[Milton-L] Help with a pedagogical question

Salwa Khoddam skhoddam at cox.net
Sat Oct 3 12:03:55 EDT 2009


I see no problem in referring to Jesus as Christ to make a faith claim, with regard to the poet or the student.  What I would worry about in teaching is for a student (or teacher for that matter) to impose a faith claim when it's not in the poem.  The most important thing for me is whether a student is somewhat successful in entering into the "world" of the poet and is able through imagination to "inhabit" it for the duration of the time that we're studying him/her.  So to be Catholic when reading Dante, or a type of Protestant/Puritan (with all the complexity involved here) when reading Milton.  My role is to assist the students in doing just that before they begin the process of interpretation.  If the student's own Christian faith appears in his/her writing, and is relevant to the poem in question, is not a problem, even if the audience does not share this faith.
But others have said this more eloquently. . .
Salwa Khoddam

----- Original Message ----- 
  From: Margaret Thickstun 
  To: John Milton Discussion List 
  Sent: Thursday, October 01, 2009 9:40 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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