[Milton-L] Help with a pedagogical question

Jameela Lares Jameela.Lares at usm.edu
Thu Oct 1 12:25:51 EDT 2009

I actually use BCE/CE and encourage my students to do so because the old BC/AD distinction was not introduced until some centuries after the events to which it refers and is 4-7 years too late for them.  

Pace John Mulryan's comment, I don't see that AD and CE are the same at all.  AD stands for the Latin equivalent of "year of our Lord" and is thus a faith claim.  CE just recognizes a system of measurement--in this case, of chronological measurement--already widely in use.  Such a system doesn't strike me as inherently any more religious that Celsius or Fahrenheit.  (If the issue is that a move away from AD demotes Christ in some way, I note that the Bible itself uses local time, as in "the fifth year of so and so.")


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 Mulryan, John [JMULRYAN at sbu.edu]
Sent: Thursday, October 01, 2009 10:51 AM
To: John Milton Discussion List
Subject: RE: [Milton-L] Help with a pedagogical question

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 Forcers."


----- 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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