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Parrhesia Program for Public Discourse Mission

Rooted in the University of Chicago’s principles of freedom of expression and academic inquiry, the Parrhesia Program for Public Discourse offers an innovative curriculum in the theory and practice of public discourse and deliberation. It strives to foster vigorous, inclusive, and productive public discourse by developing capacities to seek and engage difference and disagreement and effectively articulate and communicate. Theory-driven as well as practice-oriented, the Parrhesia Program for Public Discourse offers courses at multiple levels of instruction. Courses study the history and theory of free expression, rhetoric, and discourse, and examine and apply principles and practices of public speaking, deliberation, and public engagement. The curriculum aims to study discourse theory and develop communicative competence within a wide variety of academic, professional, and civic contexts. The Parrhesia Program for Public Discourse will be integrated into the College’s distinctive undergraduate curriculum and reflects the conviction that open discourse can advance probing and challenging critical thought.

Parrhesia Program for Public Discourse Courses

PARR 13700. Science Communication and Public Engagement. 100 Units.

In the U.S. and around the world, we are seeing rising distrust in science and political polarization around science-framed issues including climate change, vaccinations, nuclear waste disposal, and the biology of sex and gender. Since the cornerstone of democratic governance is a well-informed public, increasing both public understanding of science and civic engagement with science-framed issues is critical. This course focuses on the role science communication can play in transforming disagreement and misunderstanding about science into productive public dialogue focused on problem solving. It is not just about translating complex concepts into simplified lay narratives that a particular individual or group can grasp. Through our readings, we will examine different perspectives on the relationship between scientific expertise, public understanding of science and civic life. We will work on three science communication projects focused on contentious topics that span written, oral and digital formats. We will study inclusive and adaptive strategies for relating scientific knowledge to how we live in society, for facilitating recognition and respect of disagreement rooted in lived experience and for communicating uncertainty in a constructive manner.

Instructor(s): Ekaterina Lukianova     Terms Offered: Spring

PARR 21400. Trump, Turnout and Thanksgiving Dinner: Election Discourses in a Polarized Society. 100 Units.

At the time of increasing polarization and fears of democratic backsliding, electoral rhetoric is employed to exploit divisions, as well as to overcome them. In this course we will study the conditions of political and cultural polarization in the U.S. and analyze electoral rhetoric to identify key motifs employed by alternative campaigns. We will also discuss approaches to dealing with polarized electoral discourses advanced by civil society organizations focused on promoting democratic practices and public deliberation.

Terms Offered: Autumn
Note(s): Ekaterina Lukianova

PARR 21500. What's Up With These Words? (Ideology and Word Meaning) 100 Units.

Public intellectuals, journalists and citizens at large are having heated debates on whether to use and how to use such words and phrases as "privilege," "woke" or "illegal immigration." Partisan opinion leaders develop strategies of linking key terms, such as "critical race theory" or "global warming," to negative narratives in order to thwart constructive public dialogue on substantive issues. You may be wary of using words that would get you in trouble in the classroom, in a professional interview or in a public-facing presentation. How do you make intelligent vocabulary choices in a polarized political environment? How do you negotiate disagreement over terms? How do you manage adverse emotional reactions precipitated by a trigger word?

Terms Offered: Winter
Note(s): Ekaterina Lukianova

PARR 21600. Freedom of Speech on Campus: From Milton to the Middle East. 100 Units.

Free expression and inquiry are essential to the pursuit of knowledge and a liberal education. These principles are also crucial for democracy. However, the application of these principles often leaves students, faculty and administrators feeling unprotected and subject to harm. This course will focus on the civic and academic purposes of free expression, and on the role of moderators in cultivating constructive dialogue. We will engage with the following questions: ● What does a private university have in common with a public forum? ● Do we need more or less free speech on campus? ● Even when we disagree about this question, what kinds of speech do we want to uphold? ● How do you stay true to yourself and respectful of others when talking about matters that cut close to the bone? Readings will include influential philosophical texts (Milton, Mill, MacKinnon, Strossen, Coates), research articles, commentary on legal cases, policies, polemical texts, as well as mass media coverage of recent events and proposed legislation. You will work in teams to research controversies concerning free expression at universities and write a case study, reflecting on your identity and values that would bear on your perspective in the case. You will also test avenues for free and constructive discussion of controversial issues through convening and facilitating discussions face-to-face and online.

Instructor(s): Ekaterina Lukianova     Terms Offered: Winter

PARR 22100. No Justice, No Speech! Free Speech and Palestine in the University and Beyond. 100 Units.

Are there-or should there be-limits to free speech? What is the relationship between free speech and hate speech? Does speech deserve special kinds of protections (or limits) in the context of the university campus? In this course, we will critically engage with these questions as they relate to political organizing and political expression on (and in) Palestine. Our course will examine these foundational questions before turning to some of the sticking points in the debate over free speech and Palestine today: What is freedom of expression in Israel-Palestine, and what does it have to do with the politics of US campuses? What is BDS, and is it intended to foster or limit academic freedom? Is anti-Zionism anti-Semitic? To consider these questions, we will do critical readings of primary texts such as the BDS guidelines issued by PACBI (Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel) and the definition of anti-Semitism issued by the IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance), as well as ethnographic and other accounts of the problem of political expression in Palestine today.

Instructor(s): Callie Maidhof     Terms Offered: Autumn
Equivalent Course(s): NELC 25850, GLST 25850, PBPL 25850, LLSO 25850

PARR 23500. Freedom of Speech on Campus: Ideologies, Scenarios and Modes of Discussion. 100 Units.

Free expression always involves strong emotions and tensions with others, who come from a different perspective. To live a full academic life, you want to be authentic. You also want to be civil and professional. What can and can't you say on campus and in the classroom? What should or shouldn't you say? How could you make a conflict more constructive, if it will exist? This course connects the philosophical foundations of free speech and free expression practices at US Universities, and explores the ongoing tensions around this issue. You will develop a thorough understanding of the issue through readings, writing and dialogue involving your peers at and outside of the University of Chicago. You will also practice the skill of moderating discussions on difficult issues that involve matters of free expression and inquiry in the academic setting. Readings will include influential philosophical texts of the Anglo-Saxon tradition (Milton, Locke, Mill, Meiklejohn, Berlin, Fish), legal cases, university declarations, as well as mass media coverage of recent events and proposed legislation. The course will begin with a classroom-based deliberation about free speech and the inclusive campus. You will then proceed to reading seminars and teamwork researching recent controversies concerning free expression at universities. You will write an essay proposing a collaborative solution to the case that you researched.

Instructor(s): Ekaterina Lukianova     Terms Offered: Winter

PARR 24223. Parrhesia: Fearless Speech from Socrates to Greta von Thunberg. 100 Units.

The course will examine the long history of parrhesia, the Greek term for free and fearless speech, from ancient Athens to its current renaissance through the rediscovery by Michel Foucault. Focusing on the relation of truth and discourse, the course will consider not only the extraction of truth as a form of subjection to disciplinary power but also acts of telling truth to power as a practice of self- formation and exercise of freedom. Parrhesia implies a relation between the human self and the act of truth-telling that is suffused with interesting political, philosophical, and ethical possibilities, which students will be encouraged to explore. The course will begin by reviewing Foucault's final lectures on parrhesia and "the courage of truth." It will then examine some of the ancient Greek and Christian texts that Foucault analyzed. It will go on to consider early modern instances of parrhesia (e.g. Galileo and Descartes) and will conclude by surveying relatively recent versions (e.g. Greta von Thunberg and James Comey, JD'85), including contemporary feminist and queer practices of parrhesia. Lectures and discussions in English. No prerequisites.

Instructor(s): Christopher Wild     Terms Offered: Spring
Equivalent Course(s): RLVC 34223, DEMS 24223, RLST 24223, GRMN 24223, CMLT 24223, GRMN 34223, CMLT 34223



Christopher Wild


Director of Outreach
Leila Brammer


Director of Programming and Undergraduate Research
Nora Titone


Associate Director

Associate Director
Ekaterina Lukianova


Administrative Contact

Program Administrator
Germaine Kindred