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

Saturday Roundtable

Brown bag roundtable discussion

"Faith in English Studies: Belief and Doubt in the Profession"
Saturday, March 8, 12:15-1:30 • MUB 330/332

Featured speakers

Patricia Bizzell, College of the Holy Cross
Sharon O’Dair, University of Alabama
Reginald Wilburn, University of New Hampshire
Douglas Lanier, University of New Hampshire, moderator

Featured readings

Patricia Bizzell. “Beyond Anti-Foundationalism to Rhetorical Authority: Problems Defining ‘Cultural Literacy.’” College English 52.6. (1990): 661-75.
[click to download PDF]

Sharon O’Dair. “Class Work: Site of Egalitarian Activism or Site of Embourgeoisement?” College English 65.6 (2003): 593-606.
[click to download PDF]

Stanley Fish. "Will the Humanities Save Us?” New York Times blog, January 6 and 13, 2008.
[click for Part 1]
[click for Part 2]


We welcome all UNH English faculty and graduate students to participate in this roundtable discussion, a featured session in our conference on faith and belief in English. This roundtable will focus on the institutional and social roles of the discipline of English Studies. It will ask: To what extent do we believe in our ability to fulfill these roles?

Please take some time to look over the readings listed above: we’ll use them as prompts for our conversation. We’ll build on them by asking the following questions:

  1. Broadly, in what ways do we have faith in the discipline of English Studies to promote social change?
  2. What is the role of the "public intellectual" in promoting social change in the current academic climate and status of the university-as-institution? Do English scholars make good public intellectuals? That is, in what cases do the textual/professional/ pedagogical practices of literature and rhetoric/composition faculty seem to resonate outside their departments and universities? In what cases do they not?
  3. With Stanley Fish's recent columns in the New York Times in mind (see above), what arguments can English scholars make to university administrators – and to broader publics – about the value of what scholars do? Can we do better than such well-worn claims as "Careful reading and writing promote critical thinking"? Is there room in academic and public discourse for advocacy of what Fish describes as the "aesthetic pleasure" of reading and writing?
  4. How might discussions such as this one (regarding our place in the narratives we tell ourselves about our disciplines) strengthen our ability to advance our interests outside our departments and universities? How might this discussion not be helpful in this regard? (Might other disciplines regard their own futures similarly? What tensions may be unique to the future(s) of English Studies?)

Snacks will be provided, but please feel free to bring a lunch. We hope to see you there!