Christianity and Literature (Summer 2012)

The purpose of this class is to explore how to read like a Christian. Is there a specifically Christian way to read? Is reading a case of “to the pure, all things are pure,” or should we avoid some books, and why? What makes a book or story “Christian”? And what does “reading” mean, in the first place? After the first few weeks, we'll focus on imaginative texts: stories, poems, novels, and (bending the boundaries of “literature”) film. To get the most out of the class you'll need to read between Sundays. I'll provide handouts or URLs for the shorter readings, but you must procure the novels. The films will be screened on the weekends prior to weeks 6 and 12.

Week 1: Introductory problems

  • Russell Moore against "sola cerebra"
  • Alan Jacobs on "charitable reading"
  • Should we avoid some books, and why?
  • C.S. Lewis's defense of culture in "Learning in War-Time"
  • Lewis also urges you not to take the class: "The Christian will take literature a little less seriously than the cultured Pagan: he will feel less uneasy with a purely hedonistic standard for at least many kinds of work…. He has no objection to comedies that merely amuse or tales that merely refresh; for he thinks… we can play, as we can eat, to the glory of God." (source)
  • Walker Percy is really good on the exaltation and limitations of art. His Lost in the Cosmos (1983) is a good place to begin. See also Flannery O'Connor, "The Nature and Aim of Fiction" in Mystery & Manners (posthumous, 1970).

Week 2: Reading and Scripture

  • Augustine on why we read Scripture (De doctrina Chritiana)
  • Gordon Fee on reading-as-interpretation
  • Origen according to Henri de Lubac: the "literal" and the "spiritual" (allegorical, moral, anagogical)
  • The Exodus in 1 Corinthians 10
  • The Psalms as prophecy: Ps. 22

Week 3: Anglican devotional poetry

John Donne:

George Herbert:

Week 4: Victorian novella

  • George Eliot, Silas Marner (1861) (e-text available here, or here, with more or less accuracy.)
  • C.S. Lewis, "On Stories" (1947)

Week 5: Crucifixion and Resurrection in poetry

Week 6: Wit (2001, dir. Nichols)

Week 7: Crème brûlée

Week 8: Fantasy and mythopoiea

  • Neil Gaiman, Neverwhere (1996)
  • J.R.R. Tolkien, "On Fairy-Stories"
  • [optional] C.S. Lewis, "Sometimes Fairy Stories May Say Best What's to be Said" in On Stories (ed. Hooper; 1982)

Week 9: Nightmare

Week 10: Short story

  • Flannery O'Connor, "The Turkey" (1947)
  • Graham Greene, "The Hint of an Explanation" (1948)
  • Evelyn Waugh, "Compassion" (1949)

Week 11: The New Atheism

  • Ian McEwan, Saturday (2005)

Week 12: Babette's Feast (1987, dir. Axel)

  • oersma, "Theology as queen of hospitality" (2007)

Week 13: Contemporary fiction: Christianity in America


Secondary texts:

  • Flannery O'Connor, Mystery and Manners (1970)
  • Walker Percy, Lost in the Cosmos (1983)
  • Alan Jacobs, A Theology of Reading: The Hermeneutics of Love (2001)
  • --, The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction (2011)
  • James K.A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom (2009)
  • Andy Crouch, Culture Making (2008)
  • Richard B. Hays, The Conversion of the Imagination: Paul as Interpreter of Israel's Scripture (2005)
  • Henri de Lubac, History and Spirit: The Understanding of Scripture according to Origen (rpt. 2007)