Writing Seminar: Religion, Gender, and Sexuality in Literature


WR 100 D2                                         Instructor: Christine Kraemer (chk@bu.edu)

MWF 11-12, KCB 104                                   Office Hours: MW 1-3, 145 BSR #301


Course Description


The line between religious and sexual ecstasy is a fine one. From the biblical Song of Songs to the poetry of the Muslim mystic Rumi, religious writers around the world have blurred love for the divine with desire for a human beloved. In the past few hundred years, however, this blurring has not always been seen as positive. During the eighteenth-century religious revival known as the first Great Awakening, we find theologians such as Jonathan Edwards carefully policing the line between religious fervor and erotic desire. Edwards warned worshippers against engaging in physical affection while being swept up by religious zeal, lest their “Christian love” turn to “brutish lust.”


This wariness lingers in the US and UK today, but it is not the only potential religious reaction to sexuality. Today, there are a variety of writers for whom the celebration of human sexuality and the body has become a central religious tenet.


This course will explore the relationship between religion and sexuality in literature and media both historically and in the contemporary period, focusing on the United States and the United Kingdom. Because this discussion will necessarily require an understanding of how gender is constructed in Western society, we will also examine notions of masculinity and femininity in these works, as well as the potential for third genders that complicate this traditional dichotomy.


Texts Required for Purchase


Blake, William. The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1790)

Eller, Cynthia. Am I A Woman?: A Skeptic’s Guide to Gender (2003)

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter (1850)

Lawrence, D.H. The Man Who Died (1931)

Shange, Ntozake. for colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf (1975)

Thompson, Craig. Blankets (2003)


Kirszner & Mandell, The Concise Wadsworth Handbook


Materials Available Online (http://courseinfo.bu.edu)


Behn, Aphra.“To the Fair Clarinda”

Donne, John. “Batter my Heart, Three-Personed God”

Excerpts from the New Testament (Luke and John, RSV)

Morey, Janine. Religion and Sexuality in American Literature. [selections]

Smith, Jonathan Z. “Religion, Religions, Religious.” From Critical Terms for Religious Studies, ed. Mark C. Taylor.

Whitman, Walt. “Song of Myself,” Leaves of Grass (1855) [selections]

Class policies


Class attendance is required. Each student will be allowed three unexcused absences; further absences will result in a lower grade for the class (1/3 of a letter grade for every class missed after three). In the event of illness or emergency, the student is responsible for promptly contacting the instructor with documentation after returning to school.


In order to be considered on time, assignments and papers must be received in class. Electronic copies of papers will be accepted only when arranged with the instructor in advance. Electronic submissions must include the paper in .DOC or .RTF format as well as a plain-text copy of the paper in the body of the e-mail. Late papers may be turned in to my box at the Writing Center (730 Comm. Ave., Third floor) or in class. I will check my mailbox at 5pm on MWF during weeks when assignments are due. Papers will be marked down 1/3 of a grade for each day late. Extensions may be available when requested in advance. Papers should be double-spaced in 12-point Times New Roman font with one-inch margins.


Please complete the weekly assigned sections in the grammar handbook before class on Monday in order to be prepared for in-class grammar worksheets and the occasional pop quiz. Assigned readings are to be completed before class on the day for which they are listed.


The final deadline for changing or adding all WR courses is Tuesday, Sept. 12 at midnight. The last day to drop a class without a “W” is Friday, October 6; the last day to drop a class with a “W” is Friday, October 27.




Attendance and participation:                                         10%

Short writing assignments and quizzes:                            15%

Essay #1 and revision:                                                   15%

Essay #2 and revision:                                                   20%

Essay #3 and revision:                                                   25%

Oral presentations:                                                         10%

BUWA exit exam:                                                         5%


Extra credit opportunity: Study at a college level will challenge you to comprehend difficult readings. It is recommended that you keep a reading diary to make note of key phrases and ideas, ask questions about difficult passages, summarize arguments or plotlines, and record personal reflections on the material. Thorough reading diaries that cover the entire semester’s worth of material may be handed in with the final paper for up to two extra points on the final grade.


You will receive a copy of the rubric with which I will be evaluating your essays. Please note that Boston University has different grading standards than you may have experienced in high school. In humanities courses, a B is a reward for solid, successful work. Grades in the A range are rare, and are reserved for papers that are exceptionally masterful.




The BU Undergraduate Academic Conduct Code defines plagiarism in the following terms: “Representing the work of another as one’s own. Plagiarism includes but is not limited to the following: copying the answers of another student on an examination, copying or restating the work or ideas of another person or persons in any oral or written work (printed or electronic) without citing the appropriate source, and collaborating with someone else in an academic endeavor without acknowledging his or her contribution. Plagiarism can consist of acts of commission – appropriating the words or ideas of another – or omission – failing to acknowledge/document/credit the source or creator of words or ideas.” 


Words and ideas are the most valuable things that scholars have. In an environment dedicated to learning, thinking and writing, taking someone else’s work and presenting it as your own is a terrible offense. Plagiarism is absolutely forbidden in this course and at Boston University, and your instructor is experienced with identifying plagiarized papers. Punishments for plagiarism range from lowered grades to expulsion. The Dean’s Office will be notified of all suspected plagiarism.


You are responsible for reading the Academic Conduct Code and understanding what counts as plagiarism. Extra copies are available at the CAS Writing Center (730 Comm Ave, Rm. 301). If you have any questions about how to avoid plagiarism, please speak with the instructor. Ignorance of what constitutes plagiarism is not a legitimate defense. Remember: when in doubt, cite!


Office Hours and Writing Tutors


You will be required to attend one conference with me in my office hours early in the semester. You are also welcome to visit me in my office hours on Monday or Wednesday from 1-3, set up an in-person appointment at another time, or contact me by e-mail for extra help. In addition, the Writing Center provides a free tutoring service to all students in the Writing Program. If you are struggling, receiving tutoring in the Writing Center is the surest way to improve your performance in the course. Accordingly, tutoring hours are highly in demand, especially late in the semester. Call the Writing Center at 617-358-1500 to set up an appointment. Cancellations must be made 24 hours in advance.



Section 1: Defining Terms


Week 1


Wednesday, September 6 – Introduction


Friday, September 8 – Grammar evaluation

Smith, “Religion, Religions, Religious” (269-284)


Week 2


Wadsworth: Summarizing (379-383); Avoiding Plagiarism (389-398)


Monday, September 11 – Eller, Am I A Woman? (1-39)


Wednesday, September 13 – Eller, Am I A Woman? (66-94)


Friday, September 15 – Eller, Am I A Woman? (124-136)

Assignment due: Summary


Week 3


Wadsworth: Parts of Speech, Nouns, and Pronouns (196-208); Quoting Sources (383-388); skim Documenting (399-446)


Monday, September 18 – Morey, Religion and Sexuality in American Literature (selections)



Section 2: Classics


Wednesday, September 20 – Behn, “To the Fair Clarinda” (courseinfo)


Friday, September 22 – Donne, “Batter my Heart, Three-Personed God” (courseinfo)

            Assignment due: Explication


Week 4


Wadsworth: Purpose and Audience (10-16); Verbs (209-221); Adjectives and Adverbs (222-226)


Monday, September 25 – Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1-43)


Wednesday, September 27 – Blake, cont.


Friday, September 29 – Blake, cont.

            Assignment due: Imitation


Week 5


Wadsworth: Sentences (152-166); Fragments (227-234); Punctuation (262-265, 283-295)


Monday, October 2 – Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter chapters 1-3


Wednesday, October 4 – Hawthorne, chapters 4-7


Friday, October 6 – Hawthorne, chapters 8-10

Assignment due: Reader Response


Week 6


Wadsworth: Drafting an Essay (16-37); Logical Thinking (90-97); Use of Evidence (100-104); Avoiding offensive language (190-193)


Tuesday, October 10 (Monday Schedule) Hawthorne, chapters 11-13


Wednesday, October 11 – Hawthorne, chapters 14-15


Friday, October 13 – Hawthorne, chapters 16-19

Assignment due: First paper


Week 7


Wadsworth: Revision Strategies (37-62); More punctuation and comma splices (235-237, 265-278)


Monday, October 16 – Hawthorne, chapters 20-22

            Grammar Quiz #1


Wednesday, October 18 – Hawthorne, chapters 23-24


Friday, October 20 – Whitman, selections from “Song of Myself” (courseinfo)


Week 8


Wadsworth: Semicolons and other punctuation marks (278-283, 296-301); Paragraphs (62-84)


Monday, October 23 – Lawrence, The Man Who Died (3-38); New Testament excerpts (courseinfo)

Revision due: First paper


Wednesday, October 25 – Lawrence, cont.


Friday, October 27 – Lawrence, cont.



Week 9


Wadsworth: More on Sentences (166-183); Agreement Errors and other Problems (240-247)


Monday, October 30 – Lawrence, The Man Who Died (41-85)


Wednesday, November 1 – Lawrence, cont.



Section 3: Contemporary Literature and Media


Friday, November 3 – Shange, for colored girls who have considered suicide… (ix-xvi)

Assignment due: Second Paper


Week 10


Assignment due: Oral Presentation (Nov 6, 8, & 13)


Monday, November 6 – Shange, for colored girls who have considered suicide(1-64)


Wednesday, November 8 – Shange, for colored girls who have considered suicide…cont.


Friday, November 10 (No Class)


Week 11


Monday, November 13 – Shange, for colored girls who have considered suicide…cont.


Wednesday, November 15 – Thompson, Blankets (8-65)

Revision due: Second paper


Friday, November 17 – Thompson (66-129)


Week 12


Wadsworth: Review for upcoming quiz


Monday, November 20 – Thompson (130-261)


Wednesday, November 22 (No Class)


Friday, November 24 (No Class)


Week 13


Monday, November 27 – Thompson (262-447)

Grammar Quiz #2


Wednesday, November 29 – Thompson (448-582)


Friday, December 1 – Thompson cont.

Assignment due: Third paper


Week 14


Monday, December 4 – Film: Hedwig and the Angry Inch


Wednesday, December 6 – Film: Hedwig and the Angry Inch


Friday, December 8 – BUWA


Week 15


Monday, December 12 – Conclusions and evaluations

            Revision due: Third paper