Nature and Humanity in Western Thought: Environmental Learning Community

ACS Traditions in Conversation 1000, Fall 2009

EN1 : Tues., Thurs. 8:30-9:45

GC9: Tues., Thurs., 10:00-11:15

Bartley Hall 27A


Dr. Chara Armon

Mailbox in Saint Augustine Center 104

Office hours: SAC 316, Fridays 9:30-11:30


Telephone: 610-888-4322; 610-565-2248 (home)



Course Objective:

            St. Augustine recounts in his Confessions that, just before his conversion, he heard a child singing, “Tolle lege, tolle lege,” “Take up and read, take up and read.” Augustine did so, and by reading was transformed: after much personal and spiritual struggle, he was at last able to change his life.  The Augustine and Culture Seminar (ACS) introduces students to great works of literature and thought that have much to teach us not only about the cultures and time periods in which they were written, but also about our own cultural heritage and ourselves, here and now. The basic idea is that by reading great works, perhaps we too can be transformed; perhaps we too can move more deeply into ourselves, and from there move more compassionately out into our communities.

 ACS seeks to help students develop a richer inner life and an appreciation for community.  The seminar is founded on the belief that seeking the truth (veritas) with respect and love (caritas) toward one another leads to deep and lasting community (unitas).  ACS thus tries to help students live the values so important to Villanova that they are on its seal: veritas, unitas, caritas.

            One way or the other, Augustine is our model. ACS learning community students take this course not only to learn about Augustine, but more important to learn to be like him in his passionate engagement with “the higher things”: literature, history, and politics; truth and moral values; the gods and God. In the Confessions, Augustine speaks of himself as committed to the truth “heart and voice and pen.” The ACS learning community faculty believe that thinking deeply about what we care about, learning to articulate our thoughts clearly and persuasively, and working to write with insight not only will serve as excellent preparation for future careers, but will help us come to terms with life emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually, both in the university and beyond.



Course Theme: Environmental Learning

            In Dr. Armon’s courses designed for the Environmental Learning Community, we will explore major texts in the western tradition: the Book of Genesis in the Bible’s Old Testament, along with parts of the New Testament; a Platonic dialogue; Augustine’s Confessions; a wide variety of excerpts of ancient, medieval, and modern writings on nature and the environment; and Shakespeare’s “As You Like It.”  As we get to know these texts, we will focus on their portrayals of the human relationship to nature and the Earth.  Over the course of two semesters we will endeavor to understand traditional western paradigms of human relationship to nature, and we will question whether, in the twenty-first century, human ways of living on Earth need to be re-thought and drastically altered.  To state that another way, is environmental studies scholar David Orr correct when he says that contemporary humans are driving ourselves out of the Garden of Eden?  Thinking about what “Eden” was or is, and what has been, should be, and could be our relationship to “Eden,” will be a major aspect of our work over both semesters.

            Our specific Augustinian themes for this course are the following: examination and re-examination of one’s self in relation to the Created world; and exploration of how distinct modes of inquiry influence our perceptions of the natural environment, i.e., Augustine’s “faith seeking understanding” as compared to Descartes’ “I think therefore I am.”

            We will explore various models of thought about the human relationship to the natural world.  Are we stewards who are, at some level, in charge of the world?  Should we see the natural world as a sacrament that reveals its Creator?  Should humans now and in the future be pursuing a democracy of humans, or some type of democracy of all living creatures and their ecosystems?  Following the philosopher Nicholas Maxwell, as we read a wide variety of Western and some non-Western texts this year, we will ask: What kind of world is being described?  In this account, how did humans come to be?  How do humans fit into this world?  According to this text, what’s most important in this life and how is it to be achieved?  Following Joanna Macy, we will consider how particular issues appear from one’s own perspective, one’s adversary’s perspective, that of a non-human, and that of a future human.


Course Goals:

The more nuts-and-bolts goals of this course are to help you make a successful transition to the expectations of college level work by developing skills that will be helpful to you both in college and in a subsequent career.


Method of assessment

Read and think critically:

Analyze and bring critical understanding to difficult and important classical texts and develop an appreciation of how much these texts have to teach us

Participation in class discussion, papers

Write well:

Write clearly and persuasively, supporting positions with argumentation and evidence

Papers, informal writing assignments

Communicate effectively orally:

Articulate your own views based on your reading and in response to contributions of other students

Participation in class discussion

Master co-operative learning skills:

Work with and learn from other members of the learning community in a climate of mutual respect and support

Participation in class discussion, group-project and presentation

Apply new perspectives  to your ideas and values:

Test, refine, and make connections between your own ideas and values and the challenges raised by major classical texts

Papers, final exam, informal writing assignments


Required Texts:                                                                     Publisher/ISBN:

1. The Catholic Study Bible                                         Not ordered for this course but likely available for purchase in the bookstore; alternatively, you may download assigned readings from          

2. Timaeus, Plato                                                        Focus Philosophical Library, ed. Kalkavage, 1-58510-007-2.  Alternatively, can be downloaded for free from Project Gutenberg

3. Confessions, St. Augustine                                     New City Press, ed. Boulding,            1-56548-084-8

4. As You Like It, Shakespeare                                    New Folger Library, 9-78074-348-4862


5. The Great Work, Berry                                           Bell Tower, 0-609-80499-5


6. Reading packet for this course                               Available in the Bookstore


[Easy Writer, Lunsford]                                              Recommended but not required due to price.  Instead of purchasing this, you may consult:


Course website

Our course WebCT site and the “All About Katharine” site, which you should be able to access through your Villanova homepage, will present our syllabus, a calendar, grading rubrics, and reading materials.  Please check it periodically, and check your email daily as I will communicate with the class via e-mail when I need to alter an assignment or send an announcement.


Course Requirements


*Reading assignments that must be completed before each course meeting begins.


*Writing Portfolio composed of assignments that you will carry through multiple drafts.  Due dates are firm; late papers will be penalized by half a grade (i.e. A to A-) for each day of lateness.  If you have a true emergency, contact me at least a day in advance of the deadline to make arrangements.  The Portfolio counts for 50% of your semester grade: Essays—15% for each of three essays; cultural events reports, writing reflections, and quality and completeness of the Portfolio as a whole count for 5% of your semester grade. 


You are required to substantially revise 1 essay of your choice. The revision, due within 3 weeks from the day that it is returned to you, must be accompanied by a 2-paragraph statement (rewrites without this statement will be returned without a grade).  Explain in the first paragraph how the original essay needed to be improved; explain in the second paragraph what approach you took to improving it.  Rewrite grade replaces original grade. 


To assemble your Portfolio, use a slender 3-ring binder or a spacious paper or plastic pocket folder   By the end of the semester it must be a well-organized gathering of the following:

a. a rough draft and the final version (with my comments) of each of your 3 essays

b. the essay you chose to revise and re-submit

c. 2 writing reflections, to be completed when assigned

d. 3 cultural events reports (see below)


*Mandatory visit to the Writing Center for at least 1 appointment.  Call the Writing Center a week in advance to make an appointment: 9-4604.  When you go to your appointment, take a copy of your assignment, the text(s) you are writing about, and any notes or drafts you have already composed.  Failing to make one visit to the Writing Center will lead to a lowered grade on one essay.  The Writing Center sends me documentation of your visits, so I will know when you have completed this requirement. 


*Final group presentation during exam week: 10% of grade


*Exams: written midterm, 10% of grade; written final exam, 10% of grade


*Attendance (with course materials in hand) and Participation: 20% of final grade.  More than 3 absences will lead to a reduced grade; 5 or more absences are cause for a failing grade.  Plan to contribute thoughts and questions during every class meeting--I mean that literally.  In an effort to be objective and fair, I will evaluate participation using the Villanova Center for Liberal Education Class Participation Rubric, which you should read at:  In short, Class Participation will be evaluated on the following criteria: A. Quantity: do you reliably contribute to class every day, often, infrequently, rarely, or never?  B. Quality: do you ask questions, respond to classmates, take risks, use details, and make connections among ideas?  This is optimal.  Lesser-quality participation is directed mostly to the professor, uses some detail, and makes some connections.  Poor quality participation responds to questions only when asked, uses little detail, and rarely makes connections. 


Scheduled Conferences (individual meetings with Dr. Armon) at least twice per student during the semester count as part of the 20% participation grade.


Discussion leadership on assigned dates counts as part of the participation grade.  When you lead discussion, start class by talking for 3-5 minutes about the reading material for that day.  Offer at least two questions for the class to discuss; point out passages or ideas in the reading that seem especially significant, problematic, or confusing to you; and comment on how the reading relates to something else you have read or experienced.


*Cultural events: attend 3 cultural events during the semester.  Include a one-page discussion of them in your final Portfolio.  This semester the instructors in Katharine are offering you 7 events to choose from; each student must attend at least 3 of the 7

1) Rabbi Helen Plotkin, Thursday 9/10, 4-6 PM, Driscoll Auditorium: “Inside the Garden: How the Jewish interpretive tradition reads the first humans.”

2) Members of the Villanova Communication Department will speak on Tuesday, 9/15, 4-5:30, Bartley 1011, on their video production work at the Vatican

3) visit to the Philadelphia Art Museum on September 26 as part of College Day on the Parkway

 4) Iftekhar Hussain of CAIR will discuss Islam on Tuesday, October 20, 6-8, in Driscoll auditorium.

 5) Tim Prestero of Design That Matters will lecture on bringing innovative inventions to developing countries on Monday, November 9, 7-9 pm, also in Driscoll auditorium.

 6) “As You Like It,” Saturday, 11/14, 2 pm

7) Mendel lecture on Darwin and biology, Friday November 20, 2:00-4:00


After attending each event, you must write two posts on the “All About Katharine” WebCT discussion board.  The first post must be a substantive reaction to the event (at least two paragraphs); the second must be a reply—respectful, relevant, and normally two paragraphs again—to the post of another Katharine resident (ideally from another of the learning communities housed in Katharine, or at least another section of our learning community). Your first post, the substantive reaction, must be posted within three days of the event; your second post, the reply, must be posted within a week of the event.  I will evaluate the posts on depth of thought and clarity of expression. They count as part of your semester grade.



In evaluating assignments and determining semester grades, I will follow the Villanova Grading System, available in the handbooks provided by the University.  I also will utilize the Rubrics from the Villanova Center for Liberal Education: and

Papers receiving A’s will demonstrate strength in nearly all categories; B’s will demonstrate strength in some categories but need development in others; C’s will be those that require significant further development; D papers will be those that are unsatisfactory in most categories.


While numerous types of writing style are valid, in this course you will be writing analytical, expository essays that discuss the ideas within texts.  In evaluating your essays, I will expect to find a thesis that presents an interesting and significant claim, ample supporting evidence and examples from the text(s) at hand, smooth and comprehensible organization of ideas, insightful introductory paragraphs, and powerful concluding paragraphs that do more than summarize the essay. 


Learning Disabilities

Students with learning disabilities should register with the Learning Support Office and discuss their needs with me at the beginning of the semester.


Plagiarism and Academic Honesty

Plagiarism consists of using someone else’s words or ideas as your own without crediting the previous writer.  Plagiarism is unacceptable both at Villanova University and in the academic community and the working world at large.  In college courses including this course, plagiarism leads to lowered grades and often to failure of an assignment or the course.  To avoid plagiarism, you must use quotation marks and a footnote or internal note when you quote another author’s work.  When you paraphrase or otherwise report another author’s ideas, even without quoting them, you must acknowledge the prior author with a footnote or internal note.  These guidelines pertain to your use of course books, other books, websites, and other sources.  When you are confused, ask me, a librarian in Falvey, or tutors in the Writing Center, and consult Hacker’s guidelines at the website listed above.



*Assignments should be word-processed and printed on a good-quality printer. 

*Please use one-and-a-half or double spacing and a 12-point font size.

*Always number your pages. 

*Identify each essay with your name and the date and give it a title.

*Please staple the pages of the essay and do not use covers sheets or folders.



Numerous spelling errors or typo’s will count against you in essays.  Use a spell-checking program, then proof-read twice.  Read your essay aloud at least once in this process, since doing so enables a writer to find mistakes that can slip by during silent reading.   Finally, ask a friend to proofread for you and/or go to the Writing Center.  Every piece of writing deserves and requires numerous revisions and careful editing! 


Schedule of Readings and Assignments

Dates may change depending on our progress through our reading material.


8/25 Introductions to one another and our class material


8/27 Before class on the 27th, read Orr’s essay in packet: “Biological diversity, Agriculture, and the Liberal Arts;” due in class, 1- page response essay answering the following question: “What would be the advantages and disadvantages of incorporating Orr’s argument into U.S. undergraduate education?” 


In the Bible (your own copy or online at, read the Book of Genesis, chapters 1-3.  Bring a copy of Genesis 1-3 to class for discussion (your own Bible or a printed version of Genesis 1-3 from the website)


Read the entire syllabus before class, print it, and bring your copy to class today for discussion about the course requirements.


9/1 Before class on the 1st, read Leviticus 19, 25-26.  Write a 1-page essay on the following question: “What kind of world is being described?  What is the relationship among humans, God, and the earth?”


Also read Berry, chapter 1.


Mandatory additional homework: Go to the following website and take the Academic Integrity Quiz, which is required for all freshmen.  We will discuss it in class on the 1st.


9/3 Read Ruether (on WebCT).  In the Bible, read Deuteronomy 20:19; Psalms 8 and 104; and Isaiah 40.  Go to and read the Islamic Koran, Surah/chapter 2, verses 1- 46; chapter 23, verses 1-50; chapter 24, verses 39-50.  Be sure to bring printed copies of all Biblical and Koran chapters to class.  Write a 1-page essay on the following question: “What are key differences and similarities between the Hebrew and Islamic descriptions of the relationship between humans and the natural environment?”


Class today meets at the sculpture outside of the Connelly Center for an environmental tour of the campus.  Bring appropriate walking shoes and relevant clothing or umbrellas if the weather is wet.


9/8 Timaeus, p. 47-67.  Bring to class 5 written questions or observations you have about the Timaeus.  Also read Berry chapters 2-3.


9/10 Timaeus, p. 71-76, 80-84.


4:00, Driscoll Auditorium, Rabbi Helen Plotkin lecture: “Inside the Garden: How the Jewish Interpretive Tradition Reads the First Humans”


9/13 FIELDTRIP 1:30-4:00: You are invited to join Dr. Armon, Dr. Nancy Kelley (Director of Learning Communities), and last year’s Environmental Learning Community students on a trip to the famous Chanticleer Garden in nearby Wayne for an afternoon of exploring the flower, water, and vegetable gardens.  Please RSVP to Dr. Armon if you want to attend.  Transportation and refreshments provided; the event is offered to you at no cost.


9/15 Timaeus, p. 104-125.  


9/17 Timaeus, p. 126-132—your essay plan due in class.  Possible Berry reading.


9/19 Recommended: participation in Villanova Day of Service, 8:30 AM – 6:00 PM.  Dr. Armon will be leading a creek-side clean-up in Philadelphia’s Schuylkill preserve.


9/22 Rough draft due in class, minimum 2 pages.  Peer editing in class.


"The Iliad Alive:  A Community Reading of Homer's Epic Poem"

Tuesday, September 22 , 9:00 a.m. - 12:00 midnight – Drop in anytime!

Falvey Library Holy Grounds Lounge


9/24 ESSAY 1 due


9/29 New Testament reading assignment: TBA


10/1 Read the texts by Basil and Augustine on Genesis in the course packet.  Bring to class a 1-page essay discussing the following question: “What do Basil and Augustine identify as most important in their writings on Genesis and the natural world?”


10/6 Confessions


10/8 (midterm) Confessions plus exam in class


10/20 Confessions


10/22 Confessions—rough draft due.  Guest lecturer today: Dr. Frank Galgano


10/27 Confessions; peer editing in class


10/29  ESSAY 2 due


11/3 Berry, Francis, Waddell


11/5 Schweitzer plus 1-page response; read Dr. Armon’s paper on WebCT


11/10 As you like it


11/12 As you like it plus Luther. 


11/17 As you like it—rough draft due in class (conferences this week)


11/19 As you like it (conferences this week)


11/24 Louv  ESSAY 3 due (conferences this week)


12/1 Louv plus Berry on corporations.  Post-test in class: defining one’s own impression of nature


12/3 S.S. Riley, Berry chapter 9, Scientific American article


12/8 presentations


12/10 presentations    


12/17 Final exam occurs from 8:00 - 10:30 for the 8:30 section, and from 10:45 - 1:15 for the 10:00 section



** Nota bene: if you will continue in Dr. Armon’s ACS course in the Spring semester, please keep ALL of our reading material from the Fall semester.




Portfolio Contents: (gather during semester, hand in on December 10)


___ Essay 1 (rough and final)                                                ___ Writing Reflection 1


___ Essay 2 (rough and final)                                                ___ Writing Reflection 2


___ Essay 3 (rough and final)                                                           


___ Revision/Essay 4 (rough and final)                                            


___ Cultural event (1 page)                                                  


___ Cultural event 2 (1 page)


___ Cultural event 3 (1 page)






Overview of Assignments Due and Grades Earned


Date Due

Date Submitted

Points Possible

Points Earned

Essay 1

September 24




Essay 2

October 29




Essay 3

November 24




Revised Essay/Essay 4

Within 3 weeks of return of 1st graded version


Replaces a prior grade


Writing Center visit

1 visit is mandatory at a time of your choice


Contributes to essay grade



October 8




Conference 1 with Dr. Armon



Part of 20 pt. participation grade


Conference 2 with Dr. Armon



Part of 20 pt. participation grade


Cultural event 1: attendance and 2 posts

Consult schedule




Cultural event 2: attendance and 2 posts




Cultural event 3: attendance and 2 posts




Writing Reflection 1





Writing Reflection 2





Group presentation

December 8 and 10




Final exam

December 17 at 8:00 and 10:45




Portfolio submission

December 10


Part of 50 pt. writing grade


Class Participation

Every class meeting