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Sunday Syllabus – 10/8/2017

Sunday Syllabus is a round-up of interesting articles and links that I came across over the last week. I sometimes provide a little commentary or raise questions. The content is not necessarily brand new, just new to me. If you have a recommendation, use the contact form. No promises.

The theme of this week is response to traumatic violence. The photo above is of a spontaneous shrine in San Francisco made for the victims of the Orlando Pulse club shooting. (Photo from this article.)

FEATURED ARTICLE: Erik Robinson writes for Eidolon about the “Horrors of Classical Studies.” This essay, both profound and personal, probes the proper role of classics teachers in handling the violent, bizarre, and even traumatizing material found in their sources. His thoughts are directly applicable to teaching religious studies, which often features interacting with disturbing content in canonical texts.

Kimberly Winston explores the history of memorials or shrines that spontaneously arise in the wake of traumatic violence. In what sense can this be regarded as an expression of popular religion?

Mark Silk responds to traumatic violence not by invoking but by interrogating religion. He shows a correlation between religiosity and murder rates, though he is also responsible enough to look for independent causal factors. Key line: “The South was a violent region of the country long before it became a religious one. You could argue that its high religiosity is a function of the effort of its citizens to control the violence — and maybe even a semi-successful one.”

Polymathic historian Philip Jenkins weighs in on the recent Vietnam War documentary by Ken Burns. His takeaway is that the documentary, much like the public at large, makes too much of Vietnam as the beginning of a new, mass discontent with war. Rather, the novelty lay in a series of legal decisions that offered unprecedented opportunity for anti-war sentiment to be voiced publicly.

The Public Medievalist has a fine popular overview of The Arc of Jewish Life in the Middle Ages, which helps give a balanced view of the challenges and opportunities Jews encountered in the lands of the Gentiles. If there’s a weakness, it’s in explaining the shift from southern to northern Europe as the center both of economic vigor and Jewish vitality. But maybe that’s the price you pay for asking a medievalist to write about early modern Europe.

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