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Skidmore College
First-Year Experience

Scribner Seminar Program
Course Description

The Forest, the Garden, and the Meaning of Life

Instructor(s): Bradley Onishi, Religious Studies

This course introduces students to the various ways humans have used literal and metaphorical confrontations with gardens and forests in order to explain the meaning of life.

By examining religious accounts of gardens, literary visions of the forest, philosophical reflections, memoir, film, and first-hand experiences in literal forests (Adirondacks) and gardens (Congress Park), we will explore questions surrounding why humans have imagined the forest as an existential threat and the garden as the arbiter of fulfillment.

What do these approaches to gardens and forests say about human interpretations of time and space? How do gardens and forests represent fundamental concerns about mortality, memory, and genealogy? Can they instruct us on what it means to live a good, happy, and responsible life? Most of all, what have they told our predecessors—and what can they tell us now—about the meaning of the human condition? Finally, does the destruction of the forest and the ubiquity of the garden change—or threaten—the meaning of life?

In conjunction with examinations of philosophical, literary, and religious answers to these questions, we will ask what deforestation and the ubiquitous presence of human gardens (cities) mean for the future of our species and the planet.


Course Offered: