Honors Seminar: The Bible and Western Culture

REL 3938.0096, Fall 2010

Wed 7-9 (1:55-2:45; 3:00-3:50; 4:05-4:55), LIT 119


Course Description

The Bible is arguably the single most influential book in the history of “Western Civilization.”  Biblical literature not only helped shape our cultural landscape, it also continues to play a prominent if problematic role in public discourse — whether explicit or not, acknowledged or not.  And yet, in spite of its undeniable and ongoing significance, who really reads it anymore?  And among those who do, how many have a critical grasp of this literary artifact handed down to us from classical antiquity, which is, one should keep in mind, not so much a book as a miscellany of stories, poems, letters and so forth, composed over the course of a thousand years in three different languages?  And how many recognize let alone face the weighty philosophical problems — what philosophers now call hermeneutics — arising out of any attempt to make this ancient text “speak” to later generations?  It is such issues as these that we propose to address in our honors seminar.

In this seminar, we will engage in a sustained close reading of the Bible and its many cultural echoes. Our objectives for this class are threefold. First, we will explore the structure, rhythms, symbolism, and storylines of key biblical texts. Next, we will delve into some of the foundational interpretations of these texts as they have developed over time. Here we will adopt a historicist approach, examining the social, cultural, and religious contexts that produced these diverse interpretations. We hope that students will learn to recognize biblical themes in a wide array of historical, scientific, artistic, political, and literary forms.

Students will be graded on the basis of contribution to in-class discussion, short writing assignments, and one substantial research project. Each meeting will involve group readings and discussion of key texts and passages. A different team of two or three students will lead each discussion. Each student will produce a substantial research paper which will be presented to the class in a mini-conference on “The Bible in Western Culture.” Because the material lends itself to a wide variety of interpretations and approaches we anticipate that some students will choose to undertake more creative projects. We aim to facilitate this to the degree possible, provided they are able to establish that serious research stands at the foundation of creative writing or artistic projects.

                                                    Policies                                 Schedule

Professor: Nina Caputo

email: ncaputo@ufl.edu

office: 7 Keene-Flint

office hours: M 2:00-3:00;T 3:00-4:00; W 11:00-12:00 or by appointment

Dept of History: 025 Keene-Flint

phone: (352) 273-3379

Professor Robert Kawashima

email: rsk@ufl.edu

office: 120 Anderson

office hours: M 9:30-10:30; W 12-1

Dept of Religion: 107 Anderson

phone: (352) 273-2930

The Sacrifice of Isaac, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio 1603