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Thread: What is the value of studying Christianity in English literature courses?

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    dark desire dark desire's Avatar
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    What is the value of studying Christianity in English literature courses?

    I started my masters course in English literature recently. Apparently they talk so much about Christianity and its history in England and other European countries. Sometimes I wonder if I am in a history class. I understand that historical background brings out the context for specific texts. But there is just too much of it. I had different expectations while coming to this course. I am not finding things as interesting as I had anticipated. I feel baffled by the bits they teach about Christianity and the way I see students all around fervently taking notes.

    On a speculative note, I want to understand how important is the knowledge of pre-enlightenment English literature in this field? And if it is really that important then why is it so? Culturally religion is not that important in contemporary world. So I feel studying English literature keeping British English cannon at the center of it is kind of oppressive and also outdated. Are there other ways of studying English literature? What are they? How are they structured?
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    Jethro BienvenuJDC's Avatar
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    English (and European) culture has been greatly affected by Christianity. I think that it is safe to say that most writings have some kind of effect from some form of Christianity. Be patient and open to learn about it if you want to study English literature. You don't have to become a convert. Tolerance and openmindedness has been greatly encouraged in America for other world religions (and other beliefs). So it could be a good thing for you as well. Or you can stick with what you have and stay in your shell.
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    Card-carrying Medievalist Lokasenna's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by BienvenuJDC View Post
    English (and European) culture has been greatly affected by Christianity. I think that it is safe to say that most writings have some kind of effect from some form of Christianity. Be patient and open to learn about it if you want to study English literature. You don't have to become a convert. Tolerance and openmindedness has been greatly encouraged in America for other world religions (and other beliefs). So it could be a good thing for you as well. Or you can stick with what you have and stay in your shell.
    Well put.

    It is certainly useful to have a working knowledge of the Bible when engaging with literary criticism (I say this as a non-Christian, by the way). It's had such a profound impact on western literature, you'll find references to it everywhere.

    That said, the KJV version of the Bible is a beautiful piece of literature in its own right. You don't have to believe any of it - just enjoy it for the elegant thing that it is.

    Nor is it necassary to have a working knowledge of the whole anthology - if you feel up to it, have a read of Genesis, Exodus, Samuel, Job, Psalms, Isaiah, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and Revelation, and you'll be able to get 90% of the biblical references in literature.
    Last edited by Lokasenna; 08-29-2012 at 03:10 AM.
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    Dance Magic Dance OrphanPip's Avatar
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    It's probably easier for those of us who come to this level with an already established knowledge of the Bible, I haven't read the Bible extensively since my teen years, but I still catch most of the major Biblical references (especially since the major ones repeat often). The Enlightenment literature will often challenge you more as it often alludes to the Bible and Classical literature in equal measure.
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    Better call Saul Anymodal's Avatar
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    I don't think it's essential. Of course I'm no expert. Plus, I found christianity very boring. No offense
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    In the fog Charles Darnay's Avatar
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    The Western Canon draws so much from Christian mythos, from the odd allusion that you can skip over and not be hindered in any way all the way to the reason for why a text exists and why it influenced its world.

    Frye points out that the Bible, along with Greek and Roman mythology, is the base for the archetypes that exist in all literature. These myths(/)and the Bible (take it as you will) influence the themes and characters that you study as an English major.
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    There's an interesting short book, "Shakespeare and the Bible" worth reading. Shake. knew the Bible inside out, and so did Emily Dickinson. That Shake. book speaks alot about The Tempest regarding Genesis and Revelation.

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    Better call Saul Anymodal's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Charles Darnay View Post
    Frye points out that the Bible(...) is the base for the archetypes that exist in all literature.
    Man that is so ethnocentric... Obviously not true.
    Nevertheless, I remember Frazer's The Golden Bough in wich he states that all myths in all cultures are variations of the same basic core myths. So, in a way the Bible contains the archetypes of other literatures.
    There is shadow under this red rock,
    (Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
    And I will show you something different from either
    Your shadow at morning striding behind you
    Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
    I will show you fear in a handful of dust.

    The Waste Land, T.S. Eliot

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    Artist and Bibliophile stlukesguild's Avatar
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    I don't think it's essential. Of course I'm no expert. Plus, I found christianity very boring. No offense

    Of course its not essential... and neither is the study of the Greco-Roman myths. But of course you'll simply be clueless as to just what the hell half of the Pre-Romantic, Western literature (as well as art and music) is all about.
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    Bibliophile JBI's Avatar
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    Nah romantic literature too. Basically any western literature. Even contemporary stuff is deeply rooted in religion and Greek myths.

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    Quote Originally Posted by JBI View Post
    Nah romantic literature too. Basically any western literature. Even contemporary stuff is deeply rooted in religion and Greek myths.
    Dante's La Divina Comedia is the single greatest literary work in the Western Canon yet it is deeply rooted in Christianity.

    Just to let you know that, I, an agnostic, regard it so.

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    Bibliophile JBI's Avatar
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    And your point in quoting me? I am responding to st Luke's

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    Registered User kiki1982's Avatar
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    Simply put, it is important (let's say in a purely comprehensive way) because there was nothing else most of the time people could base themselves on. We were created by God and that was a fact. Only challenged by Darwin in the middle of the 19th century. Shocking, if you think about it.
    Think not about a multicultural society with different religions as we have one now (veils walking down the street and a synagogue, churches and a mosque in the same town), but think a handful of Jews, a few weird Quakers in the north and that's it. The rest goes to church on a Sunday, preferably Church of England, if not Presbytarian in all likelihood. The Catholics can't be trusted and shouldn't be left to their own devices.
    Probably there were a few exceptions, but most people were religious in some point or other, if only because they didn't know any better, and as a child at least had read the bible extensively. If they did in their adult days was their own choice.
    Hence the pre-Enlightenment society (and also after to some extent until religion got onto the backround as it is now) was based on different facts than those we regard as normal now, so you need to know at least some of those facts to understand literature of the day better.
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    Quote Originally Posted by JBI View Post
    And your point in quoting me? I am responding to st Luke's
    I simply wanted to strengthen yours.

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    In the fog Charles Darnay's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Anymodal View Post
    Man that is so ethnocentric... Obviously not true.
    Nevertheless, I remember Frazer's The Golden Bough in wich he states that all myths in all cultures are variations of the same basic core myths. So, in a way the Bible contains the archetypes of other literatures.
    Sorry, I forgot to re-add the stipulation "Western" - the Bible along with myths contain the core archetypes of all Western literature.
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