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Facts or BS: What’s the Truth and How Can We Even Know?

Jessica Alexander, Psychology (Section A)
Emily Leithauser, English (Section B)
Kathrine Weeks, Chemistry (Section C)
Keywords: Ways of knowing, truth, misinformation 

Chicken soup helps a cold. Listening to Mozart can make a baby smarter. Having pets can prevent allergies. Crystals can heal disease. These are all amazing claims, but some are true while others are not. From old wives’ tales to new claims we might see on the internet, trying to understand what’s actually true can feel overwhelming. How can we tell truth from nonsense? What makes a scientific claim different from ideas that are purely metaphysical or religious in nature? How can we trust a historical narrative, and how can two very different accounts of an event be true? Understanding how we know things can help us start to figure out what claims can be believed and what it really means to “do your research.” In this class, we will work together across academic disciplines to understand what makes something trustworthy. As we develop our critical thinking skills, we will test our abilities to distinguish between scientific and historical facts, wishful thinking, and utter nonsense. We will investigate how the language we use can work to obscure or clarify facts. We will examine how different perspectives make the same events seem different, and we will delve into reasons why people readily believe unfounded fantastic claims while doubting more realistic facts. The three-course sections will meet together for lectures and separately in smaller discussion sections.

[Please note: This is a team-taught course offered in three sections that will gather frequently as one big “super-section.”]


Innovation: Where Good Ideas Come From and How They Got Us to Now

Michael Laffey, English and Communication
Keywords: Innovation, Invention, Cultural Studies, Technology, Media Theory, Communication

Do our best ideas come in a flash? Does a light bulb suddenly illuminate the darkness? Not so fast. This course engages with the argumentative strategies and tactics deployed in two 21st century books by Steven Johnson. Johnson is an American popular science author and media theorist who examines the role that innovation plays in natural history and in human cultural development. In the first of these texts, Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation, students are challenged to think differently about many of the everyday, common sense descriptions and explanations about creativity and invention. With the next text, How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World, students are presented with the historical foundations that underlie many of the qualities that go unnoticed and are taken for granted in everyday life: glass, cold, sound, clean, time, and light. Students will be assigned to conduct further research and produce arguments concerning the unexpected and unfamiliar roles played by what we often overlook. Ultimately this research will be presented in written essays, oral presentations, and audio documentary recordings to be broadcast on KSCL-FM, the Centenary College radio station.


The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Perspectives on Alternative Energies

David Bieler, Geology
Keywords: Environment, Energy, Renewable, Louisiana, Texas, Public Policy

In this course, we will consider four of the major sources of alternative or renewable energies. Biomass, wind and solar, which are important to Louisiana and Texas, will be three of them; the class will select the fourth from nuclear, river-base hydropower, geothermal, and tidal/wave. Students will work in collaborative teams to develop a presentation about their resource covering geographic distribution of the resource, its economic effectiveness, its benefits, and its drawbacks. Will it provide cheaper power for homes (a good)? Will it be injurious to wildlife (a bad)? Will it obstruct my view of the mountains (the ugly)? Let’s make an informed case for how alternative energy should be approached in the United States.


Aliens Among Us: Understanding Diversity with Science Fiction

Jeanne Hamming, English
Keywords: Science Fiction, Diversity, Community, Race, Class, Gender, Literature, Culture

One, if not the, defining characteristic of the science fiction genre, is what critic Darko Suvin calls “cognitive estrangement.” By taking the familiar, the everyday, the habitual, and re-presenting it as strange or alien, science fiction invites readers to see their own realities in a new light. In this respect, science fiction offers a valuable tool for exploring issues of diversity, not in some far-flung future world, but in our own everyday experience. In this course we will immerse ourselves in science fiction literature and film in order to “explore new worlds,” new ways of being, and new ways of understanding what it means to be human, and how we do (or should) relate to those unlike ourselves.


Get Slammed: A Study and Creation of Spoken Word

Ashley Rulo, Library
Keywords: Poetry, Writing, Blog, Research, Spoken Word, Slam Poetry

Drawing on current events, personal experiences, and life as we know it, students will study contemporary poets like Rudy Francisco, Neil Hilborne, and Sabrina Benaim as well as create a portfolio blog of poetic works in different styles, including Slam Poetry and Spoken Word. We will coordinate with the Centenary Poetry Club and Pandora Literary Magazine to build towards a public poetry reading at the end of the semester as your final project. Students will also pick one contemporary poet and write a scholarly report on three of their poems’ themes to be shared at the All-Campus Research Conference.


Doing Race

Michael Hicks, Education
Keywords: Race, Education, Society, Ethnicity, Identity Community

The social construct of "race" touches every aspect of our lives and profoundly (though sometimes unnoticeably) affects what we do, who we believe, and how we are treated - every one of us. Today, as much as ever, conversations around race and inequality provoke powerful feelings of discomfort, shame, guilt, and even rage. No wonder people often retreat from these discussions, hoping to avoid messy, uncomfortable confrontations. In this class, however, we are going to lean into this tension in a safe, academic environment in order to learn from primary sources, and from one another.

Through an exploration of history and scholarship stretching across academic disciplines, and through the lived experiences of invited guest presenters, we will analyze what it means to "Do Race" in America, in Louisiana and the Deep South, and even here at Centenary. For those with a heart for human connection and who want to hear, just as much as they want to be heard, this course will be a journey into understanding how we (beginning with those of us in this course) can deal with our differences differently, and in fact - better.


Our Stories: A Neighborhood Podcasting Project

Michelle Glaros, Communication Arts
Keywords: Community, Representation, Mardi Gras Indians, Second Line, Masking, Ethnogra- phy, Public Art

Who gets to tell our stories? Do we? Others? Does it make a difference? What role do stories playing in telling us who we are, who we could or should be? This course explores the meanings of community, neighborhood, inclusion, and exclusion as well as the power of representation and does so through a culminating course podcasting project: The Highland Story Project. I hope you will join us if you are interested in storytelling, podcasting, or community engagement.

We will begin by learning about folklore and ethnography through a case study: an examination of the history and functions of New Orleans’ African American masking and processing traditions. This case study will focus on the roles and practices of Mardi Gras Indians, Skull and Bones Gangs, Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs, second-line parades, and the active documentation and preservation of these traditions through neighborhood ethnographies and podcasts. Participants in this course will not only learn about how such cultural formations function to bind people to a community and to protect and sustain its inhabitants, but they will also learn about the design and practice of distinctive public art forms that differentiate New Orleans and Louisiana from the rest of the nation and world. Using the Neighborhood Story Project as a model, students in this course will in turn learn how to produce their own podcasts about Shreveport’s indigenous neighborhood cultures and public art practices, thereby productively contributing to our local community’s presentation and preservation of its own distinctive traditions.


Bloody Caddo: Race and Policing in Caddo Parish

Chris Ciocchetti, Philosophy
Keywords: Law, Poverty, Beliefs and Values, Community, Racism

Caddo Parish has a reputation for being especially harsh on convicted criminals. We will study the leading philosophical justifications for punishment. From there, we will investigate the history of criminal justice in Caddo Parish, the Parish government structure, and on-going efforts to change the system. Students will meet with lawyers, judges, and others who work in the system and people affected by the system, to learn from their experiences. We will examine how racism manifests itself in our Parish, both systemically and in personal beliefs, and explore efforts to create racial reconciliation in the Parish. Students will collectively choose an action they could take to make Caddo Parish more just. Throughout the process, we will reflect on our beliefs and values, what it means to live in a diverse community, and how we—individually and collectively—can put our beliefs and values into action.

Notice of Nondiscriminatory Policy As To Students The insitution does not discriminate in its educational and employment policies against any person on the basis of gender, race, color, religion, age, disability, sexual orientation, national or ethnic origin, or on any other basis proscribed by federal, state, or local law.