[Milton-L] Help with a pedagogical question

Sara van den Berg vandens at slu.edu
Thu Oct 1 11:48:29 EDT 2009


I agree with John Leonard.  I routinely use the name "Christ" rather than
"Jesus" when I teach 17th c poetry, as do many of my colleagues.  Why let
the name "Christ" be the "property" of fundamentalists?   There may be a
distinction between Greek and Hebrew lurking in there somewhere, but I
honestly do not see any specific or defensible "faith claim" in the choice
of name.

Sara van den Berg

On Thu, Oct 1, 2009 at 10:31 AM, John Leonard <jleonard at uwo.ca> wrote:

>  HI Margie,
>
> As a MIltonist (not a "professing Christian"), I think you urge the right
> caution for the wrong reason.  I think it is political correctness run mad
> to banish or prohibit or discourage the word "Christ" from students' essays
> because some readers might not "identify as a Christian."  Use of that term,
> in my experience, carries no necessary implications as to the writer's
> beliefs. Christians (and atheists) can and do use the terms "Krishna,"
> "Mohammad" or "Buddha" without signaling a profession of faith or assuming
> belief on the part of their readers.  One of the difficulties of political
> correctness is that it often turns out be more incorrect (even in its own
> terms) than the supposedly offensive terminology it seeks to replace.  Take,
> for one example, the current practice of writing C.E. and B.C. E. instead of
> A.D and B.C.  If I were a Muslim or a Jew or a Hindu I would find B.C.E
> incomparably more offensive than B.C.  Who says that this is the Christian
> era?  "Before Christ" is relatively neutral, since it allows for the
> possibility that other eras have arisen or might yet arise.   That nocent
> word "era", for all its genuflecting, makes an imperialist claim.  But I
> have no wish to rant--other than to say that I think students should have
> every right to reveal their faith position, especially if the author in
> question shared that faith.  There is also an issue of free speech
> (including, but not limited to, academic freedom).
>
> That said, Miltonists should be careful with the term "Christ", if only
> because Milton himself never used it in a poem after "On The New Forcers."
>
> John
>
>
>
> ----- Original Message -----
> *From:* Margaret Thickstun <mthickst at hamilton.edu>
> *To:* John Milton Discussion List <milton-l at lists.richmond.edu>
> *Sent:* Thursday, October 01, 2009 10:40 AM
> *Subject:* [Milton-L] Help with a pedagogical question
>
> 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
> corrections.
>
> 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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