With the start of the spring term comes PAW’s annual sampling of courses offered at Princeton for the first time. With more than 1,100 courses to choose from — about 110 of them new — the selection process for students can be daunting. Here are six new courses, from a range of disciplines:

ANT 361: Magic and “Magic(al) Realism” in American Social and Economic Life 
Professor: Lawrence Rosen

For anthropologists, magic is a natural subject, Rosen says, because in any culture, people are rational about some things and not about others. This view of magic is not about tricks, he says, but how a culture deals with uncertainty “by conducing the world to fit our expectations.” Who hasn’t thrown a bowling ball without at some point applying some “body English” to try to influence its path, Rosen asks. Cultures have characteristic ways in which they do the same things, he says, and the course will examine how American culture relates the magical to the economic, social, and political arenas. One example is the American predilection for quantifying information as a test of credibility. “We feel a lot better if we can put a number on it; if we don’t have the number, then we’re not quite in control,” he says. The course is one of several at the University developed with the support of the David A. Gardner ’69 Magic Project.

Sample reading list: Robert Schiller, Irrational Exuberance; Jennifer Hecht, Doubt: A History; H.G. Bissinger, Friday Night Lights: A Town, A Team, A Dream; Dennis Covington, Salvation on Sand Mountain; Bryan Wilson, Magic and the Millennium

FRS 176: Authentic Arab Voice 
Professor: Daoud G. Kuttab

When Kuttab, a Palestinian journalist and commentator, first proposed his spring seminar, he jokingly called it “everything you always wanted to know about Arabs but were afraid to ask.” Though he settled for a more serious title, the concept has not changed. Kuttab and guest speakers will expose students to a sampling of culture, art, music, and everyday life in the Arab world. The professor hopes it will provide a feel “for the complexity and the humanity” of the region. History and current affairs will be part of the conversation as well, but cultural understanding is the top priority. The Western media tend to take a monolithic view of Arabs, Kuttab says, and students are often surprised to meet individuals who do not fit the common stereotypes. In Kuttab’s fall course, which covered online media in the Middle East, one session included a teleconference with a woman from Saudi Arabia who writes a popular blog and holds opinions that contrast greatly with those of the Saudi regime. The students didn’t realize that people like her existed, according to Kuttab. “It blew their minds,” he says.

Sample reading list: George Antonius, The Arab Awakening; Edward Said ’57, The Question of Palestine; Arab novels and films

NES 368/POL 437: Oil Politics in the Middle East 
Professor: Julie E. Taylor

No matter what topic one studies in the Middle East, “you cannot get away from the importance of oil,” says Taylor, an assistant professor of Near Eastern studies. Oil resources shape politics, labor migration, the spread of ideologies, and the relationships between nations in the region and beyond. Taylor plans to trace the development of the politics of oil by focusing on key moments in history, such as the overthrow of Iranian premier Mohammed Mossadegh in 1953 and the oil crises of the 1970s. Students also will examine U.S. foreign policy and its relation to oil in the Middle East, with help from Roger Stern, a postdoctoral research associate in Near Eastern studies. Taylor says that the class will not spend too much time speculating about the ongoing situation in Iraq, but students will take a close look at the first Gulf War to get a clearer picture of the oil-related issues from that conflict.

Sample reading list: Lawrence Freedman and Efraim Karsh, The Gulf Conflict: Diplomacy and War in the New World Order; Leonardo Maugeri, The Age of Oil

POL 379: Intelligence, National Security, and the Constitutional Democracy 
Lecturer: Diane C. Snyder

While the debate over national security and civil liberties continues to make headlines, America has been wrestling with how to strike the right balance for 250 years, “and there are still some of the same trade-offs,” Snyder says. Course readings include key statutes, commission reports, “juicy exposés,” and the latest political debates as students weigh the question: What price do we pay for freedom? The class also will examine the relationship between intelligence and law enforcement and whether technology threatens or protects. Snyder has been a lecturer in politics for four years and a Woodrow Wilson School lecturer for three years after spending 12 years at the CIA and another six years consulting with the agency, specializing in applying technology to the collection and analysis of intelligence. She says she tries to “demystify” intelligence issues by being “incredibly candid” while presenting a balanced view: “The agency does some stupid things, but the successes and victories can rarely be acknowledged. Don’t believe everything you read.”

Sample reading list: Richard A. Clarke, Against All Enemies; Robert O’Harrow, No Place to Hide; Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States

PSY 418: Neuroethics 
Professor: Charles G. Gross

In June 2006, a Nature editorial titled “Neuroethics needed” warned that neuroscientists should “prepare for a prolonged, complex, and occasionally frustrating engagement with the public on the ethical ramifications of [their] work” — a touch of gloom in the otherwise vibrant field of neuroscience, the study of the brain and behavior. But when Gross, a longtime professor of psychology, taught a freshman seminar in neuroethics last fall, he found that students were stimulated by the challenging and often open-ended questions related to the study of the brain. For example, should functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) be developed to detect lies while questioning crime suspects? Or job applicants? Or blind dates? Is it ethical for healthy people to use drugs to enhance cognition or improve their moods? How might the government regulate such drug use? Gross expanded the course to an upper-level seminar of 20 students, covering everything from research ethics to genetic enhancement. Some dilemmas seem far off, but others are closer than you may think. At least two companies already purport to do reliable lie detection with brain imaging, Gross says, though neuroscientists are highly skeptical.

Sample reading list: Freeman Dyson, “Can Science Be Ethical?,” The Scientist as Rebel; Peter Singer, “All Animals Are Equal,” Animal Rights & Human Obligations; Martha Farah and Paul Wolpe, “Monitoring and Manipulating,” The Hastings Center Report

THR 361: The Art of Producing Theater 
Lecturer: Mara L. Isaacs

This course doesn’t focus on budgets and numbers, but rather on the “artistic view of how to make plays happen,” says Isaacs, a visiting lecturer in English. Students will get an inside look at how producers approach their craft as they attend productions in Princeton and New York and question professional producers, playwrights, and directors who visit the class. Isaacs, who has worked with the McCarter Theatre Center since 1995 and has been its producing director since 2002, says she will offer the students a “very candid” look at the decisions shaping both immediate and longer-range projects at McCarter. The goal is to expose the class to a wide range of venues and works, at different stages of development, to help students learn “what it takes to make really great art,” Isaacs says.  

Sample reading list: Peter Brook, The Empty Space; Marina Carr, Phaedra Backwards; Moises Kaufman, The Laramie Project; Emily Mann, A Seagull in the Hamptons; Mary Zimmerman, Argonautika; Tarell McCraney, The Brother/Sister Plays