2008 Graduate Conference

"Challenging Faith: Intersections of Belief and Doubt in Literature, Composition, and the Profession"
hosted by the University of New Hampshire English Graduate Organization
March 7-8, 2008  •  University of New Hampshire, Durham, NH, US


Conference Theme

Challenging Faith: Intersections of Belief and Doubt in Literature, Composition, and the Profession
March 7-8, 2008  •  University of New Hampshire, Durham, NH, US


Keynote speakers

Sharon O'Dair, University of Alabama
Patricia Bizzell, College of the Holy Cross
and a reading by University of New Hampshire MFA students in fiction and poetry

Conference theme

     This graduate conference will explore the topics of faith and belief (understood in their broadest sense), how these topics have evolved, and how they are being discussed within the disciplines of English. We seek to cover the following areas of inquiry, though these questions are intended to spur and not limit thinking on the subjects of faith and belief:

  • (Re)defining faith. What is “faith”? What forces produce the effect that we could call faith, in all its guises (religious, aesthetic, philosophical, scientific, political, pedagogical, social)? Is “faithlessness,” in any sense of the term, even possible? Sustainable?
  • Political, social and cultural impact of faith. How is faith manipulated as a political tool? Is it possible to think of faith as somehow outside or even opposed to the secular? How do articles of faith drive various cultural narratives, narratives of the nation, of gender, of sexuality, of race, of class? How is faith constructed by culture? What happens when irreconcilable versions of faith interact across cultural boundaries, or when different manifestations of faith contradict one another within a cultural group?
  • Faith in the discipline of English. What has happened to English scholars’ faith in their social function? Do we have faith or do we want to have faith in the efficacy of scholarship and teaching in enacting political change? Do we have faith that universities and colleges are the best places to prepare students for reading and writing outside of academia? Do we have faith that English and the humanities will remain relevant in the contemporary university? How can the work of English scholars retain its status alongside the sciences or business?
  • Faith in theory. Is it fitting to discuss theory in terms of faith? What should we make of claims that theory is “dead” or that we are post-theory? Has our faith in theory indeed waned?
  • Faith in literature. Can literary texts help us to understand the function of faith/faithlessness in culture? What sorts of faiths have influenced the development of literary forms? What does one need to believe in order to invest in literature’s cultural capital? What cultural work does faith perform, and what is the role of literary texts in this activity? How does literature support, inform, or reify faith? How does literature critique, challenge, or undermine faith? How might readerly faith change across different historical periods and in different cultural contexts? How does literature help us understand questions of specifically religious faith? How does literature encode, empower, or critique the boundaries among various registers of faith (religious, political, aesthetic, etc.)?
  • Faith in teaching. Do we have faith in English courses such as literary surveys and first-year composition? How have the many challenges to our faith in the traditional canons changed how we study and teach literary texts? Do we believe that our methods of teaching argument and persuasion can accommodate or respond effectively to what is practiced in contemporary political discourse? Do we believe that rhetorical analysis of political discourse can lead to change? Do we have faith that teaching and assigning traditional essays will equip students to read and write in a variety of environments, including electronic and networked ones? Do we believe that technology will change reading and writing as we know it? Do we believe in the gradual shift from traditional aesthetic or belletristic writing toward technical and discipline-specific writing? Do we have faith in standards and outcomes in English?

Presentation format

     Graduate students will give 20-25 minute individual presentations (which we will group into 90-minute panels) on the afternoon of Friday the 7th and the morning and afternoon of Saturday the 8th. Panels are scheduled concurrently (two panels per time slot) with time allotted for discussion and questions.

     Please attend! No registration fee for non-presenters.

     The keynotes and panels will be held in the UNH Memorial Union Building (MUB).