Dazzling Darkness: Mysticism and Philosophy Syllabus

We’ve launched a new MA programme at Winchester this year, and I’m looking forward to teaching postgraduate students again. We run a theology, a religious studies and philosophy module every year and this year I am designated philosopher, syllabus as follows and, as you might expect, featuring several of my co-bloggers and friends of the blog:

Continue reading “Dazzling Darkness: Mysticism and Philosophy Syllabus”

Help me plan a module on Christianity, Race and Colonialism

This September I’ll be teaching my first ever completely self-designed module, and I’m pretty excited about it. The module will focus on Christianity, race and colonialism, and possibly for the first time ever when teaching I feel like the learning outcomes I have committed myself to actually reflect what I want the module to do:

By the conclusion of this module, a student will be expected to be able to :

  • Demonstrate a knowledge of the historical development of racism and colonialism
  • Demonstrate a critical understanding of key conceptual frameworks for understanding the development of racism and colonialism
  • Critically evaluate theological texts in light of historical and theoretical accounts of race and colonialism

I have a bunch of ideas, and am trying to figure out how to balance these three central elements – history, theory and theology – in assigned readings and classes, but would love to know: what do you think are the canonical texts, events, ideas etc for this kind of a module? Any and all suggestions gratefully received; I’m especially keen to find resources for engaging with the histories of slavery and colonialism outside of North America, and especially with the histories of slavery and colonialism in relation to the British Empire.

Systemic problems have systemic solutions: plagiarism edition

Last semester I had an inordinate number of instances of plagiarism. The majority of them came on papers that were almost wholly personal reflection, so I was really troubled by what had led to this occurrence. There’s no doubt that high schools (probably due to systemic problems like underfunding) are not teaching good writing practices like we all wish they should. However, there’s not much I can do to fix high schools. What I can do is setup my own students for success.

My strategy this semester was to put a couple of one page papers towards the beginning of the course, and I told the students that they must cite at least one source in their paper. So far, I’ve only had once instance where a student used a quote without attribution. But even then, I’m able to help them fix the paper which hopefully will prevent this from happening at the end of the semester on the final paper.

I’ll report back after final papers come in, but this strategy seems to be working so far.

Great Christian Thinkers 2 Syllabus: Greater, Christian-er, Thinkier

I start teaching again next week so have been adding the finishing touches to my new semester syllabi. At Winchester we have a course rotation system whereby a bunch of our courses for second and third year students run every other year, which is nice for the students insofar as it gives them more options, but currently a bit exhausting for me as I begin my second year in post with an almost entirely new teaching roster (I’ll be posting my syllabi for a course on Hegel, Marx and Dialectical Thinking and an Introduction to Political Philosophy one over the next couple of weeks).

My Great Christian Thinkers Part 1 class focused on introducing Augustine, key concepts in Christian theology, and core study, research and writing skills to our first year students, all organised around the theme of suffering and the question of whether it is, as Phillip Goodchild suggests, ‘what matters most’. Part 2 aims to give students an overview of some key developments in Christian history via a survey of five important Christian thinkers. I’m hoping that we’ll use the five in different ways to think about what it means to be a ‘great’ thinker; what makes someone specifically a Christian thinkers, and what counts or gets recognised as ‘thought’. So I’m opening the semester with Ursula Le Guins’ ‘The Mother Tongue‘, a commencement address she gave at Bryn Mawr college in 1986, where she talks about the kinds of thought that universities train students in and the limits of that training.

I’ve decided that my canon this time around will consist of Thomas Aquinas, Catherine of Siena, John Calvin, Friedrich Schleiermacher and Gustavo Gutiérrez. I’ve tried to pick primary and secondary texts that give a feel for what’s distinctive about them as thinkers but also as representatives of particular historical periods, and that focus on some of the themes of suffering we covered in semester one. You can take a look at my complete syllabus here.

Help me plan a course about Gender, Sexuality and the Bible

Next year I’ll be teaching a course titled, ‘Gender, Sexuality and the Bible’. I’ve inherited a module description, which includes the following elements:

Module Summary
The module will introduce the range and complexity of the Bible’s approach(es) to sex and relationships, surveying key texts around issues such as: gender identity, hetero and homosexuality, polygyny, prostitution, sexual violence, and bodily ideology. The module will on the one hand seek to help students situate the Bible’s approach to such issues within its original historical milieu and, on the other, will use contemporary academic discourse on sexuality to enable students to reflect critically on the way the Bible is deployed in contemporary discussions around these issues.

Indicative Outline Content
The module addresses a range of important texts, approaches and critical frameworks in some detail, beginning with perennial questions over the nature of the Genesis texts before broadening out to introduce some lesser-known biblical stories and some lesser known responses to Bible from particular communities who do not identify with dominant cisgendered perspectives.

1. Gender Theory and the idea called “Sexual Identity”
2. Gender and Genesis: Eve and her Daughters
3. Gender in Genesis: Abraham and his Sons
4. Homosexuality? Sodom and Leviticus
5. Queer Readings of the New Testament
6. Tutorials in Preparation for Assessment
7. Marriage and Metaphor
8. The Bible and Sexual Violence
9. The Transgender Jesus
10. Onan in Biblical Reception
11. Is the Divine Body Gendered?
12. Class Debate: The Bible’s Role in Sexual Ethics

Indicative Reading
Beale, Timothy and David M. Gunn, eds., Reading Bibles, Writing Bodies: Identity and The Book (London and New York: Routledge, 1997).
Boswell, John, Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1980).
Blyth, Caroline A. ‘I Am Alone With My Sickness’: Voicing the Experience of HIV- and AIDS-Related Stigma through Psalm 88. Colloquium: The Australian & New Zealand Theological Review, 44.2 (2021), 149-162.
Butler, Judith, Bodies that Matter (London: Routledge, 1993),
—Gender Trouble (London: Routledge, 1990).
Cornwall, Susanna, Intersex, Theology and the Bible: Troubling Bodies in Church, Text and Society (New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015).
Gagnon, Robert, The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermenutics (Abingdon Press, 2002).
Goss, Robert E. and Mona West, eds, Take Back the Word: A Queer Reading of the Bible (London: Pilgrim Press, 2000).
Macwilliam, Stuart, Queer Theory and the Prophetic Marriage Metaphor in the Hebrew Bible (Sheffield: Equinox, 2012).
Moore, Stephen, God’s Beauty Parlor and Other Queer Spaces in and Around the Bible. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2001).
Myles, Robert J., and Caroline A. Blyth, eds., Sexuality, Ideology and the Bible: Antipodean Engagements. (Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix, 2015)
Nissinen, Martii, Homoeroticism in the Biblical World: A Historical Perspective (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1998).

I’m trying to work out how much I want to adapt that outline to reflect my own areas of interest and (comparative) expertise (it’s not straightforwardly my area!). I’m tempted to include some material on sex work in the Bible, particularly some bits of Avaren Ipsen’s “Sex Working and the Bible”. I’d love to find some good material that things about marriage and sexuality from a Marxist perspective, or at least from the perspective of questions of households, property and inheritance. I’d like to find some resources for thinking about the relationship between sexuality and purity laws in the Hebrew Bible, especially some work on menstruation and purity from, ideally, a Jewish feminist/queer theoretical perspective. And in general, I’d like to find a bit more work on gender in sexuality in the Hebrew Bible by Jewish scholars.

I’m also trying to think through how I want to balance the biblical texts themselves, secondary material on those texts, and more general theoretical work on gender and sexuality. I’m wondering whether to structure the course by giving them some introduction to theoretical questions relating to gender and sexuality, then getting them to spend some time looking at biblical texts in class, then sending off to read secondary materials on gender and sexuality in those texts; but I’ve never run a class on that structure before and am nervous it might prove a logistical nightmare! As an aside, none of the students will have any knowledge of biblical languages (and mine is miminal). So, any thoughts, reading suggestions, dire warnings of what not to do etc would be gratefully received!

Help me plan an Introduction to Political Philosophy

Next semester I’ll be teaching a module on political philosphy to a mixture of first year students taking courses in Philosophy, Religion and Ethics and in Politics, Philosophy and Economics. This is the rubric I’ve inherited:

This module introduces themes, theoretical perspectives and concepts in the study of politics and political philosophy and aims to develop an understanding of how political institutions operate and of how they are underpinned by adherence to a variety of political philosophies, or ideologies that act, globally, to order the global environment. The concepts and institutions studies are from a western perspective in order to, first, ground students in a knowledge of these themes per se but, second, to provide a framework for comparative study of non-western polities analysed in greater depth in Levels 5 and 6, such as those in the Middle East and China, in order to gauge the extent that western concepts of politics have been adapted, accepted or rejected in different environments. This is achieved by a pattern of lectures, seminars, tutorials and workshops.

Set texts look at key political thinkers from classical times through the Enlightenment to the present day (for instance Machiavelli, Locke, Rousseau, Smith, Burke, Marx & Engels, Gramsci, Marcuse, Hayek and Habermas) in order to examine such issues as power, justice, order, war, legitimacy, accountability, sovereignty and other issues of concern to the practice of politics and government at country specific, regional and local levels.

It’s essentially an introduction to modern Western political philosophy, then, and I’m grappling with the question of how to “teach the canon” whilst also trying to remake or decolonise it. I have eleven weeks, and this is the sketch I’ve got so far: I’d really appreciate any critiques, suggestions about how I could organise it better or differently, and recommendations of good primary or secondary reading either for myself or my students:

1 Introduction: what is political philosophy (with some selections from Nancy Fraser or Michael Freedon)
2 Hobbes
3 Locke
4 Rousseau and Louverture
5 Marx (with some space in the lecture for talking about Adam Smith and Marxisms-after-Marx)
6 J S Mill (perhaps paired with Wollstonecraft?)
7 Hannah Arendt
8 Foucault on disciplinary societies
9 Judith Butler on grievable lives, Agamben on homo sacer
10 Neoliberalism (Hayek)
11 Sara Ahmed on the cultural politics of emotion

Help me plan a course about Jesus

Next semester I’ll be teaching a module on ‘The Many Faces of Jesus’ that I’ve inherited from a predecessor. This is the module description and indicative course outline I’m working with: I’ve got some freedom to work within these constraints but what I teach has to broadly fit this framework, which has been officially approved by the department (in case any pedagogy nerds are interested in the different constraints at play in UK teaching):

This module engages critically with some of the key ways in which the Christian tradition has understood Jesus and his saving significance. The module begins with a study of key New Testament texts concerning Jesus. Then crucial debates in the patristic era will be looked at in detail, including the critical decisions reached at the Councils of Nicaea and Chalcedon. Contemporary discussions surrounding the historical Jesus and Christ of faith will also be evaluated, as well as contemporary theological understandings of Jesus. The module will also examine non-Christian understandings of Jesus, especially in Judaism and Islam.

Indicative Outline Content
a.i.1. Who did Paul think Jesus was?
a.i.2. Who did John think Jesus was?
a.i.3. Who did Jesus think Jesus was?
a.i.4. How on earth did Jesus become a God? The Arian Crisis
a.i.5. Was Jesus truly human? The Nestorian controversy
a.i.6. The Chalcedonian Definition… and its Aftermath
a.i.7. The Birth of Jesus in Contemporary Theology
a.i.8. The Death of Jesus in Contemporary Theology
a.i.9. The Resurrection of Jesus in Contemporary Theology
a.i.10. The Quests for the Historical Jesus
a.i.11. Jewish and Islamic perspectives on Jesus
a.i.12. Can a male saviour save women?

It’s obviously going to be a bit of a whistlestop tour of Christology through the centuries, and I’m struggling to work out how best to manage things – I’d like to give a bit more space to non-Western Christologies in the second half of the model, and I’d really appreciate any recommendations for good primary and secondary readings to assign my students. Is there anything important missing from this outline? Are there any books I really have to read as I get planning? I’m definitely going to go back to Virginia Burrus’ Begotten Not Made, Boyarin’s Border Lines, and I’m trying to figure out if there’s a way to squeeze in Du Bois’ Jesus Christ in Texas.