You are here

Fall 2021 BFS Seminars

BFS students in Nursing should consult Dr. Georgia Kouzoukas,, to determine whether a BFS course fulfills a Nursing requirement.

BFS students in Engineering should consult with their Engineering Advisor to determine whether a BFS course fulfills an Engineering requirement.

College and Wharton sector information can be found in the


BFS Seminars offered each semester may also be found on Penn InTouch by using the "Course Search" feature, selecting "Show more search criteria," and selecting "Ben Franklin Seminars" under "Program."

Africana Studies

AFRC 215-401
COL Sector II & CCA; WH Sector SS and CCP

This course is designed to introduce students to the religious experiences of Africans and to the politics of culture. We will examine how traditional African religious ideas and practices interacted with Christianity and Islam. We will look specifically at religious expressions among the Yoruba, Southern African independent churches and millenarist movements, and the variety of Muslim organizations that developed during the colonial era. 

The purpose of this course is threefold. First, to develop in students an awareness of the wide range of meanings of conversion and people's motives in creating and adhering to religious institutions; Second, to examine the political, cultural, and psychological dimensions in the expansion of religious social movements; And third, to investigate the role of religion as counterculture and instrument of resistance to European hegemony. 

Topics include: Mau Mau and Maji Maji movements in Kenya and Tanzania, Chimurenga in Mozambique, Watchtower churches in Southern Africa, anti-colonial Jihads in Sudan and Somalia and mystical Muslim orders in Senegal.

AFRC 325-401
COL Sector III & CDUS; WH Sector H and CDUS

The purpose of this course is to engage students in the rigorous process of mining experiences for material that can be transformed into a public performance piece. In-class writing, group discussions, and field work in the Philadelphia area. AUGUST WILSON AND BEYOND. The people need to know the story. See how they fit into it. See what part they play. - August Wilson, King Hedley II. In this seminar, students will read groundbreaking playwright August Wilson's 20th Century Cycle: ten plays that form an iconic picture of African American traumas, triumphs, and traditions through the decades, told through the lens of Pittsburgh's Hill District neighborhood. Other readings include supporting material on Wilson's work and African American theatre, the works of contemporary playwrights whom Wilson has influenced (such as Suzan-Lori Parks and Tarell Alvin McCraney), and context on Penn's relationship with West Philadelphia. As an Academically Based Community Service (ABCS) course, this seminar gives students the opportunity to enhance their understanding of the plays, and history and culture that shaped them, by forming meaningful relationships with West Philadelphia residents. Wilson's plays provide the bridge between the two groups. The course culminates with students writing an original theatre piece inspired by the readings and relationships, which they will share at an end-of-semester performance.

Benjamin Franklin Seminars

BENF 223-301
COL Sector I; WH Sector SS

Philanthropic giving in the US accounts for just over 2% of the gross domestic product over the last several decades. Significant portions of these philanthropic resources are directed towards health care in the US. Within this context, this course draws upon the recent literature from the social sciences and health sciences as well as other disciplines to explore how philanthropy impacts health care in society at large and in particular, the health of the individual donor and volunteer. Furthermore, the course will include an “ideas in action” component. Students will examine philanthropic donations at work in Philadelphia as well as engage in philanthropic activities.

Part 1 Philanthropy and Healthcare in Society: The US has a long tradition of channeling philanthropic resources to augment healthcare in society, as the demand for health care exceeds the capacity of individuals or government to fully satisfy this demand. Philanthropic resources, which include both time and money, are emerging as significant resources by which the capacity of the healthcare sector is fortified; these include resources for service providers, health care researchers, and health care policy advocates. To understand the heterogeneous impact of philanthropy on healthcare, this part of the course will examine the “who, what, when, why, and how” of philanthropic inputs into healthcare and their impact.

Part 2 Health Effects on the Individual Philanthropist: Several longitudinal studies have studied the health and wellbeing benefits of volunteering and donating on the individual, after controlling for possible covariates. From decreased mortality to better health outcomes, researchers have carefully documented the effects on individual givers. Recent findings from the health sciences also examines what mechanisms might be involved in an individual’s psychology and physiology that can explain the beneficial health effects of philanthropic behavior. Recent experimental research provides further evidence along these lines. Not all donors benefit equally, and the course will delve more deeply into these inconsistencies and related findings in the field of altruism research. 

Part 3 Ideas in Action:

The course will include

  1. Specific acts of generosity 
  2. LEARNING to GIVE : Examine healthcare organizations in Philadelphia that use philanthropic resources, and collectively design processes and criteria to enable grantmaking a gift(s) of $10,000 received from The Learning by Giving Foundation.
  3. Students will journal their first-hand experience of (1) and (2) 


BENF 226-301
COL Sector I & CDUS; WH Sector SS

This course considers various theoretical approaches to justice and health, motivated by the idea that a moral framework is needed to address the ethical challenges posed by inequalities in access, quality, financial burdens, and resource priorities, as well as rising health care costs.  The course includes four parts.  The first part examines ethical frameworks that involve various approaches to medical and public health ethics. The second part presents an alternative theory of justice and health, the health capability paradigm (HCP), grounded in human flourishing. The third part explores domestic health policy applications, including equal access, equitable and efficient health financing and insurance, rising costs and allocating resources.  The fourth and final part of the course investigates domestic health reform, particularly a normative theory of health policy decision making grounded in political and moral legitimacy.   

The course scrutinizes the relevance of health justice for governing health at the domestic level, that is within countries, offers a new theory of health and social justice, the health capability paradigm, and of health governance, shared health governance, evaluating current domestic health systems and proposals for reforming them in light of these alternative theoretical frameworks.


Computer and Information Science

CIS 105-001
COL Sector: Formal Reasoning & Analysis; WH Sector: NSME

The primary goal of this course is to introduce computational methods of interacting with data. In this course, students will be introduced to the IPython programming environment. They will learn how to gather data, store it in appropriate data structures and then either write their own functions or use libraries to analyze and then display the salient information in that data. Data will be drawn from a variety of domains, including but not limited to travel, entertainment, politics, economics, biology etc.

CIS 105-002
COL Sector: Formal Reasoning and Analysis; WH Sector: NSME

The primary goal of this course is to introduce computational methods of interacting with data. In this course, students will be introduced to the IPython programming environment. They will learn how to gather data, store it in appropriate data structures and then either write their own functions or use libraries to analyze and then display the salient information in that data. Data will be drawn from a variety of domains, including but not limited to travel, entertainment, politics, economics, biology etc.


ENGL 326-301
COL Sector III; WH Sector H and CCP

Although Shakespeare's plays are usually studied as high canonical literature, they were originally written as playscripts designed for the entertainment of a disorderly, socially heterogeneous crowd and the financial profit of the players. This course will attempt to resituate the plays in their original theatrical setting. We will study a representative selection of Shakespeare's comedies, tragedies, and histories (to be chosen by the class at the first meeting) along with background material on Shakespeare's theater and his culture.

ENGL 364-301
COL: Sector lll; WH Requirement: H & CCP

In 1917, one century ago, Virginia Woolf was a thirty-five-year-old writer with dozens of reviews and essays and one undersung novel to her name. During a lull in the German air raids on London that spring, she had begun writing a series of experimental short stories that would point the way to her groundbreaking fictions of the interwar years. Once the raids resumed, she and her husband Leonard typeset these stories by hand on their basement printing press. Her work from these months was charged with the tensions of a world at war but also with artistic and political possibility.
Woolf is widely recognized today as one of the twentieth century’s most innovative, prolific, and versatile writers—a devout diarist and letter writer who also penned hundreds of reviews and articles, dozens of short stories, several groundbreaking memoirs and influential long-form essays, and nine novels that are among the most beloved, widely adapted, and closely studied in the English language.

This course offers students a semester-long immersion in Woolf’s life and writings while also attending closely to the historical contexts of both. It introduces students, in addition, to the large and rapidly growing body of scholarship on Woolf through two major writing assignments: a book review of a recent scholarly monograph or edition; and a research paper on some focused topic, theme, or question. Both majors and non-majors should emerge from the course better able to learn their way around a given cultural figure’s life and oeuvre. And they should be equipped to connect such a figure to contemporary individuals, communities, and historical energies and to navigate her cultural legacy and scholarly archive in pursuit of their own research questions.

ENGL 392-401
COL: Sector lll; WH Requirement: H & CCP

Cuban Revolution, the assassination of Patrice Lumumba in Congo, the Vietnam War, Latin American dictatorships, the Israeli -Palestinian conflict, the fall of the Soviet Union, the end of apartheid in South Africa, 9/11, and the Iraq War and its aftermath, have been represented in some of the most innovative and moving films of our time. Attention will therefore be paid to a variety of genres, including cinema verité, documentary, the thriller, the biopic, animation, the global conspiracy film, hyperlink cinema, science fiction and dystopia. Films will include: The Battle of Algiers, The Year of Living Dangerously, Memories of Underdevelopment, Lumumba and Lumumba: La Mort du Prophète, The Fog of War, The Lives of Others, Y Tu Mama Tambien, Even the Rain, The Constant Gardener, Syriana, Waltz with Bashir, Caché, Children of Men, and The Possibility of Hope. An archive of secondary readings will be provided on Canvas. Writing requirements:  a mid-term and a final paper of around 8-10 pages each.  

ENGL 395-402
COL: Sector lll; WH Requirement: H & CCP

Both psychoanalysis and autobiography are ways of re-telling a life. Psychoanalysis is often called "the talking cure" because, as patients tell the analyst more and more about their lives (their thoughts, dreams, memories, hopes, fears, relationships, jobs, and fantasies), they start to recognize themselves in new ways, and this can help them overcome conflicts, impasses, bad feelings, and even psychiatric illnesses that have kept them from flourishing. Autobiographers do something similar as they remember, re-examine, and re-tell their lives - though one very important difference is that they do so, not privately in a psychoanalyst's office, but publicly in books that anyone may read.

This seminar is a comparative exploration of these different ways of a re-telling a life. We'll ask: What sorts of narratives do patients and autobiographers construct? What is the "truth" of such narratives? How complete can they be? What are the potential risks and benefits of re-telling one's life, either (aloud) in psychotherapy or (in writing) in an autobiography? What is the role of the analyst/reader in the construction of such narratives? What are the possibilities and limits of self-analysis? Students will come away from the course with a general understanding of 1) psychoanalytic theory and practice from Freud to the present, 2) the literary genre of autobiography, and 3) the meaning and importance of narrative in all of our lives. Seminar readings will include 1) famous psychoanalytic case-histories and other major works of clinical theory and metapsychology by such authors as Christopher Bollas, Muriel Dimen, Erik Erikson, Sigmund Freud, Kay Redfield Jamison, Deborah Luepnitz, Theodor Reik, and Roy Schafer, and 2) major autobiographical works by such authors as St. Augustine, James Baldwin, Alison Bechdel, Vladimir Nabakov, Friedrich Nietzsche, Annie Rogers, Lauren Slater, and Barbara Taylor.

In addition to the required reading and regular participation in seminar discussion, students will write several very short essays, prepare and deliver a brief presentation to the class, and write/produce a hybrid creative-scholarly autobiographical project that will be due at the end of the semester. Like most courses affiliated with the Psychoanalytic Studies Minor, this seminar will be team-taught by a humanities scholar (Prof. Cavitch) and a practicing psychoanalyst (Dr. Moore), who designed the course together. Feel free to contact them if you have any questions about this seminar: /

Environmental Studies

ENVS 411-301
COL Sector VII; WH Sector NSME

This is an ABCS course designed to provide the student with an understanding of air pollution at the local, regional and global levels. The nature, composition, and properties of air pollutants in the atmosphere will also be studied. The course will focus on Philadelphia's air quality and how air pollutants have an adverse effect on the health of the residents. The recent designation by IARC of Air Pollution as a known carcinogen will be explored. How the community is exposed to air pollutants with consideration of vulnerable populations will be considered.

Through a partnership with Philadelphia Air Management Service (AMS) agency the science of air monitoring and trends over time will be explored. Philadelphia's current non-attainment status for PM2.5. and ozone will be studied. Philadelphia's current initiatives to improve the air quality of the city will be discussed. Students will learn to measure PM2.5 in outdoor and indoor settings and develop community-based outreach tools to effectively inform the community of Philadelphia regarding air pollution.

The outreach tools developed by students may be presentations, written materials, apps, websites or other strategies for enhancing environmental health literacy of the community. A project-based approach will be used to include student monitoring of area schools, school bus routes, and the community at large. The data collected will be presented to students in the partner elementary school in West Philadelphia. Upon completion of this course, students should expect to have attained a broad understanding of and familiarity with the sources, fate, and the environmental impacts and health effects of air pollutants.


ENVS 404-301
COL Sector VII; WH Sector NSME

Lead poisoning can cause learning disabilities, impaired hearing, behavioral problems, and at very high levels, seizures, coma and even death. Children up to the age of six are especially at risk because of their developing systems; they often ingest lead chips and dust while playing in their home and yards. In ENVS 404, Penn undergraduates learn about the epidemiology of lead poisoning, the pathways of exposure, and methods for community outreach and education. Penn students collaborate with middle school and high school teachers in West Philadelphia to engage middle school children in exercises that apply environmental research relating to lead poisoning to their homes and neighborhoods.

ENVS 410-301
COL Sector VII; WH Sector NSME

This course will provide an overview of the cross-disciplinary fields of civil engineering, environmental sciences, urban hydrology, landscape architecture, green building, public outreach and politics. Students will be expected to conduct field investigations, review scientific data and create indicator reports, working with stakeholders and presenting the results at an annual symposium. There is no metaphor like water itself to describe the cumulative effects of our practices, with every upstream action having an impact downstream. In our urban environment, too often we find degraded streams filled with trash, silt, weeds and dilapidated structures. The water may look clean, but is it? We blame others, but the condition of the creeks is directly related to how we manage our water resources and our land. In cities, these resources are often our homes, our streets and our communities.

This course will define the current issues of the urban ecosystem and how we move toward managing this system in a sustainable manner. We will gain an understanding of the dynamic, reciprocal relationship between practices in a watershed and its waterfront. Topics discussed include drinking water quality and protection, green infrastructure, urban impacts of climate change, watershed monitoring, public education, creating strategies and more.



HIST 216-402
COL Sector II; WH Sector SS and CCP

This course explores how the Holocaust has been constructed as an historical event. Beginning in the mid-1940s, with the first attempts to narrate what had transpired during the Nazi era, this seminar traces the ways that the Holocaust became codified as a distinct episode in history. Taking a chronological approach, the course follows the evolution of historical and popular ideas about the Holocaust and considers the different perspectives presented by a variety of sources.

We will examine documentary films, memoirs, survivor testimonies, as well as other scholarly and popular representations of the Holocaust. Students will be introduced to unfamiliar sources and also asked to reconsider some well-known Holocaust documents and institutions. The course will be conducted as a seminar, requiring diligent preparation and active participation from all students. Students are expected to read and analyze all assignments before class and contribute to class discussions. 

Legal Studies and Business Ethics

LGST 100-301
WH Requirement: Fundamentals

This course explores business responsibility from rival theoretical and managerial perspectives. Its focus includes theories of ethics and their application to case studies in business. Topics include moral issues in advertising and sales; hiring and promotion; financial management; corporate pollution; product safety; and decision-making across borders and cultures.



COL Sector VI; WH Sector NSME

This course parallels and extends the content of PHYS 150, at a significantly higher mathematical level. Recommended for well-prepared students in engineering and the physical sciences, and particularly for those planning to major in physics. Classical laws of motion: interaction between particles; conservation laws and symmetry principles; rigid body motion; non-inertial reference frames; oscillations.

Credit is awarded for only one of the following courses: PHYS 008 PHYS 101, 150, or PHYS 170.

Students with AP or Transfer Credit for PHYS 91 or PHYS 93 who complete PHYS 170 will thereby surrender the AP or Transfer Credit.

Prerequisites: MATH 104 or permission of instructor
Corequisites: MATH 114 or MATH 116, PHYS 170 lab

Political Science

PSCI 395-301
COL Sector I & CCA; WH Sector SS and CCP

This course examines conceptual, explanatory and normative debates over power-sharing systems. We explore the circumstances in which federal, consociational and other power-sharing institutions and practices are proposed and implemented to regulate deep national, ethnic, religious or linguistic divisions.

We evaluate these systems, seeking to explain why they are formed or attempted, and why they may endure or fail, paying special attention to bi- and multi-national, multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-lingual environments.

Restricted to Benjamin Franklin Scholars, seniors and juniors in Political Science, seniors in PPE; others by permission.

Religious Studies

RELS 256-301
WH Requirement: H & CCP

This is an experimental course that seeks to combine creative pedagogical methods and alternative scheduling to encourage intellectual reflection and emotional vulnerability through an in depth study of the way people cope with existential despair. Through a reading of memoirs, novels, poetry, and essays in an atmosphere conducive to close-reading and full-participation students will explore a wide-range of ways of coping with, describing, and comprehendingmoments of great despair. Lectures will explain the ritual, liturgical, homiletic, meditative, reflective, self-destructive, psycho-somatic, and ascetic ways despair is both conditioned and mitigated by different thinkers from various traditions over time. Format: This course is different from most others in that there is no homework, no class participation, no outside reading, and no research papers. There will be no work given to students or expected of them outside of class. All work is done in class and class is very long (8 hours straight, once a week, from four PM to midnight). Students will eat together in class, there will be three bathroom breaks, but there will be no internet, no phones, no computers, and no auditors. Each student must be fully committed to the class and 75% of the grade will be determined by class participation.

Russian and East European Studies

REES 201-401
COL Sector III & CCA; WH Sector H and CCP

his course explores the ways Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821-1881) portrays the "inner world(s)" of his characters. Dostoevsky's psychological method will be considered against the historical, ideological, and literary contexts of middle to late nineteenth-century Russia. The course consists of three parts External World (the contexts of Dostoevsky), "Inside" Dostoevsky's World (the author's technique and ideas) and The World of Text (close reading of Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov). Students will write three essays on various aspects of Dostoevsky's "spiritual realism."

Urban Studies

URBS 178-401
COL: CDUS; WH Requirement: SS and CDUS

This seminar helps students develop their capacity to solve strategic, real-world problems by working collaboratively in the classroom, on campus, and in the West Philadelphia community. Students develop proposals that demonstrate how a Penn undergraduate education might better empower students to produce, not simply "consume," societally-useful knowledge, as well as to function as caring, contributing citizens of a democratic society. Their proposals help contribute to the improvement of education on campus and in the community, as well as to the improvement of university-community relations. Additionally, students provide college access support at Paul Robeson High School for one hour each week.



WH 150-301; 302
WH Requirement: TIA or BB

WH 150 provides an introduction to all stages of the research process for business topics. In the first third of the course, we discuss theory building, hypothesis development, and research design choices particularly in casual research. In the second third, we discuss data collection methods (e.g., surveys, experiments, case studies and fieldwork) and the use of archival databases. This part of the cours emphasizes the interplay between research design and sampling/data collection methods. In the final third of the course, we introduce data analysis and interpretation, including methods for converting raw data into measurable constructs suited to statistical analysis.