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 lives and visions of founding figures from seven diverse traditions of imagining a good life: the Buddha, the Tanakh and the Rabbis, Jesus of Nazareth, Muhammad, North American Indigenous wisdom, and John Stuart Mill. The course will also feature visits from contemporary individuals who understand their lives to be shaped by the traditions in question.

Instructors for Spring '23

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)    
  • Rob Riemen, Nobility of Spirit: A Forgotten Ideal, 83-96
The Tripartite Structure of the Good Life (lecture)
  • Robert Nozick, “The Experience Machine,” Anarchy, State, and Utopia, 42-45
  • Cicero, On Moral Ends, 3.26-9
  • Seneca, Letters on Ethics 71.3-7, 19-28
  • “The Tripartite Formal Structure of Human Flourishing: A Hypothesis”
What is a Tradition? Part I (seminar)
  • Philip J. Ivanhoe, “Being in and Learning from Tradition,” Confucian Reflections: Ancient Wisdom for Modern Times, 1-16
  • Saba Mahmood, The Politics of Piety, ix-xii
What is a Tradition? Part II (seminar at the Beinecke)
Implicit and Explicit Visions of the Good Life (seminar)
  • David Foster Wallace, “This is Water”
  • David Foster Wallace, "A Supposedly Fun Thing I Will Never Do Again," excerpt
Course Questions (lecture)

02. utilitarian visions

Utilitarianism & Happiness (seminar)
  • John Stuart Mill, Utilitarianism, Chapter 2 & pp. 198-201
  • Peter Singer and Katarzyna de Lazari-Radek, “The Good Life—A Utilitarian Perspective”
Effective Altruism (seminar)
  • Ajeya Cotra, "Introduction to Effective Altruism"
  • Toby Ord, "Global Poverty and the Demands of Morality"
  • The Center for Effective Altruism, Introduction to Effective Altruism
A Life Shaped by Effective Altruism (guest lecture)

03. jewish visions

The Tanakh (seminar)
  • Genesis 1-3, 9, 12:1-7, 17:1-17, 21:1-5; Deuteronomy 5-6; Leviticus 19:9-18; Psalm 100, 119:1-16; Isaiah 57:14-58:14
  • "On Becoming a Woman," Qalonymos ben Qalonymos
  • Shir HaShirim Rabbah 1:19
  • "Why Study Torah?"
The Rabbis (seminar)
A Life Shaped by Judaism (guest lecture)
Course Retreat
Judaism, Work, & Rest (seminar)
  • Exodus 20; Leviticus 25
  • Susannah and Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath, vii-xvi; 1-32; 95-101; "A Responsum on the Sabbath," 177-181
  • Be'chol Lashon's Lunar New Year Kabbalat Shabbat (1:32-20:27)
  • Jonathan Sacks, Radical Then, Radical Now, 130-135


Yale and the Good Life (seminar)
  • Dan Schawbel, Me 2.0, 1-22
  • Pascal Bruckner, Perpetual Euphoria, selections
  • “Yale’s Most Popular Class Ever: Happiness,” New York Times, Jan 26, 2018
  • William Deresiewicz, “Don’t Send Your Kid to the Ivy League”
  • Hartmut Rosa, “Two Versions of the Good Life and Two Forms of Fear,” selections
  • Marina Keegan, “The Opposite of Loneliness”
  • Peter Salovey, “Repair the World!”
  • The Mission Statement of Yale College
Yale and the Good Life (guest lecture)


Origins of Expressive Individualism (seminar)
  • Friedrich Schleiermacher, Soliloquies, 9, 26–48, 69–88
  • Oscar Wilde, “The Soul of Man under Socialism,” selections
Authenticity (seminar)
  • Charles Taylor, The Ethics of Authenticity, 25-53
  • Susan Wolf, "The Meaning of Lives"
Expressive Individualism in Popular Culture (lecture)
Self-Reflection, Self-Realization, Self-Expression (seminar)
  • Wilde, “The Soul of Man under Socialism,” 247–53
  • ––––––, De profundis, selections

06. CHRISTIAN visions

New Testament (seminar)
  • Mark
  • Matthew 5-7
  • John 14-17
  • Romans 5-8
  • Revelation 21-22
A Life Shaped by Jesus (guest lecture)
The Human Place in the World (seminar)
Christianity & Forgiveness (seminar)
  • Howard Thurman, Jesus and the Disinherited, 74-109
  • Martin Luther King, Jr., Stride Toward Freedom, 90-110
  • Anne Lamott, Hallelujah Anyway, 3-19, 141-157

07. Indigenous Visions

Ecology, Relationality, and Myth (seminar)
  • Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass, "Skywoman Falling," "Council of Pecans"
  • JB the First Lady, The Most Unprotected Girl
Ecology, Resilience, and Identity (seminar)
  • Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass, "Wisgaak Gokpenagen: A Black Ash Basket"
  • Gregory Cajete, Native Science: Natural Laws of Interdependence, "Prologue," "Plants, Food, Medicine, and Gardening"
  • Marilyn Dumont, Not Just a Platform For My Dance
A Life Shaped by Indigenous Ecological Visions (guest lecture)

08. BUDDHISt visions

The Buddha (seminar)
  • The Story of Gotama Buddha (selections)
  • Life of the Buddha, 5.1-39, 14
  • Wheel of Law (Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta)
The Self, the World, and Compassion (seminar)
  • Peter Harvey, "Theravada Philosophy of Mind and the Person," Buddhist Philosophy: Essential Readings, 265-274
  • Discourses of the Ancient Nuns (Bhikkhuni-samyutta), #10 (Vajira)
  • Peter Harvey, An Introduction to Buddhist Ethics, 123-126
  • The Dalai Lama, How to See Yourself As You Really Are, 32-38, 49-59, 67-73, 175-184, 201-208, 223-236
A Life Shaped by the Buddha (guest lecture)
Buddhism and Food (seminar)
  • Geshe Thubten Soepa, Protecting the Lives of Helpless Beings, Sections 1 & 3

09. muslim visions

Islam: The Multidimensional Nature (seminar)      
A Life Shaped by Islam (guest lecture)
Living Islam with Love (seminar)
Prayer: Peace, Practice, Protest (seminar)
  • Recitation of the opening Surah of the Quran by Abdul Rahman Al-Ossi
  • Asad Tarsin, Being Muslim, 44-73
  • Martin Nguyen, Modern Muslim Theology, 155-180


Secular Faith (seminar)
  • Martin Hägglund, This Life: Secular Faith and Spiritual Freedom, "Natural and Spiritual Freedom," 173-211


Transformation & Commitment (seminar)
What Is a Life Worth Living? (seminar)
  • Presentations and discussion of student visions
Visions of Flourishing Life (lecture)

Student presentations of their visions of flourishing life.

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.