Return to Syllabus   Dr. Andrew Wood
Office: HGH 210; Phone: (408) 924-5378


This is not simply a course about The Simpsons. Moreover, this is neither a course about faith, philosophy, nor ethics. Our friends in media studies, religious studies, and the various humanities would likely scoff at our attempts to address any of these topics in the richness and complexity they deserve. Instead, we encounter this text and context from a position best defined as "social scientific." In other words, we seek to understand the human condition and its religious, philosophical, and ethical quandaries as a site of social construction. And in this class, we view this process through the lens of popular culture.

One may ask: How might a television show (a cartoon at that) help us reveal the relationship between human interaction and the maze of value systems, economic structures, political institutions, social groups, human locales, and natural environments we encounter daily? Viewing an episode of The Simpsons, one confronts a palimpsest where answers to this question may be found. Look beneath the two-dimensional depiction of yellow-tinted family life in Springfield, USA, and you discover a riotous critique of social order along with an invitation to encounter the relationship between human structures and deeper questions of the human condition.

In many ways, our class mirrors the deceptively simple questions raised by The Simpsons. In one week, we consider the various faces of God. However, when Homer Simpson imagines God as an anthropomorphic cliché  ("Perfect Teeth. Nice Smell. A class act, all the way") we also must consider the social construction of deity as a means to justify human choices. In another week, we encounter philosophical notions of ideal government. Yet when Lisa helps form a utopian community in Springfield, we must also consider the economic and political foundations upon which such a perfect state might stand. In a final week, we examine the ethical implications of war. Yet, when Bart organizes his neighborhood pals -- "a coalition of the willing" to employ a Bush-ism -- to fight a local bully, we must examine the spatial battleground as a metaphor for the forces of fragmentation wrecking havoc across the world.

In short, we view episodes of The Simpsons while considering questions like "What is God?," "What is Truth?," and "What is Right?" as social scientists: alert for the ways in which a beloved television show reveals the social construction of questions and answers that emerge from our deepest struggles to make sense of the world and our roles within it.

Introduction to MUSE

University-level study is different from what you experienced in high school.  The Metropolitan University Scholar’s Experience (MUSE) is designed to help make your transition into college a success by helping you develop the skills and attitude needed for the intellectual engagement and challenge of in-depth university-level study.  Discovery, research, critical thinking, written work, attention to the rich cultural diversity of the campus, and active discussion will be key parts of this MUSE course.  Enrollment in MUSE courses is limited to a small number of students because these courses are intended to be highly interactive and allow you to easily interact with your professor and fellow students.  MUSE courses explore topics and issues from an interdisciplinary focus to show how interesting and important ideas can be viewed from different perspectives.

MUSE AND GE Learning Objectives

This course qualifies as an Area D1 (Social Sciences-Human Behavior) course in your General Education requirements.  It is designed to enable you to achieve the following learning outcomes:

1. To identify and analyze the social dimension of society as a context for human life, the processes of social change and social continuity, the role of human agency in those social processes, and the forces that engender social cohesion and fragmentation. [GE]

2. To place contemporary developments in cultural, historical, environmental, and spatial contexts

3. To identify the dynamics of ethnic, cultural, gender/sexual, age-based, class, regional, national, transnational, and global identities and the similarities, differences, linkages, and interactions between them

4. To evaluate social science information, draw on different points of view, and formulate applications appropriate to contemporary social issues. [GE]

5. To recognize the interaction of social institutions, culture, and environment with the behavior of individuals. [GE]

6. To understand the learning process and their responsibility and role in it. [MUSE]

7. To know what it means to be a member of a metropolitan university community. [MUSE]

Successful completion of this course means that you can:

• Increase your understanding of human behavior and social interaction in the context of value systems, economic structures, political institutions, social groups and natural environments. 

• Establish a strong foundation for becoming a university level student and scholar. 

• Encounter the intellectual and social activities of university life.

• Demonstrate discipline-specific mastery of social scientific terms as employed in this course.

• Employ popular culture examples to support your analysis of abstract ideas related to faith, ethics, and philosophy.

• Communicate original responses to contemporary questions related to faith, ethics, and philosophy through academic writing and oral presentation.


Peer Mentor

Travis Campbell <> is your peer mentor in this class. He can provide essential guidance as you progress through the class. I heartily recommend that you meet with him several times in the Peer Mentor Resource Center to discuss drafts and seek clarification when needed.

Library Help

If you need assistance about using library materials, you might want to ask a reference librarian. The reference librarian for communication studies is Susan Klingberg <>.

Required Reading:

Irwin, W., Conrad, M.T., & Skable, A.J. (Eds.). (2001). The Simpsons and philosophy: The d'oh! of Homer. Chicago: Open Court Press. (noted in syllabus as Irwin)

Pinsky, M.I. (2001). The gospel according to The Simpsons: The spiritual life of the world's most animated family. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.

SJSU Student handbook: A Spartan From The Start

Recommended Reading:

Gimple, S.M., McCann, J.L., & Richmon, R. (Eds.) (2002). The ultimate Simpsons in a big ol' box. New York: HarperPerennial.

  Disclaimer: "The Simpsons" ™ and © Fox and its related companies. All rights reserved. Any reproduction, duplication or distribution is prohibited. This website, its operators and any content contained herein relating to "The Simpsons" are not authorized by Fox. "Simpsons" graphic borrowed from Lardlad.