Syllabus: Is This the End?

HUMA 124: Is This the End? A Big Questions Course

DEPARTMENT: Modern and Classical Literatures and Cultures

DESCRIPTION: Is this the end? The end of our planet, truth, certainty? Taught from a global perspective, the course examines writers’ responses to major topics of our age, including facts, climate change and borders.

Andrea Bajani is Rice’s current writer-in-residence and an award-winning novelist, while Sophie Esch is a scholar of Latin American literature and armed conflicts in the global south. Is This the End? is part of the School of Humanities’ Big Questions series and exemplifies the program’s objective of teaching students how humanistic inquiry can address some of our most pressing questions. By tackling topics such as climate change, truth, doom, borders and migration through modern literature, Bajani and Esch challenge their students to explore how stories enable both writers and readers to respond to modern-day events.

We live in a world full of narratives and storytelling, so it’s important to grasp how stories work,” Esch said. “With this course, I want to teach students how to read and think critically, but also to understand literature as a way of conceiving our world differently and opening doors to new perspectives.”

Each week, students engage with works of fiction, nonfiction and film. Through class discussions, their personal reading diaries, and assignments focused on both creative writing and literary analysis, students are presented with a wide range of perspectives on modern literature and its impact on our lives. 

“After taking a Big Questions course last semester, I wanted to take another one,” said Sophie Parker ’21. “I love classes that encourage connecting multiple areas of study, and this one combines storytelling, climate studies, apocalyptic history and literature analysis in a beautiful and engaging way. It’s easily one of my favorite classes this semester, especially because the titular question seems so relevant right now.”

Bajani and Esch hope to show their students how literature and language help us understand the stories we are experiencing at any given time. “We are living in a time of crisis, and all of the topics we talk about in the course can be described as crises,” Bajani explained. “However, crisis is the place where the end meets the beginning. So is this the end? Or, as I want students to ask themselves when faced with chaos, change and disaster, is this really the beginning?”

— Mariana Nájera '21