Special Issue "Teaching Dante"

A special issue of Religions (ISSN 2077-1444).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (1 March 2019).

Printed Edition Available!
A printed edition of this Special Issue is available here.

Special Issue Editor

Dr. Christopher Metress
Website
Guest Editor
Samford University, 800 Lakeshore Drive, Birmingham, AL 35229, USA
Interests: American literature (particularly literary works from the American South); African American studies; film noir; detective fiction; The Christian intellectual tradition; interdisciplinary pedagogy; religion and civil
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Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

This Special Issue will publish articles based on papers presented at Third Biennial Teaching the Christian Intellectual Tradition Conference held at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama, on October 25-27, 2018. The conference theme, “Teaching Dante,” explored pedagogical methods for integrating the study of Dante into undergraduate curricula, particularly but not exclusively into core curriculum and general education courses. The pedagogical focus of “Teaching Dante” will extend to the Special Issue and will differentiate this issue in the vast field of Dante studies.

Dr. Christopher Metress
Guest Editor

Manuscript Submission Information

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Keywords

  • Dante
  • pedagogy
  • interdisciplinarity
  • literary studies
  • philosophy
  • core and general education curricula
  • Great books programs

Published Papers (13 papers)

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Editorial

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Open AccessEditorial
Introduction: Teaching Dante
Religions 2020, 11(2), 82; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel11020082 - 11 Feb 2020
Abstract
This introduction to the Special Issue “Teaching Dante” summarizes the volume’s essays and discusses the conference at which they were initially presented. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Teaching Dante) Printed Edition available

Research

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Open AccessArticle
“Florentino Ariza Sat Bedazzled”: Initiating an Exploration of Literary Texts with Dante in the Undergraduate Seminar
Religions 2019, 10(9), 496; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10090496 - 22 Aug 2019
Abstract
Dante’s Commedia provides a useful context or “frame” for a discussion of love in literature from the Middle Ages to the present day in the undergraduate seminar. Selected cantos of the Commedia can initiate an examination of love—lust, romantic love, caritas—and provide [...] Read more.
Dante’s Commedia provides a useful context or “frame” for a discussion of love in literature from the Middle Ages to the present day in the undergraduate seminar. Selected cantos of the Commedia can initiate an examination of love—lust, romantic love, caritas—and provide ways to analyze depictions of love by important authors. For example, Inferno Cantos I and III introduce the concept of the “journey”—Dante’s through the three realms of the afterlife, and our “journey” through a series of texts to be read over one semester. Dante’s education in Inferno constitutes an understanding of sin and of hell as the farthest place from God and His love. Moreover, in Canto I of Paradiso, Dante reiterates that God and His love can be found throughout creation “in some places more and in others less” (I: 3), and he concludes his poem with a vision of God and of the entire universe as moved by His love. Six great authors—Francis of Assisi, Vittoria Colonna, William Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Flannery O’Connor, and Gabriel García Márquez—articulate in their own words this very human experience of love, of loving something or loving someone. In the process, they illuminate both Dante’s experience in the afterlife and ours in the modern world. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Teaching Dante) Printed Edition available
Open AccessArticle
Teaching Dante in the History of Christian Theology
Religions 2019, 10(6), 372; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10060372 - 07 Jun 2019
Abstract
Outside of core curriculum programs or Great Books classes, few undergraduates who are not literature majors read and discuss Dante’s Divine Comedy. This paper describes the redesign of a course in the history of Christian theology as a model for integrating the [...] Read more.
Outside of core curriculum programs or Great Books classes, few undergraduates who are not literature majors read and discuss Dante’s Divine Comedy. This paper describes the redesign of a course in the history of Christian theology as a model for integrating the study of Dante into additional contexts within general education. Reading Dante not only as poet but also as theologian can enhance students’ learning and their engagement with medieval theology. A focused reading of Paradiso provides a novel and exciting way for a survey course in historical theology to balance general education’s needs for both breadth and depth. At the same time, reading Dante also helps students to experience the significant intersections of culture and theology in the medieval period. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Teaching Dante) Printed Edition available
Open AccessArticle
“And Lo, As Luke Sets Down for Us”: Dante’s Re-Imagining of the Emmaus Story in Purgatorio XXIX–XXXIII
Religions 2019, 10(5), 320; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10050320 - 14 May 2019
Abstract
This essay will suggest that Dante’s journey through the earthly paradise in the Purgatorio is a figural representation of the journey of Cleopas and the unnamed disciple on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24. By making several references to the Gospel of [...] Read more.
This essay will suggest that Dante’s journey through the earthly paradise in the Purgatorio is a figural representation of the journey of Cleopas and the unnamed disciple on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24. By making several references to the Gospel of Luke, Dante seems to be setting the stage for the reader to understand his own pilgrimage through the Garden of Eden as a retelling of the Emmaus story in the context of the Church Triumphant. Indeed, reading Luke 24 alongside Cantos XXIX–XXXI of the Purgatorio helps students to unpack the complex images of Dante’s experience in light of the themes present in the Emmaus story. For example, the concealment of Beatrice’s face and the gradual unveiling of her beauty mirrors Christ’s gradual revelation of his nature to Cleopas and the unnamed disciple. Cleopas and his companion also walk away from the promise of God revealed in Christ by leaving Jerusalem, just as Dante “took himself” from Beatrice and “set his steps upon an untrue way” (XXX 125, 130). In developing these and other parallels as well as elaborating on their significance for the latter cantos of the Purgatorio, this essay will attempt to establish a pedagogical approach to Books XXIX–XXX that draws on students’ recollections of the familiar Gospel text of Emmaus, which Dante clearly intends (among others) as a resource for appreciating his vision of an essential passage in Christian life. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Teaching Dante) Printed Edition available
Open AccessArticle
Starring Dante
Religions 2019, 10(5), 319; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10050319 - 13 May 2019
Abstract
This essay offers an example of a guiding thread in my own research on and teaching of Dante’s Commedia. Specifically, I will follow a strand that leads us from Dante’s encounter with the “bella scola” of classical poets in Inferno Canto 4, [...] Read more.
This essay offers an example of a guiding thread in my own research on and teaching of Dante’s Commedia. Specifically, I will follow a strand that leads us from Dante’s encounter with the “bella scola” of classical poets in Inferno Canto 4, through a key scene in the Purgatorio where Dante and his guide Virgil meet the late classical poet Statius, to the remarkable six-canto suite in the Heaven of the Stars, sign of Gemini, in which Dante-poet has Dante-character undergo a series doctrinal tests on the theological virtues. His successful response to the challenges posed by the apostles Peter, James, and Paul doubly authorizes him as poet and as Christian teacher of the highest order. These unique experiences as Dante is successively introduced to and made part of a rising series of elite groups, highlights his double role as humble student and prospective teacher of others. Among the various aims of this essay is to give a sample of a way in which teachers of the Commedia may address the perennial pedagogical problem of how to account for the extraordinary spectacle of a first-person epic that at once expresses deep piety with profound “charitas” (spiritual love) and appears as the absolute height of a self-aggrandizement seemingly inconsistent with Christian humility. Another is to suggest one possible strategy for teaching the Comedy as a whole, and especially the final canticle, the Paradiso, which even Dante himself notoriously thinks is “not for everyone”. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Teaching Dante) Printed Edition available
Open AccessArticle
Educating Desire: Conversion and Ascent in Dante’s Purgatorio
Religions 2019, 10(5), 305; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10050305 - 04 May 2019
Abstract
In Cantos 17 and 18 of the Purgatorio, Dante’s Virgil lays out a theory of sin, freedom, and moral motivation based on a philosophical anthropology of loving-desire. As the commentary tradition has long recognized, because Dante placed Virgil’s discourse on love at [...] Read more.
In Cantos 17 and 18 of the Purgatorio, Dante’s Virgil lays out a theory of sin, freedom, and moral motivation based on a philosophical anthropology of loving-desire. As the commentary tradition has long recognized, because Dante placed Virgil’s discourse on love at the heart of the Commedia, the poet invites his readers to use love as a hermeneutic key to the text as a whole. When we contextualize Virgil’s discourse within the broader intention of the poem—to move its readers from disordered love to an ordered love of ultimate things—then we find in these central cantos not just a key to the structure and movement of the poem, but also a key to understanding Dante’s pedagogical aim. With his Commedia, Dante invites us to perform the interior transformation which the poem dramatizes in verse and symbol. He does so by awakening in his readers not only a desire for the beauty of his poetic creation, but also a desire for the beauty of the love described therein. In this way, the poem presents a pedagogy of love, in which the reader participates in the very experience of desire and delight enacted in the text. In this article, I offer an analysis of Virgil’s discourse on love in the Purgatorio, arguing for an explicit and necessary connection between loving-desire and true education. I demonstrate that what informs Dante’s pedagogy of love is the notion of love as ascent, a notion we find articulated especially in the Christian Platonism of Augustine. Finally, I conclude by offering a number of figures, passages, and themes from across the Commedia that provide fruitful material for teachers engaged in the task of educating desire. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Teaching Dante) Printed Edition available
Open AccessArticle
Learning to Read Big Books: Dante, Spenser, Milton
Religions 2019, 10(4), 291; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10040291 - 25 Apr 2019
Abstract
The interpretive challenges posed by dense and lengthy poems such as Dante’s Inferno, Spenser’s Faerie Queene, and Milton’s Paradise Lost can prove daunting for the average undergraduate reader whose experience of texts has been circumscribed by pedagogical mandates focused on reading [...] Read more.
The interpretive challenges posed by dense and lengthy poems such as Dante’s Inferno, Spenser’s Faerie Queene, and Milton’s Paradise Lost can prove daunting for the average undergraduate reader whose experience of texts has been circumscribed by pedagogical mandates focused on reading for information. While information-retrieval based reading certainly has its place, the experience of reading these longer, more allegorical and symbolic poems can create in the attentive reader a far more valuable kind of learning, understood by Dante and his heirs, all working from Homeric and Virgilian models, as understanding. Each of these long poems pay very close attention to acts of interpretation, foregrounding the experiences of their characters to illustrate the proper way to move from sense, past speculation, to true understanding. Those who heed these lessons, and embrace the experience offered by the poet, find that the daunting task has been outlined as the necessary step to true knowledge rather than mere information. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Teaching Dante) Printed Edition available
Open AccessArticle
Mathematics, Mystery, and Memento Mori: Teaching Humanist Theology in Dante’s Commedia
Religions 2019, 10(3), 225; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10030225 - 26 Mar 2019
Cited by 1
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 [...] Read more.
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. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Teaching Dante) Printed Edition available
Open AccessArticle
Understanding Dante’s Comedy as Virtuous Friendship
Religions 2019, 10(3), 219; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10030219 - 22 Mar 2019
Abstract
As Dante explains in his epistle to Can Grande, the purpose of the Comedy is to move the reader from a state of misery to a state of happiness. The poet himself testifies that the poem was written as a work of moral [...] Read more.
As Dante explains in his epistle to Can Grande, the purpose of the Comedy is to move the reader from a state of misery to a state of happiness. The poet himself testifies that the poem was written as a work of moral philosophy oriented to the achievement of happiness, eudaimonia: the beatific vision of God. Moreover, Dante insists on his poem’s efficacy to affect in its readers a similar moral and religious transformation as that which the poem represents through the narrative journey of the pilgrim. To put it another way, Dante represents his poem’s relationship to its reader as a kind of virtuous friendship. This essay sets forth a model for teaching Dante’s poem as an experiment in virtuous friendship that can transform the classroom into a workshop for the philosophical and religious quest for happiness. This involves teaching the text with an eye not only to the content and style of the poem but also to the performative and participatory demands of the text. Beginning with this framework, this essay works out pedagogical strategies for teaching the Comedy as a form of virtuous friendship extended over the centuries between Dante Alighieri and the contemporary reader. Chiefly, I explore ways Dante makes his readers complicit in the pilgrim’s own moral and spiritual journey toward the virtue of hope translated into the practice of prayer through a close, pedagogical reading of Inferno 3, Purgatorio 5, and Paradiso 20. I explore ways that Dante’s use of surprise, shock, misdirection, appeal to mystery, and retreat to silence creates a morally significant aporia of knowledge that serves as a laboratory for readers’ own virtuous transformation. I end with a critical assessment of the challenges involved in understanding the Comedy as virtuous friendship. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Teaching Dante) Printed Edition available
Open AccessArticle
Pilgrim Readers: Introducing Undergraduates to Dante’s Divine Comedy
Religions 2019, 10(3), 191; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10030191 - 14 Mar 2019
Cited by 1
Abstract
In the context of undergraduate education, “Teaching Dante” often means reading selected cantos from the Divine Comedy, most, if not all of them, taken from the Inferno. I suggest, however, that Dante’s aims in the Divine Comedy, as well as the [...] Read more.
In the context of undergraduate education, “Teaching Dante” often means reading selected cantos from the Divine Comedy, most, if not all of them, taken from the Inferno. I suggest, however, that Dante’s aims in the Divine Comedy, as well as the particular experiences related in the Inferno itself, cannot be understood from any perspective offered by the Inferno alone. In spelling out my reasons for saying this I offer an approach to the text that includes readings from each of its three cantiche within the sometimes severe time-limitations of an undergraduate course. Central to this approach is the notion that student-readers of the Divine Comedy are called upon by the poem to be not mere observers of the experiences of the poet-pilgrim but to become themselves “pilgrim-readers.” In this presentation, this “call” is itself explored through the treatment of “divine justice” within the poem. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Teaching Dante) Printed Edition available
Open AccessArticle
Three Things My Students Have Taught Me about Reading Dante
Religions 2019, 10(3), 181; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10030181 - 12 Mar 2019
Abstract
Many professors who teach Dante’s Divine Comedy, or any great text, in the general education classroom see in it an opportunity to teach their students to humble themselves before texts older and greater than students’ own personal views and experiences. However, such [...] Read more.
Many professors who teach Dante’s Divine Comedy, or any great text, in the general education classroom see in it an opportunity to teach their students to humble themselves before texts older and greater than students’ own personal views and experiences. However, such a stance can blind professors to the important lessons their students have to teach them about Dante, about pedagogical techniques, and about the professors themselves and their own biases. This article discusses three things my own students have taught me about reading—and teaching—Dante, and invites other professors to look for the places where their students act as the Virgil to their Dante rather than the other way around. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Teaching Dante) Printed Edition available
Open AccessArticle
Not the Same Old Story: Dante’s Re-Telling of The Odyssey
Religions 2019, 10(3), 171; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10030171 - 08 Mar 2019
Abstract
Dante’s Divine Comedy is frequently taught in core curriculum programs, but the mixture of classical and Christian symbols can be confusing to contemporary students. In teaching Dante, it is helpful for students to understand the concept of noumenal truth that underlies the symbol. [...] Read more.
Dante’s Divine Comedy is frequently taught in core curriculum programs, but the mixture of classical and Christian symbols can be confusing to contemporary students. In teaching Dante, it is helpful for students to understand the concept of noumenal truth that underlies the symbol. In re-telling the Ulysses’ myth in Canto XXVI of The Inferno, Dante reveals that the details of the narrative are secondary to the spiritual truth he wishes to convey. Dante changes Ulysses’ quest for home and reunification with family in the Homeric account to a failed quest for knowledge without divine guidance that results in Ulysses’ destruction. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Teaching Dante) Printed Edition available
Open AccessArticle
“Where Are We Going?” Dante’s Inferno or Richard Rorty’s “Liberal Ironist”
Religions 2019, 10(1), 49; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10010049 - 14 Jan 2019
Abstract
This paper elucidates the structure of moral action by arguing that Dante’s explanation in the Inferno of why people end up in their respective circles of hell is superior in terms of accounting for the structure of moral reasoning to Richard Rorty’s promotion [...] Read more.
This paper elucidates the structure of moral action by arguing that Dante’s explanation in the Inferno of why people end up in their respective circles of hell is superior in terms of accounting for the structure of moral reasoning to Richard Rorty’s promotion of the “liberal ironist.” The latter suffers an internal contradiction—it wants a well-lived life without any overriding aims, but such a life is understandable only in light of affirming life-aims. The former convincingly shows that the structure of action reveals the truth of the well-known apothegm—“we reap what we sow.” The main point for Dante is not who is rational (for even the rational can be vicious, as depicted in the Inferno), but whose aims actually fulfill the practical life. This comparison of Dante and Rorty can have larger pedagogical aims, helping students to understand better what Albert William Levi calls “the moral imagination” and deepening their appreciation of how metaphors and paradigms of moral excellence provide, or fail to provide, an overriding unity and purpose to our actions. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Teaching Dante) Printed Edition available
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