The Silk Road

October 9, 2018

The religious traditions that we now know as Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism, and Buddhism, all originated in the South Asian peninsula where they developed a stunning array of religious ideas and practices over the course of the last 3,500 years. Dr. Borkataky-Varma will explore these rich traditions and their often radically different views than those embraced within European thought and cultures. This 7-week class meets on Mondays beginning October 22.

How Much Do You Know About…Eastern Religions?

October 3, 2018

buddhaHow Much Do You Know About…Eastern Religions? In anticipation of Sravana Borkataky-Varma’s upcoming class, “The Silk Road: Seven Religions Of The East” we are offering a fun and informative quiz about Eastern religions.





1. Which country originated four of the great Eastern religions (Buddhism, Sikhism, Jainism, Hinduism)?

A. China.
B. Pakistan.
C. India.

2. What is the oldest-known and 3rd largest religion in the world?

A. Buddhism.
B. Hinduism.
C. Sikhism.

3. Who was the founder of Hinduism?

A. Krishna.
B. No one.
C. Siddhartha Gautama.

4. The fat, laughing Buddha represents the real Buddha. True or False?

A. True.
B. False.

5. The Buddha was probably a vegetarian. True or False?

A. True.
B. False.

6. Which is the oldest-known book in the world from one of the seven Eastern religions?

A. Dao de Jing.
B. Bhagavad Gita.
C. The Rig Veda.


1. C. India

2. B. Hinduism is the oldest known religion in the world. In fact, it goes back as far as 5,000-10,000 B.C. It is also the 3rd largest religion with over a billion followers.

3. B. There is no known founder or governing body of Hinduism.

4. B. False. There are more than one Buddha. The “fat” Buddha began as a character from Chinese folk tales, and from China his legend spread throughout east Asia. He is called Budai in China and Hotei in Japan.

5. B. False. Many Buddhists are vegetarian because a major precept involves abstaining from taking life, including animal life. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that all Buddhists must become vegetarians. In the Pali Canon, a major Buddhist text, it was said that the Buddha would not eat meat from an animal killed for him, but didn’t have a problem eating meat bought from the marketplace and already dead.

6. C. The Rig Veda is the oldest known book in the world. It is an ancient Indo-Aryan Indian collection of Vedic Sanskrit hymns along with associated commentaries on liturgy, ritual, and mystical exegesis. The Vedas were preserved for over 5,000 years without the use of printing. Instead, the texts were memorized!

Dominique Royem Speaks On: Music and Cultural Revolution

October 3, 2018


Music hasroyem guitar been on the forefront of every major cultural revolution for the last 300 years. Each time society begins to change, music changes right along with it—giving a shape and a force to the cultural forces at work. Mozart’s opera, The Marriage of Figaro, opens to a new dawning of thought across the continent— enlightenment—just as the opera pokes fun of the dichotomy between the nobility and the peasantry. Beethoven’s 3rd Symphony is premiered with a new dedication after he tore out the one to Napoleon, who had just named himself emperor. Examples abound in the modern day, as well. Jazz was ushered in right along with a major change in the fabric of the US around the turn of the century. The sounds of the 60’s are an iconic part of that cultural revolution. Music acts as a hallmark and engine for the larger social changes, and you can trace the history of the changes by following the music.

Dominique Royem’s 8-week class “Music and Cultural Revolution” begins October 23rd from 10:00 am to 12;00 pm. For more information or to register, click here.


The Psychology of Religious Experience

October 3, 2018

Dr. Mark Ryan is new to The Women’s Institute this semester. In his upcoming class, “Spiritual Insight: A Psychology of Religious Experience.” Dr. Ryan will be answering the question “Is there a place for spirit in the human psyche?” We caught up with him to find out more.


WIH Reporter: As a professor of American Studies and History at Yale University for more than twenty years, what redirected your interests to studying the ideas of human consciousness and insight?

Ryan: There may be more continuity to that trajectory than meets the eye. My primary academic field has been American intellectual history—the history of ideas. Studies of religion have been part of that, going back to, say, the theology of the early New England Puritans. I’ve long had an interest in the American Transcendentalists—figures such as Emerson, especially—who might be considered forerunners of the view of human consciousness that is the focus of my current writing. For me personally, the most inspirational figure that I encountered in my academic studies was the psychologist and philosopher William James. I wrote a Master’s thesis on James back in the late 1960’s; different aspects of his work have drawn me at different points in my career. I now see him as laying the foundations of what, in my recent book, I refer to as “transpersonal thought,” a branch of psychology that honors spiritual experience. Apart from my academic studies, I’ve long pursued what we might refer to as personal growth or an expansion of consciousness—a passion, I suppose, that forever brands me as a child of the ‘60s.

WIH Reporter: In your book, “A Different Dimension: Reflections on the History of Transpersonal Thought“, you point out that 18 – 33% of American adults identify as “spiritual but not religious.” What will you be delving into in your course that would perhaps explain this?

Ryan: An opening to spiritual experience, I would argue, is a perennial aspect of human life. Historically, we’ve relegated the articulation and regulation of that experience to traditional religions. But many in today’s world have had personal experiences with religious establishments that make them wary. They see the inevitable weaknesses in those very human organizations—the limitations of their popular theologies, the struggles of their power relationships, their internal and external conflicts, even their hypocrisies. As different cultures mix in our ever more globalized world, the claims to absolute truth of different religions are more and more called into question. The social trend now known as “spiritual but not religious” is criticized, often legitimately, as shallow, mindlessly eclectic, and lacking philosophical depth. But a purpose of my book is to demonstrate to a lay audience that this trend, which embraces spiritual experience but rejects the dogmas and hierarchies of organized religions, is subject to a robust and profound defense, with a significant literature behind it. Transpersonal thought, as I’m portraying it, can provide intellectual support to a spiritual but not religious stance.

WIH Reporter: Talk about this view of psychology that makes room for the spiritual experience. What does this mean? Is this something outside our five senses?

Ryan: The short answer to your last question is, yes. The dominant view in Western intellectual life is materialism—the notion that matter, usually conceived of as solid substance, is at the basis of all existence. A corollary is that all consciousness is produced by the human brain, through chemical and electromagnetic processes, out of impulses that travel to the brain through neural pathways initiated with our five senses. There are other corollaries as well, of course—that materially based explanations of any phenomenon have primacy over other forms of explanation; and that when the brain disintegrates there can be no ongoing persistence of life, no survival of a spirit.

In this course, we’ll be looking at thinkers, primarily psychologists, who resisted this materialistic consensus. They were interested in psychological phenomena that could not be explained, or at least not easily explained, in materialistic terms—phenomena such as telepathy, out-of-body experiences, clairvoyance, past life regressions, near death experiences, mystical visions. They wanted to investigate these experiences as empirically and scientifically as possible, eliminating consideration of those that could not be corroborated. For well over a century now, beginning in the later 19th century, they have built up a massive trove of evidence that remains ignored by more established thinkers. Throughout the course we’ll be asking how such phenomena can be explained—and, more broadly, what the explanations might imply about both human consciousness and the reality in which we live. William James put it this way: “The further limits of our being plunge, it seems to me, into an altogether other dimension of existence from the sensible and merely ‘understandable’ world.” That other dimension—which by James’s reckoning is part of ourselves—we call “mystical,” or “supernatural” or “spiritual.”

WIH Reporter: What will the format of your class be?

Ryan: Assuming that we have a relatively small group, I’d like the class be a discussion seminar, with lively participation by all. I will certainly do some lecturing, but my deeper interest is in the experience and perspectives of the students as we all encounter the class’s central ideas. The course will be structured around my recent book, with expectations of short readings—a chapter of no more than 20 pages—each week. Ideally, I would hope that our discussions would help to draw out of the students discoveries that they might make about themselves and/or their own thinking. That, you know, is the etymological meaning of “education,” which is from the Latin educare, “to draw out.” To be frank, I always viewed myself more as an educator than a scholar. That preference drove me into my work as a dean of students, interested in the impact on the students of their individual encounters with the liberal education that each would make his or her own. I’m eagerly looking forward to in-depth discussions with the people of The Women’s Institute, with all their varied experiences and points of view.

WIH Reporter: You refer to transpersonal experiences, how do these help us answer some of the fundamental questions of our lives?

Ryan: By “transpersonal experiences,” I mean the kind of experiences I’ve just referred to. We have the freedom, of course, to ignore the questions that they raise, focusing on “the sensible and merely ‘understandable’ world,” gaining a living, advancing in a profession, pursuing pleasures, warding off pain, perhaps striving to better the welfare of those around us. Those are all worthy pursuits, to be sure. But for a certain kind of temperament—call it a “spiritual” temperament—they are not sufficient for a satisfactory life. People of a spiritual temperament want a greater sense of meaning in their lives. If we find hints—felt intuitively, perhaps demonstrated experientially—that there is indeed an “altogether other dimension of existence,” we find that sense of meaning by putting ourselves, in some way, in relationship to it. We search for ways to put ourselves in contact with it, or better, in harmony with it. Transpersonal experiences may not answer the fundamental questions of our lives, but they help, in the first place, to raise those questions. They prompt us to delve more deeply into our own subjective experience, and thereby to pursue a richer and more meaningful life.

WIH Reporter: What do you expect your students to take away from this course?

Ryan: Despite the materialistic outlook dominant in our intellectual world, I’d like them to come away with a sense that life is bigger than we know, and that there is a strong philosophical and psychological defense for a more spiritual orientation in their lives. Secondly, I’d like them to be reinforced in their own spiritual orientation, perhaps with a little more self-awareness of how it is tailored to their deeper individual needs and proclivities. Put another way, I’d like them to be one small step closer to realizing their true selves. And finally, I’d hope they would leave with a sense of respect for the outlooks of their classmates, and for how those outlooks respond to those classmates’ own unique experience.

Mark Ryan’s 8-week class starts on October 18th, from 10:00 am – 12:00 pm. For more information or to register, click here.

Understanding the Seven Eastern Religions

October 3, 2018

hinduThe religious traditions that we now know as Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism, and Buddhism, all originated on the South Asian peninsula where they have developed a stunning array of religious ideas and practices over the course of the last 3,500 years.

In her upcoming class, “The Silk Road: Seven Religions Of The East,” Sravana Borkataky-Varma introduces us to religious traditions that we now know as Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism, and Buddhism, which all originated on the South Asian peninsula. We visited with her to find out more.



WIH Reporter: What are the mistaken impressions about Eastern religions and why a course on religions?

Borkataky-Varma: Let me begin with few personal situations I deal with, often. At Starbucks, when I say “Varma” on my order, I often get a cup saying “Cakra.” How and why does Varma translate into “Cakra?” Since Starbucks gets my name wrong every single time, I like to go order “Tea Tea.” The teller invariably looks at me confused. So I explain “Chai” means tea in Hindi. So, technically, you are selling Tea Tea, which of course makes no sense. And we usually laugh.

WIH Reporter: Do you have more instances that you can tell us about?

Borkataky-Varma: At the end of a yoga class, the instructor says Namaste. Namaste in the Indian social context means “Hello.” Why do we say Hello at the end of a class? People assume that Hindus and Buddhists are vegetarians. So I go on a teaching mode. Sixty percent of 1.2 billion people in India eat meat. I add some humor at the end of my teaching moment by saying Indian holy cow is not the American cow. So, technically eating beef in the USA should be acceptable and justified. After all filet mignon is delicious.

WIH Reporter: What else would surprise us about the view from the Eastern perspective?

Borkataky-Varma: In India, Buddhism and Jainism were counter-culture, counter-religious movements that began in response to Hinduism in late 6th century BCE—approximately around the same time Confucianism and Taoism  originated in China. So, why does history define timelines around BC and AD. Is it a true representation? What are the inherent biases embedded with a BC and AD understanding? Also, India produced four World Religions: Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism.

WIH Reporter: Why is it important for us to know about the seven Eastern religions?

Borkataky-Varma: A course on Eastern religions fosters conversations. At a fundamental level, the course provides an introduction to seven different religions and the basic tenets of each of the religions. But at a deeper personal level, it leads to participants asking and or exploring some myths and biases that are embedded deep within each one of us.

WIH Reporter: What is the format of your class?

Borkataky-Varma: I will use a PowerPoint presentation as a lead into meaningful conversation paired with assigned light reading.

WIH Reporter: We like to ask the following question. What books are on your night table?

Borkataky-Varma: “Rainbow Body” by Kurt Leland and “The Flavors of Nationalism” by Nandita Haskar.

Dr. Sravana Borkataky-Varma’s 7-week class begins on Monday, October 22, 2018 at 10:00 am-12:00 pm. For more information or to register, click here.

Dr. Anna Tahinci Speaks: On “Seeing Ourselves:” The Art of Self-Portraiture from Dürer to the Selfie

August 16, 2018

Rembrant, self portrait, 1660

In 2013, the Oxford Dictionaries announced that “selfie” was their word of the year and defined it as “a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website.” As an art historian, I immediately started thinking about the kinds of self-portraits art’s greatest masters may have created if they had access to smartphones. In 2018, the Museum of Fine Arts Houston acquired a photograph titled “Monkey Selfie,” a selfie taken by a crested macaque in Indonesia using equipment belonging to British photographer David Slater, raising complex legal questions about art and copyright. I immediately started working on a series of lectures that I titled “Seeing Ourselves: The Art of Self-Portraiture from Dürer to the Selfie,” offering a panoramic overview of drawn, painted, sculpted and photographed self-portraits in Art History from Dürer and Rembrandt to the Post-Modern and Contemporary period. What do artists see when they are looking at themselves in the mirror? Self-portraits are not innocent depictions of reflections or distortions in the mirror. They are a complex visual language that involves a series of choices, from the simple “this is what I look like” to the multi-layered “this is who I am, or who I am not.” The artist’s ego as his or her own model raises a series of fascinating questions on self-representation and self-image, likeness, status, identity, role, story-telling and narcissism. As with any exercise in art appreciation, it becomes even more complex when self-portraits are examined from the viewpoint of both the artist and the viewer. Self-portrayal by artists may reflect their desire to record individualized features and appearance, to become self-important and famous, to stage likeness with self-esteem and self-confidence, alone or in company, for the present moment and for posterity. It is a very relevant and meaningful topic to explore in light of our 21st century’s obsession with selfies and the self. Dr. Anna Tahinci’s class, “Seeing Ourselves: The Art of Self-Portraiture from Dürer to the Selfie”, begins September 11th, 2018, at 10:00 a.m.

How Much Do You Know About…The Lesser-Known Gems of the Art Museum World?

August 14, 2018


In anticipation of Barry Greenlaw’s upcoming class, “Beyond the Louvre: Art Museums for the Connoisseur,” we are offering a fun and informative quiz about lesser-known art museums and their holdings. See how much you know about the gems of the art museum world!


1. Which museum is home to the ONLY Michelangelo painting held in an American collection?

A. The Museum of Fine Arts, TX.
B. The Kimbell Museum, TX.
C. Crystal Bridges Museum, TN.

2. Who is planning to open the Musée Jacqueline et Pablo Picasso in the south of France featuring Picasso’s paintings, sculptures and more?

A. Paloma Picasso.
B. Catherine Hutin-Blay.
C. Claude Picasso.

3. What is the best museum to view more than 100 Van Gogh paintings and features one of the largest sculpture gardens in Europe?

A. Musee d’Orsay, France.
B. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam.
C. Kroller-Muller Museum, Netherlands.

4. Which smaller museum was endowed with a private art collection assembled over a 30-year period by an industrialist and contains European art from the Renaissance to the 20th century, including Southeast Asian art spanning 2,000 years?

A. The Broad Museum, CA.
B. The Norton Simon Museum, CA.
C. The Frick Museum, NY.

5. Which small museum is located in a house designed by a famous 19th century architect that is crammed with marble sculptures and paintings, including those by Hogarth and Turner?

A. Sir John Soane Museum, UK.
B. Sir Charles Barry Museum, UK.
C. Frederick Law Olmstead Museum, USA.

6. Which museum has the design of a 15th century Venetian-style palace that contains a peaceful courtyard surrounded by three stories of galleries, that include art by Titian, Raphael, Rembrandt, Matisse, and more? Hint: It was also the location of the biggest art heist in history!

A. The National Art Museum, Norway.
B. The Whitworth Art Gallery, UK.
C. The Isabelle Gardner Museum, USA.

7. Which museum in Philadelphia has one of the best Impressionist and Post-Impressionist collections in the world?

A. The Barnes Foundation.
B. Brandywine River Museum.
C. The Palmer Museum of Art.


1. B. The Kimbell Museum of Fort Worth, Texas contains a small copy of a painting that Michelangelo created when he was only 12 or 13. Although it is not representative of his later work, it does show his early talent. The permanent collection of the Kimbell  is home to works by Caravaggio, Rembrandt, Goya, Monet, Cezanne, Picasso, Matisse, Titian, and more. In comparison to other museums in Texas (and around the country), the smaller-sized Kimbell Museum has been regularly spotlighted for focusing on quality over quantity.

2. B. Picasso’s stepdaughter, Catherine Hutin-Blay, is planning to open a museum dedicated to Picasso and his second (and final) wife, Jacqueline Roque. Aptly named Musée Jacqueline et Pablo Picasso, the venue will hold over 1,000 paintings (in addition to drawings, sculptures, ceramics, painted plates, and photographs) that are dated between 1952 and 1973—the years the couple were together, until Picasso’s death in April 1973.

3. C. One of the most overlooked museums in Europe is the Kroller-Muller Museum in Otterlo, Netherlands (about an hour outside of Amsterdam). This museum houses over 100 Van Gogh paintings  along with Seurats, Mondrians, and Picassos. In addition, it contains one of the largest sculpture gardens in Europe.

4. B. The Norton Simon Museum is known around the world as one of the most remarkable private art collections ever assembled. Over a 30-year period, industrialist Norton Simon (1907–1993) amassed an astonishing collection of European art from the Renaissance to the 20th century and a stellar collection of South and Southeast Asian art spanning 2,000 years. Modern and Contemporary Art from Europe and the United States, acquired by the former Pasadena Art Museum, also occupies an important place in the Museum’s collections.

5. A. The Sir John Soane Museum is a small, historic house which features a surprising art collection including paintings by Hogarth and Turner. The house was designed by Sir John Soane, one of England’s most famous and unique 19th century architects.

6. C.  The Isabelle Gardner Museum is located in Boston, and features a courtyard surrounded by three stories of galleries. This museum was also home to the biggest art heist in history; the thieves stole works by Degas, Rembrandt and Vermeer. Empty frames still mark the places where the paintings were stolen. However, this museum is still considered to have one of the best art collections in the world.

7. A. The Barnes Foundation was originally created to show paintings in the context of a home, rather than a museum, and its forced move into a more public structure in 2012 caused much controversy at the time. However, this museum  that includes works by Renoir, Cezanne, Picasso, Van Gogh and others is considered to hold one of the best Impressionist and Post-Impressionist collections in the world.


Genesis 1-11: Understanding the Bible’s Most Memorable Stories

August 14, 2018

Sacrifice of Isaac, Caravaggio, 1603

In Professor Jesse Rainbow’s upcoming class, “The Bible’s Primeval Story: Genesis 1-11,” we will learn about the original meanings and enduring legacies of some of the Bible’s most memorable stories—the creation of the world, Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, the great flood and Noah’s ark, and the tower of Babel. We checked in with Rainbow to find out more.
WIH Reporter: What is important for us to know about your class?

Rainbow: We’ll cover a relatively limited but densely filled portion of Genesis—just eleven chapters. Each session, I will lecture on one or two chapters, and each presentation will include interpretations of the stories in art history. I think it’s important to consider not only the history of interpretation that is represented in literary sources—the New Testament, rabbinic literature, the Qur’an—but also in visual art. The vast majority of people who encountered the stories of Genesis prior to the advent of printing in the 15th century did so not as readers but as hearers and as viewers of visual art. Art history can show us how people understood the stories in ways that are sometimes strikingly different than we find in contemporary and sometimes rarefied scholarly discussions.

WIH Reporter: What mistaken impressions do we have about your class topic?

Rainbow: I think that since the modernist vs. fundamentalist controversy of the 1920s, many people assume that the only interesting questions about Genesis 1-11 have to do with religion versus science, or history versus myth. And consequently, that modern scientific discoveries about the origins of humanity and the universe have rendered Genesis 1-11 irrelevant and uninteresting to everyone but religious fundamentalists. From my perspective as an academic biblical scholar, I find these stories to be—like Gilgamesh, the Greek myths, etc.—beautiful and intriguing, encapsulating a particular set of answers to some of the enduring questions of human existence.

WIH Reporter: What would surprise us to know about your class topic?

Rainbow: As prominent as figures like Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, and Noah are in the Western imagination, they barely appear in the rest of the Hebrew Bible after the opening chapters of Genesis. They become huge in Jewish, Christian, and Islamic thought, but in the Bible itself, these stories exist in the margins, occupying just 2% of the Bible. In some cases, other parts of the Bible offer radically different stories of the creation of the world, for instance. One of the intriguing puzzles of biblical scholarship is figuring out what the opening chapters of Genesis might have meant to the people who wrote and compiled the Hebrew Bible—people who opened their Bible with a set of unforgettable tales and then proceeded to say almost nothing more about them!

WIH Reporter: What will be the format of your class?

Rainbow: I will lecture and present slideshows of relevant images.

WIH Reporter: What books are on your night table right now?

Rainbow: The Iliad, the Zhuangzi, stories of Agnon, James Scott’s Against the Grain.

Jesse Rainbow’s upcoming class, “The Bible’s Primeval Story: Genesis 1 – 11,”  starts on September 11th at 1:30. For more information, or to register, click here.



Art Museums for the Connoisseur

August 14, 2018

Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool

Art lovers around the world know the many pleasures of the Louvre, the Prado, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and other famous art museums, but some of the most exciting art can be found in smaller museums with unique collections. In his upcoming class, “Beyond the Louvre: Art Museums for the Connoisseur,” Barry Greenlaw takes us on a tour of the larger museums, but also some lesser known institutions in this country and abroad. We visited with him to find out more.

WIH Reporter: What strikes you most about art museums in today’s world?

Greenlaw: Art museums have never been more popular or more visible. For instance, in spite of raising the price of admission recently, the Metropolitan Museum of Art just announced record attendance for the last fiscal year, and the Met continues to be New York’s most visited tourist attraction. Every day there are long lines for admission to the Louvre that snake around the Pyramid entrance and if you want to visit the new Broad Museum in Los Angeles, you either need to make advance reservations, or wait in long queues for standby admission.

It’s not just art but also architecture. Enormous new museums, designed by “starchitects” like Frank Gehry or Renzo Piano have became a necessary signature for the status of rising cities
all over the world, from China, the Middle East, and Latin America.

WIH Reporter: It sounds like larger museums and big names are the trend in today’s art world.

Greenlaw: Here’s an example. A single painting attributed to Leonardo da Vinci sold at auction for $450 million, and will soon be put on display as the focal point of the new mega-museum in Abu
Dhabi, and next year will make its debut at the Louvre itself (almost certainly increasing the length of the lines around the Pyramid).

WIH Reporter: In this context, it sounds easy to miss some smaller and more unique art collections. What should we know about the smaller venues you are covering in your upcoming class.

Greenlaw: The famous art museums in the great cities of the world will be considered in this course, but will be seen in the context of a large number of small, less visible and less well-known institutions, in this country and abroad.

These can be found in the lesser cities, towns, countrysides and universities and colleges, where their often remarkable and surprising collections make an even greater impact to their visitors than the world-famous works of art in the great blockbuster museums.

WIH Reporter: What would surprise us to know about these art collections?

Greenlaw: Instead of visiting London or Madrid, Chicago or Boston; Tokyo or Mexico City, you can visit Barnard Castle in England, Sheboygan, Wisconsin, Colmar, France or Waterville, Maine, and I’m not forgetting Louisiana (but the museum I’m referring to is not the museum that comes to mind!).

WIH Reporter: Is there anything else we should know about your upcoming class?

Greenlaw: Each week of this 10-week course will be a surprise to you, and probably to me as well.

Barry Greenlaw’s class, “Beyond the Louvre: Art Museums for the Connoisseur” begins on Sept 10th at 1:00 p.m. For more information, or to register, click here.

How Much Do You Know About…Music in the Movies

April 18, 2018



In anticipation of Dominque Royem’s class, “Music in the Movies,” we created a quiz to test your knowledge about music in the movies.



1. Who is the only person to win Oscars for both acting and song-writing?

A. Cher.
B. Barbra Streisand.
C. Anna Paquin.
D. Jennifer Hudson.

2. What was the first movie in film history to have a soundtrack?

A. Snow White.
B. The Wizard of Oz.
C. The Adventures of Robin Hood.
D. A Fistful of Dollars.

3. Who was nominated for Best Score of a Musical Picture in 1961 but lost to the arrangers of “West Side Story”?

A. Duke Ellington.
B. Dmitri Shostakovich.
C. Elmer Bernstein.

4. Who is the only person to win an Oscar for Best Original Song as well as a Nobel Prize?

A. Rabindranath Tagore.
B. Bob Dylan.
C. George Bernard Shaw.

5. In the 50s and 60s, Elvis Presley made many movies with soundtrack albums. Which was the one that sold the most?

A. G.I. Blues.
B. Roustabout.
C. Blue Hawaii.

6. What are the two bestselling soundtracks of all time?

A. Dirty Dancing.
B. Saturday Night Fever.
C. The Bodyguard.
D. Purple Rain.


1. B. Barbra Streisand is the only entertainer to be awarded an Oscar for Best Actress: for Funny Girl (1968), and for Best Original Song, for the Love Theme (Evergreen) from “A Star is Born.” (1976).

2. A. The first movie soundtrack album commercially available was from “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”. It was such a new concept in music that the album had the title, “Songs from Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (with the Same Characters and Sound Effects as in the Film of That Title)“.

3. A. and B. Dmitri Shostakovich and Duke Ellington were both nominated the same year at the height of their careers, but their scores were beaten out by the popular hit musical “West Side Story.”

4. B. Dylan won the Oscar in 2000 for the song Things Have Changed in the movie “Wonder Boys,” and also  won the Nobel Prize for Literature just last year making him the first person to ever hold both awards. The only other person to win both an Oscar (in any category) and a Nobel Prize is the author George Bernard Shaw who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1925 and an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for his 1938 film “Pygmalion.”

5. C. “Blue Hawaii” sold three million copies and is also the bestselling studio album of Elvis’s career.

6. B. and C.  The Bee Gees “Saturday Night Fever” (1977) and the Whitney Houston’s “The Bodyguard” (1992) have sold more than 14 million copies in the U.S.


Ruth Chow-Kneese Speaks: On Shopping

April 18, 2018

shoppingMany women shop for clothes unaware of what they want or need. To make the items in your closet work for you and to make everyday dressing easier, it is important to shop with awareness. Really looking at an item, and thinking about what it can be worn with is the most important question to ask yourself before purchasing an item. Can you create several different outfits with this item? Shopping with a clothing stylist will bring these important questions into focus. Learning the tricks of the trade will make dressing so much easier and in the long run, save you time and money. Have the closet and wardrobe that work for you and your lifestyle.

Chow-Kneese’s 4-week class, “Shopping Wisely” starts on May 2. For more information, or to register, click here.

Meet Two New Professors: Victoria Jones and Hank Roubicek!

April 18, 2018

passion2The Women’s Institute of Houston is featuring two new professors who speak in very unique ways about important facets of human experience as it relates to art, relationships, and storytelling.


Victoria Jones, a counseling psychologist and co-founder of Psynergy Psychological Associates, explains the impetus behind her class “Illuminating the Psyche Through the Arts: Art As Lens To Relationships With Others” as follows, “Our individual journeys absolutely depend (even neurologically) on learning from each other. Thus, the class involves both supportive interaction and individual discovery.

Henry Roubicek, popular radio show host, award-winning educator, and instructor of the upcoming class “Storytelling is dedicated to helping students learn the art of storytelling in order to craft the story that they want to tell. Dr. Hank, as he is called, describes storytelling as follows, “Every story that people tell is a part of their life. The personal episodes that occur to you form a culmination of your life. Obviously, some are more meaningful than others. But, I really believe we’re born a blank book, and every episode that occurs in our life fills those blank pages.”

WIH Reporter: It’s wonderful to meet you both. Can you tell us what we should know right away about about your upcoming classes?

Jones: The most complex and illusive interdisciplinary subject of them all—the human experience—is not a required course from grade school to graduate school! A few of us may have included psychology as an elective or minor, but most of us know very little about a subject that dramatically influences daily happiness. My class is designed to help you discover catalyzing questions—and even answers—that move us closer to the place we are all heading in our individual ways.

Roubicek: In my class, “Storytelling,” we will see how storytelling is the best way to connect with others. When stories are told, listeners are invited into the windows of the teller’s soul. And, the single greatest denominator that binds people together is fully experienced – vulnerability.

WIH Reporter: What mistaken impressions do we have about your specific class topics?

Jones: My subjects—the human psyche and the creative arts—often feel subjective, vague, ephemeral, confusing—quite the opposite of what I am planning for our focused work together. Our focus will involve working with inevitable tensions, like profound truth and playful curiosity; intrinsic rights and the erosion of time and focus; the things we prioritize and those we avoid; fear of abandonment/engulfment and our capacity for intimacy; and, the need to protect and defend in the face of incessant projections to and from others.

Roubicek: Mick Jagger once sang, “It’s the singer, not the song.” That’s another way of saying that delivery counts when you tell a story. Even in a traditional setting, there must be a shared sense of discovery so there is a payoff. Good tellers know how to make good listeners.”

WIH Reporter: What will be the format of your class?

Jones: The format of my class will involve exploring fundamental psychological concepts or themes using the arts as window, lens, translator, mirror. This might involve hands-on activities; guided discussion; or writing inspired by a poem or painting. The process may also be reversed, in which we begin with a creative prompt which then leads to psychological exploration.

Roubicek: The format of my class will be interactive. “Even in a traditional setting, there must be a shared sense of discovery so there is a payoff. Good tellers know how to make good listeners.” “When you deliver a narrative, you have to come across as sharing information. People want to hear things when you share it with them. To me, a good storyteller makes sure there’s a payoff. You have to take something with you. When I had Holocaust survivors tell their stories on my radio show, the listeners didn’t take away the individual stories. They took away the bravery and gutsiness of the tellers.

WIH Reporter: Is there anything you would like to add about your classes?

Jones: The creative arts are central to psychological growth allowing us to imagine our way out of life’s double binds. Creative problem-solving unifies the brain, thereby inhibiting intrusive, inflexible, and habitual ways of thinking. With increased goal-directed behavior we can not only think outside the box when we are engaged in creative exploration, we are also more likely to take action. Creative thinking increases calm and focus, as well as access to excitement and pleasure.

Roubicek: A good storyteller offers complete thoughts, in a sequence. Our imagination puts thoughts and ideas together in symbols we call words. You must use words descriptively as a painter uses a paintbrush. Words are your color, texture and images, especially how the words are spoken. You add posture, gestures, voice, pitch, and other speech tools to create a message. In advertising and acting, you put these things together to create a message. But, the difference is storytelling creates a community. We remember people through the stories they tell.”

Discover one or both of these extraordinary professors in their upcoming classes at The Women’s Institute.

Click here to register for Victoria Jones’ 8-week class, “Illuminating the Psyche Through the Arts: Art As Lens To Relationships With Others” class which begins Wednesday, May 2 at 10:00 a.m.

Click here to register for Hank Roubicek’s 2-day class, “Storytelling” which takes place on on May 1 and May 2 at 1:00 p.m.

Barry Greenlaw Speaks: On Bridges

April 18, 2018

I have always been fascinated with bridges. On my first visit to New York, as a young boy, I was far more impressed with crossing the George Washington Bridge, than visiting the Statue of Liberty, or the top of the Empire State Building.

Many cities are defined by their bridges – who can think of London  without London Bridge, or Tower Bridge; Sydney without its Harbor Bridge; Prague without Charles Bridge? Sailing out of New York Harbor beneath the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, or into San Francisco beneath the magnificent Golden Gate, defines the whole concept of departure and arrival.

This class will be roughly organized in a chronological manner from the earliest, primitive stone and timber crossings, to the magnificent modern engineering marvels of today. We will spend significant time with the first great bridge builders, the Romans, who linked their widespread Empire together with their bridges.

Bridges of the Middle Ages reflected the progress of architectural styles.
We will see how the development of the Gothic arch which allowed
cathedrals to be built higher, allowed bridges to be built stronger and

The 18th century was the first to utilize the new developments of the
Industrial Revolution, with the use of iron and then steel dramatically
improving the strength and utility of bridges. The adoption of the
ancient suspension system, utilizing these new materials, enabled
spans, higher clearances, and extraordinary beauty. The 19th century witnessed
a great period of bridge engineering in both Europe and America.

And today, we are in the midst of an explosion of new construction,
based mainly on the cable-stay system which has produced some of the
most magnificent bridges ever built.

Greenlaw’s 2 week/4 session class takes place on June 11, June 13, June 18, and June 20 at 10:00 a.m. For more information, or to register, click here.

Lights! Camera! Action! Music in the Movies!

April 18, 2018

hollywood2Whether we notice it or not, music is ubiquitous in films. From catchy songs and lyrics to background music, music is an often unrecognized yet important factor in movies. Dominique Royem’s upcoming class, “Music in the Movies” covers a wide range of music in films, encompassing everything from early silent German expressionist works to the blockbusters of today. We visited with Royem to find out more.

WIH Reporter: What is important to know about your upcoming class?

Royem: There is a lot more to music in movies than what you remember hearing in the theater! You usually don’t even remember hearing the large majority of good movie music. To truly understand what’s at work, we will have to analyze why they work so well in context with the movie.

WIH Reporter: What makes music so important in movies?

Royem: Music is fundamental to the art of storytelling through film, not just something that’s thrown on top at the end. It can make or break a movie – John Williams is credited with turning Star Wars into a galaxy-spanning drama instead of a cheesy science fiction niche film.

WIH Reporter: What is the most incredible fact about music in films that you have discovered?

Royem: Music is so important to movies even silent films had music!

WIH Reporter: What will be the format of your class?

Royem: We will watch and analyze clips from major motion pictures spanning over a hundred years. Your participation is welcomed – everyone’s take on culture is different, and these small (or large) personal differences add complexity to the composer’s job.

WIH Reporter: What books are on your night table right now?

Royem: These are the books I am reading right now: Film Music: A History  by James Eugene Wierzbicki, Celluloid Symphonies: Texts and Contexts in Film Music History  edited by Julie Hubbert, and Overtones and Undertones: Reading Film Music  by Royal S. Brown.

Royem’s 6-week class begins on May 3 and starts at 10:00 a.m. For more information, or to register, click here.

Love and Passion in 20th-Century Literature

April 18, 2018

romancingLove and passion in the pages of 20th-century literature is the subject of Professor Laura Richardson’s upcoming course, “Romancing the 20th Century”.  We spoke with her to  find out more.


WIH Reporter: How did you come up with this idea for your class?

Richardson: The idea came from a great discussion my students and I had in my last course, “Contemporary Women’s Literature.” We were about to discuss Ann Patchett’s “Bel Canto”, and I asked the class to share their ideas and experiences of what love is. Our amazing conversation ended up informing nearly all of our subsequent discussions; it was a special moment when we all shared, learned about each other, and then were able to take those experiences and use them as interpretative tools for the novels. I thought to myself, “I want to have more classes like this!” So the idea of “Romancing the 20th Century” was born!

WIH Reporter: What is important for us to know about romance in literature?

Richardson: As a genre, “romance” can designate either 1. a prose narrative that follows heroic or mysterious characters who participate in events in far-away times and places and/or 2. in the more familiar use of the word, a love story. We’ll be taking a close look at our course texts to determine how they specifically fit into one or both of these long-standing traditions of “romance.”

WIH Reporter: What surprises are in store for us in learning about this subject?

Richardson: Twentieth-century literature isn’t really known for its romances, but rather for its interest in technology, globalization, formal experimentation, and skepticism. As a class, we’ll be looking to define the traits of this genre in the past hundred-odd years. You won’t find a class like this anywhere else!

WIH Reporter; What will be the format of your class?

Richardson: Each day will begin with a presentation of discussion questions, useful background material on the author(s), and appropriate historical/theoretical context in lecture form. We’ll spend more time on this the first day as we talk about the definition of “romance.” Then we’ll spend at least an hour of each class in discussion.

WIH Reporter: We often like to ask the following question. What books are on your night table right now?

Richardson: I’m currently making my way through Stephen King’s The Stand (1500+ pages, but a real post-apocalyptic page-turner!) and am also enjoying Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal, a nonfiction book on the role of medicine at the end of life.

Richardson’s 6-week class begins on May 1 at 10:00 a.m. For more information or to register, click here.


Understanding Culture: Bridging the Gap Between People

February 28, 2018

baba2As people come together from different backgrounds, understanding how societies are based around fundamental patterns of culture becomes essential at all levels of human interaction, from the interpersonal to the international. We interviewed Professor Claudia Baba about the subject of her upcoming class “Intercultural Issues: Developing Awareness to Understanding People” to find out more about the concept of culture and how to bridge the gaps between people of different backgrounds and traditions.

WIH Reporter: What is important to know about your class?

Baba: Because we live in an increasingly diverse and interconnected world we encounter different value systems and behaviors. Houston, for example, was ranked the most diverse city in the USA in 2017 with 1 in 4 Houstonians born outside of the country. There are 90 languages spoken and 92 foreign consulates here. The reality today is that we’re more than a multi-cultural society in which we live alongside one another with limited interactions. We are moving towards an intercultural community where people of different backgrounds are coming together and exchanging ideas and cultural norms to develop deep understanding and respect for all cultures.

WIH Reporter: What do we need to know to move into better understanding?

Baba: The key for this community to flourish beyond a superficial gloss is through intercultural understanding and communication.

WIH Reporter: What mistaken ideas do we have about culture and how can we bridge the gap between people of different backgrounds?

That culture is homogenous—a program on how to act.
That culture is a thing—without individual agency.
That culture is uniformly distributed with the group.
That the individual possess only one culture.
That culture is custom—based simply on tradition.
That culture is timeless.

WIH Reporter: What would surprise us to know about the concept of culture?

Baba: In 1952, two American anthropologists critically reviewed the concept of culture and compiled a list of 164 different definitions.

WIH Reporter: What will be the format of your class?

Baba: Mostly lecture but there will be plenty of opportunity for discussions.

WIH Reporter: We like to find out what books are on your night table right now.

Baba: Recent books include Cultural Intelligence: Individual Interactions Across Cultures by P. Christopher Earley & Soon Ang, Culture and International Relations by Jongsuk Chay, The Truth Matters by Bruce Bartlett, The Reactionary Mind by Corey Robin, The History of the Arab Peoples by Albert Hourani, and The Collected Stories by Grace Paley.

For more information or to register for this 6-week class starting March 22nd, click here.



Liz Weiman Speaks: On the Mind-Body Connection

February 28, 2018


The latest scientific research into the power of the mind-body connection shows us that we can be active participants in taking control of our health and healing. In my upcoming class, we will explore the latest scientific research about this mind-body connection and also learn modern and ancient techniques that have proven to have profound effects on stress reduction and health.

One factor that we will explore is the art of breathing properly. Shallow breathing is normally triggered when we are threatened, as part of our innate fight or flight defense system. However, in these stressful modern times, our breathing may have become primarily shallow. We may notice that the air stops in our throat or upper/middle chest on each breath. Babies and young children breathe naturally, using the large muscle of the diaphragm which also massages the internal organs on each breath. By learning specific exercises that counteract stress-induced breathing, we can relearn how to breathe properly, cultivate calm, and improve overall health, longevity, and quality of life.

For more information or to register for Weiman’s 6-week class “The Mind-Body Connection: Improving Health, Longevity, and Quality of Life,” starting April 5th, 2018, click here.


Helga Aurisch Speaks: On Artistic Couples

February 28, 2018

The Kiss by Gustave Klimt

Another title I considered for this course was “Artists in Love,” but that had been used by Veronica Kavass for her 2012 book on this fascinating subject. I did want to concentrate on painters. And they were not always in love. Many of the relationships that we will be looking at, for instance Dora Maar and Picasso, Gabrielle Münter and Vassily Kandinsky were turbulent to say the least. Starting as love stories, even seductions, they often ended in sadness and misery for the women. They had to battle on while their former partners rose to stardom.  At a moment when the #metoo movement is fiercely debated in our society, looking at the trajectory of these couples that often began as student/teacher relationships will add a historical dimension to the current discussion.

For more information about Helga Aurisch’s 6-week class “Artistic Couples”, beginning March 19th, click here.


The Extraordinary Role of Women in Religion

February 28, 2018

Virgin Mary and Jesus (old Persian miniature), wikipedia


The religions of the world would be mere shadows of their current iterations were it not for the women who championed them and, in many cases, illustrated the religions’ highest ideals with their very lives. In her upcoming class, “Women in Religion,” Professor Jill Carroll will focus on the extraordinary role that women have played, and continue to play, in the world’s religions.





WIH Reporter: From most people’s perspective, religions of the world are dominated by men. How will your upcoming class dispel this?

Carroll: The class, broadly speaking, won’t dispel this idea because historically it is mostly true. Religions have been made by men, for men and about men for the most part. That being the case, the stories and roles of women in the religions have been minimized. Our class will prioritize those stories and roles to balance out the portrait of the religions.

WIH Reporter: In many religions of the world, women are taught to be submissive. Would you give us an example of a female who went against this directive?

Carroll: Pretty much every woman who ever did anything notable in the realm of religion. Sometimes it was a matter of not being “submissive” – other times it was more about refusing the standard, limiting roles carved for women in a given socio-cultural context. The women who have achieved something in religion – started a movement, led a group, initiated socio-political activism, etc. – broke out of the prescribed roles in order to accomplish those things.

WIH Reporter: Do you have a favorite female prophet, disciple or saint and if so, what is her strongest characteristic?

Carroll: There are so many, but recently I’m enamored with Lucretia Mott, the 18th century abolitionist, women’s rights advocate, and religious reformer.  She was so brave, so smart, so powerful in her person and presence.  Another would be Angelina Grimke, abolitionist and women’s rights advocate.  Both these women were deeply radical in their contexts and had backbones of steel.  I admire them tremendously.

WIH Reporter: How do the women you will examine in this course illustrate the ideals of religion?

Carroll: In many ways, they exemplify the deepest ideals, teachings and ethical admonitions of the religions – and expand them into new area.  For example, Amma (a current day Hindu guru from the Dalit or untouchable caste) embodies in her life and practice many traditional Hindu virtues and does what respectable gurus everywhere do.  However, she expands her work into the world of widows – Hindu society is particularly hard on widows – and Amma from her own resources through the funds she raises has created a small pension system for widows.  I can’t imagine that such a thing would be on the forefront of a male guru’s agenda.  But Amma is a woman and understands the plight of women.  It’s not a blind spot for her.

WIH Reporter: Finally, in today’s world of women finding their voices to stand up to misogyny, what would surprise us to know about the amazing women you will be studying?

Carroll: I don’t know that it’s much of a surprise, but important to know is that so many of these women overcame significant odds against them to achieve whatever they’ve achieved.  They were scorned, put down, made fun of, harassed, rejected, etc.  But, as the recent meme indicates, “still she persisted.”

For more information or to register for Jill Carroll’s 8-week course starting March 19th, 2018, click here.


Breaking News: Bill Frisco Weighs In on Today’s Financial Market and Economy

February 28, 2018

wall2More than ever, investors are concerned with the high valuations in today’s stock and bond markets. William E. Frisco, Certified Financial Planner and Registered Investment Adviser, has a lot to tell us about the market and the economy in his upcoming class, “Today’s Market: Will the Boom Times Continue?” We visited with Frisco to find out more.


WIH Reporter: What is important to know about the areas you will cover in your upcoming class?

Frisco: The class will address key areas that concern every investor such as if the stock market is overvalued and ready for a significant drop and if bond yields will rise as a result of rising inflation.

Investors are also concerned about the major changes in the new tax bill. Investors should know how much they can spend in retirement without running out of money and how the mid-term elections will possibly impact financial markets.

WIH Reporter: What kind of information will you be sharing with your students in this class?

Frisco: In addition to covering how to manage investment risks, generate income for retirement, and diversify growth portfolios to minimize volatility, I will be covering such topics as index funds, what they are, and why Warren Buffett is recommending them. I will also detail how assets should be allocated in today’s economic climate.

WIH Reporter: What mistaken impressions do you think we have about a class like yours that covers financial markets?

Frisco: People often assume that the class is biased one way or another in covering the economy, which is an incorrect assumption. Instead, we will will review strategies that have survived good times and not so good times

WIH Reporter: What will be the format of your class?

Frisco: The class is taught in a question and answer format to improve the learning process and to fully engage the participants. Each class has detailed, updated handouts covering the topics to be discussed. I will layer a foundation in each area and then open up the discussion to cover questions and concerns from the participants. The research for the class is very current, timely, and from a variety of different sources. The class is for those who want to do their own investing as well as those who choose to work with an adviser.

WIH Reporter: We are often curious about the books currently on your night table. Could you tell us what you are reading lately?

Frisco: Books include The Accidental Superpower by Peter Zeihan, Tools for Smart Thinking, by Richard Nisbett, No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt:The Home Front in World War II by Doris Kearns Goodwin, Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, and The Flawed Giant – Lyndon Johnson by Robert Dallek.

For more information, or to register for Bill Frisco’s 5-week class starting on April 3rd, 2018, click here.