[Milton-L] Help with a pedagogical question

Julia Guernsey-Shaw shaw at ulm.edu
Thu Oct 1 14:28:42 EDT 2009


I'm a Christian too, though in the South I work hard not to say so, fearing I'll be misinterpreted by current day fundamentalists (who, my fiancee keeps pointing out, are quite different from fundamentalists in a traditional sense--those being more like Milton himself) . 

And in the classroom I preserve separation between church and state by refusing to articulate a position one way or the other. But I allow my students to be who they are without apology. If that choice limits their audience, I may say so, but usually I say so over much more overt instances of limiting their audience that this one appears to be (without the full paragraph quoted). 

As for their writing "Christ" for "Jesus," it has rarely bothered me. I am vaguely aware of the nuances, but I pick my battles carefully. And in the context in which your student was writing, I read, "for just as the Christian is called to be like Christ" as nearly etymologically literal and the rest of the sentence as play with antithesis. 

I agree also with the person who pointed out that the student is, in some sense, more inside than outside the poem when he or she makes the claim.There is good reason to read Herbert from that perspective at times since quite a bit of Herbert is a play on that boundary (I think William Kerrigan wrote an article to this effect). How can one talk about "the Lord" in "Redemption" without seeming to mean "The Lord" for instance? 

best, 
Julia Guernsey-Shaw 


----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Margaret Thickstun" <mthickst at hamilton.edu> 
To: "John Milton Discussion List" <milton-l at lists.richmond.edu> 
Sent: Thursday, October 1, 2009 9:40:31 AM GMT -06:00 US/Canada Central 
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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