a start on a bibliography on religion in the writing classroom

Anderson, Chris. “The Description of an Embarrassment: When Students Write about Religion.” ADE Bulletin 094 (Winter 1989): 12-15. (I have a digital copy.) Addendum 01-14-08: here’s a link to this article: http://web2.ade.org/ade/bulletin/n094/094012.htm

Dively, Ronda Leathers. “Censoring Religious Rhetoric in the Composition Classroom: What We and Our Students May Be Missing.” Composition Studies/Freshman English News, v25 n1 p55-66 Spr 1997 Ordered via ILL 4-10-08 Transaction Number 297674.
ABSTRACT: Notes that it is not unusual for writing teachers to place “religion” on lists of forbidden subject matter. Describes a two-year research project that developed and tested a pedagogy for responding to the unique problems that composition instructors face when intellectually and rhetorically unsophisticated religious texts do cross their desks. (RS)

Added 4-10-08 ABSTRACT: The purpose of this research was to investigate the potential effects of a pedagogy designed to help students avoid dualistic modes of thought and expression when writing about religious subject matter. Specifically, the study focused on the following questions: (1) How might the nature of students’ attitudes toward, the processes involved in, and the products elicited by engagement with a religious topic be characterized? (2) To what extent is it possible to help freshman composition students write about religious faith in an intellectually and rhetorically astute fashion as that is defined by appropriations of William Perry’s model of the intellectual and ethical development of undergraduates for the composition classroom? (3) How might composition instructors successfully address the many problems which necessarily arise when helping students to write about religious values and experiences within forums (including the academy) composed of individuals who may not share their convictions?

The research pedagogy drew heavily on theories of audience and forum analysis, multiple subjectivity and the centripetal and centrifugal capacities of language. The potential effects of the pedagogy were investigated by means of preexperimental and case-study methodology. The primary data (collected from each of forty students in three separate classes) included two drafts written in response to an essay assignment on religion, one written before implementation of the pedagogy, and the second written after implementation of the pedagogy. Other data included questionnaire responses, process journals, revision plans and end-of-the-semester self-analyses.

The data led to the following conclusions: (1) The majority of students did not produce dualistic initial responses to the essay assignment on religion. (2) Some students involved in the preexperiment did improve the quality of their essay on religion after implementation of the pedagogy. (3) Case-study documents revealed that the students’ attitudes toward the assignment on religion were positive. (4) Case-study documents and students’ drafts suggested that certain aspects of the pedagogy were helpful in facilitating successful revision processes for the assignment on religion. (5) Many of the students experienced common difficulties when drafting the essay assignment on religion.

McGuire, Vail H. Unlikely Connections: The Intersection of Composition, Rhetoric, and Christian Theology. Diss. Doctor of Philosophy, Miami University, English, 2007. Ill’d 4-11-08 297763.
ABSTRACT: The discipline of composition and rhetoric and the discipline of theology, particularly Christian theology, are two areas which have often found themselves distanced from one another, especially as they are positioned both within the academy and the composition classroom. Because the epistemological orientations of these two disciplines are often perceived as so dissimilar, the discipline of composition and rhetoric has been remarkably disinclined to include theology and religion among its many theoretical tributaries. In addition, composition pedagogy often conduces to a more liberal sociopolitical orientation, thus promoting further distance between the composition teacher and the conservative Christian student. The purpose for this paper, therefore, is twofold: first, to promote greater awareness among the professionals in my discipline of the contiguity which exists between composition and rhetoric and contemporary theology. There are conversations that are currently taking place regarding how to appropriate religious faith into the composition classroom in pedagogically productive and meaningful ways, but they are not addressing the issue within a theological context. Thus, the second objective is to address the following question: How might rhetoric and composition be informed by contemporary theology? In answering this question, it is important to recognize that Christianity is neither a coherent nor a monolithic cultural identity, something that will be examined at length. In addition, an exploration of the theologies of Trinitarian doctrine and of evangelism reveals how they might speak to the issues of subjectivity, ontology, and social construction, discussions which, in turn, suggest how theology can both inform and transform classroom practices.

Rand, Lizabeth A. “Enacting Faith: Evangelical Discourse and the Discipline of Composition Studies.” College Composition and Communication, Vol. 52, No. 3 (Feb., 2001), pp. 349-367.
ABSTRACT: This essay contends that religious belief often matters to our students and that spiritual identity may be the primary kind of selfhood that more than a few of them draw upon in making meaning of their lives and the world around them. Particular attention is given to evangelical expression in the classroom and the complex ways that faith is enacted in discourse.

Williams, Bronwyn T. “Taken on Faith: Religion and Identity in Writing Classes.” Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 48(6), 514–518.
ABSTRACT: In exploring her uneasiness in dealing with issues of religion in her classroom, the author asks, “Should I guide students away from writing about issues that explicitly dealt with their faith? Should I impose an outright prohibition on such writing? Or should I find ways to engage with the issues and the perspectives that were so clearly important to these students?” This insightful and reflective essay highlights the connections between faith and identity and the role that literacy may play in expression of both.


5 thoughts on “a start on a bibliography on religion in the writing classroom

  1. Hi Laura,
    Last quarter, two of my students decided to write on religious subjects in English 102. It’s hard to deny them that right when I ask them to read “The Role of Religion” by the Dalai Lama, one of the readings in the text. I used to be the teacher that asked students not the write on religious topics, but I’ve been deliberately educating myself more on the subject so that I can allow them to write about religion and feel confident in my ability to ask them questions that will challenge their assumptions and get them to think more broadly. I think it’s been working well. One girl wrote about homosexuality. She decided to track the history of “Christian” hatred towards gay love and to argue that it does not arise from Biblical injunction. She’s probably the best writer I’ve encountered in all my years of teaching, so her paper was wonderful. Another wrote about what it means to follow Christ’s teachings. She started off with a fundamentalist, literalist approach, but by the end had developed her paper into a reflective essay in which her own views had clearly grown more complex and sophisticated. Interestingly, the first student told me she was printing out a source in the computer lab and the technician got angry because it was a religious source and therefore not “college-related.” When my student told her it was for a 102 paper, the tech told her, “I don’t think that’s possible. I don’t think any instructor here is going to let you write about religion. It just isn’t done. It’s not academic.” Ha! Shannon

  2. It’s interesting that some folks – students, lab technicians, maybe even faculty – confuse writing ABOUT religion with writing religion itself. History (personal, institutional) is quite different (though connected) with efforts to persuade.

    On another note, would you please send me the link to Anderson’s essay? Thanks!

  3. You might also check out Parker Palmer’s book The Courage to Teach, which I’ve only read part of, and I don’t remember it being explicitly religious, but it kind of is. Chris Anderson’s book might be in order.

    And, depending on how you’re focusing on religion, Robert Tremmel’s Zen and the Practice of Teaching English is amazing!

  4. Thanks, Shannon!
    Those two examples (students) are good to hear. And that computer lab tech — wow, what an example of, like Sara says, assuming that writing about religion is writing religion (which, like writing politics, I guess we assume is more polemic than discourse?) or just that religion is not a valuable enough topic among the humanities. Of course, it seems in fact religion might be one of the MOST important topics, one of the most important areas civil discourse has to encompass (for lack of a better word).
    But I also take your insight that you, the instructor, have to know enough about religion, enough to know what kind of questions to ask, in order to make the topic work.
    Thanks again for your insights. Laura

    Thanks, Sara. I think you’re right about people not differentiating writing about religion to writing writing. It’s a fear of religious persuasion. We kind of have that same fear of political persuasion, but not as much. With religion, we fear more than the gullible will be brain-washed, we fear too much affect (and effect!) of emotion. Interesting that we give religion so much more power than politics — either that or we give the “audience” so much less critical thinking ability. SOMEthing. Anyway, of course: I’ll send off a copy of Anderson’s article to you tonight.

    And thanks, Michael, for the reminders. I keep almost but not quite getting to reading Palmer’s and Tremmel’s books. And definitely Chris Anderson’s.

  5. I just came across your website on a google search for religious writing in the composition classroom. I’m also in an English Comp MA program, and I’m thinking of examining this issue more closely for my thesis. I’d love to chat more with you about your insights. I also wanted to point out that Lizbeth Rand has a chapter in Intertexts: Reading Pedagogy in College Writing Classrooms on this topic, “Reading as a Site of Spiritual Struggle.”

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