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- Spring 2021
Cast Out! Identity, Belonging, and Religious Difference in American Literature
Many places of worship hang a sign of invitation: All Are Welcome! But what happens when an aspect of an individual’s identity or beliefs comes into conflict with their religious community? Which differences are tolerated, and which are shunned? Who belongs, and who is cast out? From Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short stories to Kendrick Lamar’s hip hop albums, the American literary imagination has long been interested in examining the conflicts between identity—race, gender, sexuality, class, and disability—and religion. Together we will read a variety of American literature, including poetry, science-fiction, drama, and literary essays, paying attention to religious outcasts, misfits, and minoritized peoples as they search for belonging within established communities, or attempt to forge new spaces for themselves. Readings will include James Baldwin, N. Scott Momaday, Tony Kushner, Octavia Butler, more contemporary writing by Molly McCully Brown and R.O. Kwon, as well as music, film, and podcasts.
Religion and Literature:Tragedy, Comedy and What Lies Between
In this course, we will study, tragedy, comedy and irony. Drawing on Northrop Frye’s idea of archetypal criticism, we will consider tragedy as the autumnal mode of human experience, Irony as its winter mode, and comedy as representing spring, rebirth, and spiritual renewal. We will read Aeschylus’ Oresteia trilogy, Agamemnon, Libation Bearers and Eumenides, and Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex. We will perform Shakespeare’s Othello and A Winter’s Tale. We will investigate the meaning of Irony and Satire by reading Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels and Orwell’s Animal Farm, and by watching The Death of Stalin and The Producers. We will link irony to infernal comedy, and discuss where purgatorial and paradisial comedy are to be found in literature. We will read Dante’s Divine Comedy in translation in order to view infernal, purgatorial and paradisial comedy in a single work of literature. The purpose of the course is to relate comedy, tragedy and irony to archetypal human experiences such as guilt, repentance, conversion and joy.
African Literature and Moral Imagination
To imagine is to form a mental concept of something which is not present to the senses. Imagination therefore deals with "framing". Like everyone else, Africans ponder over their condition and their world on the basis of their experience, history, social location and other realities which provide the "frame" through which they construct and address reality. In this course, through the study of some significant African literary works and some literary works about Africa we will study the self-perception of the African and the way the African has ethically viewed his / her reality and tried to grapple with it over a period of time (colonialism, post colonialism, apartheid) with regard to various issues on the continent (political challenges, religion, war and peace) and over some of the social questions (class, urbanization/ city life, sex and sexuality, relationship of the sexes), etc. We will read such authors as Joseph Conrad, Amos Tutuola, Chinua Achebe, Athol Fugard, Wole Soyinka, Cyprian Ekwensi, Chimamanda Adichie, Syl Cheney-Coker, Tsitsi Dangaremga, Nawal El Sadawi, Ferdinand Oyono , and some others. Using these and many authors we will ask questions about what constitutes the moral imagination, how such an imagination is manifested in or apparent in the social, personal and religious lives of the various African peoples or characters portrayed in these literary works; to what extent the moral sense has helped/ conditioned or failed to influence the lives of these peoples and characters. We will also inquire into the extent and in what ways the writers in our selection have helped to shape the moral imagination of their people.
In the wake of the Reformation-era's massive upheavals came the greatest flowering of devotional poetry in the English language. This body of literature offers its readers the opportunity to explore questions pertaining broadly to the study of lyric and to the study of the relationships between religion and literature. Early modern devotional poetry oscillates between eros and agape, private and communal modes of expression, shame and pride, doubt and faith, evanescence and transcendence, mutability and permanence, success and failure, and agency and helpless passivity. It experiments with gender, language, form, meter, voice, song, and address. We'll follow devotional poets through their many oscillations and turns by combining careful close reading of the poetry with the study of relevant historical, aesthetic, and theological contexts. You'll learn to read lyric poetry skillfully and sensitively, to think carefully about relationships between lyric and religion, and to write incisively and persuasively about lyric. Authors we'll read may include Thomas Brampton, Richard Maidstone, Francesco Petrarca (in translation), Sir Thomas Wyatt, Anne Locke, Mary Sidney, Sir Philip Sidney, St. Robert Southwell, S.J., Henry Constable, Fulke Greville, Edmund Spenser, John Donne, George Herbert, Robert Herrick, Henry Vaughan, Richard Crashaw, John Milton, and the great hymn writer Isaac Watts.
Modern, Postmodern and Post-Postmodern Poetry and Religion
This course will focus on the last 120 years in literary history, zeroing in on one particular problem – the writing of religious poetry – in order to probe the philosophical convergences and collisions that resulted in what we now call our “post-secular” era of thought. Beginning with Gerard Manley Hopkins at the end of the nineteenth-century, and major modernists who continued to write powerfully after WWII – T.S. Eliot and David Jones – the syllabus will chart a course through the rapidly changing poetic forms of two further generations of poets working devotedly, if differently, out of various religious systems of belief. The many dilemmas of postmodernity include redefining the very notion of “belief” (versus “faith”) after the secular revelations of science and modernity; we will explore the theoretical issues involved in order to better understand what’s at stake for each writer we encounter, among them also Mina Loy, Muriel Rukeyser, Brian Coffey, Wendy Mulford, Fanny Howe, Hank Lazer and Peter O’Leary. We will ask, among other things, why ancient mystical frameworks seemed newly hospitable, for some, in the face of postmodern suspicions about language and institutions, while for others embracing the sciences renewed faith. We will consider the crucial input of Judaism in Christianity’s re-thinkings of language and religious experience, as well as consider how issues of nation and gender inflect changing relationships between poetry and religion. Students will emerge conversant with the major debates in contemporary literary theory as well as with developments in contemporary poetry; no prior expertise in reading poetry is necessary for this course. Each will develop their own particular approach to our issues through the writing of a reading journal and one paper, and each will be responsible for co-leading of class discussion thrice in the course of the term.
Students who have taken Professor Huk's University Seminar in their first year should not sign up for this course, which works with too many overlaps in reading.