Sneak Peak: Future Polis Classes

A Taste of What’s To Come in Fall 2014: 

These classes are just a sampling of  the courses that we will offer throughout the year. We aim to design courses to match student desire and course suggestions. Follow Polis to receive course notifications.


 Friendship: What Is It Good For?

Aristotle and Confucius walk into a bar. . . and then what happens?

They read each others’ philosophies and realize how much they have in common.

This team-taught Polis course will be offered by two friends who will facilitate a discussion about Aristotle’s and Confucius’ notions of friendship.

And since the best friendships are made with the help of social lubricants, this class will also be accompanied by the instructors’ favorite beers.

Instructors:Lori Cohen & Robin Workman

When: Fall 2014, Dates TBDthe-precint-beer-taster

Time: 7:00-8:30 PM

WhereThe Women’s Building, 3543 18th St, SF



The Cities of the PlainsCormac McCarthy: “Cities of the Plain”

Cormac McCarthy’s “Cities of the Plain” is the third novel in The Border Trilogy. A group of Polis students requested that we offer this series and we have held classes on the first two novels in the series: “All the Pretty Horses” and “The Crossing”. It is not necessary to have participated in the previous classes.Each of Cormac McCarthy’s novels stand on their own and one does not need to have read each novel in The Border Trilogy.

This class will be accompanied by a selection of craft beers.

In this magnificent new novel, the National Book Award-winning author of All the Pretty Horses and The Crossing fashions a darkly beautiful elegy for the American frontier.
The setting is New Mexico in 1952, where John Grady Cole and Billy Parham are working as ranch hands. To the North lie the proving grounds of Alamogordo; to the South, the twin cities of El Paso and Juarez, Mexico. Their life is made up of trail drives and horse auctions and stories told by campfire light. It is a life that is about to change forever, and John Grady and Billy both know it.

The catalyst for that change appears in the form of a beautiful, ill-starred Mexican prostitute.  When John Grady falls in love, Billy agrees–against his better judgment–to help him rescue the girl from her suavely brutal pimp. The ensuing events resonate with the violence and inevitability of classic tragedy.   Hauntingly beautiful, filled with sorrow, humor and awe, Cities of the Plain is a genuine American epic.-Kirkus Reviews

Instructor: Mary Finn

When:  Fall 2014, Dates TBD

Where: The Women’s Building, 3543 18th St, SF



 “The Myth of Sisyphus” by Albert Camus & French Craft Ales

In awarding Albert Camus the Nobel prize for literature in 1957, the committee cited Camus’ persistent efforts to “illuminate the problems of the human conscience in our time.”

In Camus’ early work, most notably, The Myth of Sisyphus, the author explores the concept of the solitary individual in revolt against an absurd universe; in works such as The Plague Camus extends his inquiry by exploring the theme of human solidarity in the midst of collective suffering. Together we will explore Camus’ ideas of what it means to live in an “absurd” world and how we can make decisions about our lives in this context. The Myth of Sisyphus compels readers to look at our lives in the context of the myth and ask questions about life’s purpose.

As part of our monthly Drinkers and Great Thinkers Series, this course will be paired with a selection of French (and Belgian, just for good measure!) inspired craft ales carefully curated by our friends at Healthy Spirits.

InstructorRobin Workman

When:   Contact us and let us know about your interest in enrolling in this course in Fall 2014

WhereThe Women’s Building, 3543 18th St, SF

What Makes Us Human?

Join us in this 3 session course as we read and discuss works of science and literature to better understand what, if anything, makes the human experience a distinct one. The science and philosophy of what separates and unites humans from all other species.As a class, we will explore the ideas about humanity from the scientific perspective of  Richard Dawkins in his  The Selfish Gene and from Daniel Quinn’s fictional work, Ishmael.

InstructorAnton Krukowski

When:  Contact us and let us know about your interest in enrolling in this course in Fall 2014

WhereThe Women’s Building,3543 18th St, SF

Do We Have an Obligation to Help Others? What is the Basic Social Contract?

If a family member is going through a rough patch, of course we’ll do what we can to help them out, right? But what about a co-worker? Not so fast. And let’s say you’re on BART late at night and see a guy who looks like he’s had a few too many. Who among us is going to make sure he gets home safely? Of course, we can’t possibly offer help to everyone in the world who needs it. So where do we draw the line? Friends but not neighbors? Bay Area but not Central Valley? California but not Oklahoma? America but not Afghanistan?

In this course, we will be reading two classic short stories: Katherine Mansfield’s  “The Garden Party” and Herman Melville’s Bartleby the Scrivener.” They are different in just about every way (for example, one is short, the other is long; one is creepy and dark, the other is sweet and bright, etc.), with one big exception: They both ask us to consider the ways we’re connected to the people around us, and the responsibilities of our shared humanity. We will discuss these weighty questions, and whatever other questions may come up.

Instructor: Daniel Herman

When: Contact us and let us know about your interest in enrolling in this course in Fall 2014 in the East Bay

Where:  This class will be held in the East Bay

How is Art Political?

Toni Morrison once stated in an interview, “All that art-for-art’s-sake stuff is BS… My point is that [art] has to be both: beautiful and political at the same time. I’m not interested in art that is not in the world. And it’s not just the narrative, it’s not just the story; it’s the language and the structure and what’s going on behind it.”

In this four-week course, we will examine and discuss “the language and structure and what’s going on behind” Morrison’s novel Beloved–both as a work of art and as a political novel. In 2006 The New York Times hailed Beloved as the best novel in the past 25 years, and through close reading, discussion, and critical inquiry, we will learn why this novel is both a beautiful work of literature and a commentary on the personal and collective legacy of slavery and racism in the United States.

InstructorLori Cohen

When: February 6,13,20, 27th (Thursday’s)

WhereThe Women’s Building, 3543 18th St, SF

open book

What is the True Purpose of Yoga?

The physical practice of yoga has become popular in the west, widely accepted as an effective way to gain flexibility and manage stress. It is less commonly understood that in the yogic tradition, the physical practice of yoga (“asana”) is only one branch of a much larger discipline, with goals more subtle and profound than physical health. Masters and scholars of this discipline often refer to yoga as a “science” – a system that yields predictable results when practiced regularly and with focused attention. The disciplined student relies upon direct experience to verify the claims of yogic philosophy, and faith is not required. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is considered to be one of the foundational texts of yogic philosophy. The Sutras are divided into four sections: Samadhi Pada (Comtemplation), Sadhana Pada (Discipline), Vibhuti Pada (Manifestation) and Kaivalya Pada (Liberation). We will read and discuss each of these sections over the course of a four week series. Each section contains 30-50 lines or “slokas,” making this a brief but dense reading exercise. Participants should plan to read the text as a whole at least once per week (15 pages), as well as the featured section (3-5 pages) several times in preparation for our weekly discussion. While consulting multiple translations is encouraged, please restrict your study to the slokas themselves, and refrain from consulting the numerous commentaries that are available.

Recommended translation: Chip Hartranft, Shambala Classics; pages 97-112

InstructorSuzie Lee

When:Contact us and let us know about your interest in enrolling in this course in the East Bay.

Where: This class will be held in the East Bay (location TBD, public transportation accessible)


What To Make of Partisanship in Politics?

Is partisan bickering worse than ever before? Will the feuding continue to escalate without end? Are its effects inevitably destructive of good governance? In a time characterized by fierce party differences, we look for insight from past observers of partisan politics. This seminar will explore the writings of three famous commentators of British politics of the 18th century, Henry Bolingbroke, David Hume, and Edmund Burke. Their opinions represent differing views of the role of partisanship.

Will party differences endlessly “inspire animosity, breed rancor, destroy the inward peace, and sully our glory”? Is their mischief a growing danger to the public welfare? Even if so, should partisan rivalry be considered “a necessary evil” and “a natural coincident to liberty”? Is party politics an undesirable but nonetheless inseparable and ungovernable element of free politics? Or are the parties unfairly scapegoated? Are they really the “great agent for popular suffrage, democracy, and popular influence”? Do they form “the truest safeguard against political cabals” and special interests? The seminar will explore these sets of questions and many others. following three texts will be the subject of discussion for each seminar.

  • Week 1: selections from Henry Bolingbroke’s “Dissertation Upon Parties”
  • Week 2: selections from David Hume’s “Essays Moral, Political, and Literary”
  • Week 3: selections from Edmund Burke’s “Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents”

Instructor: Jon Haron-Feiertag

WhenContact us and let us know about your interest in enrolling in this course in Fall 2014.

Where: The Women’s Building, 3543 18th St, SF

Doppelgängers: Is There Such a Thing as an Independent Individual? What Does it Mean to Claim Individuality?

The short story “The Nose” by Nikolai Gogol and the novella The Secret Sharer by Joseph Conrad play with the notion of alternatives. What if there were another person or being just like you, but not you, who lived a parallel life alongside of you? These magnificent works explore the tantalizing, horrifying and sometimes hilarious possibilities of having a doppelganger or ghostly double whose appearance makes both characters and readers ask, “What does it mean to claim individuality? Is there such a thing as an independent individual?” During this three-week Polis session, we will examine together the sometimes mutually-exclusive notions of individuality and the longing for connections with others.

Instructor: Elen Greenblatt

When:Contact us and let us know about your interest in enrolling in this course in Fall 2014

Where: The Women’s Building, 3543 18th St, SF

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