The WORLD, the FLESH, and the DEVIL

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EL 201 | Fall 2021 | MWW 478 | 

Dr. Ethan Guagliardo | | Office Hours: Slack and by Zoom appt

This class will introduce you to the history, ideas, and literature of the so-called “Middle Ages” between classical antiquity and modernity. This period was in many ways a pre-eminently Christian age, but we will pay particular attention to the ways that Christian theological preoccupations–especially its apparently world-denying theology of sin–laid the groundwork for secularity, whether conceived in terms of space (the world and worldliness) or time (life-span or saeculum).


Essays: 45%  |  Slack Discussion: 20%  |  Short Assignments: 20%  |  Participation: 15%

Essays: Three essays, 3-4 pages, each worth 15%. The goal of these assignments is for you to learn how to use textual evidence in a written paper, to practice doing close readings of literary texts, and to begin learning how to make arguments through textual evidence. Papers are not “book reports” or tests to see whether you read, but exercises in thinking with literature, in paying close (and critical) attention to the forms of feeling and thought it inspires.

Slack Discussion: Before roughly half of our classes, I will pose a question about the readings for you to think about and discuss as a class on our #DiscussionBoard slack page. I will ask a quarter of the class to post hot takes on the question: the idea is that you will formulate your opinion without looking at other responses. The rest of the class will respond to these takes, respond to the responses, and so on. I ask that you make one response at minimum, but I encourage anyone who wishes to treat this as an ongoing conversation (think reddit, or twitter, in a good way). You aren’t therefore limited to one response. Please try, however, to keep a certain decorum and not dominate the discussion: if you find that you are *always* having the last word, let someone else have it!

Short Assignments: I will assign a number of short assignments throughout the semester that will prompt you to think about the readings in ways beyond the formal essay. These will be about one page, but they may involve other media, like audio.

Participation: Are you actively engaged in class? Are you asking questions, offering your own readings of texts, thoughts, etc.? The participation grade will assess that dimension of classroom/slack performance. Attendance is necessary to participate, though not sufficient.

Zoom policy (if needed): Although I will on occasion record “instructional videos” for assignments, zoom sessions will be “synchronous”–live and in-person. In my view this is the best way to imitate the classroom environment as closely as possible. If you are anxious about speaking up, you may also ask/answer questions in the text box. I will read out questions and try to answer them as soon as possible. In order to be counted as present, I ask that you keep your cameras on. Dress as you wish, eat or smoke during class; you should be comfortable in your own home. Please let me know if you will need to keep your camera off for some reason.

Slack/office hours policy: I consider our class slack channel to be an open-ended “office hour.” There you may ask questions pertaining to class or life, engage other students, post songs and other material of interest to the class, etc. Discussions must be thoughtful and respectful.

Late work policy: I always accommodate reasonable requests for extensions without penalty. This is all the more true in the time of COVID. Please inform me that you need an extension at least 24 hours ahead of time except in cases of real emergency. 

Weekly Schedule

Week 1, Oct. 6: The End of Antiquity

Wednesday: Introduction: The Edict of Milan

Week 2, October 11-13 

Monday: Paul, 1 Corinthians 

Wednesday: Paul, 1 Corinthians; The Nicene Creed;  ; The Codex Theodosianus (selections)

Week 3, October 18-20 

Augustine, Confessions, Book 1, 1.1-8.13; Book 2, 1.1-10.18; Book 3, 1.1-10.18; 

Optional: Augustine, The City of God against the Pagans, Bk 19

Week 4, October 25-27

Monday: Augustine, Confessions, Book 8

Wednesday: Augustine, Confessions, Book 10

Week 5, November 1-3, Spiritual Pressures

Monday: Augustine, Confessions, Book 10

Wednesday: Fra Dolcino and the Spirituals; Julian of Norwich, from “A Book of Showings”

Essay 1 Due

Week 6, November 8-10: The Flesh 

Dante, Inferno, canto 1-3; Dante, “Letter to Cangrande”

Week 7, November 15-17: The World

Inferno, 4-6; 10-11

Week 8, November 22-24

Inferno, 13-15; 19; 26-27

Week 9, November 29-December 31: The Devil

Inferno, 28; 32-34; Bertran de Born, “Be’m plai lo gais temps de pascor”

Week 10, December 6-8: Exuberant Worldliness

Monday: Inferno, 33-34

Wednesday: Chaucer, General Prologue to The Canterbury Tales; Miller’s Tale (begin). 

Essay 2 Due

Week 11, December 13-15

Miller’s Tale (end); Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale

Week 12, December 20-22

Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale; Pardoner’s Tale

Week 13, December 27-29

Pardoner’s Tale; Prioress’s Tale; Nun’s Priest’s Tale (if time)

Week 14, January 3

Nun’s Priest’s Tale (if time)

Essay 3 Due

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