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.

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.

Philosophy and Gender

I’m putting the final touches on my Philosophy and Gender course. This is a new one for me. In the past, I’ve taught Feminist Philosophy, but I’ve never taught a course on gender broadly construed. Of course, I leave out some classic pieces due to time constraints. I also rely on excerpts instead of larger texts since this is an intro level course–the majority of my students will take this to satisfy a gen ed philosophy course–and is intended to be a survey. The course schedule is below.

This course will explore philosophical issues relating to sex, gender, and sexuality as considered by historical and contemporary philosophers and other associated theorists. Recent work by feminist philosophers will be emphasized.

Dear readers, do you see any major omissions? Put differently, do you feel like there are some “must reads” that I have failed to put on the reading list? Or, perhaps you think the list is good and might want to point out some assignments or discussion points to accompany the readings. (One thing I’m trying to incorporate is a few in-class skype interviews between the students and scholars. Let me know if you are interested in participating.)

Continue reading “Philosophy and Gender”

Making of Modern Christianity: Medieval Europe Syllabus

As I’ve mentioned earlier this year, I’m teaching the medieval half of a course on Medieval and Reformation Europe this year. We’ve now finally finished the syllabus and module handbook for the course, which started this week (PDF of my half of the module handbook). Thanks to everyone who offered comments on suggestions when I was planning the course; I’ve rewritten it pretty drastically from the version that was taught by my predecessor and I’m somewhere between excited and terrified to actually start teaching it.

Draft syllabus: Intro to Islamic Thought

I have completed a draft syllabus for the Introduction to Islamic Thought elective I’ll be teaching at Shimer this fall. While I still have time to tinker — and I am most open to suggestions on the selections from the Qur’an — I am basically “locked in” on the books I’m using and don’t have the space to add anything into an already crowded syllabus. I hope to offer the course again soon as a way of solidifying my own knowledge, though, so I’d keep any suggestions in mind for future iterations.

One challenge of offering this course at Shimer is the fact that our primary source-only, no-lecture format made it very difficult to work in the necessary background information. Hence I lean on ibn Khaldun to give me background on Bedouin life and on the Caliphate (the excerpts at the beginning and middle of the syllabus, respectively), in addition to treating him as an important thinker in his own right at the end of the course. I am also using extracts from ibn Ishaq’s Life of Muhammad, supplemented by a simple timeline to help them get the overall flow of the narrative. At times I sneak the editor or translator’s introductions into the reading assignment as well.

Thanks again to everyone who has contributed to the various advice threads I’ve posted. You may be hearing from me again in the fall, as I’m planning to propose an elective for the spring semester on the Qur’an. It’s long past time for me to seriously engage with Islam — and even if it didn’t exactly fit with my plans for the summer to develop a course on the topic, I’m glad that Shimer gave me the necessary kick in the pants by assigning me to do it.

Two requests for suggestions

Last year’s instructors of Humanities 1 (Art and Music) developed a new format for the class that is loosely organized around Ovid’s Metamorphoses, a text that has inspired a lot of art and music and is also in large part about human creativity. There were, however, a couple things that didn’t fit as well into that framework, including Svetlana Alpers’ The Vexation of Art: Velasquez and Others. The goal was to provide some art criticism from a woman in a class where it is otherwise difficult to find women’s work to include — and so I ask you, dear readers, if anyone by chance knows of another work of art criticism by a woman that has more direct overlap with art inspired by Ovid. (I know this is a weirdly specific request and probably something of a long-shot.)

In addition, for my elective over Being and Time, I have tentatively decided to begin with a couple days each on phenomenology and hermeneutics, then work through The Concept of Time (i.e., the unpublished book review that is billed as “the first draft of Being and Time,” not the lecture series with a similar title). Given that we’ll be reading through Being and Time in painstaking detail, I thought using his shorter “first draft” would be a good way to get an overview of the project as a whole without biasing them toward any particular scholar’s interpretation of it. A colleague of mine has a good text of Husserl’s in mind, and another has recommended some passages from Gadamer — but I would prefer to use Dilthey if possible, given that that’s who Heidegger is directly discussing. Does anyone know of a good essay or chunk that we could spend a day or two on?

Please note: I am not planning to use any secondary sources for the Heidegger course, so I would prefer that you not make any recommendations of that kind. (And just to make sure: yes, I am aware of Simon Critchley’s online introduction to Being and Time.)