[Milton-L] Help with a pedagogical question

Margaret Thickstun mthickst at hamilton.edu
Thu Oct 1 10:40:31 EDT 2009

I would appreciate guidance, especially from professing Christians, 
about how to advise believing students in their use of "Christ" in 
academic discussions of religious poetry.  Normally when my students 
refer to Jesus as "Christ" they do so because they think "Christ" is his 
last name, so I point out that to refer to him as Christ is to make a 
faith claim, which they hadn't intended. 

But this semester I have two very devout students who, in writing about 
Herbert poems, are using "Christ" in ways for which I don't have easy 

Here is an example from a superb and subtle analysis of "The Windows" 
which ended:
> Such an example of wordplay serves as the perfect ornament to 
> Herbert's poem; for, just as the Christian is called to be like Christ 
> and thus to be as a kind of filter for his image, so too Christ's 
> image filters through this poem about man.  He enters subtly, 
> symbolically and yet perceptibly; and, in-so-doing, this poem about 
> windows becomes, itself, a window for Christ's light.     
I could just ask him to substitute "God" there, but that is not 
precisely what he meant.  Here is what I wrote:
> "Christ," as you know, is an honorific and a faith claim.  As such, it 
> needs to be used carefully and sparingly in literary analysis.  When 
> you refer to Christ in your intro paragraph, you present the 
> argument---that the preacher must let Christ's light shine through 
> him---as Herbert's argument.  So I think "Christ" is okay there.  But 
> in your concluding paragraph, when you say that in John "we read of 
> Christ that. . ." you not only reveal your faith position, but include 
> your reader in that community.  What if the person reading your 
> discussion of the poem does not identify as a Christian?  Is that 
> person excluded from the paper's audience?  Does the argument's 
> success require that readers share this faith position?
I would appreciate knowing how others handle this issue.--Margie

Margaret Olofson Thickstun

Elizabeth J. McCormack Professor of English

Hamilton College

198 College Hill Road

Clinton, NY 13323

(315) 859-4466

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