Help me plan a course about Great Christian Thinkers

I like to think that there will come a point in my life where I will have time to think about something other than teaching, but I think I’m a little way off that yet. I’m just over a third of the way into Semester 1 and already Semester 2 is looming large. I’ll be teaching three courses next semester instead of the two I’m teaching this semester, and if I make it through alive I’ll be in danger of believing in miracles. I’ll probably post about all three courses separately over the course of syllabus design and redesign, but I’ll be teaching Great Christian Thinkers Part 2, the second half of my first year intro course, an Introduction to Political Philosophy, and a module on Marx, Hegel and Dialectical Thinking.

The idea behind Great Christian Thinkers Part 2 is to give students an overview of some major Christian thinkers so they get some familiarity with some of the Big Names of Christian theology, some initial sense of the development of Christian theology over time, as well as a general sense of how some of the core theological concepts we’ve looked at in semester 1 play out in later thinkers. Last time around they did St Paul, Aquinas, Calvin, Schleiermacher and Barth.

This iteration of the course is themed around suffering, and in semester 1 we’ve been working through major Christian doctrines in relation to the idea of suffering as follows:

WEEK 1: What Matters Most
WEEK 2: Augustine, Theology, and the Problem of Suffering
WEEK 3: God, Evil and the Nature of Suffering
WEEK 4: The Fall
WEEK 5: Free to Suffer?
WEEK 6: The Devil
WEEK 7: ENRICHMENT WEEK
WEEK 8: Suffering Desire, Desiring Suffering
WEEK 9: Suffering and the Ethics of Sacrifice
WEEK 10: Political Suffering: A Tale of Two Cities
WEEK 11: Political Suffering: War
WEEK 12: What Matters Most?

This is probably the only module on the course where the students will spend a lot of time with pre-20th century Big Name Theologians so I’m trying to work out which of those thinkers are most important for the students to have some familiarity with. I’m tempted to keep the line-up roughly the same but perhaps swap out Barth and add in Catherine of Siena so we can really spend some time thinking about the crucial shifts that happen in the medieval period. But I’m also not a specialist on any of those thinkers (maybe more so with Aquinas), so would gratefully appreciate any thoughts on the following:

  • Which are the most indispensable Big Theological Thinkers, especially pre-20th century?
  • What’s some good secondary reading on any of those Big Names that might help me find interesting ways into thinking about them, especially when it comes to the role of suffering in their work? I’d love to use the Aquinas section to think about the crucial role of Christian  encounters with Jewish and Muslim thought in forming systematic theology, for example.

Updated Critical Reading Worksheet

Thanks to everyone who commented on the last version of my close reading worksheet, now re-named a critical reading worksheet after it turned out that “close reading” is its own specific kind of thing, and tweaked a bit in response to suggestions from lots of people. In particular, I’ve added some questions to encourage my students to think about what they’re bringing to the text, and to notice their own reactions to it; and some questions which will hopefully get them thinking about the structure of the text and (where relevant) the argument. I think in future I might try to expand it to give some examples of paragraphs from academic texts which show the kinds of critical engagement that might result from asking each of these different questions, but this is the version I’ll be using in my teaching this year:

Continue reading “Updated Critical Reading Worksheet”

On the very idea of an “edited volume”

I received word recently that the editor and contributor copies of Agamben’s Philosophical Lineage, the volume I co-edited with Carlo Salzani, would be coming out soon. I am excited for it to be available, because I think it will serve as a very useful reference volume for readers of Agamben who want to get a handle on his many interlocutors. And I am also excited to have my own hard copy, because that will mean that this project, which I have been working on to varying degrees for around two years, will be officially completed.

When I told The Girlfriend that I was excited to get my copy of “the edited volume” soon, she asked for clarification as to what project I was referring to. It isn’t that she doesn’t know about it — she was privy to every petty detail of the process, with special emphasis on the handful of things that didn’t go according to plan — but that the term wasn’t very intuitive to her as a “civilian.” Getting this outsider’s perspective, it struck me as a weirdly undescriptive term: why don’t we call it an “essay collection” or, in my case, a “reference volume” or something like that? Why highlight the one aspect — the “editing” — that jumps out least to readers, who are presumably interested in the work for its content, regardless of who recruited contributors and worked directly with the press?

And then it hit me: we call it an “edited volume” because of where it would fall on the CV of the academic(s) who will gain the most prestige from the exercise. It’s not about what’s inside the “edited volume” or what people are after when they consult it — it’s about whose name is on the cover. And my proof of this is that there is one case where we designate an edited volume by another name: a festschrift. In that case, the greatest prestige goes to the person in honor of whom the festschrift is presented, not the editor(s), and so its status as festshrift overshadows its status as an edited volume for naming purposes.

What’s the point of university?

I’m teaching my first Great Christian Thinkers class on Friday, and because it’s meant to be a course that orients my students to their degree as a whole and we’re opening on the theme of ‘What Matters Most?’, we’re going to spend some time thinking about the purpose of university; both what they want to get out of their degree and what a range of other people and institutions might want them to get out of it. I’ve pulled together some short extracts for them to discuss as part of the session, and thought they might be of interest to others: you are welcome to borrow and/or adapt these at will. Continue reading “What’s the point of university?”

Pedagogies in the Flesh

pedagogies in the flesh

Palgrave Macmillan just released Pedagogies in the Flesh: Case Studies on the Embodiment of Sociocultural Differences in Education. The volume contains over 30 short, true stories, anecdotes, vignettes, illustrations, what have you, as well as a preface by Freirean scholar Antonia Darder. I contributed a chapter titled “Black Counter-Gazes in a White Room,” which explores three classroom experiences in which students of color challenged white normativity. Overall, Pedagogies in the Flesh “presents a collection of vivid, theoretically informed descriptions of flashpoints–educational moments when the implicit sociocultural knowledge carried in the body becomes a salient feature of experience. The flashpoints will ignite critical reflection and dialogue about the formation of the self, identity, and social inequality on the level of the preconscious body.” The volume received excellent reviews by Emily Lee, Charles Mills, Mariana Ortega, George Yancy, and others.

A guide to close reading

I’m planning to give my first year undergraduates a worksheet designed to help them engage with the theological and philosophical texts we study during our course. I’ve noticed that a lot of my students struggle to find critical ways into the texts, and I’m hoping that giving them some fairly generic questions to work through will help them find ways in. I’m planning to talk through the list of questions when I hand them out then use them as a basis for some of our seminar discussions over the rest of the semester so that the students can get a handle on how to use them.

Here’s the list of questions I’ve drafted so far; I’d really appreciate any comments/suggestions/wisdom gleaned from other people’s teaching experience, and of course you’re welcome to appropriate these for yourself if they look like they’d help you in your own teaching:

Continue reading “A guide to close reading”

Gender, Sexuality and the Bible syllabus

Thanks to everyone who made suggestions for the course I’m teaching this semester on Gender, Sexuality and the Bible. I’ve now finished the module handbook and am pretty excited about teaching it. At my institution we run a bunch of courses for both second and third year undergraduate, which means that everyone sits in on our weekly classes, and then the third year students get additional advanced seminars every other week. I’ve designed the main body of the course to run thematically, ranging across both the Hebrew Bible and New Testament; the advanced seminar will focus in depth on the Song of Songs (special shout out to Jared Beverley whose advice on this was totally invaluable).

The course overview is as follows:

WEEK 1: Introducing the Bible, Gender and Sexuality
WEEK 2: Creating Gender: Eve and Her Daughters
WEEK 2 ADVANCED SEMINAR: Introducing the Song of Songs
WEEK 3: Reproducing Gender: Abraham and His Sons
WEEK 4: Troubling Gender: Bodily Fluids
WEEK 4 ADVANCED SEMINAR: Feminist Readings of the Song of Songs
WEEK 5: Questioning Binary Gender
WEEK 6: Homosexuality? Sodom and Leviticus
WEEK 6 ADVANCED SEMINAR: Constructing Gender in the Song of Songs
WEEK 7: Homosexuality? Sinners and Lovers
WEEK 7 ADVANCED SEMINAR: Queering the Song of Songs
WEEK 8: ALTERNATIVE ENRICHMENT WEEK
WEEK 9: Marriage
WEEK 10: The Bible and Sexual Violence
WEEK 10 ADVANCED SEMINAR: Troubling Desire in the Song of Songs
WEEK 11: Sex Work and the Bible
WEEK 12: Oral exams

You can take a look at the complete module handbook here.