Faith-[In]forming: Christian Poetics for the 21st Century

Fall 2017
T 6:00-8:00pm
Area V
Permission Not Required
Limited Enrollment
Course Description: 

This course centers on the question: Is a Christian poetics for the 21st century needed, or even possible, and if so what would it look like? From this guiding question we will consider what the designation ‘Christian’ means for theories of literature and literary-critical practices, and how other approaches to literary studies support or challenge the endeavor to formulate a Christian poetics.

The first half of the course will frame our study, drawing first upon classic statements on the nature of literary creation and interpretation, then turning to various efforts by 20th and 21st century Christian writers and critics to describe a Christian poetics or theology of language (theopoetics) for modernity and postmodernity. From this theoretical framework, the second half of the course is devoted to critical practices. We will examine the poetry and critical thought of several 20th-21st century poets, paying particular attention to form and how religious faith in-forms poetic vision and poetic statement, as well as critical reading. The last two of these poetic sequences are not by poets writing from a faith perspective, and so will provide the opportunity to test the broader application of a Christian poetics to literary studies. 

Background Expected: 

No background required, though experience with literary studies and/or critical theory an advantage

Course Requirements: 


Weekly reading of the assigned texts with some supplemental critical work by the poet or about their poetry.


Each student will have the option either to write two shorter papers of 8-10 pages each or one longer paper of 16-20 pages. The first shorter paper will be due by the mid-term break, and will engage at least two of the texts studied. The second shorter paper will engage one of the poems/poetic sequences, and apply principles of Christian poetics to that reading, using one or more of the theoretical sources from the syllabus or another source of their choosing. For students who opt to write one longer paper, they must include two sources from the class, one theoretical and the other poetic, and will have the option to introduce another source (either theoretical or poetic) of their own choosing.

Class Participation:

Students will be expected to participate in all of the discussions, and each will be asked to produce a week-by-week Critics’s Journal over the course of the semester, due by the end of the term. The first set of entries will focus on raising and refining questions regarding Christian poetics from the framing material, the latter set of entries will comment on the formal elements of the poems and how these manifest elements of a Christian poetics, or interface with the interests of distinctively Christian critical reading.

Basis of Evaluation: 

Shorter Papers: each worth 40% of the grade

Longer Paper: 80%

Participation: 20% (15% for Critic’s Journal, 5% for in-class participation)