REL 617 / Theology, Gender, & Violence


The assignments for this course are designed to help you practice writing as a way of thinking. Writing is not just something we do after making up our minds; we can also write to discover connections, clarify intuitions, hone arguments. We can write for ourselves as well as for other people.

Reading Journal [15%]

Every week, by midnight the night before class, you will make an entry in your reading journal in response to a prompt I provide.

In a reading journal, we write for ourselves. The prompt will require you to identify central connections between the texts we’ve read and our goals in class. I will also encourage you to note connections with projects you have outside of class.

Keeping an open journal for your major projects is an excellent habit to develop. It gives you a space to record and think through those minor epiphanies that don’t have immediate application—i.e., in our case, that won’t make it into your other papers. Also, if you’ve had to put a project down for a while, reading through your journal is a quick way to remind yourself of the work you’ve done.

Grading: I will grade your journals on a simple check, check-minus, zero scale. Full credit requires only that you keep up with your journal and put some thought into it. Late entries are allowed (since if you’ve forgotten to keep up with your journal, it’s still good to go back and jot down some notes about the material), but cannot earn more than a check-minus (since you will have missed the chance to think through your impressions while it was all still fresh).

Mechanics: I prefer to receive all assignments electronically, in a form easy for you to archive and preserve for yourself. We will discuss the most convenient way of submitting all your assignments on the first day of class.

Community Watch Reflections [3 x 15%]

Three times during the semester, you will write a short reflection (roughly 1,000 words) drawing connections between our class discussions and current events.

Start taking note of discussions on campus, in your congregation, or in the media that deal with theology, gender, and violence. Keep a running list of bookmarks, copy a story into your reading journal, write down anecdotes as you come across them. We will make time to discuss some of these stories in class. Out of the stories that stick with you, reflect on how our theological conversations illuminate the events or vice versa. At least one of your reflections should focus on an event or story you want to affirm, and at least one on an event or story you want to critique. Since our primary readings will be conceptual in orientation, these assignments will help keep our conversations tethered to the concrete realities of gendered violence.

In these reflections, you are still writing primarily for yourself. You are beginning the work of applying the concepts we are wrestling with in class to the world around you. These should be more formal than your reading journals, but their purpose is still fundamentally exploratory. This is not a state-your-thesis-and-defend-it kind of paper. This exercise is meant to generate theses. I will give you more guidance and a rubric later in the semester.

Grading: These reflections will be graded on the H/H-/HP+/etc. system, but on a different set of criteria than a standard academic paper. Creativity and intellectual risk-taking will be preferred to tight argumentation (which comes later). I will not be concerned with matters of style or form. In the first of these papers, I will grade you and give you comments. In the second, I will do the same—but you will also grade and comment on yourself. In the third, finally, you will grade and comment on one another. The goal of this kind of assignment is to develop the habits of self-critique and constructive conversation with one another.

Mechanics: To keep you from binge-writing all of these at the end of the semester, and to encourage you to connect with a range of themes covered in class, due dates for these reflections will be staggered. The first reflection will be due on or before week five (Sept. 30), the second on or before week eight (Oct. 28), and the third on or before week eleven (Nov. 18). In each case, you can write on any theme already covered—not only those since the last reflection due date.

Theological Synthesis [40%]

By the end of the semester, you will choose one of your community watch reflections to develop into a 3,000-word synthetic essay, analyzing how theological concepts supported or resisted gendered violence and how they might have done otherwise.

Here we take a step towards writing for others, without going the full way. Looking back through your journals and your reflection papers, settle on a single idea that seems to you the clearest, most interesting, and most important. Where the community reflections were intentionally more exploratory and winding, your synthesis essay should be narrow and systematic. It should advance an argument. Your goal is to test whether your idea that initially seems clear, interesting, and important remains so after being subjected to rigorous analysis. (If it does, you are well prepared to think, at long last, about putting it in a form that others will understand and respond to.) In addition to the essay itself, therefore, you will also be required to append a short self-critique: having explored your idea further, what seem to you to be its strongest and weakest points?

Grading: Your synthesis will also be graded on the letter system, with much more focus on logical coherence and clarity of expression than was expected of the earlier papers. Again, a general rubric will be distributed later in the semester. Five percent of your grade will depend on the quality of your self-critique.

Mechanics: Your synthesis will be due on the final day of the semester, December 16.