Smolny Beyond Borders

A Liberal Arts Initiative

Does your university say 'Sieg Heil,' but you still want to study?

The DOXA team requested instructors from “Smolny Beyond Borders” to recommend a text related to their courses for prospective students. These recommendations were then published as separate material in Russian. Below are the English translations of the recommendations for the six courses taught in English.

Fall 2023

Courses in English (15 weeks, semester starts on September 4)

Andrey Rodin

Introduction to Liberal Arts Mathematics

Fall 2023 | T T 17:50 – 19:10 Berlin (UTC + 2)

Yuri Manin, who left us at the beginning of this year (1937-2023), conceived  of mathematics as a part of the global human culture and was very sensitive to various connections between mathematics, arts and sciences. His essays on mathematics and its place in the global culture are collected in his book  “Mathematics as a Metaphor” published in English by the American Mathematical Society in 2007.  I recommend this remarkable book to all DOXA readers who are not yet familiar with Yuri Manin’s brilliant mind and his acute writing style.  In my introductory course of mathematics for Smolny, I follow the principles of uncompromising mathematical humanism (or humanism in mathematics) that I’ve learnt from Yuri Manin.

Michael Allakhverdov  

Cognitive Aspects of Conflict Resolution

Fall 2023 | T T 16.10 – 17.30 Berlin (UTC+2)

When I’m asked about recommended literature on conflictology, I often hesitate: there are an incredible number of books on this subject. Some of them, for example, any of the works by William Ury, have already become classics. But there is a book that I believe is also worth reading and studying. “Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life” by Marshall Rosenberg not only tells but also demonstrates practical exercises for mastering nonviolent and compassionate communication. This approach aims to reduce aggression, anger, hatred, and fear in relationships. The book can easily be purchased in online stores and is available in Russian translation, for example, [here], or one can search for its previous editions on the internet. The philosophy and principles in the book are crucial to my course I teach at Smolny Beyond Borders. Together with participants, we delve into conflict resolution practices and study the cognitive processes that govern our communication. We explore why aggression, fear and frustration arise, how our implicit, and often irrational, assessments and interests influence our behavior. Our goal is to learn how we can manipulate these considered uncontrollable processes, making for a more comfortable, mindful and wholesome life.

Natalia Fedorova

Writing Across Disciplines

Fall 2023 | T T 16.30 – 17.50 Berlin (UTC + 2)

The Fata Morgana Stories by Jonathan Littell is a must-read for those who prefer writing, as understood by Blanchot, to fiction, as appraised by Teffi. Littell is best known as the author of “The Kindly Ones”, a vast epic narrative about World War II, a book that explores the nature of mass violence. Far less known are his experiments with shorter forms, in which the theme of that very violence, but on a personal level, unfolds. If it’s not enough for you to repeat “The horror! The horror!” after Colonel Kurtz, but like Ishmael in Moby Dick, you deeply feel it yet remain intrigued by it, then these stories can stand alongside the texts of Conrad, Melville, Kafka, and other explorers of evil.

Victor Apryshchenko

A History of the World Since 1300 (in collaboration with Princeton and Cambridge Universities)

Fall 2023 | M W 16:10 – 17:30 Berlin (UTC + 2)
Website Global History Lab (Princeton University / University of Cambridge)

“A nation is a daily plebiscite,” said Renan in his lecture given at the Sorbonne in 1882— and “two things, which are essentially one, constitute this soul, this spiritual principle. One is in the past, the other is in the future. One is the shared possession of a rich legacy of memories; the other is a shared agreement, a desire to live together, to continue to share in the unpartitioned heritage that has been handed down.” Forty years ago, in 1983, “Nations and Nationalism” by Ernest Gellner, a collection of articles edited by historians Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger titled “The Invention of Tradition”, and “Imagined Communities” by Benedict Anderson were published. All the concepts proposed in these books were based on the ideas presented by Ernest Renan in that famous lecture which he titled “What is a Nation?” Understanding history, and in some cases, forgetting the past, is a central element in the intellectual construction of a nation. In the course “World History from 1300 onwards”, students will jointly traverse the paths of nation creation, the struggle for the idea of nations, and the intellectual understanding of national unity.
See you on the Canvas platform of Cambridge University in just a few days!

Masha Godovannaya

Introduction to Film Language

Fall 2023 | M W 17:50 – 19:10 Berlin (UTC+2)

The text I recommend to the readers of DOXA is Alexandra Juhasz’s book “Women of Vision: Histories in Feminist Film and Video.” It is the result of extensive research by Alexandra, a filmmaker and activist, in the realm of feminist alternative and independent cinema, video, and media – “work made outside the sanction and profit motive of the industrial model” The book includes interviews and reflections from contemporary artists and directors, such as Carolee Schneemann, Barbara Hammer, Cheryl Dunye, Carol Lee, Valerie Soe, and others. These artists and directors share the principles of such feminist audiovisual production and engage with the moving image as a resource for self-expression in situations of socio-cultural exclusions and political alienation, discrimination, migration, as well as in search of their own voice and subjectivity.

Our course will specifically focus on finding one’s own voice through cinema. The course provides a basic understanding of film grammar and offers an opportunity to apply the acquired knowledge in practice immediately. We will shoot exercises, analyze them collectively, watch and discuss films, and possibly, the end result will be short films by the participants. However, as one can read in Alexandra’s book, the end product is not always the aim of feminist film/video production. The process itself and immersion into the space of collectivity, which such production creates, gains more importance. My course will focus on organizing such a space and building this community.

Denis Skopin

Critical Perspectives Human Rights: Human Rights and Spectatorship (Graduate Level Course)

Fall 2023 | W 16:30-19:30 Berlin (UTC + 2)

Text: Sontag S. On photography. London: Penguin Random House, 2019

Susan Sontag’s book is perhaps one of the three most influential books on photography, along with Walter Benjamin and Roland Barthes’ ones. The author’s basic thesis in this book is simple: photography has made it possible to extend capitalist possession to things that were previously impossible to possess. By possessing a photograph of a thing, we possess the thing itself. Marxist logic leads Sontag to view the photographer as an ‘agent of capitalism’. Moreover, in Sontag’s view, a photograph of the suffering of another person cannot elicit empathy in the viewer. Photography, as a capitalist tool, cannot evoke human emotion in us. But is this really the case? How does photography affect the viewer? What does our perception of a photograph depend on? Can photography change the world for the better and become a weapon in the fight for justice? In our course we will explore all these questions. We will try to look at human rights not from a traditional legal perspective, but through the prism of photographs that record violations of these very ‘rights’.