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This project involves developing syllabi for two courses, an introduction to American Studies and an English Department senior seminar. It focuses on nature writers-not only literary authors, but natural and social scientists-who are also contemplatives: Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, Barry Lopez, Gary Snyder, Richard Nelson, Terry Tempest Williams, Linda Hogan and others. Themes explored in these texts include dwelling, home and universe, comparative traditions, science, travel, the lessons of history, embodiment, ecofeminism, green movements and environmental justice, and imaginative versions of landscape by the privileged juxtaposed to the lived experience of the disempowered. Since contemplation of nature is what most nature writers in fact do, students involve themselves as well in contemplative practice. They begin each class period with meditation as a centering exercise; write contemplative journal entries on their readings; and reflect deeply on these entries and turn them into papers. Further, the act of contemplation for nature writers does not end in solitude, but in emergence in a connection to the world. To this end, there is a community service component in these courses, compulsory in the introductory course and voluntary in the senior seminar.

This presentation explores how contemplative practices, especially those anchored in an active listening to silence, are integrated into creative writing courses. It pays particular attention to a course taught at the United States Military Academy at West Point and to a course on the poetry of war and peace taught at the University of Connecticut. The presentation includes not only excerpts from student writing during the courses but also ongoing correspondence with students as they have maintained meditation practices during their military service in Iraq.

Reading and Writing Women’s Lives’ is a course designed to introduce you to genres of writing that involve personal and lived experience about and by women: personal essay, biography, autobiography, and autoethnography. Not only will we be reading these forms as well as theories about writing and women’s experience, but we will also try our hand at producing them ourselves. The guiding method of this course is collaborative learning: between teacher and students, between me and each of you, between each of you and your own small group or the class in general. The course emphasizes dialogue and process–experiential learning at its heart, since the very topic of the course necessitates that we confront our understanding of experience itself, and confront the ways our understanding of our selves depends on it. Together we will learn to recognize and examine various scripts for being and knowing, in order to seize the one(s) we find most meaningful.

This project explores the integration of Zen Buddhist contemplative practices with practices entailed in academic, especially literary, reading. The mindfulness cultivated through Zen practices, and the ethical awareness that can spring from that mindfulness can inspire an academic reading practice that is both faithful to the particulars of a text’s form and sensitive to its ethical and political implications.