AMST 238
Zen and the Art of American Literature Fall 2021
Division II
Cross-listed REL 228 / ENGL 239 / AMST 238

Class Details

Just one hundred years ago, few Americans knew the first thing about Buddhism. But in 2021, 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 some Buddhist American literary texts, like Ruth Ozeki’s wondrous novel, 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 meditation into the classroom: students in the course will learn a variety of meditation techniques, and we’ll spend some time each class practicing and reflecting upon those practices. Students will be expected to meditate outside of class as well (2-3 times per week). No prior experience with meditation is necessary. Just an open mind.
The Class: Format: lecture; This will be a lecture class, with little to no time in-class for discussion. To create opportunities for conversation and discussion, I will offer a substantial number of office hours each week as well as small discussion group meetings (of 15 students each) every other Sunday (the discussion group meetings will be optional).
Limit: 85
Expected: 85
Class#: 1910
Grading: yes pass/fail option, no fifth course option
Requirements/Evaluation: Since this is an experiential course, presence is essential and will be strictly required (so after two allowed absences, each subsequent absence will lower a student's final course grade by 1/3 of a letter grade: A- to B+, for example). Other requirements: short reading responses and free-writing exercises for each class meeting, a 3-4 page midterm essay and a final 8- to 10-page essay.
Prerequisites: none
Enrollment Preferences: Students who preregister should fill out an expression of interest form at https://tinyurl.com/ZenAmLitSpring2022 by Nov. 9. Preference will first go to students dropped from the Fall 2021 section of ENGL 239 and then by class year (seniors first).
Distributions: Division II
Notes: This course is cross-listed and the prefixes carry the following divisional credit:
REL 228 Division II ENGL 239 Division I AMST 238 Division II
Attributes: ENGL Literary Histories C
EXPE Experiential Education Courses

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