Since the publication of my colleague Mike DePalma's article about rhetorical education, civic engagement, and religious discourse, a few folks have asked about seeing the course syllabus of mine that he described alongside one he designed and one designed by Jeffrey Ringer. I've posted below the syllabus for that senior-level rhetorical theory seminar, and I've removed most of the institutional boilerplate material. I taught this course in Spring 2011, when I was a little more than halfway through my doctoral program.
WRT 424: Writing, Rhetoric, and Identity
Writing and Spirituality: Reading, Writing, and Speaking of Faith
Let’s begin our conversation with others’ words:
When scholars in rhetoric and composition discuss writing and power, they most often mean economic or political power first, intellectual or social power second—power over others. Perhaps it is time for us to include spiritual power. It is time for us to see all the multifaceted ways actual human beings use literacy to compose power in their daily lives.
Something occurred to me. In all the sociology courses on identity I had taken, in all the late night conversations we had at Allen Hall on the subject, the issue of religion rarely came up. . . . [F]aith was nowhere to be found in the diversity discussion.
Some of the voices actively participating in contemporary conversations about what individuals and societies should value come from communities and perspectives of faith. Think about the controversy over the proposed Islamic cultural center in New York City or the fact that there is an Office of Faith-Based Initiatives at the White House or the televised memorial service for the victims of the recent armed assault in Tucson that included a traditional Native American blessing and a Shaker hymn as well as readings from Jewish and Christian scriptures. The examples could go on and on. Regardless of what political or religious affiliations a person claims, if any at all, it seems unlikely that anyone would deny that religious traditions and spiritual sentiments function as powerful social forces throughout history and in the contemporary moment. Thus, in this course, we will study religion/spirituality, but not as theologians might. Rather, we will use our perspective as students of writing and rhetoric. How can a rhetorical perspective provide insight into some of the many intersections of religion, writing/literacy, and identity? Our work will proceed with a concern for the same questions that we would ask when examining or writing political messages, popular essays, academic arguments, public service announcements, text messages, tweets, or webpages: What arguments are being forwarded? What are the effects or implications of these arguments? How might some arguments have unintended consequences? What audiences do rhetors imagine? Which ones do they reach? We’ll take up these and other questions as we look at a range of genres: spiritual memoirs, theoretical treatments, historical inquiries, academic scholarship, popular essays, news stories, and others. In pursuing these questions and looking at these genres, you will engage in a number of composing practices and projects. Major projects include a short first essay in which you discuss your knowledge about and interests in the course topic, a synthesis and analysis project using course readings, and a final project that consists of a proposal, an analysis of the genre and audience for your project, a presentation, and a paper that can take a range of potential forms. Daily assignments include a mix of short responses, discussion questions based on the readings, and summaries of selected texts.
Students will be able to:
-apply and refine the skills of rhetorical analysis.
-evaluate audience expectations and respond to them.
-summarize and evaluate scholarly research and popular discourses about selected topics.
-evaluate a variety of genres, including spiritual memoir, journalism, opinion pieces, and scholarly research, with attention to their rhetorical situation and to the possibilities they afford for social action.
-recall, describe, and apply some select methods and theories used to investigate rhetoric, literacy, and identity with special attention to religion/spirituality.
-recognize and analyze arguments made using religious evidence, texts, experiences, and claims.
-describe and explain some of the ways in which religion/spirituality, race, ethnicity, sexuality, gender, class, and other dimensions of identity and social life interact in national and transnational contexts.
These texts are available for purchase at the SU Bookstore: A Communion of Friendship: Literacy, Spiritual Practice, and Women in Recovery by Beth Daniell, Jesus Freak: Feeding, Healing, Raising the Dead by Sara Miles, and Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim by Eboo Patel. They are also all available used through a variety of online bookstores. All other readings will be available as PDFs on Blackboard. Please set aside appropriate funds for making copies. You may bring in a laptop to access course readings and to write your notes if that format is most effective for you.
What I (Want to) Know 10%
Bringin’ Everything Together 20%
Proposal and Genre Analysis 5%
Symposium Presentation 5%
Discussion Questions 5%
Any-Genre Responses 10%
What I (Want to) Know — Definitions: This first writing project is a short (4 to 5 pages) self-reflective essay in which you write about what you know about rhetoric and about religion/spirituality, where this knowledge came from, how that knowledge and its sources have shaped your understanding of religion/spirituality, and what questions/concerns you want to pursue in this course. Begin by offering a statement about how this course fits into your own academic or professional goals (why did you choose this course [besides or in addition to “I needed a histories and theories course” or “It fit my schedule”]) and a definition of “rhetoric.” From there, select three or four terms/words/phrases that seem important to you when you think about religion or spirituality. For example, you could choose those broad terms “religion” or “spirituality” or any number of others directly or indirectly connected to them: faith, Jewish, Islam, Qur’an, Bible, Christian, values, atheist, humanist, grace, blessing, meditation, prayer, hope. . . . You get the idea. Take those words and phrases and offer your best attempt to define them. Kathleen Norris’s essays might suggest a way to approach this definitional part of the assignment. Last, offer any burning questions or interests you have about rhetoric and spirituality that you hope we’ll explore. This paper will begin our journey together by allowing us to examine our previous understandings, experiences, and assumptions—as well as our hopes—about the inquiry.
Any-Genre Responses: These 1- to 2-page responses to course readings will be written for and submitted on specific days. We’ll develop expectations for them in conversation together, but let me briefly introduce what I imagine. I see these short papers providing you a way to engage with selected readings through writing in whatever genres and/or modes that are most meaningful for you. Perhaps you’re struck by the way Patel’s theory of interfaith activism is informed by his several interfaith romances, and you’ll want to write a brief narrative that explores how an encounter you remember that showed you the difficulties and importance of speaking across significant lines of social, cultural, or political difference. Or maybe you’ll find it useful to write a poem that imagines what it might mean to walk with Anzaldua on the path of El Mundo Zurdo. You will select one of these any-genre responses to share with the whole class at some point in the semester. For each of these responses, include at the beginning a two or three sentences that frame the piece for your readers—a brief summary or what your response is and what it’s doing. Regardless of whether you choose to read your response on any given day, your writing should help you generate ideas that might spark in-class discussion. I will grade your best five out of six.
Summaries: For selected texts, you will compose summaries that present in fresh language the ideas of the source you’ve read for that day. Summary (whole source understanding) is the basis for serious, sustained academic writing and for thoughtful participation in the larger civic discourses and professional tasks in which we participate. I’ll provide guidelines for summary writing after the first class meeting.
Discussion Questions: For selected classes noted on the course schedule, you will each design one discussion question, a question which you have about the week’s readings that you’d like to explore in class. The question can deal specifically with one of the assigned readings, or it can be a bit broader and engage several readings. Even though you will not have to read your questions to the class, they will give us potential starting points for conversation and serve at least three additional purposes: 1) They offer opportunities for you to reflect more deeply on the assigned readings and, through this reflection, to deepen your learning. 2) They enhance your accountability for making the course work and give you more control over class time. 3) They allow me to assess your interests and learning. Question format instructions: If you ask a question about a specific passage, please provide the quotation and page number(s); if you ask a question about an issue found on specific pages, please include the page numbers. (There is no need to provide full bibliographic information for these questions.) Questions should be emailed to me by the start of class time. Here are two sample discussion questions:
1) In “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action,” Lorde writes: “I am not only a casualty, I am also a warrior” (41). What does Lorde mean when she refers to herself as a “warrior”? What weapons does she carry? What is her battlefield? Who is she warring against? Given the answers to these questions, what are the rhetorical implications of this self-definition? What audiences does her rhetoric call into being?
2) In “The Transformation of Silence Into Language and Action," Lorde challenges us to break silences and speak out, but in “Imagining Differently: The Politics of Listening in a Feminist Classroom” Cervenak et. al. suggest that we need to listen, rather than speak out. (Or do others read these pieces differently?) What are we to do when using rhetoric for social change work: speak out? listen? both? neither? I’m interested in hearing what my classmates think about this apparent contradiction, especially as it might impact our class discussions and, more generally, thinking about rhetoric and ethical relationships.
Do not ask definition-based or other too-easily answered/framed questions (for instance: “What does the word ‘hegemonic’ mean?” or “What forms of logos are used in this piece?” or “When did the Islamic Revolution in Iran occur, and how many people did it affect?”). Questions must be a minimum of 50 words. I will grade your best five out of six.
Bringin’ Everything Together Options: Regardless of the option you decide on for this assignment, my goals for you in this paper are these: make thoughtful claims informed by our shared reading and conversations, demonstrate your understanding of the course texts, accurately summarize and skillfully synthesize the sources you use, develop an effective essay structure, and convey your ideas through precise and clear language. Take 6-10 pages to accomplish your writing goals. Use MLA format and citation guidelines.
1) Beth Daniell argues, “In their circle, what the [Mountain City] women feel and say and think is valued more than some mythical ‘correct’ reading. . . . For them, school reading, literary reading, becomes irrelevancy. In this group of women, reading is a matter of life, and interpretation—meaning—begins with feeling and is something to be shared discussed, and questioned, not for abstract, intellectual, cognitive, or artistic reasons but for immediate, personal, spiritual, and social ones” (124). She goes on to write, “For Mountain City women, literacy as a state of grace is not an isolated occurrence but rather part of a habitual reading and writing for spiritual growth. They read and write … with the purpose of changing their minds—changing their hearts” (134). You should make a claim in this paper that is in conversation with Daniell’s position regarding literacy, rhetoric, and spirituality and that addresses how Daniell’s view interacts with other writers we’ve read so far. Early in your essay, explicate the understanding of literacy and rhetoric articulated in the quotes. What vision of rhetoric and literacy does Daniell offer here? How does her vision interact with spirituality? What about this vision seems most important or useful to you? Then explain how that position is complicated, complemented, or extended by two or three other course readings.
2) Select an artifact (a visual, a speech, an essay, a website, a news story, etc) relevant to our course inquiry and use two or three course readings to help you conduct an analysis of your chosen item. You should do several things in this paper: make a claim about your artifact that focuses on how it functions rhetorically, address what audience it assumes, and explain why is it important/interesting to write about now. It will also be important to be quite discerning about which course texts and which parts of them to use in making sense of your artifact.
Proposal: You will submit a 2- to 3-page proposal for your final project. This summary should outline which final project option you’re going to do, a rationale that explains your choice, the questions/issues you’ll pursue, the genre of your final project, and an audience for your project. Make copies of your proposal to distribute to all members of the class.
Audience/Genre Analysis: Write a 2- to 3-page paper that offers an analysis of the features of the genre you have chosen for your final project and of what characterizes the audience for whom you are writing. What does that audience expect? How do you know what they expect it? What does the genre you will write in allow you to do? Are there writing goals you have that are made difficult (or possible at all!) by this genre?
Professionalism/Presence: Regular, punctual attendance is a vital part of meeting the objectives of this course. This course requires your professionalism and engaged participation. Such requirements take many forms: active discussion, collaboration, punctual attendance, preparation for class, taking notes, asking questions of me and your classmates. Please do not use a cell phone during class, either for conversation or texting. You are allowed two absences without penalty; more than two absences may negatively affect your final grade in the course. Missing three weeks (6 sessions) will cause you to fail the course. Please note that you are responsible for submitting assignments on time regardless of absence.
Final Project Options: Regardless of which option you select, I will ask you for short, periodic updates about your progress during the last third of the course in the form of writer’s memos. We’ll develop guidelines for these in class. Also, we will have workshop days during which you’ll share your work and respond to others’ work. Not turning in these memos and not bringing drafts to workshop days will negatively impact your grade because you will miss out on opportunities for feedback and you will demonstrate that you’re not making consistent, ongoing progress toward project completion. Use MLA format and citation guidelines.
1) Write an essay that could be submitted to the “This I Believe” website (2 pages) and then compose a 6- to 8-page reflective essay that draws on two or three course readings to help you explain and situate your “This I Believe” statement. This reflective essay is not a rationale for you beliefs. Rather, it is a kind of analysis, taking your own writing as a historically located, rhetorical artifact. What does your text do in the world? Think of the extended essay as an opportunity to illustrate how this course has informed your thinking about the rhetorical nature of any belief statement (religious or secular).
2) Return to your “What I (Want to) Know” paper. Significantly revise it and extend it to 11- to 12-pages. In light of the course, how have your definitions been extended and/or complicated and your questions addressed and/or changed through engagement with course readings and class discussions? It’s possible that you might want to return to you “Bringin’ Everything Together” paper as well as all of your summaries and Any-Genre Responses for insights about the development of your thinking and your questions. Think of this second option as an opportunity to explain to your classmates and me your intellectual journey.
3) Write an 8- to 10-page paper that advances an argument about some intersection of rhetoric/writing/literacy and religion/spirituality. Your approach can be rhetorical analysis of an artifact or you can conduct primary research (survey, interviews, observation, etc). Your paper should demonstrate your developing familiarity with relevant secondary material about the topic. Imagine this paper as the beginning of a paper that might, with further revision, find a home in a journal dedicated to undergraduate research, such as YSIW.
4) Write an 8- to 10-page paper that advances an argument about a figure, text, or theme, that we have read and discussed this semester. Your paper should present your claim about the topic, supported by ample references from primary sources. It should also demonstrate your developing familiarity with relevant secondary material about the topic. As with option 3, imagine this paper as the beginning of an article that might, with further revision, find a home in a journal dedicated to undergraduate research, such as YSIW.
5) Propose a project that falls outside any of these options, but that allows you to pursue your professional or academic goals while also illustrating how the work of the course has informed your thinking about the intersections of rhetoric, writing, and identity with some particular attention to religion/spirituality or ethics/beliefs/meaning-making more broadly.
Symposium Presentation: We will develop guidelines as a class for the presentation component of your final project a bit later in the term.
As a rule, I don’t accept late work for a grade. You can request—ahead of time—a twenty-four hour extension for any one assignment. I also recognize that sometimes life intervenes and prevents some work from getting done or getting done as well as we’d like. Thus, for the Any-Genre Responses and Discussion Questions, I’ve scheduled for six of each to be turned in, but I’ll only grade your best five.
Commenting on Student Writing
You will engage in great deal of formal and informal writing over the course of the semester. How I respond to this work will differ depending on whether it’s a freewrite or a discussion question or your final project or your very first essay. Sometimes I will return short assignments with a sentence or two at the end, asking a question or responding with a comment about the ideas in the piece and their development. Sometimes I may return them with no comments, but with a check on top and will use your writing to inform how we discuss something in the next class meeting (and I try to make the connections between your writing and how they shape our class agenda clear). In marginal comments (those items written next to specific sections of your text) and endnotes (comments written at the end of the paper with the whole piece in mind) to rough and final drafts of your essays, I will call your attention to areas 1) where you accomplished the goals of the assignment and 2) where you could extend or complicate your thinking and development. I’ll also issue you challenges to consider for future writing. Sentence-level, usage, and grammar concerns do matter, and we will work on those issues. As writing professionals, this much should be clear. Polish matters. Stylistic variety, it matters. Sophisticated syntax? Yep. You guessed it. That matters, too. Thus, we’ll take time to practice editing skills. However, I’m not in the business of “fixing” papers because your writing is not broken.
Returning Graded Work
Given how much work we have to do, I will strive to get your assignments back to you as quickly as possible—one week at the very most. If you wish to speak with me about my comments on any assignment and what you can do as you move forward, wait a minimum of 24 hours before contacting me. Getting papers back is often an emotional as well as intellectual experience—the heart beats faster, the pulse races a bit, the stomach moves. This lag time allows you a chance to process my assessment of your work and to clearly express any questions or concerns you might have.
(Note: Readings and assignments might shift as necessary.)
Tues, 1/18 Introductions. Review syllabus in groups. Review the current Park51 situation. Groups work with different articles/blogs/transcripts. Share findings and use rhetorical terms.
Thurs, 1/20 Speaking of Faith video; Sex and the Single Savoir—excerpt of ch 2 and “Can Rhetorology Yield More Than a Mere Truce, in Any of Our ‘Wars’?”
Writing Due: Any-Genre Response
Tues, 1/25 Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith excerpts: “Bible,” “Righteous,” “Intolerance,” “Christ,” “Prayer as Mystery,” “Imagination”; and ch 1-3 of A Communion of Friendship
Writing Due: Summary—trail run with Daniell Chapter 1
Plan to conference with me at some point within the next week to discuss your writing and your goals and expectations as expressed in your paper.
Thurs, 1/27 Ch 4-5 of A Communion of Friendship; selections from “This I Believe”; Begin the second major project
Writing Due: “What I (Want to) Know” paper
Tues, 2/1 “La Prieta,” “Cowboy for Christ,” and “‘I am just so glad you’re alive’: New Perspectives on Non-Traditional, Non-Conforming, and Transgressive Expressions of Gender, Sexuality, and Race Among African Americans”
Writing Due: Summary of “‘I am just so glad’”
Thurs, 2/3 Excerpt from Sweet Tea: Gay Black Men of the South; “Feeling the Spirit in the Dark”
Writing Due: Any-Genre Response
Tues, 2/8 Jesus Freak: Feeding, Healing, Raising the Dead
Writing Due: Discussion Question
Thurs, 2/10 Jesus Freak: Feeding, Healing, Raising the Dead; “On Gender and Rhetorical Space”
Writing Due: Any-Genre Response
Plan to conference with me at some point this next week to discuss your paper ideas.
Tues, 2/15 Pieces from Young Scholars in Writing: “Ocutl, Or ‘Being The Torch’: Examining the Conversation Between Indigenous Voices and Colonialist Discourses” and “A Response to Andrew Noel”
Writing Due: Any-Genre Response
Thurs, 2/17 Bearing Witness: A Zen Master’s Lessons and workshop drafts
Writing Due: Discussion Question; Draft of Bringin’ Everything Together
Tues, 2/22 “Writing to Believe”
Writing Due: Summary of “Writing to Believe”
Thurs, 2/24 On Christian Doctrine—excerpt of Book IV
Writing Due: Bringin’ Everything Together (Submitted by 9am Saturday 2/26)
Tues, 3/1 “Pedagogies of the Sacred”; A Community Text Arises intro; planning final projects
Writing Due: Summary of ACTA
Plan to conference with me at some point within the next week to discuss your final project ideas.
Thurs, 3/3 “Healing Suenos for Academia”; “Our Work is Our Prayer”; “Blood and Scholarship”
Writing Due: Discussion Question
Tues, 3/8 Acts of Faith
Writing Due: Any-Genre Response
Thurs, 3/10 Acts of Faith
Writing Due: Discussion Question; Final Project Proposal
WEEK NINE ******SPRING BREAK******
Tues, 3/22 “Transing and Tranpassing Sex-Gender Walls in Iran”
Writing Due: Discussion Question
Thurs, 3/24 Devotion excerpts: 2, 7, 9, 11, 12, 17, 25, 31, 32, 33, 53, 54, 63, 64
Writing Due: Any-Genre Response
Tues, 3/29 “Tongues Untied: Memoirs of a Pentecostal Boyhood” and Intro to Secularisms
Writing Due: Discussion Question; Genre/Audience Analysis for final project
Thurs, 3/31 Discuss Genre/Audience Analysis and how you will respond to audience issues.
Tues, 4/5 Attention to working with evidence; Workshop
Thurs, 4/7 Attention to idea development; Workshop
Writing Due: Writer’s Memo
Tues, 4/12 Attention to source use and responding to the “ongoing conversation”; Workshop
Plan to conference with me at some point within the next week to discuss your final project drafts.
Thurs, 4/14 No class—Conferences
Writing Due: Draft of Final Project due to me for a sustained reading
Tues, 4/19 Style; Workshop
Thurs, 4/21 Intros and conclusions; Workshop
Writing due: Writer’s Memo
Tues, 4/26 Symposium
Thurs, 4/28 Symposium
Tues, 5/3 Symposium; Course Evaluations
WRT 424 Reading List
· A Communion of Friendship: Literacy, Spiritual Practice, and Women in Recovery by Beth Daniell
· Jesus Freak: Feeding, Healing, Raising the Dead by Sara Miles
· Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim by Eboo Patel
· Bearing Witness: A Zen Master’s Lessons in Making Peace by Bernie Glassman—excerpts
· Sex and the Single Savoir by Dale Martin—excerpt of ch 2
· “Can Rhetorology Yield More Than a Mere Truce, in Any of Our ‘Wars’?” from The Rhetoric of Rhetoric by Wayne Booth
· Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith by Kathleen Norris excerpts: “Bible,” “Righteous,” “Intolerance,” “Christ,” “Prayer as Mystery,” “Imagination”
· selections from the NPR “This I Believe”
· “La Prieta” by Gloria Anzaldua in This Bridge Called My Back
· “Cowboy for Christ” by Quince Mountain
· “‘I am just so glad you’re alive’: New Perspectives on Non-Traditional, Non-Conforming, and Transgressive Expressions of Gender, Sexuality, and Race Among African Americans” by L. Phillips and M. R. Stewart in the Journal of African American Studies (2008) 12:378–400
· Excerpt from Sweet Tea: Gay Black Men of the South and “Feeling the Spirit in the Dark” by E. Patrick Johnson
· Pieces from Young Scholars in Writing: “Ocutl, Or ‘Being The Torch’: Examining the Conversation Between Indigenous Voices and Colonialist Discourses” and “A Response to Andrew Noel”
· “Writing to Believe” from Spiritual Literacy in John Wesley’s Methodism by Vicki Tolar Burton
· On Christian Doctrine by Augustine—excerpt of Book IV
· “Pedagogies of the Sacred” from Pedagogies of Crossing by M. Jacqui Alexander
· Intro to A Community Text Arises by Beverly Moss
· “Healing Suenos for Academia” by Irene Lara in this bridge we call home
· “Our Work is Our Prayer” by T J Geiger in Peitho
· “Blood and Scholarship” by Malea Powell
· “Transing and Transpassing Sex-Gender Walls in Iran” by Afsaneh Najmabadi in WSQ:Women’s Studies Quarterly 36: 3 & 4 (Fall/Winter 2008)
· Devotion excerpts: 2, 7, 9, 11, 12, 17, 25, 31, 32, 33, 53, 54, 63, 64 by Dani Shapiro
· “Tongues Untied: Memoirs of a Pentecostal Boyhood” by Michael Warner
· Intro to Secularisms edited by Janet Jakobsen and Anne Pellegrini