Fall 2010



Maria R. Heim (Section 01)


What moves us to give to other people?  Is gift-giving mainly a matter of altruism or can it entail negative, even selfish, motives?  What does it mean to receive gifts and charity from others?  Does giving create social bonds or test them?  In what ways can charity backfire and wind up harming both recipient and donor by creating patterns of obligation and dependency?  What do we expect philanthropy to do and what kinds of philanthropy are effective? 

The objective of the course is to develop our sophistication about a set of values and practices widely regarded as important for all human beings. We will explore generosity, charity, and philanthropy from both theoretical and practical perspectives.  We will read classic sociological and anthropological studies of the gift (starting with the work of Marcel Mauss) and philosophical and literary treatments of generosity (including Aristotle, Seneca, Emerson, Baudelaire, Derrida, and others).  We will look closely at generosity and charity in Asian and western religious traditions (Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam). We will also consider several case studies that look at giving and philanthropy in contemporary contexts in public welfare, private philanthropic organizations, and international humanitarian aid. Finally, this seminar sharpens students' critical and argumentative tools, their ability to read and analyze texts, and their capacity to express themselves in writing.

Please note that students in this course will be expected to be involved with community engagement activities outside of class and will be using their experience as volunteers as important opportunities for reflection about the major themes of the course. We will be working with the Center for Community Engagement to set up volunteer opportunities.

 Fall semester.  Professor Heim.


2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2010