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Courtesy of Uriel Abulof

April 1, 2020

Govt. Department Advertises Summer Course: ‘HOPE in the Time of Corona’

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With all of the uncertainty the COVID-19 pandemic has introduced to Cornellians’ lives, one course is ‘hoping’ to change that — and accordingly, it’s called “HOPE,” standing for “Human Odyssey to Political Existentialism.”

Government 3686: What Makes Us Human? An Existential Journey Amidst Crisis opens its description with a quote from Albert Camus’s 1947 novel The Plague, but its message is further reaching than just a lesson on the current pandemic: It is a course on the human condition and sociopolitical dilemmas.

Visiting Prof. Uriel Abulof, government, originally developed the course in 2018 at Princeton University for its online edX platform. At the time, the course relied heavily on a theoretical and philosophical understanding of concepts.

But COVID-19 has provided a unique opportunity, Abulof shared, to strengthen the course. He plans on taking the philosophical components of HOPE and entwining them with an understanding of today’s crisis.

Abulof plans on a “half and half” approach to the course this summer: Half philosophy and half focusing on the “personal and the sociopolitical underpinning of this crisis,” he said. “Each and every one of the students will probably have a lot to share from … [their] own experiences.”

One example of that is in how different countries and communities have approached crisis management. “One of the things that we engage with is god and religion and you can see in many places people addressing [the pandemic] through that lens,” Abulof said.

According to Abulof, in Israel, where he is from, the ultraorthodox community has not been following social distancing, causing “a huge increase of the virus in those specific communities.”

That phenomenon, he said, reflects a “tension” between the often contradictory needs of protecting public health and preserving time-worn, cultural traditions.

“The people’s faith in their belief, for example, that they should go to the synagogue and pray with as many people as possible around,” he said, may force Israel to address elements of its moral, religious foundation. “With every single country you can see those elements playing a role.”

Abulof also shared how the course will explore socio-political dilemmas brought about by the pandemic, as governments are increasingly forced to balance the interests of the economy with vulnerable populations: “One group is weak health wise … the other weak group is those that are economically poor.”

“Once this crisis is over, the bigger dilemma would be if we would like to hold onto a system that posed before us, those two dilemmas,” he posited. “If we want to keep on nourishing the systems that made us choose between the physically vulnerable and the fiscally vulnerable.”

HOPE is listed in the Government department as course 3686. While it originally was supposed to be taught in-person in Washington D.C., the course will now be taught in two summer sessions.