Document Type


Publication Date

Fall 2023

Course Description

This course asks students to think critically about what they believe and why they believe it. We will consider both the things we commonly think of when we think of “beliefs” (religious faith, atheism, secular morality, scientific fact, truth, politics, identity categories like race and gender) as well as the not-so-common things (UFOs, ghosts, true love, lying, superstitions, astrology, psychics, and cryptids). We will explore questions of skepticism and belief through a number of different disciplines as we ask ourselves: What makes us “believe” in something? What is the difference between skepticism and doubt? What evidence informs our beliefs? To what extent are beliefs passed down to us from our families and our social groups, and to what extent do we decide for ourselves what we believe? What is the difference between an opinion and a belief? How do competing epistemologies within our society dictate what we can and can’t believe? What exactly is an epistemology? These are some of the questions we will be exploring over the course of the semester as we delve into critical theory like Stuart Hall’s “The Work of Representation” as well as pop culture television mainstays like Ghost Adventures.

Like other First Year Seminars, this course is primarily focused on developing oral and written communication skills and introducing students to the basics of college-level thinking and college-level work. Over the course of the semester, we will improve our writing and hone our ability to construct convincing academic arguments using evidence and reasoning. We will develop these skills both in and outside the classroom through a series of readings, written assignments, group work, one-on-one writing tutorials, and peer-conducted writing workshops, all of which cluster around the central concepts of “skepticism” and “belief.”

Student Outcomes

Like all FYS courses, this course is a general education course, which means that it is one of the core courses you will take at DePauw that is not part of your major. All gen ed courses, regardless of their home department or program, share common goals. By the end of this course, you will be better able to:

  1. Love learning and exude a commitment to continued learning throughout your lives.
  2. Appreciate varied disciplinary and interdisciplinary methods for acquiring knowledge and demonstrate the ability to synthesize knowledge from multiple disciplines.
  3. Understand and appreciate cultures, languages and groups different than your own and regularly reflect on domestic and global issues of power, privilege and diversity.
  4. Develop capacities for clear, thorough, and independent thought that demonstrates the ability to analyze arguments on the basis of evidence and to understand the value and limitations of multiple types of evidence.
  5. Clearly express your ideas and the ideas of others to varied audiences, both in writing and orally.

In addition to these broad general education goals, this FYS course also fulfills some of the goals of DePauw’s multi-course Writing Program. DePauw’s general education requirements reflect the importance of writing for all students and all disciplines, so you will take multiple writing-intensive courses throughout your four years. As your first academic advisor on campus, I’ll continue to talk with you in future semesters about gen ed writing requirements, but for now, just remember this: all students need to take an FYS and a sophomore W-course prior to declaring a major as well as fulfill a ‘writing in the discipline’ requirement and a senior seminar within their chosen major. By the end of this semester, you will be able to:

  1. Understand writing projects as a series of tasks, including finding, evaluating, summarizing, analyzing, and synthesizing sources.
  2. Possess flexible strategies for generating ideas, proof-reading, editing, and revising.
  3. Understand how to document both primary and secondary sources and why that is important.
  4. Understand that the skills and habits learned in the first-year seminar can and should be transferred to other courses and writing contexts.
  5. Be passionate about writing as a means for thinking, communication, expression, and action.