Schemel Forum Courses Explore Topics in War, Literature and Philosophy

Jan 21, 2014

Through the Schemel Forum at The University of Scranton during the spring semester, local residents can examine World War I, generations of Jewish-American writers and American “enlightened self-interest.” University of Scranton professors will teach these evening courses in six sessions, all on campus.

Formerly referred to as the Great War, World War I helped shape the world to this day. It was the catalyst for the rise of Soviet communism, for example, whose unraveling a decade and a half ago continues to affect worldwide diplomacy and economics. Sean Brennan, Ph.D., assistant professor of history at The University of Scranton, and David Wenzel, former mayor of Scranton and community leader, will co-teach a course titled “World War 1: The Watershed Event of the Twentieth Century.” Each class will be based on a theme and will feature a screening of the acclaimed 1963 CBS documentary “World War I: The Complete Story,” followed by a discussion.

“Even today, the political and cultural impacts of an event that took place nearly a century ago are apparent on both sides of the Atlantic,” said Dr. Brennan. “It’s also staggering to realize that America lost 116,278 soldiers in one year of participation in the Great War, compared to 58,286 in eight years of fighting in Vietnam.” The course will meet in the Pearn Auditorium of Brennan Hall from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. on the following Mondays: March 3, 10, 17, 24 and 31; and April 7.

Joseph Kraus, Ph.D., associate professor of English and Theatre and director of the University’s Honors Program, will conduct a class titled “Jewish-American Short Stories.” Looking back at least to the 1940s, Dr. Kraus asserts that Jewish-American writers have used the short story form to negotiate how they sit on both sides of the hyphen as Jews and Americans. “Reading three or four representative short stories for each class, we will examine this phenomenon from both a chronological and a theme-based approach,” said Dr. Kraus. Starting with Delmore Schwartz and other pioneers who came of age before World War II, the class will explore counter-culturists including Cynthia Ozick and Bernard Malamud; Philip Roth, Stanley Elkin and others who pushed the limits in the 1960s and authors like Bruce Jay Friedman, who sought to recover the vanishing Jewish tradition. In addition, pre-new millennium writers like Allegra Goodman and Thane Rosenbaum, who expanded the pallet of Jewish-American writers, the contemporary voices of Nicole Krauss and the profoundly unsettling Nathan Englander, author of “What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank” will also be discussed.

“In the 1930s and 1940s, how Jewish-Americans straddled the hyphen was similar to the process of members of other assimilated ethnic groups,” Dr. Kraus said, “with one exception. Irish-Americans and Italian-Americans, for example, could return to their native homes; Jews had a no return ticket. That phenomenon had a profound impact on generations of Jewish-American writers.” The course will meet in room 305 of the Weinberg Memorial Library from 6 to 7:15 p.m. on the following Wednesdays: February 19 and 26; March 5, 12 and 26; and April 2.

During “Enlightened Self-Interest Examined,” Matthew Meyer, Ph.D., assistant professor of philosophy at The University of Scranton, will focus on whether the connection between self-interest and the common good is rightly understood in America today. On his historic visit to America in the early 19th century, Alexis de Tocqueville noted that Americans eagerly linked the pursuit of self-interest to the common good and saw it as a civic responsibility to cultivate the connection. Tocqueville called it “self-interest rightly understood” or enlightened self-interest, according to Dr. Meyer.

Through readings from Thucydides, Plato, Adam Smith, Tocqueville, Milton Friedman and Joseph Stiglitz, Dr. Meyer will explore the idea that “although self-interest and private acquisition (even greed) has contributed to the common good through economic development, their effect may ultimately be destructive. Instead of forging progress and improving our quality of life, self-interest can sometimes drive individuals and corporations alike to try to manipulate laws for private benefit, thus leading to a system of ‘legalized’ cheating for the benefit of the few, while widening the gap between the haves and have-nots.” The course will meet in room 305 of the Weinberg Memorial Library from 6 to 7:15 p.m. on the following Thursdays: February 6, 13, 20 and 27; and March 6 and 13.

 “These courses are a wonderfully enlightened way for The University of Scranton to connect to the community through our richest resource, our faculty,” said Sondra Myers, director of the Schemel Forum.

Local residents can attend any course for $60 per person or $100 per couple (Schemel Forum members and University faculty, students and staff may attend free of charge). Space is limited and registrations are accepted on a first-come, first-served basis. To register, contact Emily Brees, Schemel Forum assistant, at (570) 941-6206 or For more information on Schemel Forum programs and memberships, contact Sondra Myers at (570) 941-4089 or


The Schemel Forum is a program of participatory learning experiences aimed at cultivating the intellect and the imagination through study and discussion of classical texts and current policies, from the arts, history and philosophy to technology and theology. Founded in 2006 through generous gifts to the Rev. George Schemel, S.J., Fund, the forum has grown quickly from a handful of informal lectures to a comprehensive 

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