ENGL 278
Buddhism and Contemporary American Literature Spring 2022
Division I

Class Details

The influence of Buddhism on American literature is long-standing and appears to be growing ever deeper with time. A very partial list of contemporary American writers who have been influenced by Buddhist practice and theory includes: Ruth Ozeki, George Saunders, Charles Johnson, Alice Walker, bell hooks, Maxine Hong Kingston, Ocean Vuong, Maggie Nelson, Jane Hirshfield, and Norman Fischer. This class, conceived as a follow-up to the introductory course “Zen and the Art of American Literature” (though it’s not necessary that students have taken that course), will offer a deeper look into the role that Buddhism is playing in contemporary American literature. Our focus will fall squarely on literary texts (mostly novels and poems by the authors named above, including Ruth Ozeki’s latest novel, The Book of Form and Emptiness), but we’ll make occasional forays into Buddhist nonfiction, to supplement our understanding of how Buddhism is speaking to pressing contemporary problems like racism and the ecological crisis. Students who want to take this course should already be familiar with the practice of meditation (see pre-reqs below), which they will be asked to continue (for 15-20 minutes a day) alongside their study of texts by writers who have themselves engaged in similar contemplative practices (often as an integral part of their own writing practice). Ideally, practice and theory, reading and experience will mutually inform one another.
The Class: Format: seminar
Limit: 25
Expected: 25
Class#: 3853
Grading: no pass/fail option, yes fifth course option
Requirements/Evaluation: Attendance will be strictly required (after two allowed absences, each subsequent absence will lower a student's final course grade by 1/3). Other requirements: daily meditation practice (15-20 minutes a day), a weekly meditation journal, various informal in-class and take-home writing assignments, and a final 10-12 page essay.
Prerequisites: Students must have successfully completed a course at Williams that includes a substantial introduction to the practice and theory of meditation. Examples include ENGL 239, ENGL 277, REL 269, REL 232, REL 254, REL/PHIL 288.
Enrollment Preferences: After you preregister, please email me at [email protected] with an explanation of what draws you to the course, as well as the name of the course you've taken that satisfies the meditation-related prerequisite.
Distributions: Division I
Attributes: ENGL Literary Histories C

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