Summer, 2009


Robert A. Wren, Ph.D.   Instructor

office Phone:  747-5288

Home Phone:  585-8253


This is an upper-division multi-discipline Liberal Arts course which investigates the elaboration of ideas within the frame of Western Culture (the intellectual traditions, events, and personalities associated with European and North American cultures between 1 CE and 1327 CE).  Texts for this course are seminal texts for ideas and concepts vital to the shaping of western cultural institutions and practices, drawn from the fields of history, literature, political science, music, theoretical science, religion, and the fine arts. 

There will also be a number of shorter readings taken from contemporary records made available through the course web page and discussion board, including images of paintings and music (in MP3 format).

          The sheer breadth of what we will be attempting to study may appear intimidating but the intensive nature of what we will be doing will assure that our interactions will be of appropriate depth and the participation of the ambitious individuals comprising the course will serve to make up for the deficiencies of the instructor. 

The function of this course is to expose you to some of the seminal ideas and texts which have been integral in shaping “Western Culture” and the ways in which we see and think about our world. By exploring and seeking to understand these texts in their original context you should begin to develop a greater understanding, not only of yourself, but of those around you.

Critical Assumptions 

          This course is designed for the liberal arts major, providing the soon-to-graduate student with context for his more specialized studies in his or her discipline.  When successful, the student will master the assumptions informing his or her own major, but will have the knowledge necessary to contextualize those assumptions in the context of fields other than his or her own, becoming conversant concerning the assumptions of other fields traditionally assigned to the liberal arts. 

          This course emphasizes literacy, an assumption driven by the importance assigned to literacy by western culture itself during the time frame of the course.  We commence our studies when western culture embraces literacy as the primary means of transferring and preserving information and ideas just as maintaining that literacy is  seriously challenged by the economic, social, and political collapse of the Roman Empire.  We conclude our studies with western culture, in some interesting ways, celebrating the recovery of the "good letters" in the Renaissance.

          In the modern world, reading is pursued as an individual, lonely task of self-enrichment or entertainment.  In this class, we will be reading the same texts for the same purposes, as investigators, detectives, searching our ideas and their permutations through fiction, politics, philosophy, religion, and science.   Behind this investigation is the assumption that ideas are recursive within a culture—a political idea, in time will spawn a religious form, or will re-shape or re-inform the arts, and vice versa.  Thus the idea that nature is not worthy of study in its own right: religious dogma must precede and inform all investigations found in Augustine is often echoed by those who resist the theory of evolution.

Policies and Procedures 

You will not be asked to repeat what you read in the PowerPoint presentations, or what you may have read on the discussion board, or in the lectures, but we do ask that you take what you are presented with as a starting point from which you may develop your own insights and understanding.  This course has not been designed to instruct students in how to regurgitate discrete facts.  


While attendance is not required, attending class regularly is its own reward, and it is expected. By the same token absence is its own punishment.  Throughout the semester, in class quizzes will be given.  These quizzes will be used to monitor attendance as well serve as a check on your command of the assigned readings.  Quizzes will normally take the form of two or three questions which can be answered on a standard 3 by 5 index card.

The quizzes may be given at the beginning, in the middle, or at the end of class.  In some days there may be two quizzes.  Quizzes cannot be made up; if you miss the quiz, you have a 0.  The quizzes, and by extension, attendance, will comprise 10% of your course grade.  No quiz grades will be "dropped." 

Students with Disabilities

As per Section 504 of the Vocational Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990, if a student needs an accommodation, contact your professor and we will help you with the appropriate modification, within the procedures established by the University. 

Reading Assignments

     The real key to success in this course is handling the reading assignments diligently and carefully. These texts form an awesome body of material which can be intimidating. Keep in mind, however, that many of the assigned readings were originally written as entertainment, and for the most part, they still retain this quality. These texts, therefore, are not meant to be read as you would read a text book, but as you would read a novel; looking for ideas as opposed to hunting for facts, dates, or names. Additionally, you are not expected to fully understand these texts in all their complexity, but you are asked to engage them and the ideas they present. These texts may appear a formidable task, but you have had enough experience as a student to be quite formidable yourself. 


Throughout the semester, the instructor has the option to issue timed quizzes, requiring student response within a short time frame.  These quizzes will serve to encourage consistent attention to the course as it unfolds.

Quizzes cannot be made up; if you miss the quiz, you have a 0.  The quizzes, and by extension, attendance, will comprise 10% of your course grade.  No quiz grades will be "dropped." 

There will be ONE MIDTERM EXAM  and a COMPREHENSIVE final. The exam dates are posted in the course calendar which is available on-line. There are no make-up exams (unless the offending student cites death, arrest by the CIA or FBI, or that they are needed to play power forward for the Chicago Bulls as the cause of the absence), so be sure to check the course calendar.

The MIDTERM EXAM will consist of three questions, selected from the Study Questions available on the on-line calendar, of which you will answer two. In addition there will also be an extended essay in response to a question communicated to you via the computer classroom one week prior to the exam. The COMPREHENSIVE final will be similarly constructed.

These exams are open book, open note, and open mind. Since the possible questions will be available to you prior to the exam, you may prepare ahead. However, the work you submit MUST be your own! 

You will have no excuse not to present your very best efforts, given these generous time constraints.


Plagiarism is using ideas or wording from a source without attribution, or giving credit to the source.  It is unethical and unacceptable.  Do not submit work in exams or on-line that you do not do yourself.   You may not submit work you are doing for another class in this class.  If you are found to be cheating or plagiarizing, you will be subject to disciplinary action in accordance with the policy set forth in the UTEP catalog.  Refer to: 

I will have access to tools that will enable me to identify plagiarism, and these tools will be used.  After all, no one ever invites me to parties, for reasons obvious by now, so I have nothing better to do.

Grading Summary:

Your course grade will be assigned using the following formula:

                   MIDTERM EXAM          




                   Final Exam                





Grading Criteria




Fairness to text

Discussion Boards

     In the addition to the other components of this course, you will also be required to participate in a “Computer Conference.”  The computer conference is an on-line discussion group where you can share ideas related to the course texts and lecture content.

Participation on the conference, as with attendance, will affect your exam scores. If you exceed the standard for participation, then you will receive a FIVE POINT bonus on your exam score. If you merely meet the standard of participation, then your exam score will be unaffected. If you fall short of the standard, then you will have FIVE POINTS deducted from your exam score. Failure to participate, or minimal participation, will result in TEN POINTS being deducted from your exam score.


While this standard is an objective measure by which your participation may be judged, your participation will also be evaluated by the quality and relevance of your contribution to the class on-line discussion.  Entries should be focused upon perceptions and issues inspired by the texts and lectures or upon discussions of issues and ideas prompted by other entries on the computer conference itself. Entries which do not focus upon ideas or materials relevant to the course will NOT be counted, and may be deleted.


The following "rules" will make for a more helpful and inclusive conference community. They are generally common sense ideas that you probably already use when you communicate both in person and by writing notes or letters. Please read them carefully and strive to be as thoughtful as possible in your use of this medium.
Above all else, remember that you're not writing to a computer, but to and for your peers. They are real people with real thoughts and feelings. It is dangerously easy to forget that though we may be separated by time and space, we are still a community of sorts, at least for the duration of this semester.


Though it may be easier to simply hit the caps lock key and bang away, messages in all caps are routinely interpreted as expressing anger in internet communications.  So if you are not angry, do not type in all caps.  If you are angry, count to ten, take a walk, and then write your entry.


This is another one that is easy to forget. When you write, paragraphs serve to organize your ideas and present them more clearly to your readers.  Reading material on line can be hard on the eyes, especially if you are using a monitor that has seen better days in the last century.  Paragraphing serves to make the physical act of reading a bit easier for your reader.


If you are responding to a specific entry made by one of your classmates or one of the TA's or professors, make sure that you make this clear in your entry.  Sometimes, it is a good idea to "address" your audience specifically.  Doing so will avert misunderstandings and confusion, usually, by most people, considered a good idea.


Please reread your entries before you post them. The Webboard program includes a built-in spell checker.  Please make use of it. Sloppy spelling, punctuation, diction, and syntax indicate a lack of interest or intelligence and are so interpreted by most readers.


The Webboard program allows you the option of suppressing your E-mail so that your fellow students cannot send you unsolicited E-mail.  You can select this option on the profile screen on the "More" option.  If you do allow your E-mail to be posted with your entries, students are free to communicate with you via E-mail.  If one of your fellow students violates this courtesy by sending malicious E-mail, immediately contact your instructor and the situation will be dealt with in a decisive manner. Sending malicious E-mail is grounds for being denied access to the Webboard and that carries with it significant penalties that can only adversely affect your grade.  A second offense will result in the student sending the e-mail being dropped from the course with a failing grade.


Because your conference was set up for use with a specific course FOR CREDIT here at UTEP, it is not a sandbox where you can write whatever you happen to think or feel. It was created as a place for you to discuss ideas that directly (to a greater or lesser extent) deal with the class. Keep your entries topical and use your knowledge of the texts to help you make your points. We are not against "free speech", quite the opposite. We are very much in favor of it. But "Free Speech" means that you are free to take complete responsibility for what you've said. If your entries do not relate to the course, do not expect credit for them. If they are silly and meaningless, expect others to ignore you, or even ask you your point.
Consider the conference a symposium or study group. It is open-ended and EVERYONE will end up learning. Feel free to make connections to life, the universe and everything...but remember that this is a course at a university. Free Speech is not "meaningless speech", nor is it graffiti tossed up on a computer screen.
Participation in your conference is potentially one of the most exciting and intellectually rewarding things you will do in your academic career. Take advantage of it! It is a lot of fun.

Course Summary


Augustine, the Bishop of Hippo Regius was one of the most crucial people in the development of Christian theology and philosophy.  The Confessions is one of the most important and accessible of the works of the Church fathers.

  Gregory of Tours describes a truly "stressed" society--a world that continues to think itself connected to the classical past even as it confronts the profound changes that result from the apparent collapse of that culture.  Gregory is an eyewitness to a process he does not quite understand.


El Cid is a poem about clashing values and cultures.  It has a startling amount of realism.  This is not an Arthurian tale. Rodrigo de Vivar is a very different kind of knight than the romantic Knight of the Round Table.


 Joinville's Life of St. Louis serves as a window into medieval political theory and practice.


Dante's Divine Comedy is one of the richest most engaging works of art created within western culture and its comprehensive world view can tell us much of the medieval mind as well as give a peek ahead into what we will call the Renaissance.

 The Confession of Augsburg by Philip melancthon sets out the concerns of Martin Luther and his followers--concerns which resulted in the reconfiguration of the relationship between church and state:  a reconfiguration of Christendom.