Literature and Theology
Fall 2014 Professor Mead
Theology, at its root, is the engagement with logic, religious texts, nature, psychology, and language to suggest a transcendent order, a position that essentially says, “things ultimately make sense.” The foundational work of Western theology is, of course, the Bible, which is a collection of many authors writing over a broad span of time in many different genres (history, wisdom, poetry, chronicles, fables, laws, myths, personifications, etc.). But to come to a conclusion that “things make sense,” the theologian must first ask questions and those who read theology must also ask questions. In this class, we must ask questions as well. Our questions must be both theological (e.g. “Does this author base his work on scripture, authority, tradition, revelation?”) and literary (e.g. “How does a close reading of the passage both deepen and complicate the literal level of meaning?”).
These three works are giants of the Western canon. Each constructs a physical universe that is parallel to its spiritual, ethical, and theological co-dimensions. Boethius, Dante, and Milton represent three distinct but connected (later works are influenced by earlier works) strains of pre-modern theological literature: classical, medieval Catholic, Renaissance Protestant.
Your task as a student in the class is to read each section of each work carefully; to take copious notes and to jot down as many questions as occur to you; to come to class ready to engage proactively in our joint process of deepening our understanding of the works both in and of themselves and in relation to one another; and to write and revise thoughtful, thesis-driven papers that use the readings and class discussions as a launching pad for original thought and research.
In short, our job is to find out what are the key questions to ask and to begin to respond to those questions in a critical conversation. As instructor, I will play the role of question asker; discussion facilitator, occasional literary/theological/historical authority; and paper reader/assessor. Your role, partially noted above, is the real engine of the class. The collective character of each student’s contribution to the class will create the class experience. If the class is a smashing, exciting success, you will only have yourselves to praise.
Please use only these editions and translations:
The Consolation of Philosophy, Boethius, translated by David R. Slavitt.
Harvard UP: 2008
The Divine Comedy: Inferno, Purgatorio, Paradiso, Dante, translated by Robin
Kirkpatrick. Penguin 2012.
Paradise Lost, John Milton, edited by David Scott Kastan. Hackett, 2005.
The syllabus below indicates our discussion schedule; your reading schedule should be well in advance of the discussion. Please have the sections for discussion read at least twice before class. Mark up your books with underlinings, notes, and questions. Keep a separate notebook for your reading responses and your notes made in the classroom. Which means, take notes in the classroom, not just what the instructor says, but what your colleagues say, what occurs to you; in short, make an intellectual history of the class.
Please be sure to be in class before the hour starts with your book, your notebook, and your mind open. You are allowed three free absences during the semester. After three, you final grade will drop one decrement per day absent. Tardiness is not acceptable.
Papers must be at least 1500 words (about five pages), typed, with a Notes page and a Works Cited page (MLA format). To avoid any vague resemblance to plagiarism, include at least two early drafts of the paper that illustrate the development of your thesis. Introductory paragraphs must include the following: your thesis, why your thesis is important, your methodology, your areas of support. It should also include a clear statement of the counter-argument. Each topic sentence (first sentence in body paragraphs) should explicitly connect the paper’s thesis with the paragraph’s topic.
What question is your paper asking?
Why is this question important?
How will you attempt to answer the question? Why is that a good way to do it?
How will you employ secondary sources?
How does your contribution add to or fit in with the larger readerly conversation?
Re-asking the question again and again instead of answering it
Arguing by plot alone
Ignoring textual details
Ignoring the counter-argument
Overstating your claim
Broad sweeping historical characterizations
Prose Stuff: Avoid overuse of to be verbs and other weak verbs (have, do, make, manifest, demonstrate, act, become, reside, seem, appear, show, prove, impact, affect, achieve, learn, means, etc.). There is always a better, more precise, more active verb than the one you first choose.
As often as possible, put your subjects and predicates together.
Work under the assumption that punctuation—and the lack thereof—creates meaning.
Paper grades will constitute 75% of your final grade (15% per paper).
Class participation will constitute 25% of your final grade.
Everyone will select (with instructor approval) 20+ lines of Paradise Lost to memorize and recite in front of the class. If you make fewer than five errors, your final grade will be bumped up one increment.
Students with special needs must inform the instructor at the beginning of the semester and he will make all reasonable accommodations.
Please visit my blog http://stephenxmead.blogspot.com/ for important policies on plagiarism, attendance, participation, reading, and papers. This blog also has useful links, edit sheets, handouts, class materials, and other goodies that you won’t be sorry you found.
Office: Please visit me! OM 312b tel. 438-4336 firstname.lastname@example.org. You may email me, but I cannot promise to respond before the next class meeting.
Hours: MWF 9-11 AND BY APPOINTMENT
Syllabus (subject to revision)
25 M Introduction
27 W Consolation of Philosophy, Book 1
29 F Consolation of Philosophy, Book 2
1 M Consolation of Philosophy, Book 3
3 W Consolation of Philosophy, Book 4
5 F Consolation of Philosophy, Book 5
8 M Inferno, Cantos 1-4
10 W Inferno, Cantos 5-8
12 F Inferno, Cantos 9-12. Paper #1 Due.
15 M Inferno, Cantos 13-16
17 W Inferno, Cantos 17-20
19 F Inferno, Cantos 21-24
22 M Inferno, Cantos 25-28
24 W Inferno, Cantos 29-34
26 F Purgatorio, Cantos 1-4
29 M Purgatorio, Cantos 5-8
1 W Purgatorio, Cantos 9-12. Paper #2 Due.
3 F Purgatorio, Cantos 13-16
6 M Purgatorio, Cantos 17-20
8 W Purgatorio, Cantos 21-24
10 F Purgatorio, Cantos 25-28
13 M NO CLASSES
15 W Purgatorio, Cantos 29-33
17 F NO CLASS
20 M Paradiso, Cantos 1-4
22 W Paradiso, Cantos 5-8
24 F Paradiso, Cantos 9-12. Paper #3 Due.
27 M Paradiso, Cantos 13-16
29 W Paradiso, Cantos 17-20
31 F Paradiso, Cantos 21-24
3 M Paradiso, Cantos 25-28
5 W Paradiso, Cantos 29-33
7 F Paradise Lost, Book 1
10 M Paradise Lost, Books 2-3
12 W Paradise Lost, Books 4
14 F Paradise Lost, Book 5-6. Paper #4 Due.
17 M Paradise Lost, Books 7-8
19 W Paradise Lost, Book 9
21 F Paradise Lost, Book 10
24 M NO CLASS (probably)
26 W Paradise Lost, Books 11-12
28 F NO CLASSES
1 M Speeches. Recite 20+ lines of Paradise Lost with less than 5 errors.
3 W (maybe) NO CLASS
8 M Paper #5 Due.