Document Type


Publication Date

Fall 2023

Course Description

“The time will come when the sun will shine only on free men who have no master but their own reason.”
--Marquis de Condorcet, "Progress of the Human Mind" (1793)

The importation of enslaved people from West African ports “reached its numerical peak in this period.”
--Dorinda Outram, The Enlightenment (2019)

The European Enlightenment constitutes the historical site from which Westerners typically approach non- Western traditions. That approach has tended to evaluate and measure traditions according to their distance from Enlightenment and liberal models. (200)
--Talal Asad, Genealogies of Religion (1993)

Course Description: In this course we’ll read stories from 18th-century writers about cross-cultural collisions. What do these tales seek to understand and accomplish through such imagined or recounted global travels? To answer this question, our course will examine how these Enlightenment travel narratives from Europe think about human rights and religious toleration; construct conceptions of reason, religion, and race; argue for and against colonialism and slavery; invent the field of economics; and explore the possibility of a cosmopolitan ethos. With a focus on literary form, our work together will be guided by a fundamental question that remains resonant for our time: “What is Enlightenment?”

This W-course also has a very strong writing component. To write well you must read well, and in our class you will learn how to be active readers. We will ponder, question, poke, and prod our texts by discussing and writing about them. The close attention we will be giving to the choices writers make—especially our own choices—will empower us to see not only how writing can be a tool for thinking but also how language shapes us and our apprehension of the world. The course aims to make it possible to experience college writing not as a perfunctory and instrumental exercise but as an exploratory, liberating, and powerful tool for imagining and thinking.

Student Outcomes

Student Learning Outcomes:
Students will be able to:

  • think more clearly about the value of “being yourself” as an ethical ideal
  • interpret better
  • write better