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

  1. #16
    dark desire dark desire's Avatar
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    Thank you everyone. I will go and read what I can in and about the Bible. I will go slow. They are teaching things in the syllabus anyways. Everything mentioned here was insightful. And unexpected too. Most things written in literature are grounded in Christianity. I want to ask another question here. What have been the significant influences of Christianity in English literature across centuries? I understand that the question is not easy to answer and would probably require research. And I am not asking for that. Just offhand opinions, if someone is interested in telling.
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  2. #17
    There's pretty much no point in reading European literature from the Middle Ages if you don't understand basic concepts of Christianity. On the contrary only a few people truly understand the complicated theological mess that finally evolved into contemporary branches of Christianity. To me It's obvious that the more you know about the culture context of a certain literary work, the more you get out of it.
    De omnibus dubitandum.

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    Registered User kiki1982's Avatar
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    The theological mess! I like that! As they were trying to explain a few inconsistent opinions from different people about the same thing (Jesus was the Messiah), they got wrapped up in a web of... well not really lies, but a difficult web of 'facts'. I quite like that idea.
    In the university where I studied for a year, in the last year this very enthusiastic professor used to try and explain to disinterested students of any discipline (lit, but also engineering ) what the Pentecost miracle was about and how it actually happened. You'd think they'd give up explaining it, but nooooo.
    I remember my history teacher saying that in the Middle Ages there were serious theological discussions revolving around, wait for it, the question if cherubs should be painted with genitalia or not. Hence why most cherubs have things draped around there, as angels were deemed to be of no sex at all. I think I might call my daughter Gabriel...

    'Anyway, I'm not sure what you are after, Dark Desire. Could you explain a little further? Are you looking for influencial overtly Christian works or general ideas?
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  4. #19
    Bibliophile Drkshadow03's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by dark desire View Post
    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?
    As many scholars point out in a series of conference lectures I recently listened to, the King James Bible represents the common mythos of England. It had language shared by both the common and the aristocratic crust of society. It stories were shared by all. It provided the common mythos and language of England, and therefore its literature.

    As far the Bible in general, it's stories influence other cultures' literatures, one obvious example being Dante's Divine Comedy.

    Basically as others have suggested the key allusions of Western Literature come from the Bible, Greek and Roman Mythology, and Shakespeare (the holy trinity of literary study).
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  5. #20
    A brilliant introductory course on historical interpretation of the New Testament is available at Open Yale Courses:

    http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list...0&feature=plcp

    What I particularly like about this course is that the historical approach merely takes into account all the historical data and knowledge on the cultural context of the time when those texts were written. It's a real academic theology course, not some brainwashing camp for fundamentalists. I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in the history of Christian theology or the interpretation of the Bible.
    De omnibus dubitandum.

  6. #21
    dark desire dark desire's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by kiki1982 View Post
    'Anyway, I'm not sure what you are after, Dark Desire. Could you explain a little further? Are you looking for influencial overtly Christian works or general ideas?
    I will study the general ideas myself. The link that Freudian Monkey has suggested looks interesting. Here I am asking what are the influential overtly Christian works. Divine Comedy, Paradise Lost and Absalom and Achitophel I know. What are the Elizabethan, Romantic, Victorian, Modern and Postmodern works that draw significantly from Christianity?
    Being taken literally, is like being sent to hell LITERALLY.

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    Registered User kev67's Avatar
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    Isn't C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia series an analogy of Christianity? I've been told that once or twice.

    Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy seems to be a reaction against Christianity.
    According to Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence once said that Balzac was 'a gigantic dwarf', and in a sense the same is true of Dickens.
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    Dance Magic Dance OrphanPip's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by dark desire View Post
    I will study the general ideas myself. The link that Freudian Monkey has suggested looks interesting. Here I am asking what are the influential overtly Christian works. Divine Comedy, Paradise Lost and Absalom and Achitophel I know. What are the Elizabethan, Romantic, Victorian, Modern and Postmodern works that draw significantly from Christianity?
    Most do to some level, because the authors were almost exclusively Christian pre-1900, and the few that weren't were atheist who were raised as Christians.

    I'll just add on to Drk's post by saying the Arthurian and French Romances (Roland/Charlemagne) were also important in Medieval and Renaissance literature.
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    Registered User kiki1982's Avatar
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    I believe Bunyon's Pilgrim's Progress had its fans at some point too.
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    "Had" I see what you did there pal.

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    You need to be aware of it, as much as you need to be aware of Roman & Greek stories.

    1,000 years of English literature has been influenced by stories from all over the place. Certainly a knowledge of biblical stories & Homer helps get the context.

    Thing is, these days with so many books and perspectives on religion, it is very difficult to assume that everyone has the same viewpoint. Students who are not well versed in Christianity may well find the teaching essential - or they'll have to wade though a whole course of theology - the lectures will be a shortcut. The view that religion is not important is in itself a cultural viewpoint that not all of the world will share. Books are still being banned because they contradict various religious viewpoints around the world.


    As for the British English cannon - that comes down to the topic of the Masters degree you choose. There are Masters in Post-Colonial literature and Global literature too. Taught Masters, being only a year, tend to have a specific focus. maybe have a discussion with your tutor - as you may be able to explore your idea of the canon in your thesis. Maybe by studying authors who sit outside the canon, and showing how they bring a different perspective.

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    Quote Originally Posted by dark desire View Post
    Thank you everyone. I will go and read what I can in and about the Bible. I will go slow. They are teaching things in the syllabus anyways. Everything mentioned here was insightful. And unexpected too. Most things written in literature are grounded in Christianity. I want to ask another question here. What have been the significant influences of Christianity in English literature across centuries? I understand that the question is not easy to answer and would probably require research. And I am not asking for that. Just offhand opinions, if someone is interested in telling.

    As an answer, I would suggest you take a look at J G Ballard's Cocaine Nights. J G Ballard was not religious, but in Cocaine Nights the journey of the protagonist and the ending in itself seems to follow the life of Christ (I'm avoiding too much detail so I do not to give away any spoilers). The Handmaid's Tale uses an interpretation of Christianity.

    I'm currently following an online writing class with Margaret Attwood. In it she talks about knowing stories as a tool kit for writers. So, it's being aware of Aesop's fables, biblical stories, fairy tales as basic building blocks - and then subverting them, or changing the story - what would happen if Sleeping Beauty doesn't love the price who wakes her up - what happens in the "happily ever after" in this case?

    Actually that's not a bad story line - it would be fun to explore that one. The Prince is in love, but the Princess is not - yet everyone is telling the princess she should be grateful and in love. Hmmm. (yes, tis has already been done in the Hunger Games I guess)

    Certainly the bible is one of the books that has been mined by authors for decades.

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