Instructor: Dr. Jan Fedorowicz
We study history to escape from it and we study the future to control it. How societies see their future says a lot about how they see their past. There are cultures that have no word for time because things are the way they are. Others see existence as static because they have experienced no appreciable change over long periods. There are societies whose notion of change is cyclical. And there are cultures that see time in terms of a fall from some idealized past. The notion of progress through time is actually somewhat uncommon. It is, however, especially associated with European civilization as it emerged in the Renaissance and through the scientific revolution.
This course will explore examples of future-oriented thinking in western civilization starting with ideas about Rome’s imperial destiny and how that was transformed into Christianity’s mission. Whether Christians looked to the second coming of Christ or Armageddon, they did think about the future, if only to dread it.
Ironically, it was the Renaissance rediscovery of Europe’s Classical heritage that provided the West with a new sense of time’s passage, one that inevitably looked to the future as well as the past. The religious reformation and the scientific revolution was based on a growing sense of time as not only changing but subject to human agency. As a result, people were more likely to use tools they were discovering to influence events and make the future better. From this was born the Enlightenment (the perfectibility of man), the Industrial Revolution, the idea of progress, Darwinian evolution, and the radical ideologies of the 19th and 20th centuries.
The idea of modernity, the aesthetics of futurism, the spread of speculative fiction, and the emergence of futurology as a profession are all examples of the way in which thinking about the future has penetrated into the essence of western society. No civilization in history has been as preoccupied with the future as the West. Understanding anachronism, change, the agency of humans, the dynamics of history and the potential of progress has been part of a profound transformation in human affairs that is a central idea of western civilization.
The course will consist of twelve three-hour classes held in the evening. Generally the class will take the form of a lecture, though exercises and discussion will also be encouraged where feasible. The lectures will be supplemented by readings, films, art, music and film. Evaluations will be based on (a) review of a film or other work of art about the future (20%); (b) a research paper (40%) and (c) a final take-home exam (40%).