[Milton-L] Help with a pedagogical question

David Urban dvu2 at calvin.edu
Thu Oct 1 12:06:47 EDT 2009


First, let me say that I appreciate you asking for advice.

I'm really in complete agreement with Jameela here (lions included).  I think
her points throughout are really valuable.  

I also find John Leonard's first few sentences highly instructive.  

Here's my own two cents:

Do keep in mind that the Gospel of John refers to Jesus as "Christ" and "the
Christ" from beginning to end.  (See, for example, Jn 1.17 and 20.31.)  So how
is what your student does (calling Jesus "Christ")  in reference to John any
less appropriate than what he does in "The Windows"?   

Another concern is whatever personal difficulty you subject your student to in
your comments as you currently present them, Margaret.   I know that you care
deeply about your students, and such comments seem both needless on a
professional/scholarly level and hurtful on a personal one.  Would you, for
consistency's sake, write the same comments to a Muslim student who refers to
"the Prophet" Mohammed with reference to the Koran or some other Islamic text? 
I would hope not.  But to call Mohammed "the Prophet" is also "an honorific and
a faith claim" (to quote from your comments), strictly speaking.  So is the
title "Buddha," although I (and the rest of us?) use it all the time without
being a Buddhist.    So where does one draw the line?   I don't think that your
student thinks that he is including his audience in on the claim.   I think
Jameela is correct that we need to distinguish between "doing affective rather
than analytic work."  Since your student appears to be doing the latter, I
think you should emphasize your appreciation for his good work.  

With appreciation,


>>> Jameela Lares <Jameela.Lares at usm.edu> 10/01/09 11:28 AM >>> 

As someone who is irrevocably a Christian and ready to go to the lions
tomorrow, I think I'm in the group you want to hear from.

What I find myself wondering is why a "faith claim" qua faith claim
particularly bothers you.  Literary analysis is full of implicit faith claims
in just about everything--feminism, ecology, modernism, Marxism, whatever--and
in this case making the claim explicit seems to be in the service of a rather
compelling reading.  I hadn't thought about the poem itself being a further
imitation of Christ and am now having a pleasant "Oh yeah, huh!" reaction.  And
you are right that "God" wouldn't work later on.  One speaks of imago Dei but
of imitatio Christi.

I can't see anything objectionable in what else you've reported, though
perhaps I would need more context to understand your particular objection.  And
it isn't as though I myself have no objections to Christian students doing
affective rather than analytic work.  I can predict, for instance, that I will
get 3-5 papers on The Dream of the Rood arguing that it's a Christian poem
(well, duh! but what kind? and why?) or, worse, collapsing all differences
between the original culture and their own particular denominational
assumptions, you know, papers of the "this poem is simply about getting saved"
school.  I am, after all, in the Bible belt.  But I also have students of
sterner intellectual stuff capable of making fine distinctions.  It sounds as
though yours is one of the latter.

So, I'm left wondering--why the squeamishness?  Or did I miss something?

Jameela Lares
Professor of English
The University of Southern Mississippi
118 College Drive, #5037
Hattiesburg, MS  39406-0001
601 266-4319 ofc
601 266-5757 fax
From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu
[milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu] On Behalf Of Margaret Thickstun
[mthickst at hamilton.edu]
Sent: Thursday, October 01, 2009 9:40 AM
To: John Milton Discussion List
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

Here is an example from a superb and subtle analysis of "The Windows" which
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
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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