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Mathematics, Mystery, and Memento Mori: Teaching Humanist Theology in Dante’s Commedia

Department of English, Mount St. Mary’s University, Emmitsburg, MD 21727, USA
Religions 2019, 10(3), 225; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10030225
Received: 22 February 2019 / Revised: 18 March 2019 / Accepted: 21 March 2019 / Published: 26 March 2019
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Teaching Dante)
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PDF [221 KB, uploaded 26 March 2019]

Abstract

Undergraduate students in the United States of America are increasingly less religious, and this decline in religiosity is felt not only at secular colleges and universities, but also at those with a religious affiliation. This article seeks to answer the question of how one can effectively teach the Christian vision in Dante’s Commedia to undergraduates who have little or no religious formation. The methods I have used to teach freshmen in core Humanities courses have differed somewhat from the methods I have used to teach upperclassmen in Literature electives. For the freshmen, focusing on what I call “humanist theology” has been successful, allowing them to see that the Christianity found in Dante’s epic is not merely a list of rules, but a way of viewing human life that is consonant with their own experiences. Purgatorio is the most important canticle for this method, and the case of Virgil’s damnation is a vital topic. For upperclassmen, finding analogies to Christian Mystery in the fields of mathematics, the sciences, and creative writing has proven fruitful. The main conclusion of this study is that these techniques are useful in presenting Dante’s work to non-religious students without sacrificing the epic’s specifically Christian content. View Full-Text
Keywords: Dante; The Divine Comedy; Christian Humanism; The Christian Intellectual Tradition; Literature Pedagogy Dante; The Divine Comedy; Christian Humanism; The Christian Intellectual Tradition; Literature Pedagogy
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited (CC BY 4.0).
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Lewis, S.G. Mathematics, Mystery, and Memento Mori: Teaching Humanist Theology in Dante’s Commedia. Religions 2019, 10, 225.

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