Common Courses

The heart of the Bellarmine Forum is a cluster of courses that invite students into the deepest engagement with the theme. All Bellarmine Forum common courses meet at the same class time, and gather for interdisciplinary seminars and events.

Bellarmine Forum fall 2020 common courses include:

  • CMST 3430.01 Culture, Crime, and Punishment
    Taught by Kyra Pearson, associate professor of communication studies, College of Communication and Fine Arts

    The course explores the causes of the unprecedented rise in American incarceration rates since the 1970s and what this rise says about prevailing conceptions of “justice.” Utilizing interdisciplinary conversations between communication studies, rhetorical analysis, sociology, and critical prison studies, this course examines cultural constructions of crime and punishment. Additionally, bringing another element to students in the track, the course attends to the global reach of this widening carceral net. Indeed, the “war on terror” has given a rhetoric of “law and order” renewed traction. Consequently, the course gives students the opportunity to examine one of the most pressing social issues of our time. Although relevant to students interested in studying law, the course argues that a purely legal response to the era of mass incarceration is inadequate. Instead, what is necessary is a more nuanced public debate, one that is in dialogue with the moral critiques of society hailing from prisoners.

  • THST 3560.01 Punishment and Mercy
    Taught by Jonathan Rothchild, professor of theology, currently also serves as the associate dean for faculty and staff development & support and for graduate education

    This course will explore the many theoretical and practical difficulties which arise in attempting to reconcile an effective and just system of social punishment with the virtue of mercy. The relationship between mercy and punishment is frequently viewed as mutually exclusive or contradictory. Can a system forego punishment (through mercy) for some and still have equality? Can a system punish offenders and still uphold the dignity of the individual? How does one mediate between impunity and vengeance? Utilizing the lenses of classical thinkers within political theory, philosophy, and theology as well as engaging contemporary thinkers and case-studies, this course analyzes this relationship in terms of competing strategies of punishment, moral rules and boundaries, moral and premoral goods, and theological visions of forgiveness and mercy. The purpose of the course is not to develop an overly simplistic solution but rather to challenge and transform students' presuppositions regarding mercy and punishment.

    The course fulfills the Ethics and Justice core requirement.

  • POLS 5030.01 Detention and Incarceration
    Taught by Andrew Dilts, associate professor of political science and international relations

    This Political Science seminar course asks what punishment in the form of incarceration and detention means in a modern democratic state and what this particular form of punishment reveals about conceptions of personal responsibility and subjectivity in the Western tradition. To that end, the course offers an in-depth study of punishment theory, the history of the incarceration and detention as punitive forms, the social, economic, and political analysis of prisons, the lived experiences of prisoners, their families, and the workers employed by the United States prison system. The first two parts of the course will explore the dominant modern approaches to understanding punishment, covering Durkheim, Marxist interpretations, modern Anglo- American legal traditions, and culminating with a close reading of Michel Foucault’s Discipline and Punish. The third part of the course focuses on incarceration and detention as they are practiced in the United States in light of these theoretical approaches, with special attention to the California prison economy, the use of solitary confinement, and collateral consequences. The fourth part of the course asks how such practices play out under racial, gender, and sexual identities in relation to punishment and the criminalization of migration. The final part of the course takes up radical and critical perspectives on “reform” and “abolition” with special attention to queer, feminist, and black political thought and activism. Overall in this course, we will confront our assumptions about incarceration and detention in the US, and critically examine the ways in which we are already connected to, invested in, and increasingly dependent upon a criminal justice system that relies on the mass warehousing of people of color and socio-economically disadvantaged people.

  • PSYC 4033.01 Community Psychology
    Taught by Cheryl Grills, professor of psychology and director of PARC@LMU

    Traditionally, psychology has concerned itself with the study of individual behavior. This course focuses on the perspective of community psychology which is concerned with the examination of the individual within context; the context of different environments, groups, organizations and communities. The individual within a constellation of "contexts" leads to alternative definitions of health & mental health problems, conceptualizations of human functioning, prevention efforts, and methods of intervention. In addition, we will examine how public policy, research, and social action can facilitate change in the social and environmental conditions that affect human behavior. As an Engaged Learning course you will complete an original, community-based project designed to emphasize the application of community psychology skills and concepts. Past projects have included a non-profit community health agency in South Los Angeles called Shields for Families. We will be working with their Jericho Vocational Services Program supporting their training program for folks who have recently been released from jail or prison. Your efforts as interns will allow Shields to meet the objectives of their existing programs and meet the reentry needs of the clients they serve.

  • PSYC 3998.03 Poverty or Community Resilience 
    Taught by Deanna Cooke, clinical assistant professor of psychology and director of BCLA Engaged Learning

    This course explores resilience among people who grow up in communities with high rates of poverty. The course is designed to address on both the psychological factors and community assets that support young people toward developing strengths and resilience into adulthood. Topics in the course will include understanding the often-negative consequences of poverty on educational, social and behavioral outcomes. The course will explore buffers, personal strengths and assets and community resources that help young people grow into happy healthy adults, even in challenging environments. This is an Engaged Learning course and students should expect to engage with a community organization on a weekly basis. The main learning objectives of the course are to 1) Understand the challenges of people facing poverty, particularly urban poverty in Los Angeles; 2) Comprehending psychological resilience and how it manifests, and 3) Understand the components that comprise community resilience and 4) ability to apply components of psychological and community resilience to Los Angeles urban community contexts in ways that promote positive change.

  • HIST 2910 Telling History in Public 
    Taught by Elizabeth Drummond, associate professor of history

    Telling History in Public introduces students to the study of history, including historical method, the writing of history, and historical interpretation, with a particular focus on the field of public history. Public history refers to those aspects of historical work that engage the public with the past, including both the study of public narratives about the past and the practice of public history – that is, how historians craft complex narratives for broad audiences and in the public sphere. We will explore the various ways that we think about, interpret, remember, and represent the past, including in documentary and feature films, in popular histories, in museums, through monuments and memorials, at historic sites, through websites, and so on. In doing so, we will engage questions about the intersections of history, memory, and identity – about how the representations of the past inform our understanding of contemporary issues and public policy. To tie into the 2020-2021 Bellarmine Forum, the main thematic focus will be on the history of prisons and mass incarceration, exploring how this prisons and other carceral institutions have become sites of public history and memory, how the history of mass incarceration is presented in film, exhibitions, and online, how an understanding of history can inform public policy discussions about mass incarceration and the judicial system, and more. We will also engage in the practice of public history – identifying appropriate sources, reading critically and analyzing sources, and developing and defending (using evidence appropriately) arguments in writing and speech, paying particular attention to audience, narrative, and representation.

All common courses will meet on Mondays from 6:30 – 9:00 p.m. Special events for students to participate in will be scheduled during these same time blocks. The lineup includes invited speakers, student presentations of collaborative interdisciplinary research projects, and various programming and practices.