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