, either semester. Topics will vary. Common to each section is a research project in which students identify a challenge or opportunity to enhance the common good and use their research to propose appropriate actions or solutions.  It carries a way of thinking, an experiential engagement designation, and is a 300 level Thematic Encounter in Truth. The only pre-requisites are the previous three Honors Scholars courses.

Examples of courses offered for Honors 4 (topics may vary by semester/year):

HONR 360 Community Histories (300 level Thematic Encounter: Truth, HE, EXP)
Dr. Brittany Merritt Nash

In this section of the course, students will research “community histories” of underrepresented or marginalized groups within CSB and SJU or the wider St. Joseph community. Students will conduct archival research in the CSB and SJU libraries and archives, which house records pertaining to the history of the CSB and SJU community. Additionally, students may conduct oral history interviews either on campus or within the wider St. Joseph community more broadly to document additional histories that have been left out of the archive.

HONR 363 Wellbeing, Happiness and Social Change (300 level Thematic Encounter, Truth, SW, EXP)
Dr. Sucharita Mukherjee

This course focuses on understanding the ideas of Wellbeing and Happiness and the importance of those ideas for the social common good. In the process it seeks to develop an understanding the parameters that comprise individual and social wellbeing and happiness and how systemic and structural inequalities in social structures and institutions such as race, class and gender plague our societal wellbeing and threaten to challenge our success as a society. This course based on the Social World Way of Thinking is focused on developing an understanding of economic wellbeing and happiness, evaluating the role of public policy for enhancing socio-economic wellbeing and motivating students to become leaders advocating social justice and change in their communities. Students will research a challenge to the well-being of their community, analyze it using their knowledge from the course. identify appropriate steps through which action could be mobilized. Examples of problems could be a) the racial education gap in Saint Cloud; b) the gender gap in majors at CSB and SJU or c) unequal access to Covid-19 vaccination in the local community. 

Honors 5: Liberal Arts in Action (LI)

HONR 395 provides students with the opportunity to integrate their learning. Each section will select a project from Honors 4 to implement. The course is taken by seniors in either semester. It carries the Learning Integrations (INTG 300) designation. The pre-requisites for the course are the four previous Honors Scholars courses.

To be offered for the first time in 2023-2024.

College of Saint Benedict
Saint John’s University

Dr. Beth Wengler
Director, Honors Scholars
Professor of History
CSB Richarda N7

Dr. Emily Esch
Associate Director, Honors Scholars
Professor of Philosophy
SJU Quad 362G