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Lifelong Learning at Swarthmore

Photo of Lifelong Learning director Hansjakob Werlen

A Special Message from the Director

Welcome to Lifelong Learning Swarthmore. While we have an exciting line-up of classes for our venues in Manhattan, Center City, and here on campus, we will not offer these in-person classes yet due to the pandemic. Instead, it is my great pleasure to announce two free, online Lifelong Learning Swarthmore courses, Why We Need Stories in Troubled Times: Understanding the World Through Literature and “Think You're Escaping and Run Into Yourself”: James Joyce’s  Ulysses. You can find details about both courses and registration below.

I am thankful to my colleagues whose generosity made it possible to offer these courses. While the classes are free and open to everyone, a donation to the LLS program would be greatly appreciated (see information on how to contribute at the end of the message).

Hansjakob Werlen
Director, Lifelong Learning Swarthmore

Why We Need Stories in Troubled Times: Understanding the World Through Literature

The aesthetic experience of literature enables us to envision other places and times. Protagonists embody passions and follies both familiar and strange and reading about them makes us empathetic and wondering but also uncomfortable and troubled. The adventure of reading can make us think differently, completely engross us, and, as Kafka famously said, "wake us up with a blow to the head."

In this online LLS class, eight Swarthmore professors will introduce and discuss short texts that speak to this unique capacity of literature. The works read in the eight-week course include (classes below are listed in alphabetical order by professor, not by date):

  • Elizabeth Bolton, Professor of English: "Monstro" by Junot Diaz and "Inventory" by Carmen Maria Machado

  • Sibelan Forrester, Professor of Russian: "Lady with a Dog" by Anton Chekhov and "Date with a Bird" by Tatiana Tolstaya

  • William Gardner, Professor of Japanese: "The Tattooer," "The Thief," and "A Portrait of Shunkin" by Junichiro Tanizaki

  • Luciano Martinez, Professor of Spanish: "The South" and "Theme of the Traitor and the Hero" by Jorge Luis Borges

  • Peter Schmidt, Professor of English: "Sonny's Blues" by James Baldwin and "Toda Luna, Todo Año" by Lucia Berlin

  • Mark Wallace, Professor of Religion: "The Displaced Person" by Flannery O'Conner

  • Phil Weinstein, Professor of English (emeritus): "Heart of Darkness" by Joseph Conrad

  • Hansjakob Werlen, Professor of German Studies: "Unexpected Reunion" by Johann Peter Hebel and "The Earthquake in Chili" by Heinrich von Kleist 

When: Thursdays from 7:30–9:00 p.m. (Eastern time) for eight weeks on Sept. 17, 24; Oct. 1, 8, 22, 29; Nov. 5, 12.

All texts will be sent to enrolled participants at least one week in advance.


Think You're Escaping and Run Into Yourself: James Joyce's Ulysses

We all know the names: Stephen Dedalus, Leopold and Molly Bloom. Many of us have started the book and at some point did not continue. Many of us always wanted to read the book but did not find the time to begin reading or were intimidated by its reputation of difficulty.

This fall, LLS will offer everyone the opportunity to read James Joyce's Ulysses, widely considered the greatest literary masterpiece of modernist literature. The seven lecture and discussion sessions, scheduled over fourteen weeks in the fall, will be taught by
Phil Weinstein, Alexander Griswold Cummins Professor of English (emeritus).

When: Wednesdays from 7:00–8:30 p.m. (Eastern time) on Sept. 9, 23; Oct. 7, 21; Nov. 4, 18; Dec. 9.


To Register   (registration opens July 20 and closes August 19 )

To register click here:   REGISTER FOR WHY WE NEED STORIES 

To register, click here:   REGISTER FOR ULYSSES

We sincerely appreciate donations to allow us to continue these free offerings while we are not able to meet in person due to the pandemic. All donations help. Please send your gift by writing a check to Swarthmore College. Add a note on the memo line of the check stating that it is for Lifelong Learning Swarthmore (or LLS).

Send your check to: Swarthmore College Attn: Gift Records, 500 College Avenue, Swarthmore, PA  19081 

Thank you for your support.

Program Details

  • Registrants will receive a link approx. one week before class in order to participate

  • Courses taught by senior or emeriti members of Swarthmore College faculty

  • Courses offered in each of the divisions of the College: humanities, social sciences, natural sciences/engineering

  • No grades, no academic credit, just learning for learning's sake

  • Open to alumni, their adult family and friends. Swarthmore College staff and all friends of the College are also welcome.

  •  Virtual classes are not limited. In-person classes have limited enrollment, and classes are filled on a first-come, first-served basis

  • At this time, classes are free and online. When it is possible to gather safely again, classes will be held in-person in small, seminar-style form in Center City Philadelphia, on Swarthmore campus, in Boston, and in New York City.

Questions? Contact Marty Roelandt at

For other Swarthmore College virtual offerings, please check out the SwatTalks page.  

SwatTalks is an Alumni Council initiative to engage the broader Swarthmore community in free, virtual seminars featuring professors, students, and alumni excelling in their fields and sharing their knowledge and experience. Each seminar lasts one hour and is available to Swarthmore alumni and current parents around the world through Zoom webinar technology