Classroom connects religion, poetry

By Stori Long

For centuries, people have expressed their relationship with the divine through the written word. Whether the purpose of the writing is to praise, critique or study, faith and literature often go hand in hand. This upcoming fall semester at Baylor, the English department is once again offering ENG 3370: Religion in Literature, a class that examines poetry and religion in 19th century Britain.

“The overarching mission in the class is to challenge a stereotype about the 19th century,” Dr. Joshua King, assistant professor in the English department, said. “It is considered the age of Darwin and Dickens, of the novel and of science’s triumph over religion … it was actually a time when poetry was used as a way to both embrace orthodoxy and to re-imagine what religion means.”

This will be King’s third time teaching the class.

“The class has become much more interactive,” King said. “My first year teaching I was more concerned with structure and making sure everything was in the right place. … The second year I really wanted the students to own the discussion more heavily. I think this helped to make it more entertaining.”

One of the ways King accomplished this was by providing students with a topic and discussion questions surrounding that topic. The next class centered around those questions and allowed for a more student-led discussion of the literature. His second year teaching, King kept copies of student response papers, which he hopes to quote and incorporate into discussion with new students, allowing his past students to be involved even after they’ve left.

The opportunity the class provides to study poetry and faith in conjunction with one another is a characteristic that Houston junior Jaclyn Drake found particularly appealing when she took the class in the fall 2010 semester.

“I was interested in learning more about reading poetry and what makes Baylor so cool is that you can study it alongside with religion,” Drake said.

The class explores the poetry of the Bible as well as the works of such poets as Thomas Hardy, Matthew Arnold and William Wordsworth and a litany of other poets. Students are required to study the various works of the poets and formulate responses to a certain work or certain issues.

The class is divided into different units: romantic prophecy and the Bible, religious poetry, poetry as religion, science, nature and faith, women poets and religious authority and late century sonnets: collects and relics. Each of these different units allows the students to explore different types of poetry in relation to different issues.

King said it is very important that students leave the class understanding poetry, but also engaging the work on a personal level.

“A lot of the class is built on pathos,” Coppell senior Thomas Carlson said. “There would often be a huge emotional response to things we read. … If you want to be moved and touched, take this class.”

The class is also built on King’s passion for the topic he is teaching.

“Dr. King is so great,” Drake said. “He is so passionate and connected with the material and is so talented at just bringing it back to today and to our lives.”

Carlson echoes this respect for Dr. King.

“The most valuable thing I got from the class was the relationship with Dr. King,” Carlson said. “He is so passionate and cares about the human condition being explored in the poetry.”

It is this passion King wants his students to have in studying the poetry and relating it to their own lives.

“I want them to understand the history of poetry,” King said. “But I want them to look up from the page and see how the poetry affects their world.”