The Novel Knowledge Series

The Novel Knowledge Series engages lifelong learners in multi-disciplinary courses that challenge conventional perspectives and encourage new ways of approaching longstanding questions.

Nuclear Energy sculpture by Henry Moore, with the Mansueto Library in the background.
Institute on the Formation of Knowledge logo.

Presented collaboratively by the Institute on the Formation of Knowledge and the Graham School at the University of Chicago, the courses open the doors of the University’s groundbreaking approach to inquiry and knowledge formation to all learners.

Upcoming Courses

Before and After DNA: Theories of Life
Purple and blue DNA helix against a black background.

Instructor: Isabel Gabel, Institute on the Formation of Knowledge
Winter 2023 | Tuesdays | 1/3/23 – 2/21/23 | 6:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

Most of us learn in high-school biology that life is some combination of growth, reproduction, and animation—and that it always contains DNA. Yet for many, this definition is unsatisfying. Discover a new definition of organic life in this course exploring the philosophical implications of modern biology. Students will delve into texts from some of the best twentieth-century thinkers on the subject, written at a time when biology itself was undergoing a series of profound revolutions, including the molecular turn and the discovery of the structure of DNA.

Climate and Crisis
A skyline surrounded by greenery, with icons for sustainable development goals overlaid.

Instructor: Benjamin Goossen, Institute on the Formation of Knowledge
Winter 2023 | Thursdays | 1/5/23 – 2/23/23 | 6:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

How did scientists first discover the reality of global warming? What strategies have proven successful in stimulating broad and effective cooperation on environmental issues? This course examines these questions and more, delving into the history of climate change, its consequences, and how we—individually and collectively—can respond. Students will emerge from the course with a greater understanding of how our species has contributed to the transformation of Earth’s climate and insight into possible paths for forging a sustainable future. No previous knowledge of climate science is necessary.

Mountains in the Alpine resort town of Davos, Switzerland, the setting of Mann's novel, The Magic Mountain.
The Malaise of Illness: Reading The Magic Mountain During COVID

Instructor: Brad Bolman, Institute on the Formation of Knowledge
Winter 2023 | Thursdays | 1/5/23 – 2/23/23 | 10:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Written as a response to his wife’s experience at a Swiss sanatorium, Thomas Mann’s 1924 novel, The Magic Mountain, tells the story of a young man whose visit to a tuberculosis sanatorium ends up lasting seven years. A metaphor for European life after World War I, Mann’s influential work beautifully explores themes of illness, death, time, and love. In this course, learners will slowly read and discuss the book, along with short selections from the history of science and medicine, to investigate what it tells us about our own time of lingering illness and social upheaval.

Meet the Instructors

Register for Before and After DNA: Theories of Life

Upcoming Events

The Magic Mountain

The Malaise of Illness

Thursday, December 1 from 12:00 to 12:45 p.m. CT

Join us for a conversation with IFK postdoctoral researcher Brad Bolman, where we'll discuss what Thomas Mann's 1924 novel, The Magic Mountain, might have to say about our contemporary experience of uncertainty, lingering illness, and social upheaval in this pandemic era. 

Register