Literature and Theology II - In-person

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Tue 13 Jun
  • Tuesday, 13 June 2023
  • 7:00pm - 8:00pm
  • London Jesuit Centre, 114 Mount Street



Course Overview

In the 1950s, the Lutheran theologian Paul Tillich wrote a series of lectures dealing with what he saw as the ‘problem of theology and culture.’ Tillich argued that secular art could perform a sacred function in bringing human beings towards a more authentic awareness of ‘the ultimate concern.’ For Tillich, the greatest works of art were those which drew viewers and readers towards the horizon of understanding. In this course, we will consider a range of different literary masterpieces, considering the ways in which the work of these writers can bring us into encounter with the mysteries of human existence. We will bring these secular works of art into dialogue with the key concerns of the Christian theological tradition: from free will to creation; from grace to apocalypse.

Course Outline

Week 1
Free Will in Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Brother’s Karamazov

The Brother’s Karamazov is one of the greatest works of literature. Through the medium of a story about domestic strife and small-town politics, Dostoyevsky introduces themes of faith, despair, courage, and the meaningfulness or otherwise of human existence. This session will focus on a brief passage from the novel in which two of the main characters are forced to consider the nature of sin and the possibility of freedom of will in the context of Christian belief.


Week 2
Creation in Marianne Moore’s Jerboa.

Marianne Moore was the daughter of a Presbyterian minister from Kirkwood, Missouri who rose to be one of the most influential American poets of the twentieth century. Her work explored the concept of sin and temptation in light of her understanding of the fallenness of humanity. She also wrote with rare insight about the relationship between humanity and the natural world. In this session, we will focus on one of her poems – Jerboa – and seek to unpack its reflections of the concept of creation.


Week 3
Sacrifice in Franz Kafka’s Abraham

The story of the sacrifice of Isaac – the Akedah – is one of the most challenging passages in the Biblical canon. In this short story, Franz Kafka meditates on the possible, real experiences of the human man Abraham and, in so doing, calls us to question the real meaning of the sacrifice, and of sacrifice in general. We will discuss this short piece of writing in tandem with Kierkegaard’s writing on the same subject in this weeks class.


Week 4
Faith in James Baldwin’s Go Tell it on the Mountain

James Baldwin was one of the great literary voices of the twentieth century. His novels, informed by his own life, described the anguishes and the joys of being cast to the margins of society as a black, gay man in America. At the heart of much of Baldwin’s work is a preoccupation with faith, belonging and abjection.  Go Tell it on the Mountain is a deeply personal story in which the characters negotiate the challenge of faith: faith in God and faith in institutions. We will be discussing these themes in light of black theology – which was emerging at the time that Baldwin was writing.

Week 5
Grace in Flannery O’Connor’s A Good Man is Hard to Find

Christian theology suffuses the work of Flannery O’Connor, the twentieth century American writer. One theme which she grappled with was the concept of grace. In this remarkable and challenging story, she pushes us to think about the relationship between morality, hypocrisy and grace. We will be discussing this story in the light of the concept of Grace as discussed in the writing of St Augustine.


London Jesuit Centre, 114 Mount Street 114 Mount Street

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