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This course addresses issues of faith using the work of various modern artists and thinkers. Some of the questions raised will include: Is there even such a thing as a “modern” faith? What does the language we use have to do with what and how we believe, and is that language amenable to change? What is the role of art with regard to personal and collective belief? What is devotional doubt? And—tiny, tiny coda—how does one change one’s life?
1. Students will become familiar with various modern artists and thinkers who have engaged issues of faith.
2. Students will have a clearer sense of what art has to do with faith and how they might use this knowledge in their own lives.
3. Students will be able to analyze the readings theologically and to explain how they relate to and differ from each other.
4. Students will have a clearer sense of what they mean when they use words like “faith,” “belief,” “prayer,” “devotion,” and “God,” and consequently will be able to better articulate their own faiths.
Simone Weil Reader, Simone Weil
Diaries and Letters from Westerbork, Etty Hillesum
A God in the House: Poets on Faith, edited by Ilya Kaminsky and Katherine Towler
Out Stealing Horses, Per Petterson
Toward an Alternative Theology: Notes of a Non-Dualist Christian, Sara Grant
Holy the Firm, Annie Dillard
Winter Sun, Fanny Howe
There is a course reader at Tyco which everyone should have for the second class.
Students will write one major paper (4000 words) due at the end of the semester. This should address a specific topic—e.g., faith, doubt, language—that we have covered during the term, or it may combine elements of these topics toward some other end (a partly-personal, partly-narrative essay, for instance). In every instance, you must talk (or email) with me or your section leader about your particular project.
Performance in sections accounts for a significant percentage of your grade. By “performance,” I mean not simply contributing in ways that advance the discussion and enable others to learn and participate, but also active listening so that your responses are for others.
Every student will do a short, memorized presentation on a single poem or passage from literature, theology, philosophy, etc. Your selection must come from outside of our readings, though it must illustrate and develop the ideas we are discussing in those readings. (Only the work itself must be memorized—the poem or passage. You may use notes or even a full text for the rest.) The exact length of these presentations will depend on the size of the class, but I expect they will be five minutes each. There will be no time for follow-up questions. This is a presentation designed to enact the ideas we are discussing in class, and it should be directed primarily at your fellow students and not at me.
Students are allowed one absence. Thereafter, any absence, excused or unexcused, must be made up with either a written assignment (details depending upon what we are currently studying) or memorization work. The choice will be the student’s.
Basis of Evaluation:
Performance in sections: 25%
Final Paper: 60%