18 May 2010

Back to blogging

That last post was something more, I hope, than an annual mini-celebration at the end of grading. The end of grading, however, was well worth celebrating this year, as I was teaching five sections this past semester that added up to more than 140 students. In the end, between final papers and some stray homework assignments, that came to around 1400 pages of reading and grading.

I'm already busy with a summer course in American Philosophy, the same course I had taught for the first time last summer. Last year, however, it was two marathon evening sessions per week. This year's class meets four days a week, during the late morning, for 100 minutes per day, which is far more civilized in my judgment.

Today we were looking at English Puritanism in general, and John Winthrop's A Model of Christian Charity in particular. This involved a general discussion of the goings-on in early 17th century Britain against the backdrop of early modern monarchy and politics, and of the Protestant Reformation. Winthrop's address to the colonists, read against the background, opens up a number of themes that will recur throughout the course - themes concerning American identity, religious faith, a national sense of mission and destiny, our much discussed "exceptionalism," economics, voluntarism, social perfectionism, and so forth.

The difficult trick, over the next six weeks, will be to try to take a variety of intellectually important, yet disparate texts, and weave the various threads into something resembling a coherent narrative of American thought and identity. So, we'll see how that goes.

One more note: I'm going to keep the comments off for the time being on the blog. It's not that I don't enjoy a good conversation, but I don't really have the time or inclination to engage in online dialogues at present. If I post something that provokes a substantive response on your part, by all means feel free to comment on your blog or write to me via email. Or better yet - for local folks, at least - contact me and we can arrange a conversation over some beers at one of Philly's many fine specialty pubs or craft breweries.