Divine Cluster

For academic year 2021-2022. 

In Person

The Divine cluster’s theme for 2021–2022 is “In Person.” The long year extending from March 2020 through the present leads us to attach new meaning to this common phrase. In-person schooling, worship, dining, sporting events, artistic exhibitions, performances and even small gatherings of family and friends being canceled, disrupted and “switched to virtual,” has provided ample opportunity to reflect on the value of in-person encounters. Indeed, such experiences invite us to consider the deeper and more lasting meaning of “in person.” The phrase can, from philosophical and theological points of view, refer to the dignity of human beings, whether individuals or persons in relationship and community, at local and global levels. For Christianity, Holy Cross’s religious tradition, “in person” points to the coming of God into the world in the person of Jesus Christ. For Christianity and other traditions, secular and religious alike, “in person” connects to questions of truth. For artistic traditions, “in person” can refer to artworks’ presentation of reality in detail and in truth. The seminars in this cluster will take such ideas into account, encouraging students to think about, to practice (in many cases through Community-Based Learning), and to experience the importance of in-person encounters, personal dignity, community and truth.

NOTE: Some courses (as indicated below in the course descriptions) include a Community-Based Learning component. These experiences will be organized as conditions allow in conjunction with the College's Donelan Office of Community-Based Learning.

Seminars

Christian Critics

Common Area Designation(s): Studies in Religion 

Biography as Theology (fall) 

This course will take a “biography as theology” (James Wm. McClendon, Jr.) approach to the study of Christian social ethics in 20th century America (with a few notable exceptions outside of the United States). In keeping with the Divine cluster theme of “in person,” we will study the lives and work of significant Christian figures including Walter Rauschenbusch, Howard Thurman, Reinhold Niebuhr, Dorothy Day, and Martin Luther King Jr. Exploring the character, callings, and contributions of these and other important Christian thinkers will provide a window not only into how Christian concepts are embodied “in person,” but also the role Christianity plays in social, economic, and political criticism in the United States.  

The Beloved Community (spring)  

Despite their status as moral exemplars, each of the figures we studied in the fall emphasized the importance of Christian community. This course challenges the “biography as theology” approach to Christian social ethics. It does so, first, by exploring important critiques of this approach by various feminist, black feminist, womanist, and other liberationist thinkers; and second, by considering various Christian conceptions of community and their role in social, economic, and political criticism in the United States. Finally, we will study the mission and work of various contemporary Christian communities and organizations.

God, The Senses, and Us

Common Area Designation(s): Studies in Religion

Theology of Making (fall)

This seminar takes its name from artist Makoto Fujimura, who proposes that “making” (through art and more) gives human persons access to God’s being and grace as it permeates our lives. Using Fujimura’s insight as a guide, we shall examine selected works from the Bible, theologians, philosophers, and visual artists to grow in understanding of (1) how human lives and communities are made and, in the face of brokenness and trauma, remade, and (2) how “making” relates to the question of truth, as this relates to “sense” in that word’s many meanings. This course entails a commitment to a Community-Based Learning component, so students may see how community is (re)made “on the ground.” 

World(s) of Sense (spring)

Is there such a thing as “the world,” a singular basket in which all things we experience, know, and do neatly fit? This seminar will begin with a carefully reasoned “no” to this question, preparing us to examine the word (and reality) “global,” as it pertains to visual art, religion (especially “global Catholicism”), and, given time, selected matters of social ethics. We will continue to consider the question of truth, as it is complicated by the plurality and ambiguity that comes when truth-seekers are creatures of “sense.” This course entails a commitment to a Community-Based Learning component so students may deepen their understanding of the interconnectedness of the “local” and the “global.”

Identity, Diversity and Community

Common Area Designation(s): Studies in Religion

Exploring Difference (fall)

One of the most important tasks for the human person as a moral being is to come to “know thyself,” as the ancient philosophers recommend. But how do we do this? The African ethic of Ubuntu suggests that persons come to know themselves through other persons, that is, through relationships within diverse communities. Our willingness to place ourselves outside the boundary of our “comfort zone” and compassionately encounter difference, disability, and “otherness” may paradoxically lead us to a more honest and merciful knowledge of the self. Through film, readings in theology and literature, and engagement in the experiences of marginalized communities, we will consider difference and disability and how such encounters with others in their “otherness” bring us to a more challenging and deeper knowledge of ourselves. This course entails a commitment to a Community-Based Learning learning component.

Modifying Technologies (spring) 

The second half of our seminar will focus on the ways in which advances in modern western reproductive medicine and genetic technologies challenge our notions of “normal” and “disabled” and how we understand the boundary between them. As these advances bring us the hope of cure as well as more choice and control over our bodies and minds, what might be lost with the diminishment of difference and diversity? With the help of readings in bioethics and social ethics, as well as continued engagement in the experiences of marginalized communities, we will consider the following question: Can the human community thrive while those who are outside the “norm” are increasingly stigmatized, isolated, and perhaps eliminated? Students will become knowledgeable about medical and genetic technologies that may be used to diminish diversity and reinforce boundaries between "normal" and "disabled." This course entails a commitment to a Community-Based Learning component.

Protest

Common Area Designation(s): Literature or Philosophical Studies

Embodied Activism (fall)

This course asks how being "in person" means to take up space, both in terms of protest like marches or sit-ins and the representation of who is visually seen and counted. Our course will rely on ideas about embodied knowledge and personhood, two concepts from human rights and women of color feminisms that shape how we understand fundamental beliefs about truth and dignity. Together we will examine art (including visual, performance, literary, and music) and other forms of activism that have drawn attention to violence done against bodies, particularly those of women and other people of color. This course entails a commitment to a Community-Based Learning component.

Struggles for Truth (spring)

In this class we will ask, along with Virginia Woolf: what happens after one has “killed the angel in the house”? Were we to be freed from stereotypes or external forms of oppression, once we have become “free,” perhaps by means of protest as activism, to what reality do we attest? Who is the subject I am trying to give voice to? Virginia Woolf and many early feminists put the question in terms of what it means to be a woman: if a woman is not an aspiring Victorian “angel,” what is she? We will study the way Plato’s dialogues, at the “beginning” of philosophy, dramatize the personal struggle to articulate truth, protesting conformity for the sake of a radical freedom; and the way the Existentialists in the last century argued that freedom is never “accomplished” once and for all, because one is never free except in relation to this struggle for the truth. This course entails a commitment to a Community-Based Learning component.

Searching for God in all Things

Common Area Designation(s): Studies in Religion

Divinity and History (fall)

“Seeking God in all things” – a Jesuit motto – sums up one of a multitude of ways in which human beings have approached “the Divine” or “the transcendent.” Such terms may refer to one God, or a multitude of spiritual beings beyond ordinary sense experience, or an overall sense of “the spiritual” in the world. During this fall semester of the seminar, we will focus on ways in which ideas of this kind have shaped culture and politics throughout history, and continue to do so. We will use tools from several disciplines, including social sciences, history, arts, literature, and theology, and incorporate direct experience into this inquiry, using the resources of the Donelon Office for Community Based Learning. This course entails a commitment to a Community-Based Learning component or its online equivalent.

Divinity and Daily Life (spring)

In the second semester of the seminar, we will focus on ways in which people have recognized, described, and pursued a personal and practical sense of the divine, and continue to do so. We will try to understand how the practice of religion and spirituality has been shaped by the long human development we considered in the first semester. Continuing to make use of a variety of disciplines and practices (including Community-Based Learning), we will also look at our own attitudes and experiences regarding “the transcendent,” to deepen our understanding of where we might “fit” into the overall human story. This course entails a commitment to a Community-Based Learning component or its online equivalent.

Divine Cluster Director

 

Peter Fritz

Peter Fritz, Ph.D., Edward Bennett Williams Fellow, Associate Professor, Religious Studies
Email: pfritz@holycross.edu