REL 638 / Theology of Poverty


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 access for yourself. We will discuss the most convenient way of submitting all your assignments on the first day of class.

Reading Responses [2 x 20%]

Twice during the second unit of the course (weeks 4–8), you will write a roughly 1,500-word reading response, engaging and developing an author’s theological analysis of poverty.

The goal of a reading response is not simply to get an author ‘right,’ though it’s crucial to read the texts with care and attention. The goal is to think with an author. In these essays, you will be required first of all to identify and elaborate a key theological argument about poverty in one of our texts. You will then attempt to extend or critique that argument in your own terms.

You are still writing for yourself in these essays, exploring and developing your own opinions about how we might adequately speak about poverty in theological terms. They should be more exploratory than thesis-driven.

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. I will distribute a general rubric later in the semester. I will grade and comment on the first paper. The second paper will be graded and commented on by your classmates. The goal of this kind of assignment is to develop the habits of constructive conversation with one another.

Mechanics: You will choose two days during the second unit to focus on for your responses. The response will be due the week after we discuss your text in class.

Theology in Practice Essay [45%]

At the end of the semester, you will write a 3,000-word essay connecting one major theological theme to one major form of anti-poverty organizing.

In this essay, your goal is to reflect on the basic question of the course: how does theological reflection on poverty play into concrete efforts to organize against it? You will take one form of anti-poverty organizing we study in the final unit of the course (weeks 9–12) and explore it in light of one one of the major theological themes we studied in the second unit. You may use the specific case we study in class, or, after running it by me, you can choose another case you are familair with. You can pick whatever theological theme seems most fitting, but I encourage you to develop of the themes you wrote about for your reading responses.

This essay will require you to strike out on your own theologically, since you will be developing a connection that’s only implicit in our other readings. I will provide templates closer to the end of the semester.

Grading: These essays 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.

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