ENGL 239
Zen and the Art of American Literature Spring 2023
Division I

Class Details

Just one hundred years ago, few Americans knew the first thing about Buddhism. But these days, 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, Western attitudes towards death and dying, and the ongoing struggle for racial justice. 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 for in-class discussion. To create opportunities for conversation and discussion, I will offer a substantial number of office hours each week as well as occasional discussion group meetings (of 15 students each; the discussion group meetings will be optional).
Limit: 75
Expected: 75
Class#: 3807
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 the Google Form at https://tinyurl.com/ZenAmLitSpring2023 by the end of preregistration. Preference will go to students dropped from the Fall21/Spring22 sections of ENGL 239 and then by class year (seniors first).
Distributions: Division I
Attributes: ENGL Literary Histories C
EXPE Experiential Education Courses

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