English 165AC

Special Topics in American Cultures: Ethnicity, Religion and Literature

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
1 Spring 2020 Fehrenbacher, Dena
TTh 11-12:30 note new location: 301 Wheeler

Book List

Anzaldua, Gloria: Borderlands/La Frontera; Baldwin, James: The Fire Next Time; Hurston, Zora Neale: Moses, Man of the Mountain; Ozeki, Ruth: A Tale for the Time Being; Silko, Leslie Marmon: Ceremony; Yang, Gene Luen: Boxers/Saints

Other Readings and Media

In addition to the novels listed above, students will read excerpts and selected texts, a few of which will include:  Malcolm X and Alex Haley, The Autobiography of Malcolm X; Mary Antin, The Promised Land; Vine Deloria Jr., God is RedCuster Died for Your Sins; Richard Wright, Black Boy/American Hunger


This class will explore how 20th- and 21st-century American prose fictions have imagined the relationship between religion and ethnicity. Our first questions will be formal: How do different formal choices allow these writers to render different forms of ethnic and religious belonging, and their relation? How might traditional narrative strategies be (in)compatible with representing the religious belonging, practices, beliefs and experiences of ethnic minorities in the 20th-c. U.S.?

This class will ask social, cultural and historical questions too. American ethnic experiences have long been articulated through religious concepts, and Puritan and Anglo-Protestant traditions have particularly influenced discursive articulation of religious and ethnic experience, identity and belonging in the U.S. Bearing this in mind, we will interrogate what “religion,” “race,” “ethnicity,” and “culture” are as conceptual categories; how do the texts in this class relate, conflate, challenge or put these categories at odds? We will also examine how literary form has been used to confront the religious legacies of social oppression (including slavery, missionary imperialism, and colonialism). And, as importantly, we will discuss how religion and its literary articulation has also been a source of creativity and a means of “opting out” of American society, cultural assimilation, compulsory sexualities and romantic racialization.

This course satisfies U.C. Berkeley's American Cultures requirement.

Discussion Sections

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