Interpretation Theory

Coordinator:       MARK WALLACE (Religion)
                           Anna Everetts (Administrative Assistant)
Committee:         Jean-Vincent Blanchard (Modern Languages and Literatures, French)
                           Timothy Burke (History)
                           Rachel Buurma (English Literature)
                           Michael Cothren (Art History)
                           Richard Eldridge (Philosophy)
                           Sibelan Forrester (Modern Languages and Literatures, Russian)
                           Cynthia Halpern (Political Science) 2
                           Tamsin Lorraine (Philosophy)
                           Braulio Muñoz (Sociology and Anthropology)
                           Maya Nadkarni (Sociology and Anthropology)
                           Patricia Reilly (Art History) 3
                           Patricia White (English Literature)

2 Absent on leave, spring 2015.
3 Absent on leave, 2014–2015.

Since 1992, the Interpretation Theory Program has been providing students and faculty with an interdisciplinary forum for exploring the nature and politics of representation. Reaching widely across the disciplines, work done in the minor reflects a long-standing drive to understand the world through the constructs of its interpretive propositions. Students use their programs to develop a flexible, deeply historicized grasp of what is thought today as critical and cultural theory. They also sharpen their skills in critical reading and intellectual analysis.

Students who minor take a total of six courses that build on a combination of classic and current hermeneutic methods. Each year, graduating seniors enroll in a capstone seminar that proposes a structured investigation into an inherently interdisciplinary problem. Faculty team-teach the course as a way of drawing out multi-disciplinary concerns in both theory and practice.

The Academic Program

Course Minor

Students complete six credits toward the minor. Three general rules guide the selection:

  1. All minors must complete a one-credit capstone seminar that is team-taught by two faculty members from different departments. Students complete this capstone in the spring of their senior year.
  2. The three remaining courses are elective. At least four of the six interpretation theory credits must be outside the major.
  3. A minimum “B” average is required for all minors by their junior and senior years.

Other courses may be considered upon petition to the Interpretation Studies Committee. These may include relevant courses offered at Bryn Mawr College, Haverford College, and the University of Pennsylvania.

Honors Minor

All students participating in the Honors Program are invited to define a minor in interpretation theory. Students must complete one preparation for external examination. This 2-credit preparation can be the seminar and a reading attachment or a thesis, a combination of two courses in different departments, a 2-credit thesis, or a combination of a thesis and a course. Any thesis must be multidisciplinary. The proposed preparation must be approved by the Interpretation Theory Committee. Honors minors must meet all other requirements of the interdisciplinary minor in course.

Capstone Seminars

All minors are required to successfully complete the one-credit capstone seminar, team-taught by two faculty members from different departments, in the spring of their senior year.

Each year, graduating seniors enroll in a capstone seminar that proposes a structured investigation into an inherently interdisciplinary problematic. The capstone seminar embodies both the theoretical and interdisciplinary qualities that make interpretation theory distinctive and compelling.

Students majoring in a variety of disciplines come together with faculty members from two different areas to explore theories of knowledge and questions of interpretation and representation. For example, the past capstone seminars have brought together professors from French literature and biology, political science and religion, sociology/anthropology and English, philosophy and art, and other interdisciplinary combinations.

Past capstone titles include: Contested Truths: Questions of Modernity in German Philosophy and Literature; the Classical in Art and Literature; Reworking the Cultural Imaginary; Simultaneity and Monumentality; After Babel: Poetry, Language and Translation; Mind, Body, Machine; Interpretation and the Visual Arts; Beyond Reason: Nietzsche, Levinas and the Kabbalah; and Mapping the Modern.

Life After Swarthmore

Respondents to an Interpretation Theory Program alumni survey in 2013 indicated that approximately 54% went on to graduate school and of those, approximately 67% pursued a Ph.D. or other doctorate.

Occupations of interpretation theory graduates are diverse and include: physicians, professors, editors, grant writers, an assistant district attorney, and a civil rights investigator.


Currently offered courses relevant to the program include the following:

INTP 090. Directed Reading

1 credit.
Each semester. Staff.

INTP 091. Discipline + Culture

What is culture, and what is cultural studies? This course offers answers to both questions by examining what happens when an academic discipline forms around culture. Centering on a key figure - Stuart Hall – we will reconstruct the milieu of radically creative thinkers that formed the Birmingham Center for Contemporary Cultural Studies, including Raymond Williams, Richard Hoggart, Stuart Hall, Dick Hebdige, Catherine Hall, Angela McRobbie, Paul Gilroy, and others as they studied present cultural phenomena like adolescent femininity, punk music, hip-hop, advertising, and subcultures and reshaped the study of the past, from the black Atlantic to the Bengal Renaissance. By examining its major texts, figures and institutions, we will see how twentieth-century cultural studies promised to bring about new connections between academic work and public writing, new kinds of thinking about wealth, value and politics, new constellations of public art and social activism by reconfiguring existing disciplines, centering on new objects of study, and reimaging the role of the scholar.

Throughout the semester, we will pay special attention to ways you may have attended to the idea of culture in your previous and current coursework and independent reading. What perhaps now-unseen relation does the idea of culture, and perhaps the legacy of cultural studies, have to your Swarthmore education as you have known it, and to your life before and after Swarthmore?

Assignments will include both collaborative and individual projects, formal and informal writing, and attendance at some additional lectures. Expect visiting speakers, collaborative projects, comparative and interdisciplinary methodologies, digital methods, and more. 

1 credit.
Spring 2015. Farid Azfar (History), Sagner Buurma (English Literature).

INTP 092. Thesis

2 credits.
Each semester. Staff.


ANTH 032D. Mass Media of Anthropology (Nadkarni)
ANTH 049B. Comparative Perspectives on the Body (Ghannam)
ANTH 072C. Memory, History and Nation (Nadkarni)

Art History

ARTH 164. Modernism in Paris and New York (Hungerford)


CLST 036. Classical Mythology (Munson)


ENGL 035. The Rise of the Novel (Buurma)
ENGL 080. Critical and Cultural Theory (White)
ENGL 081. Theory of the Novel (Buurma)
ENGL 090. Queer Media (White)
ENGL 091. Feminist Film and Media Studies (White)
ENGL 120. Critical and Cultural Theory (White)

Film and Media Studies

FMST 020. Critical Theories of Film and Media (White)
FMST 045. Feminist Film and Media Studies (White)
FMST 046. Queer Media (White)
FMST 087. American Narrative Cinema (White)


FREN 044. Tyrants and Revolutionaries (Blanchard)
FREN 056. Ecritures au féminin (Rice-Maximin)
FREN 116. La critique littéraire (Blanchard)


HIST 001K. Engendering Culture (Murphy)
HIST 017. Social Movements in the Arab World (Bsheer)
HIST 029. Sexuality and Society in Modern Europe (Judson)
HIST 066. Disease, Culture, and Society in the Modern World (Armus)
HIST 086. The Image of Africa (Burke)
HIST 088. Social History of Consumption (Burke)


LING 070. Translation Workshop (Forrester)


LITR 047R. Russian Fairy Tales
LITR 070R. Translation Workshop (Forrester)
LITR 071F. French Cultural and Critical Theory (Blanchard)
LITR 071S. Latin American Society Through Its Novel (Munoz)
LITR 075S. Borges: Aesthetics and Theory (Martinez)
LITR 076S. Latino and Latin American Sexualities (Martinez)


PHIL 016. Philosophy of Religion (Berger)
PHIL 017. Aesthetics (Eldridge)
PHIL 019. Philosophy of Literature and Film (Eldridge)
PHIL 026. Language and Meaning (Eldridge)
PHIL 039. Existentialism (Lorraine)
PHIL 045. Futures of Feminism (Lorraine)
PHIL 048. German Romanticism (Eldridge)
PHIL 049. Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud (Lorraine)
PHIL 069. Phenomenology (Lorraine)
PHIL 079. Poststructuralism (Lorraine)
PHIL 106. Aesthetics and Theory of Criticism (Eldridge)
PHIL 114. 19th-Century Philosophy (Eldridge)
PHIL 139. Phenomenology, Existentialism, and Poststructuralism (Lorraine)


PHYS 029. Seminar on Gender and (Physical) Science (Graves)

Political Science

POLS 011. Ancient Political Theory (Halpern)
POLS 012. Modern Political Theory (Berger)
POLS 013. Political Psychology and Moral Engagement (Berger)
POLS 100. Ancient Political Theory (Halpern)
POLS 101. Modern Political Theory (Halpern)


RELG 003. The Bible: In the Beginning (Kessler)
RELG 004. New Testament and Early Christianity (Wallace)
RELG 005B. World Religions (Wallace)
RELG 015. Religion and Literature: Blood and Spirit (Wallace)
RELG 015B. Philosophy of Religion (Wallace)
RELG 027. Radical Jesus (Wallace)
RELG 032. Queering God: Feminist and Queer Theology (Kessler)
RELG 112. Post-modern Religious Thought (Wallace)
RELG 128. Sex, Gender and the Bible (Kessler)


RUSS 047. Russian Fairy Tales (Forrester)
RUSS 070. Translation Workshop (Forrester)

SOCI 024C. Latin American Society Through Its Novel (Muñoz)
SOCI 044B. Colloquium: Art and Society (Muñoz)
SOCI 044C. Contemporary Social Theory (Muñoz)
SOCI 044D. Colloquium: Critical Social Theory (Muñoz)
SOCI 044E. Colloquium: Modern Social Theory (Muñoz)
SOCI 101. Critical Modern Social Theory (Muñoz)


SPAN 051. Textos híbridos: crónicas periodísticas y novellas de no-ficción (Martinez)

For the most up-to-date, semester-by-semester list of courses, please consult the program website at
Any courses attached to the program, at the time taken, will be counted toward requirements for the minor in interpretation theory.

Other courses may be considered on petition to the Interpretation Theory Committee. These may include relevant courses offered at Bryn Mawr and Haverford colleges and the University of Pennsylvania.