Life Worth Living @ Yale College

What does it mean for a life to go well? What would it look like for a life to be lived well? In short, what shape would a life worth living take?

Course Description

We will explore these questions through engagement with the visions of seven modern figures and foundation texts that influenced them: Abraham Joshua Heschel and the Tanakh, the Dalai Lama and the Buddhist scriptures, Mohandas Gandhi and the Bhagavad Gita, Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Bible, Robin Wall Kimmerer and North American Indigenous wisdom, A. Helwa and the Quran, and Oscar Wilde and expressive individualism. The course will also feature visits from contemporary individuals who understand their lives to be shaped by the figures and traditions in question.

Instructors for Spring '24

Drew Collins
Yale Center for Faith & Culture
Matt Croasmun
Yale Center for Faith & Culture
Alana Felton
Department of Slavic Languages & Literatures
Theresa Kauder
Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures
Ryan McAnnally-Linz
Yale Center for Faith & Culture
Ahmed Nur
Department of Religious Studies
Jake Rohde
Department of Philosophy & Classics



Course Introduction (seminar)    
What Is Worth Wanting? (lecture)
The Question (seminar)
  • Susan Wolf, "The Meaning of Lives"
  • Miroslav Volf, Matthew Croasmun, and Ryan McAnnally-Linz, Life Worth Living, xi-xv-, xxii-xvii, xxxii-xxxiv

02. heschel's jewish vision

Tanakh and Talmud (seminar)
  • Genesis 1:1-4:16; 12:1-4
  • Exodus 1:1-4:17; 5:1-6:9; 12; 19-20
  • Leviticus 19
  • Deuteronomy 6:1-7
  • Psalms 8, 19, 144-45
  • Isaiah 19:19-24
  • Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2
  • Kiddushin 30b.1-8
  • Leviticus (Vayikra) Rabbah 34.1-3
  • Mishnah Sanhedrin 4.5
  • Pirkei Avot 1.1-3; 3.1, 8, 18; 4.1-2, 29; 6.2
Heschel's Vision of Life Worth Living (seminar)
  • Heschel, The Insecurity of Freedom, 150-67
  • ———, God in Search of Man: A Philosophy of Judaism, 33-36, 46-50, 98-99, 158-159, 200-1, 213-17, 273-75, 289-90, 306-8, 310-12, 348-51, 367-69, 372-73, 374-75, 383-86
Guest Practitioner (lecture)
Sabbath (seminar)
  • Susannah Heschel, "Prologue," The Sabbath, vii-xvi
  • Heschel, The Sabbath, 5-10, 13-19, 22-24, 27-32, 89-91

03. course questions

Agency, Circumstance, and Affect (seminar)
  • Cicero, On Moral Ends 3.26-29
  • John Stuart Mill, Utilitarianism, 137, 142-43
  • Peter Nozick, "The Experience Machine," Anarchy, State, and Utopia, 42-45
  • Seneca the Younger, 71.3-7, 19-28
  • "The Tripartite Formal Structure of Human Flourishing: A Hypothesis"
What Just Happened?: Course Unit Structure (lecture)
Ontology, Anthropology, Responsibility, Suffering, and Failure (seminar)
  • Volf, Croasmun, and McAnnally-Linz, Life Worth Living, 35-39, 46-48, 126-48, 153-60, 172-74, 201-4

04. the 14th dalai lama and thubten chodron's BUDDHISt vision

Ancient Buddhist Texts (seminar)
  • Heart Sutra
  • Karanīyamettā Sutta
  • Rice Stalk Sutra
Course Retreat
The Dalai Lama and Chodron's Vision of Life Worth Living (seminar)
  • The Dalai Lama and Thubten Chodron, Library of Wisdom and Compassion series (selections)
Meditation (seminar)
  • The Dalai Lama and Thubten Chodron, Library of Wisdom and Compassion series (selections)
Guest Practitioner (lecture)

05. skill-building: Cultural analysis

Reading for Implicit Visions of Life Worth Living (seminar)
  • Zadie Smith, "Find Your Beach," Feel Free, 420-26
  • David Foster Wallace, "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again"
Yale and the Good Life (seminar)
  • Pascal Bruckner, Perpetual Euphoria, selections
  • Hartmut Rosa, “Two Versions of the Good Life and Two Forms of Fear,” selections
  • Dan Schawbel, Me 2.0, 1-22
  • “Yale’s Most Popular Class Ever: Happiness,” New York Times, Jan 26, 2018
  • William Deresiewicz, “Don’t Send Your Kid to the Ivy League”
  • Marina Keegan, “The Opposite of Loneliness”
  • Peter Salovey, “Repair the World!”
  • The Mission Statement of Yale College

06. kimmerer's north american Indigenous Vision

Indigeneity, Gratitude, and Reciprocity (seminar)
  • Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass, "A Note on Indigenous Stories"; "Skywoman Falling"; "The Council of Pecans"; "The Gift of Strawberries"; "Allegiance to Gratitude"; "The Honorable Harvest" (selections); "In the Footsteps of Nanabhozo"
Restoration and Home-making (seminar)
  • Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass, "Windigo Footprints"; "The Sacred and the Superfund"; "Putting Down Roots"
Guest Practitioner (lecture)

07. gAndhi's advaita vision

The Bhagavad Gita (seminar)
  • Bhagavad Gita 1-3, 10, 12-13, 18
Gandhi's Vision of Life Worth Living (seminar)
  • Gandhi, From Yeravda Mandir
  • ———, Collected Works 43.60–62, 26.364–65, 33.83–89, 36.45–47, 37.380–81
Guest Practitioner (lecture)

08. king's CHRISTIAN vision

The Bible (seminar)
  • Amos 1-2, 5, 9
  • Micah 4-6
  • Luke 1:1-4, 26-56, 9:37-62, 10:25-37, 15, 22-24
  • Matthew 5-7
  • Philippians
King's Vision of Life Worth Living (seminar)
  • King, Strength to Love, 36–55, 67–75, 86–95,127–37
  • ———, Why We Can’t Wait, 49–51
Guest Practitioner (lecture)


Authenticity and Expressive Individualism (seminar)
  • Charles Taylor, The Ethics of Authenticity, 13-41
Wilde's Vision of Life Worth Living (seminar)
  • Wilde, The Soul of Man under Socialism, 233-34, 237-40, 243-44, 262-68
  • ———, De profundis (selections)
Expressive Individualism in Popular Culture (lecture)

10. helwa's muslim vision

Quran and Hadith (seminar)      
  • TBA
Helwa's Vision of Life Worth Living (seminar)
  • Helwa, Secrets of Divine Love (selections)
Guest Practitioner (lecture)

11. nietzsche's vision

Critique (seminar)
  • Nietzsche, The Gay Science §344
  • ———, Beyond Good and Evil §260
  • ———, On the Genealogy of Morality 1.4, 13–15; 2.16, 18–25; 3.11–12, 24–26
Affirmation (seminar)
  • Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, “Zarathustra’s Prologue” §§3–5, 9; “On the Three Metamorphoses”; “On the Way of the Creator”; “On a Thousand and One Goals”; “On Self-Overcoming”; “On Old and New Tablets”; “The Sleepwalker Song” §§9–11

12. conclusion

Final Paper Peer Review (seminar)
Final Plenary (lecture)

Student Perspectives

My transition to life at Yale this fall was a whirlwind. As a ruralite, I felt disoriented by the energy of urban life; as a woefully undecided student, I felt overwhelmed at times by my classmates’ drive. Amidst this churn, the intimate, clarifying discussions I shared in Education & the Life Worth Living were a godsend. It was incredibly refreshing to reaffirm the value I hold in life’s most simple joys—an intimate connection to nature, a strong sense of belonging, the familiarity of close friendship—as a counterpoint to the pressure I feel to overlook these joys at Yale. I am emerging from Education & the Life Worth Living with a clear, fundamental purpose to my Yale education: regardless of the field of study I choose, I know that I want to pursue a wholly fulfilling life, where my professional success enables, instead of precludes, the simple joys that give life its color.