The inaugural program focused on the theme of Biotechnology and Politics. Steady advances in the field of biotechnology, epitomized by the human genome project, have opened a new frontier of ethical and political questions.

Without doubt, gratitude is the most appropriate response for the many developments in biotechnology that have done much to alleviate human suffering.

At the same time, however, we find ourselves on the threshold of an unprecedented power to shape the character of human life itself - a "brave new world" that brings with it a number of fundamental questions that warrant serious and sustained examination. Indeed, many have argued that the explicit and implicit questions of value raised by the biotechnology revolution constitute the most far-reaching set of challenges for our time, currently at the center of American politics.

"Biotechnology and Politics" integrated two distinct types of material. The first consisted of classic texts in the history of political thought, supplemented by classic religious and literary texts that bear directly on the theme of the course. The second drew upon the work of the most influential contemporary thinkers who address the underlying ethical issues imbedded in the biotechnological revolution. A unique aspect of this course is that it included campus visits and lectures by scholars or public intellectuals who are on the cutting edge of this debate. Students had an opportunity to interact with three renowned speakers in both formal and informal ways during the course of the term.

The course provided students with a brief overview of the kinds of issues raised by classic texts in the history of political thought as they bear on biotechnology and politics. Students were challenged to examine critically the often competing perspectives raised by these authors - from Socrates' claim that an unexamined life is not worth living, to Bacon's vision of a utopia ruled by scientists, to Rousseau's insistence that moral improvement does not accompany scientific progress. Against this backdrop, students read a variety of contemporary authors whose engagement with the revolutionary new technologies in biology led them to grapple with questions about what it means to be human, as well as the relationship among the competing authorities of science, politics and religion in the modern world.

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