REL 228
Zen and the Art of American Literature Fall 2020
Division II
Cross-listed AMST 238 / ENGL 239
This is not the current course catalog

Class Details

Just one hundred years ago, few Americans knew the first thing about Buddhism. But in 2020, who hasn’t heard of (or even tried) mindfulness or meditation? Buddhist ideas and practices now seem ubiquitous, available even in the form of smartphone apps like Headspace and Ten Percent Happier. In this class, we’ll explore how Buddhism came to be the profoundly important cultural force in American life that it is today. We’ll read a variety of Buddhist-influenced literary texts, from the Beat poetry of the 1950s to contemporary novels like Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being. And we’ll range far beyond the world of literature into other cultural domains in which Buddhism has had a deep impact, like environmentalism, psychotherapy, and Western attitudes towards death and dying. We’ll also give special attention to the role that Buddhism is playing in the struggle for racial justice (from bell hooks to Black Lives Matter). And we’ll engage in an experiential investigation of the benefits of incorporating contemplative practices like mindfulness into higher education: students will learn a variety of meditation techniques, and we’ll spend time each week practicing and reflecting upon those practices. Students will be expected to maintain a daily meditation practice outside of class (10-15 minutes a day), with the help of one of those newfangled meditation apps no less! No prior experience with meditation is necessary. Just an open mind. (For detailed information about the format of this hybrid course, please visit:
The Class: Format: seminar; This is a hybrid course. The class will be divided into small discussion groups of 6-7 students (two of the groups will be in-person; one of them remote). In a typical week, the whole class will meet together once on Zoom for 45-60 minutes and each discussion group will meet once for 60 minutes (either in-person or remote). For more info about the class format, please visit: (students who are interested in this course should visit this URL).
Limit: 21
Expected: 21
Class#: 2278
Grading: yes pass/fail option, yes fifth course option
Requirements/Evaluation: Regular attendance will be strictly required; weekly Glow posts; and a final critical or creative project (like an 8-10 page essay, podcast episode, or zine).
Prerequisites: none
Enrollment Preferences: preference will go to juniors and seniors; students who pre-register should email [email protected] an explanation of why they want to take this course, which will be used to decide enrollment. The class For more info:
Distributions: Division II
Notes: This course is cross-listed and the prefixes carry the following divisional credit:
AMST 238 Division II REL 228 Division II ENGL 239 Division I
Attributes: ENGL Literary Histories C
EXPE Experiential Education Courses

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