Oxford Summer Programme Online seminars

Your online OSP seminars give you the chance to explore your chosen subject in depth with an expert member of faculty and a small group of committed students.

Scio Study Abroad Osp Seminar Oxford Museum Natural History

The Seminar

SCIO online seminars (offering 3 credits each) are based around Oxford’s tutorial method. Each student takes one or two seminars, and each seminar consists of three discussion classes, four gobbets classes, and two tutorials (gobbet is Oxford’s word for a small mouthful of text for close reading or translation and then discussion).  Students will also have the opportunity to present their research to the group.

Unlike many online courses we will not simply give you access to pre recorded lectures and online quizzes; rather you will first meet your tutor and peers online for live seminar meetings with fewer than 12 students, and then work with your tutor in small groups of up to 4 students, all of whom have prepared with focused reading, to examine texts (gobbets) in detail. Finally, you will have your tutorials where you will discuss your ideas and your writing, one-on-one with your tutor. In short, our online seminars offer you the same personalised form of study as our onsite programme.

Below you will find detailed syllabuses and reading lists so that, once your seminar allocation has been confirmed, you will be able to start some preparatory reading.

Seminar discussion classes are meetings of 1 to 2  hours with the seminar leader and fewer than 12 students. For each discussion class students read all or parts of assigned texts and then discuss them.

Gobbets classes are one hour meetings with your tutor and a small group of up to 4 students where you discuss texts in more detail. No written work is required for either the discussion or the gobbets classes.

Tutorials are individual meetings of one hour between the seminar leader and each of the seminar participants. In preparation for each tutorial the student reads assigned texts and writes an essay of 2,000 words (3,000 words in the case of graduate students) in response to a question set by the seminar leader.

Seminar full-group discussion classes will generally be held during the following times:
8am–2pm Pacific daylight
11am–5pm Eastern daylight
4pm–10pm British summer time

For gobbets classes and especially tutorials there is more flexibility.  Please contact us at [email protected] if these times present a problem for you because of work or personal circumstances.

Learn more about the tutorials.

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Application fee waived. Click here to preview the application components and ensure you have everything you need to submit the application. NOTE: Once you start the application, you will not be able to save your progress in order to complete the application. To start your application, click here! If you are having difficulties with the online application, please complete a fillable PDF application and email it to [email protected]. If you have any questions, please write to [email protected]. The application deadline has been extended to 8 June 2020.

Seminars: reading lists and introductory videos available below

J.R.R. Tolkien: Oxford’s creator of other worlds

Dr Emma Plaskitt

 

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Reading list: J.R.R. Tolkien: Oxford’s creator of other worlds

 

Tolkien Bench Uni Parks

Oxford has been a centre of scholarship for centuries, and since the nineteenth century it has also boasted a considerable number of acclaimed and popular writers of what has come to be known as fantasy literature. Nonetheless, by the early twentieth century, the philologist and literature professor J.R.R. Tolkien felt that such fiction had fallen out of fashion and been handed over to children — ‘relegated to the nursery’. He set out to reclaim high fantasy for adults, believing that it had major literary merit and should not be dismissed as escapist or childish. In fact, he argued that fantasy can fulfil humanity’s ‘profounder wishes’, providing readers with a fresh perspective and a world stripped of its dull familiarity. Tolkien continues to dominate the genre in prose and film, setting the standard not only in fiction with The Lord of the Rings, but also in critical commentary with his 1939 lecture ‘On fairy-stories’, which remains a definitive piece of criticism.

In this course we will examine Tolkien’s life, his literary influences and source materials, the major works of fantasy, and selected critical responses, both positive and negative. For example, though Middle-earth was his attempt to create an authentic mythology for England, it has been criticized for its seeming lack of ethnic and gender diversity. Tolkien was shaped by his education, his traumatic experiences in the First World War, and a life spent in what was then the predominantly white, upper-class, male environment of Oxford. Sessions will therefore include discussion of the biographical, historical, and cultural contexts of his writings and their effect on the racial, gendered, regional, and socio-economic elements in his characterization and created world.

Notwithstanding, why does the Middle-earth legendarium continue to fascinate readers and to inspire new generations of fantasy writers? Are the wildly successful film adaptations of these books a testament to Tolkien’s vision or is Christopher Tolkien correct when he claims that the ‘commercialisation has reduced the aesthetic and philosophical impact of the creation to nothing’? These are some of the questions we will consider.

Intellect and Imagination: the Rational Religion and Theological Stories of C.S. Lewis

Dr Meriel Patrick

 

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Reading list: Intellect and Imagination

 

Cs Lewis Books

C.S. Lewis is known to millions around the world as a writer of fantasy literature (most famously The chronicles of Narnia), and as someone with a gift for presenting Christian theology to a large popular audience, through works such as Mere Christianity and The problem of pain.

On the face of it, these two aspects of his writing – the imaginative and the intellectual – may seem quite different. But in this course, we’ll explore how the two work together and harmonize, and how fiction can in fact be an ideal vehicle for conveying complex concepts. We’ll look at a number of key strands of Lewis’s theological writings, examining both what he said and how he said it: we’ll delve into the arguments advanced and the claims made, and we’ll also consider what difference the form of the writing makes.

You’ll have the opportunity to investigate a variety of themes: Lewis’s trilemma (otherwise known as the ‘mad, bad, or God argument’!), his argument from desire (which suggests that the yearning we find within ourselves is an indication we were made for another world), his views on Christianity and myth, the problem of suffering, and heaven and hell. We’ll look at both his non-fiction books and essays, and his imaginative works, such as The great divorce.

You’ll be encouraged to apply your own analytical skills to Lewis’s writings and to some of the various responses to him (both positive and more critical), as we investigate his claim that religious truth requires a response from the whole person: that it must be both assented to with the reason and embraced by the imagination.

 

C.S. Lewis and the Classics

Dr Jonathan Kirkpatrick

 

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Reading list: C.S. Lewis and the Classics

 

For Csl And The Classics SeminarWhen C.S. Lewis arrived in Oxford in 1917, he came to study Classics: the literature, history, and thought of ancient Greece and Rome. He was an atheist, and was fascinated by the pagan mythology of the classical world, and this was a fascination that never left him. In fact, it was through this love of mythology that he finally became a Christian, and he drew on this rich classical heritage throughout his career and a teacher and writer.

Lewis was a star student, and earned a prestigious ‘double first’ degree before moving on to a career in English literature. (Tolkien, by contrast, also studied Classics at Oxford, but earned mediocre grades and dropped out of the course.) Lewis’s classical education formed him: one cannot read far in his books without coming across a reference to an ancient Greek story, or a Latin quotation, and in this course we will be examining the enormous influence that Classics had on Lewis’s life and thought.

The only classical god to appear in Narnia is Bacchus, the god of wine and license (in Prince Caspian); why did Lewis let him in? This is one of many intriguing questions we’ll be addressing. In fact, Bacchus (or Dionysus) was deeply interesting to Lewis, and closely connected to his views of Christ; and there are many other classical elements in the Narnia books, such as fauns and centaurs, that we’ll investigate. We will consider the role mythology played in Lewis’s understanding of the world, and, particularly, in his conversion to Christianity. We will look at one of Lewis’s favourite poems, Virgil’s epic Aeneid, and consider how its picture of wanderings in search of a home related to Lewis’s ideas of the Christian experience. We will examine Lewis’s final novel, Till We Have Faces, in which he retold the myth of Cupid and Psyche, a task which he had been trying to do for most of his life.

Lewis’s love of the Classics pervaded his thought, and in this course we will be looking at its influence in his fiction, his literary criticism, his poetry, his letters, and his Christian apologetics. Equally exciting is the chance to examine the Classical world through Lewis’s eyes. There is a great deal of pleasure to be derived both from reading Lewis and from investigating the classical world, and in addition to this students will gain a much deeper understanding of Lewis as a writer and as a Christian.

Science and the Christian Tradition

Dr Megan Ulishney

 

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Reading list: Science and the Christian Tradition

 

Natural Museum Cropped

Science and religion are two of the most powerful forces that shape contemporary life. Yet, a popular perception persists that these disciplines are necessarily in conflict with one another. As Alister McGrath notes, some scientists and religious believers view science and religion as ‘locked in mortal combat’. Those who subscribe to this ‘conflict model’ to depict the relationship between scientific and religious modes of thought often reference historical events such as the persecution of Galileo by the church, the debate in 1860 between Thomas Huxley and  Bishop Samuel Wilberforce, (which took place in Oxford!), or the Scopes trial of 1925 as evidence to support their position. Some vocal dogmatic scientists today call for the cessation of religion in light of the developments of modern science.

There are complicated questions to address here: must science and religion be viewed as necessarily in conflict with one another? Are there other models to help us understand how these disciplines ought to relate to one another? Does science raise questions that point beyond itself? Can theological questions be informed by scientific disciplines?

This course draws on historical and theological scholarship to investigate key issues in science and religion. We begin the course by examining the historical events often used to support the notion that science and religion are in conflict—Galileo, Darwin, and the Scopes trial. As we will see, studying these events in more detail makes it more difficult to interpret them as straightforward examples of science and religion at war with one another. The course will also provide an opportunity to examine more recent questions at the intersection of science and religion: does evolution undermine the biblical notion that humans are ‘made in the image of God’? Does the concept of original sin need to be reformulated in light of developments in evolutionary biology? Can God act in a world increasingly predictable to science?

 

 

Psychology and Literature: from Margery Kempe to Sylvia Plath

Dr Richard Lawes

 

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Reading list: Psychology and literature

 

Ig Sunday 181It has often been said that there is a fine line between genius and insanity and the relationship between literature and mental health has been of intense interest to both literary scholars and psychologists.

This seminar will explore mental illness and instability in several major authors, focusing on Margery Kempe, a medieval housewife and mystic who became the first autobiographer in English; John Bunyan, the seventeenth-century author of Pilgrim’s Progress; John Clare, a nineteenth century nature poet who became incarcerated in an asylum; and two key twentieth-century female authors, Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath. Both iconic figures in the history of women’s writing, Woolf and Plath each struggled with extremes of mood and ultimately committed suicide. We will read their writings in the light of psychological theory and of cultural and feminist contexts.

Complex questions will emerge as we study these authors; what is the true nature of ‘mental illness’? To what extent is it valid or helpful to apply modern psychology to writers from a very different age? How is emotional disorder expressed within the texts themselves? To what extent can other modern theories, especially feminism, help us in encountering these key authors, their lives and their legacies? Led by a literary scholar who is also a psychologist and psychiatrist, this seminar will bring unusual insights to the study of these distinctive texts.

Prohibition and Transgression: the Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century Gothic Novel

Dr Alice Stainer

 

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Reading list: Prohibition and transgression

 

Full Moon And Clouds 36

The eighteenth-century gothic movement was a reaction to the dominance of the Enlightenment emphasis on reason and rationalism. The Marquis de Sade saw it as the natural literary result of the violence and terror of the French Revolution.  Its conventions included aristocratic villains and persecuted maidens, the supernatural, the victory of nature over man’s creations and of chaos over order, and the theme of imprisonment with the consciousness forced back upon itself.

As a transgressive sub-genre of the novel, it was anti-Catholic, anti-nostalgic, and anti-aristocratic.  It evolved in the Victorian age to reflect nineteenth-century concerns about religion, race, gender, imperialism, and cultural degeneration.  This course will trace its development from the first gothic novel, Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto (1764), to Bram Stoker’s presentation of fin-de-siècle anxiety in Dracula (1897).

Other novels to be discussed include Ann Radcliffe’s highly influential novel of ‘sublimity’, A Sicilian Romance (1790), Jane Austen’s witty and complex parody of the genre, Northanger Abbey (1817), and Charlotte Brontë’s domestic re-imagining of the gothic romance in Jane Eyre (1847). Students will also have the opportunity to read gothic fiction by Mary Shelley and Oscar Wilde and each piece of fiction will be placed in historical and cultural context.

Students can explore how gothic themes caught the imagination of contemporary artists and architects and how they translated them into paintings and drawings, many of which acted as inspiration for the writers themselves. Why does the Gothic genre refuse to die? Why do we remain fascinated with the forbidden and enjoy being terrified? What is the difference between terror and horror and why did Romantic poets like Coleridge, Byron, Shelley view the former as such a rich source of inspiration? These are some of the questions we will address.

Creative Writing

Dr Kieron Winn and Dr Alice Stainer

 

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Reading list: Creative writing

 

Writing Ideas

If you study creative writing at OSP, you will read canonical writing with an eye to techniques you can make your own in writing that will be workshopped, one-to-one, with the tutor. In the prose section of the course you’ll read a short story by James Joyce, noting his stealthy satire of society and literary convention, then take a boat out on the stream of consciousness of Virginia Woolf. Can you pick up her knack of jumping from one person’s point of view to another’s on the turn of a comma?

The poetry section includes looking, though T.S. Eliot’s ‘The love song of J. Alfred Prufrock’, at ways of communicating through music and repeated sounds. (How do you feel different saying ‘is it/visit’ compared to ‘go/Michelangelo’?) You’ll also, through reading the work of Philip Larkin, learn the right way to use metre and rhyme; the lines round a repeated stanza form make the shape not, as many think, of a ‘constricting’ container, but of a fabulous tennis court at Wimbledon.

The one-to-one tutorials are fundamentally a conversation, with a great deal of flexibility in what is discussed. Throughout the course, the emphasis will be on the pleasure of reading and the craft of writing, and on the triple literary aims of teaching, moving, and delighting both writer and reader.

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