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2024-25 Catalog coming August 5th!

This site is currently under construction. If you are an incoming frosh, rising sophomore or new transfer student, please check back August 5th, when you can browse next year's IntroSems and start applying for priority enrollment in up to 3 seminars per quarter.

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RELIGST 12N: Perspectives on the Good Life

This course is expected to experience high student demand.
Detail of the brush painting, The Butterfly Dream, by Chinese painter Lu Zhi (c. 1550)

General Education Requirements

Not currently certified for a requirement. Courses are typically considered for Ways certification a quarter in advance.


This course is expected to experience high student demand. Frosh, sophomores, and new transfers who decide to rank a high-demand course when making their three selections for priority enrollment are advised to select other IntroSems being offered the same quarter for their second and third choices.


Course Description

Our question is how to approach and evaluate different perspectives on the good life, especially when those perspectives are beautifully, and elusively, presented to us as texts. We will consider both classic and modern writers, from the West and from China; some are explicitly religious, some explicitly secular; some literary, some philosophical. Most of the class will revolve around our talking with each other, interpreting and questioning relatively short texts. The works we will read—by Chuang Tzu (Zhuangzi), Emily Dickinson, James Baldwin, William James, Tu Fu (Du Fu), and others—are not intended to be representative of traditions, eras, or disciplines. They do, however, present a range of viewpoints and styles that will help frame and re-frame our views on the good life, and they illustrate and question the role that great texts can play in a modern "art of living." Perhaps most important, they will develop and reward the skills of careful reading, attentive listening, and thoughtful discussion.


Meet the Instructor: Lee Yearley

Lee Yearley

Lee Yearley is the Walter Y. Evans-Wentz Professor of Oriental Philosophies, Religions, and Ethics. He has long been interested in introductory and interdisciplinary teaching at Stanford and for years taught a first-quarter course in Introduction to the Humanities (IHUM) and then in Thinking Matters. His book comparing the ideas of Mencius and Thomas Aquinas, Mencius and Aquinas: Theories of Virtue and Conceptions of Courage, was recently translated into Chinese. Professor Yearley is a past recipient of the Bing teaching award and in 2015 received the Dinkelspiel Award for Distinctive Contributions to Undergraduate Education.