IDS 254 Religions and Cultures
A critical examination of diverse religious discourses and literacies and how they construct and reflect identity based on cultural differences
Dr. Janice Witherspoon Neuleib
Jneuleib@ilstu.edu
http://www.ilstu.edu/~jneuleib/courses_taught.htm

Required Text:
    Pearson Introduction to Literature—Religions and Cultures in Literature
            Women Who Run with the Wolves—Clarissa Pinkola Estes
   

Course overview:

Religion serves various purposes in cultures and in human lives. Individuals and cultures experiences religious impulses and practices differently.  We will operate from four theoretical frames, noting how they work in individuals and cultures.  The fours are roughly equivalent to high church, middle church, low church, and no church, but there are many variations on these patterns, both within and across cultures.  Your task for the course will be to consider thoughtfully where you and your culture fall within these four frames, or to create your own frame from which to see the issue.  I will use the word spirituality to talk about individual perspectives on religion and the word community to talk about cultural responses to religion.

Work to do:

In class I will ask you to write, work in groups, and discuss.  I will also give mini lectures because I won't be able to resist talking to all of you about the issues in this course.  The work for the course will consist of four or five page papers (single spaced), each due on the last class-meeting Friday in August, September, October, and November.  In addition to the papers, I will also ask for the in-class writing you have done to be turned in along with the papers.  The grade for the class will reflect both the work in the paper and the in-class writing. At the end of class, you will revise one of the papers in light of the reading you have done for the semester and turn it in as your final exam.

Unit 1    Beginnings

This section introduces the various concepts that religions and cultures have held about the origins of human beings and the world around them.

The Structural Study of Myth, Claude Levi- Strauss    Introduction to beginnings
Passages from Essays and Letters, Flannery O’Connor    On creating
Leda and the Swan,  William Butler Yeats   Conceiving the divine
She Unnames Them, Ursula LeGuin  A woman’s view of creation
The Coora Flower, Gwendolyn Brooks    A black woman’s view of origins
I Never Saw a Moor, Emily Dickinson  The divine in nature
Journey of the Magi, T.S. Eliot  The divine through pagan eyes
Easter Wings, George Herbert    Rebirth of hope
Kubla Khan, Samuel Taylor Coleridge    Strange creations
Estes, Vasalissa and Sealskin, Soul skin

Unit 2   Cultures collide

This section illustrates different cultural ways of seeing the world and its explanations and experiences.

Jerusalem, Yehuda Amichai and William Blake    The city where cultures meet
Africa, Maya Angelou   Looking to the homeland
To the Diaspora, Gwendolyn Brooks   Africa’s heritage to the world
Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad   Africa through western eyes
The Negro Speaks of Rivers, Langston Hughes   Cultures of the diaspora
Maria Concepcion, Katherine Anne Porter   Latin experiences in the north
The Catherdral, John Ashbery and Raymond Carver   Contrasting views
The Windhover, Gerard Manly Hopkins   Above the lines of culture
Estes, Bluebeard and Handless Maiden

Unit 3   End times and frenzies

Endings come again and again in life, but humans tend to see patterns in these endings.

Mythologies, Roland Barth   Introduction to myths
The North Wind and the Sun, Aesop   Who is stronger?
The Twenty-Third Psalm, The King James Bible   Fighting off fear
The Tyger, William Blake   Origins of evil
The Bacchantes, Eurepides    The furies of women
Fire and Ice, Robert Frost    A choice of ends
The Second Coming and Purgatory, William Butler Yeats   Foreboding personified
The Minority Report, Philip K. Dick,  Destruction from without
Revelation, Flannery O’Connor   A vision of the final judgment
The Idol House of Astarte, Agatha Christie   Magical deaths
Because I could not stop for Death-, Emily Dickinson    The end comes at last.
Death be not proud, John Donne    Is the end really the end?
Estes, The Ugly Duckling and La Loba

Unit 4   Ethics and values

Human values speak across cultures and across religions.

Everyman   The common experience of humanity
The Parable of the Prodigal Son, The King James Bible    Who should be forgiven?
“Faith” is a fine invention and Some keep the Sabbath, Emily Dickinson   Faith’s nature
The Vixen and the Lioness, Aesop     Does might make right?
The Minister’s Black Veil, Nathaniel Hawthorne   Seeing evil in others
The Collar, George Herbert   Accepting responsibility
First Confession, Frank O’Connor    A youth faces ethical issues.
Crazy Jane talks to the bishop, William Butler Yeats   Who has the greater error?
Pied Beauty, Gerard Manly Hopkins   Accepting all types of creatures
Estes, Skeleton Woman

Unit 5    The problem of pain

The question most challenging to humans has to do with the reason for suffering.

Holy Thursday, William Blake   Responsibility for suffering
Merciless Beauty, Geoffrey Chaucer    Inexplicable contrasts
The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas, Ursula LeGuin   Social responsibility
Morning, Mary Oliver   Pain and suffering in nature
Othello, the Moor of Venice,    William Shakespeare  Tragedies are made not born.
The Parable of the Good Seed, The King James Bible   The human heart and choice
Batter my heart, three-personed God, John Donne    Human stubborness
The Vixen and the Lioness, Aesop     Personal responsibility
God’s Grandeur, Gerard Manly Hopkins  One poet’s answer to pain
Estes, The Red Shoes and The Crescent Moon Bear






Sample paper for 254, Fall 05




Being Found by a God
On Leda and the Swan and Rapunzel

Janice Witherspoon Neuleib

    Yeats’s Leda and the Swan introduces the idea of the intersection of the human and the divine, showing that the divine, or the spiritual, often finds us unaware. Most intellectuals go through a stage during which they proclaim that they have given up innocent religious beliefs. Often this means that they refuse to be bound by the rules and regulations that they identify with religious beliefs and teachings. Or it may mean that they had to sit still too long in church or Sunday school before they were ready to listen or participate. My path was not those paths. As a child I could sit still for hours if the conversation was about history or magic or belief. I could pour over religious documents and concentrate on the concepts with the attention of a rabbi or a monk. My problem was that I tended to believe what I read, and as I read more and more, I began to find that one text questioned another and that each text added more complexities to those I had read.
    When I was very small, my mother read the Bible with me and talked about the stories (I know now that she tended to edit them so that I got the ones she liked and didn’t get the ones she didn’t like). As I grew older, I read the texts for myself and at first was likely to take what I read with some literality, though I was always prone to seeing what was not there rather than what was there. Then I took world history as a sophomore (wise fool is what the word means) in high school and discovered the historical inaccuracies of some of the stories in the Bible. I began to try to sort out the various histories and try to find out what the historical possibilities might have been.
    Then too I began to see the discrepancies between everyone values and actions. The adults I knew all proclaimed certain values but fell short of what they said was right and good. I personally had been writhing at my own inability to live righteously (I hadn’t yet read the apostle Paul carefully, or I would have seen my own struggles in his). I could see that I fell far short of my own standards, and it drove me crazy whereas everyone else I knew seemed to be completely at ease with hypocrisies that, when I saw them in myself, sent me into fits of self loathing. I, like Hawthorne’s minister in the Minister’s Black Veil, was driven to doubt the worth of my fellow humans as redeemed saints. I needed a heavy dose of Flannery O’Connor, but that was to come much later in my intellectual and spiritual development.
    By the time I was a freshman in college, I was pretty deep in doubt about the worth of the Christian communities that I saw around me, and I was certainly in doubt about my own ability to live a life that would have fit with any of the moral precepts that cut across all the great religions of the world. Then I met a fellow, who was later to become a theologian, Pete Zimmer. Pete and I were in a Christianity and Lit course together and began to talk about my sense of moral impossibilities. He just grinned and said, “All you need to do is read C.S.Lewis, and he gave me his copies of Lewis’s science fiction trilogy. I spent the next few days devouring Lewis’s works, and I understood.
    No one has to be perfect to enjoy the delights of spirituality. We are all just as wicked as the day is long, and even so we are invited to experience the divine in the breath of a fall wind, in the pain of a long-held yoga pose, in the great voice of a pipe organ, or in the quiet repetition of a great prayer. It truly is OK to enjoy spiritual riches and to imagine a divine power behind them to our hearts’ content. We need neither truth nor righteousness to be free to luxuriate in the beautiful and the spiritual to our hearts’ content. Lewis makes clear throughout the trilogy that it is piety and self-righteousness that cuts us off from the pleasure of the divine mysteries, not everyday hypocracies.
    The problem of truth and logic still loomed large because I still had a strong inclination to want to see proof and data. I took courses in philosophy and reasoned my way through the British Empiricists and the great German philosopher Kant to the realization that there was no way to prove or disprove the reality of the divine. I had to find permission to worship in another work of C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, in which he says that we have an appetite for worship and we are allowed to indulge that appetite just as we have an appetite for food, air, or sex and are allowed to indulge those appetites. All natural impulses should and must be followed if we are to be happy humans. I realized that I did not have to be right or righteous to be able to enjoy the delights of four part choirs or pipe organs or requiem masses. I could go and enjoy these delicious experiences as easily and freely as I could eat hot fudge or fresh apples. My appetite for spirituality was free to be indulged even without proof and without my own righteousness.
    Let me explain one more point about Lewis’s argument in favor of worship. He is not talking about belief, a concept with I am still not quite comfortable. He is talking about worship. He says that when we enjoy a piece of music or admire a friend or lover, we cannot help praising the thing of which we approve. The same is true of our spirituality; we cannot resist the desire to worship, to give thanks for the beauty of a day or the sound of great music or the grace of an elegant dance. We simply cannot help but sing the praises of that which we admire, and we experience our joy even more fully when we experience it with others who also admire and praise what we admire and praise. The need to worship together is simply a natural and healthy impulse which should be indulged as freely as we breath. The question of intellectual validity just does not apply to the situation.
    Lewis’s wonderful permissive argument, however, was not quite enough for a mind like mine, for I really did have to figure out how and why the divine was pursuing me and how I had been seduced by this powerful appetite for pipe organs and liturgies. The next step, then,  in my search for god came through my reading of myth and fairy tales. I began to understand the powerful force that moved beneath the surface of all consciousness and to comprehend that I could tap into that force by reading these tales, or even by having read them over the years. I bought Joseph Campbell’s tapes and watched him on public TV; I began to learn about the sweeping power of the stories that cut across cultures and about the need of all peoples to tell these stories.
    My next step was to try to understand what my particular story might be. It certainly was not Cinderella, for I had no interest in meeting with a prince of any kind nor of any possibility of being carried off to some place where there was no work to do and only (eek) dresses to wear all day long. No, my story was not about emotional security and psychic integration. I had a long way to go before I would get to that story. I listened to Campbell and learned that I resonated with far older stories, stories of sacrifice and death, in fact with the death of the leader or king. Why did this story move me so much? What did it mean to ask someone to die for his or her people? What is this sacrifice about?
    In college I had been asked to write a test answer in which asked me to decide which of the Renaissance characters I most identified with, and I chose Luther over more wily and self protecting folks like Queen Elizabeth and Erasmus, though I knew that I shared a certain set of mind with those two buccaneers. Finally, though, it was the fellow who found himself risking everything for his convictions (about the rightness of protecting the poor from the rich and of treating others with kindness rather than with exploitation). I realized that I identified with the impulse toward divine sacrifice even though intellectually I had a hundred arguments against such quixotic behavior.
    Still searching for my story I knew that my story would never be the story of private romance nor of captured innocence (I, like Flanner O’Connor’s less desirable characters, was never innocent). My story had to be one like Leda’s or one like Rapunzel’s. I would have to find a story of forced acceptance or of forced wandering in the wilderness. I would not go innocently or gladly toward the divine in my imaginary world. I was too resistant, both intellectually and morally. I could give myself permission to worship enthusiastically, but I could not give myself permission to make the great leap of faith that defied logic and data.
    Once again Lewis came to my rescue, along with some more Joseph Campbell and a good dose of Carl Jung, the great Swiss psychologist. In his late fifties Lewis married a woman who was a most inappropriate match for a Christian admired by fundamentalists worldwide. Joy Davidman was Jewish, American, and divorced, not at all an appropriate match for a British Christian, Oxford don. He fell in love with her after marrying her as a Christian kindness so that she could stay in England far away from her abusive husband. Then she died, and Lewis wrote the story of his grief, day by day, painful step by painful step. I read that book and understood what love and pain and sacrifice are about.
    The divine does not ask us to be good, and the divine does not appear in the whirlwind. Rather, the divine is there in the sorrowful moments of our daily lives within and around and under and beside. The divine is there as father and mother to encircle us in moments of grief and unbearable pain, not caring whether we have been bad or good. As Lewis went through his pain and suffering, he slowly realized that he divine was present in the people who cried with him and in the great books that comforted him as he read a tried to escape. The divine is not there for our logic to play games with or to reason toward but rather to bind up our wounds.
And the seduction of the divine is the seduction of that which gives us new life when we have lost all hope; indeed we can be pursued by and even seduced by the divine, but the result is renewal, regeneration, and life restored and begun. What Lewis discovered in the death of the first person he had deeply loved was a new life of feeling and spiritual strength, not the same spirituality that he had known before, not the smug rationality that he had displayed in Mere Christianity, but the deep resolution that comes as pain ceases.
    I began to understand Christianity through the eyes of Carl Jung who saw Christ as the example of one who suffered, died, and rose from suffering, as the metaphor for return from pain, return from suffering of all kinds. I began to see that life is a long series of little deaths and losses from which we return again and again, marking each of those losses with little crosses, little acknowledgements of our pain and loss. Lewis’s suffering and renewal was like that metaphor of the dying god, a god or god-king who suffered the pains of and for his people and rose again from the pain and darkness. I began to see that for me the great creed was not a requirement of belief but a simple and powerful description of life’s promise. As long as there is breath, the spirit will be with us and carry us forward into the next dawn. Out of death and sorrow will come life, not because we wish it to be so but because it is so.
    Some of the African religions understand this better than the north religions do. In the jungle life grows out of death. New life is implanted by the gods whenever something dies and lives again. Barbara Kingsolver expresses this concept in her Poinsonwood Bible a tale of an American missionary family who face the mysteries of the Congo. The story finally turns on a death and rebirth, not the one the missionary father would have anticipated but one that embodies the kind of spiritual truth Lewis expresses in his own powerful memoir. Life comes back again and again, no matter how desperate the circumstances.
    The story of humanity, as Toklien, the great Catholic apologist, assures us, is a comedy, not a tragedy. The universe does promise renewal and regeneration, however bad things may look. And that is the real story that I discovered had been driving me all my life. Rapunzel is driven from the tower; her lover is blinded; she does wander in the wilderness; she does bear and rear her children alone; but in the end all is restored. Life returns. The divine pursues even the saddest outcast in the most punitive circumstances. The promise of light and life are the real seduction of the divine. That we cannot resist hoping for tomorrow is the real seduction, the seduction that says that the annunciation is always at hand, the divine child will continue to be present. That child represents hope even in a dismal world.
    I can remember reading some critic or another who said Jesus must have been born in the summer, not the winter. That critic did not know how to read myth. The divine child always appears when things appear darkest, the light returning when hope is lost. No one needs divinity and spirituality when things are going well. Think of the scribes and the Pharisees, rich guys who had no use for the divine child. Only the poor needed the spirit and the light. Only the poor in spirit need the intervention of the divine swan or angel or dancer. Then we are able to recognize divinity and accept it gracefully, knowing that grace has been given and taken.
Thus neither logic nor morality proved to be of any use in my pursuit of my story. All that was needed was a desire on my part to worship and a desire on the part of the divine to pursue me through all the good times until I turned my face in the bad times and accepted the chance for renewed energy and joy.






















IDS 254 Religions and Cultures
Catalogue Description
A critical examination of diverse religious discourses and literacies and how they construct and reflect identity based on cultural differences
Stv. 308, 7:30-8:45 M-R, Beginning June 18, 2001
Dr. Janice Witherspoon Neuleib
jneuleib@ilstu.edu
http://www.ilstu.edu/~jneuleib/courses_taught.htm
Required Texts:  Estes, Clarissa Pinkola.  Women Who Run With the Wolves:
        Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype  Ballantine, 1995 (at the bookstore)
         Any version of the Bible, Koran, Upanishads--use your own or a web site
         Campbell, Joseph. Selected commentaries  (I will provide)

Recommended: Eliot, T. S. Four Quartets
        Howatch, Susan.  Absolute Power series
         Johnson, Reginald.  Your Personality and the Spiritual Life
         Lewis, C. S. Till We Have Faces
 

Course overview:
 

Religion serves various purposes in cultures and in human lives. Individuals and cultures experiences religious impulses and practices differently.  We will operate from four theoretical frames, noting how they work in individuals and cultures.  The fours are roughly equivalent to high church, middle church, low church, and no church, but there are many variations on these patterns, both within and across cultures.  Your task for the course will be to consider thoughtfully where you and your culture fall within these four frames, or to create your own frame from which to see the issue.  I know that it will be early in the morning, but I think that we can use that time to our advantage.  I will use the word spirituality to talk about individual perspectives on religion and the word community to talk about cultural responses to religion.  Perhaps the early morning hour will give us a chance to investigate both our own spirituality and our communities more thoughtfully.
Work to do:
 
In class I will ask you to write, work in groups, and discuss.  I will also give mini lectures because I won't be able to resist talking to all of you about the issues in this course.  The work for the course will consist of four four or five page papers (single spaced), each due on Thursday (June 28, July 12, July 26, and August 9.  In addition to the papers, at the end of each two weeks, I will also ask for the in-class writing you have done.  The grade for the two week will reflect both the work in the paper and the in-class writing (that means that if you haven't done the in-class writing in class, your paper grade will be lowered).
Here's roughly what the papers will be about, but I reserve the right to change direction if we find topics more vital to the class as we go along.

Paper 1:  On spiritually and community

 
In this first paper, you will introduce the texts that you have so far found vital by picking a topic from those texts.  For example, if I were writing this paper, I would choose the Gospel of St. John and talk about the kind of mystic spirituality exemplified in that gospel and about how St. John demonstrated his mysticism in his small community of religious people.  I'd compare his perspectives to my own and explain my own religious choices in light of the mystical path (Mystical Paths is the title of a Susan Howatch novel).
Paper 2:  On cultures and creativity
 
The second paper will center around the issues of creative energy and how it becomes activated in any given culture.  W e will visit the Beauty and the Beast (Cupid and Psyche) story in various forms, and you will have the chance to write about your own creativity in the context of your culture and personal interests, using also the texts that we have been reading.  If I were writing this paper, I would talk about the role of the scholar within modern culture.  Is there a place for scholars?  I'd write about the main character in C. S. Lewis's Till We Have Faces, a woman who rules a kingdom by reading.  Goddesses.
Paper 3: Which "church"?
 
This third paper will be about the levels of church suggested above.  What disposition do you bring to your religious culture and why?  You will investigate a religion or culture that appeals to you (web research is encouraged here) and write about your disposition toward a particular religious (or not religious) culture.  If I were writing this paper, I would write about high church culture (especially classical music and really huge pipe organs accompanied by well-trained choirs). I'd research the groups who support and participate in this kind of religious and cultural expression.  I'd likely do a survey of my church choir to see how they fit into the cultural of such a "high" church.


Paper 4:  Which text?
 

This paper will ask for a reading or one or more texts suggested above or other that we agree upon during the summer.  Each person should choose the text(s) that will produce a paper reflecting important religious and cultural issues to the writer.  If I were writing this paper, I might write about the film The Apostle.  That film makes me very uneasy, and I'd like to investigate why the church and culture in that film are so shadowy for me (that is, they bring up issues that I'd rather pretend I don't know about at all).