[Milton-L] Help with a pedagogical question

Mulryan, John JMULRYAN at sbu.edu
Thu Oct 1 11:51:31 EDT 2009

John: I believe CE is "common era," not Christian era, although it
amounts to the same thing. John. 



From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu
[mailto:milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu] On Behalf Of John Leonard
Sent: Thursday, October 01, 2009 11:32 AM
To: John Milton Discussion List
Subject: Re: [Milton-L] Help with a pedagogical question


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





	----- Original Message ----- 

	From: Margaret Thickstun <mailto:mthickst at hamilton.edu>  

	To: John Milton Discussion List
<mailto: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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