October 30, 2013 at 3:35 pm

Becoming Human: Not Just Being Human

Courses and more information at the Becoming Human website.

The phrase “Becoming Human” conjures up fragmentary images of primate prehistory in which our evolutionary ancestors made axe heads out of chipped flint and stared at cave walls transfixed by the shadows cast from their smoldering fires. But reflecting on ancestral time only gives us the broadest outline of what this phrase really signifies.

Suggesting that it may be more fruitful for people to think of themselves as becoming human rather than “being human,” this theme will explore this idea with much greater depth and breadth. On one end of the spectrum, students will examine the question of human origins as addressed by the disciplines of physical anthropology and evolutionary biology. On the other end, they will interrogate the liminal zones of the post-human with artificial intelligence theory.

To better understand “Becoming Human” as a process, they will study the uniquely human productions of politics, religion, philosophy, art and literature as moving parts rather than static wholes. Understanding that the idea of “becoming human” is itself a human construction, students will work with experts in the field to understand the myriad ways in which the human has been conceived, from ancient India to classical Greece to medieval Persia. Finally, students will engage with faculty and each other in seminars and activities to see themselves as becoming human by cultivating self-awareness, openness to others, and the capacity for sustained critical reflection on the world around them.

The A&S theme “Becoming Human” helps students to integrate what they might view as disparate parts of the undergraduate experience by framing the distribution requirements around the limits of the definition of humanity. “Becoming Human” is a theme that gets at the heart of the primary rationale of a liberal arts education and explores the boundaries of the humanities and their relevance in an increasingly multiply situated world. It is modeled after a themes platform that has been in play for several years, namely the Scholars Program for high-achieving freshmen, which draws guest lecturers from across campus every semester. Several departments, such as Classics and World Religions, Philosophy, and English have a history of supporting such endeavors, a good indication that this theme will be able to draw from a variety of departments in the coming years.

Here are some of the topics that may constitute a freshman seminar to introduce Becoming Human:

  • Why Study the Human(ities) at a University?
  • Humans in the Image of Primates: Biological Perspectives on Human Origins
  • Humans in the Image of God: Creation and the Place of the Human in World Religions
  • I Think, Therefore I Am: Consciousness and Perception as (Uniquely?) Human Phenomena
  • Categorizing People: Gender, Race, and Sexuality
  • Organizing People: Cities and the Built Environment
  • Do Humans Have Rights?
  • Love and Death
  • Evil, Sadism, and Cruelty
  • How Do We Make Sense of Life? Religion and/vs. Science
  • How Do We Think About (and with) Our Bodies?
  • Artificial Intelligence: Can We Create a Non-human Mind?
  • Our Impact on the Environment: Life in the Anthropocene Epoch
  • What Comes After the Human?

Extracurricular Activities

The organizers of “Becoming Human” also will link extracurricular activities to the coursework, drawing on existing activities as well as proposing new ones. We plan to develop as part of the freshman seminar an offsite excursion to integrate some of the ideas of the theme and to help create a community among theme participants. One possibility is to visit the Smithsonian Institution, focusing on the exhibits that dovetail with the seminar.

Established programs that would be linked to the theme might include participation in Ohio University’s Archaeological programs, either at the field school run by the Anthropology Department or the Classics and World Religions study abroad program to Israel. Others might include participation in human rights organizations, academic conferences, environmental organizations, that have central ideas of the theme of understanding human existence integrated into their mission.

Sampling of Representative Courses

Applied Science and Mathematics (2AS)

  • BIOS 2050 – Human Biology: Sex and Reproduction
  • BIOS 2250 – Genetics in Human Society
  • GEOG 2600 – Maps
  • HLTH 2000 – Introduction to Public Health
  • PBIO 1030 – Plants and People

Cross–Cultural Perspectives (2CP) 

  • ENG 3550 – Studies in World Literature
  • CLWR 3330 – Introduction to Islam
  • CLWR 3340 – Hinduism
  • CLWR 3350 – Buddhism
  • ANTH 1010 – Introduction to Cultural Anthropology
  • COMS 1100 – Communication Among Cultures
  • DANC 4550 – Dance Ethnography: Intellectualizing the Body’s Motion
  • EDCS 1011 – Introduction to Diversity Studies

Fine Arts (2FA)

  • AH 2110 – History of Art I
  • AH 2120 – History of Art II
  • MUS 3210 – History and Literature of Music I
  • MUS 3220 – History and Literature of Music II
  • THAR 2710 – Theater History I
  • THAR 2711 – Theater History II

Humanities and Literature (2HL)

  • AAS 2100 – Slave Narrative and Freeman/Freewomen Fiction of the 18th and 19th Centuries
  • CLWR 2210 – Difficult Dialogues: Religious Beliefs
  • CLWR 2220 – Difficult Dialogues: Religion, Gender, and Sexuality
  • CLWR 3310 – Old Testament
  • COMS 1010 – Fundamentals of Human Communication
  • CLAS 2310: Human Aspirations among the Greeks and Romans
  • CLAS 2340: Classical Mythology
  • CLAS 2520: Classical Athens
  • CLAS 2550: Pagan to Christian
  • HIST 1210: Western Civ to 1500
  • HIST 1221: The First Universities
  • Hum 2070: Great Books (Ancient through Renaissance)
  • Phil 1300: Introduction to Ethics
  • Phil 2160: Philosophy of Science
  • Phil 2400: Social and Political Philosophy
  • WGS 1000: Intro to Women and Gender Studies

Natural Sciences (2NS)

  • ANTH 2010/BIOL 1010: Intro to Biological Anthropology
  • ASTR 1000: Survey of Astronomy
  • BIOS 1000: Animal Diversity
  • BIOS 1030: Human Biology I
  • PBIO 1090 – Americans and their Forests: Ecology, Conservation and History
  • GEOG 2020: Introduction to Weather
  • GEOL 2210: Earth and Life History
  • PSC 2050: Life on Other Worlds?

Social Sciences (2SS)

  • CFS 2710: Individuals and Families over the Lifespan
  • CLAR 2130: Near Eastern and Egyptian Archaeology
  • GEOG 1300: World Regional Geography
  • CONS 2500: Families as Consumers in Global Communities
  • LING 2700: The Nature of Language
  • MDIA 2012: Media, Communication, and Social Change
  • POLS 2700: Introduction to Political Theory
  • PSY 1010: General Psychology
  • SW1000: Introduction to Social Work and Welfare

Contact Dr. Brian Collins at and Dr. Cory Crawford at Both are in the Classics and World Religions Department.


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