The Humanities and Love – An Integrated Study of Western Cultures in the Modern Era

Welcome to The Humanities and Love.

This course in Western Civilization was designed by Dr. SerenaGaia, aka Serena Anderlini-D’Onofrio, PhD.  It distills the wisdom of many years in the practice of teaching as a professor at the University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez, one of the most respected public institution in the Caribbean.

The course is designed to initiate students in the study of the humanities from the point of view of love.  This theme organizes the course’s parallel, integrated narratives from multiple disciplines.  Students become aware of the diverse ways that love has been practiced in different times and places, of how these practices have inspired action and encouraged transformation in other cultural arenas, and of how cultures–western cultures in particular–have impacted other cultures and forms of life that are hosted on planet Earth.

The course covers the period from around 1500 to the present time, also known as the Early Modern and Modern Eras.  It integrates discourses from multiple disciplines, including literature, architecture, the arts, political thought, philosophy, religion, spirituality, cosmology, and science.  The theme of love integrates all disciplinary aspects of the study.

The background of this integrated study is a nine one-hour lecture series in global modern history.  The narrative is organized around the point of view of the Earth and all its people, with a focus on Western cultures and their global effects.  The lectures are available online at this link. 

Each lecture is integrated with a selection of readings from the studied eras, organized around the theme of love.  The readings come from various literary traditions, including French, English, Italian, and German.  Each is available in its original, and in English translation when necessary.   Readings offer students direct access to significant voices from their respective times and cultures.  Participants are therefore exposed to a wide diversity of practices of love and the creative energies that emanate from them.  Students also become aware of how the presence of this vital force impacts cultures.  Many also really enjoy the digital aspects of the course and distance access to learning.

Each Lecture and related readings forms a Module.  Modules are correlated with Tests that measure factual knowledge and assess  in-depth understanding, and encourage analytical observation of interrelated aspects of the Module.  Tests are standardized and can be securely taken online as well.  Canvas by Instructure is the free-of-charge portal that serves the course.

The course expands awareness of the significance of the humanities in relation to all arenas of human endeavors.  It inspires participants to learn more about all humanistic disciplines.  Readings are organized around periods that reflect global characteristics.  They are based on the periodization proposed by the textbook Traditions and Encounters, that revisits global history based on the book title’s two recurring tropes.

For example, the Age of Global Interdependence runs from 1500 to 1800.  It’s described as a time when the lands and people of the world become more interdependent than was experienced in previous times.  For this age, readings include a selection of sonnets and poems from the discourse of love that animated the Renaissance movement.  The selection features poets like Dante, Petrarca, Gaspara Stampa, Veronica Franco, Louise Labe, and William Shakespeare.

Subsequent readings for this period include the French neoclassical tragedy Phedra, by Jansenist playwright Jean Racine, a selection from the epistolary narrative Lettres Persanes, whose author, Enlightenment philosophe Montesquieu, advocates for cultural relativism, and a selection from The Story of My Life, the autobiographical narrative by 18th century libertine Giacomo Casanova.

The subsequent age, called Age of Revolution, Industry, and Empire, runs from 1750 to 1914.  It is an expanded 19th century, marked by the fire that ignited the revolutions of the late 18th century, and extended to include the early 20th century up to the Great War.   For this period, readings include three selections from the revolutionary period:  one from Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, one from the Romantic Odes by Percy Bysshe Shelley and John Keats, and one from the mock epic poem Don Juan, by George Byron.

They also include two selections from the post-revolutionary period and its bourgeois society: one from the realistic novel by Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary, and one from Frederick Engels socialist study of the family, The Origins of Private Property, the Family, and the State.

The last age under study, called Age of Global Realignments, runs from 1914 to the present time.  It is a time when new world powers emerge, around which other systems realign.  For this period, readings include three selections from notable voices in 20th century cultures:  Sigmund Freud’s famous Lecture XXXIII, “On Femininity” (1933), its rebuttal in Betty Friedan’s “Introduction” to The Feminine Mystique (1963), and bell hook’s recent plea for a more loving society, in All for Love (2001).

Readings are actively discussed in class.  The course’s overarching teaching strategy is known as “flipped classroom.”  With background history lectures available online at all times for students, the strategy is designed to enhance the quality of classroom experience by dedicating all presential meeting time to active learning.   To each reading, a group of students is assigned.  They form the reading’s Leadership of Class Discussion Group.  The group commits to an in-depth preparation about the reading, and to leading the class discussion of it.  Overarching questions that organizes discussions include:  What do we learn from this reading about what it was like to be alive at that time?  What practices of love can we observe in the reading?  The discussion also actively refers to the history lectures in the background.  Reading and active participation is expected of all students.

The course is organized as a journey, a voyage across time and space that participants take together as a learning community.  Many consider love a very personal experience while most also agree that love is a very universal theme.  Accordingly, the course design is holistic.  Activities are intended to expand students’ awareness of love.  Exposure to diverse practices of love in human history encourages personal evolution and transformation in relation to this discursive arena.

Rubrics in the course include:

An Opening Circle.  Students set intentions for the journey.  “What motivates you to be in this course?”  “What kind of awareness, understanding, knowledge, experience do you wish to achieve?”  Each shares his or her intention with the group.  The group becomes the container that sustains the intention of each participant to learn and evolve in the course of  the journey.

An Introduction.  The teacher introduces the course and explains how all its parts function, including all rubrics, readings, lectures, modules, tests, digital and presential activities.  The students practice.

Participation.  Students are responsible for reading texts to be discussed, for attending all presential meetings, and for participating in all class discussions.  In each class discussion meeting, the teacher sets the tone for the discussion by reminding students of the overarching questions.  Students in the Leadership of Class Discussion group form a panel and address these questions.  All students in the course are invited to bring their own questions to the class, and to present their analytical observations.  The Leadership of Class Discussion Group can also address these questions and offer further comments and analytical observations.  The teacher corroborates, clarifies, and correlates as needed.

Lectures and Tests.  At the beginning of the course, the whole group agrees on a timeline for viewing the online lectures and taking the related tests.  A test focuses on a given lecture, while it also reviews past, and anticipates new materials.  The timeline is coordinated with the work of the class discussion groups.  When all assigned readings are also discussed for a certain time period, a module is complete.

Service.   The students sustain the learning community by attending to technical needs in the smart classroom.  They take turns in helping with setting up the audiovisual system and powering the technical desk as needed.  They practice being a self-servicing learning community.

Leadership of Class Discussion.  Students actively co-create these steps.

  • Formation of groups, facilitated by the Group’s tab in Canvas
  • In-depth study of chosen reading(s), preparation of panels
  • Panels of students lead the class discussions of all assigned readings

Report of Personal Experience and Favorite Reading(s).

  • Students explore one of the readings in relation to their personal experience.
  • They post this brief exploration to their group.  Members respond.
  • They expand the exploration to an essay that integrates analytical observations about the reading and personal experience.
  • They post their report to the Assignment on Canvas
  • They post to their group, group members respond.

Closing Circle.  The closing circle correlates with the opening circle.  At the end of the course, the intentions of the opening circle are revisited.  “What did I expect from this course?  What did I get?”  Also, at this time students are invited to read their report to the entire class.

Evaluation.  Students respond to a survey designed to evaluate various aspects of the course, including: digital portal, thematic organization, online lectures, class time, rubrics, etc.

Appreciation for this course has been quite significant.  Survey responses by students at the University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez, indicate a 78 percent rating of their learning experience as “excellent” and “good.”  Areas surveyed include all distance and presential aspects.  Students also demonstrated their appreciation by protecting the course in the context of the severe budget challenges faced by the university.

As a professor and scholar of many years, I am excited to propose this course to interested institutions.  The study of love prepares people for co-creating the amorous society where we all would enjoy living.  We live in a time of paradigm shifts, where epistemic questions have become urgent.  In offering this course, I am inspired by a hypothesis that some might call artistic. 

If we consider the humanities as the sciences that help us understand the belief systems we have, we can teach more effectively how they correlate with all other disciplines.  If we appreciate change in the current belief systems, we can practice the arts as the sciences that help us invent the belief systems we need.


Many are persuaded that there is a vanishing point where the arts and the sciences converge.  I suspect that vanishing point is love.


Please consider offering this course.  It can open up that path for your students, institution, and communities.


Thank you.


aka Serena Anderlini-D’Onofrio, PhD
Erstwhile Professor of Humanities and Cinema at UPRM
Convenor of Practices of Ecosexuality: A Symposium
Fellow at the Humanities Institute, University of Connecticut, Storrs (2012-13)
Project: “Amorous Visions: Ecosexual Perspectives on Italian Cinema”

serenagaia • August 5, 2017


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