Literature: Faith, Imagination, and Justice

Literature has the power to shape our inner lives as well as our capacity to be and act in the world. C.S. Lewis has said the arts, and hence by extension, the written word, allow us through our compassion and empathy to reach beyond ourselves to heal the loneliness and dangers of self-absorption: “In love, in virtue, in the pursuit of knowledge, and in the reception of the arts, we are doing this.”   

By a close reading of the works of authors from several times and places (i.e. St. Francis of Assisi, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Wendell Berry, Abraham Lincoln, Langston Hughes, Simone Weil, John Steinbeck, Saint-Exupery, and Truman Capote, among others), we will consider the moral and spiritual dimensions of literature. We relatedly explore the dynamic relationship between literature and life, and particularly the role literature plays in allowing us to imagine community and to seek justice, particularly for the disenfranchised and uprooted among us. In several class sessions, we will take these discussions “into the field” (and back) by visiting several community organizations that serve the lonely and disenfranchised. In this way, we hope to broaden students’ understanding of the potential literature has to not only broaden one’s view of the world but call one to action. 

Academic Directors

Tom Werge

Tom Werge, Department of English, leads the literature dimension of the track. For many years he co-edited the scholarly journal Religion and Literature, based at Notre Dame, and served as secretary of the National Conference on Christianity and Literature, an organization concerned with literature’s spiritual dimensions. He teaches courses in religion and literature and in American literature, including a course in Mark Twain, and he has written on such figures as the American Puritans, Dante, Simone Weil, Melville, and Twain. He has received several teaching awards at Notre Dame. He has a B.A. in English and Philosophy from Hope College and an M.A. and Ph.D. in English from Cornell University.

Ed Kelly

Ed Kelly leads the track’s volunteer service dimension, interweaving students’ class readings and discussions, personal writing, and volunteer activities on behalf of the community’s homeless and afflicted. While Head of the English Department at Niles (Michigan) High School, he initiated a pioneering course in community service learning as well as innovative courses in film and in Shakespeare performance. He has devoted his professional life to developing young people through teaching and coaching (soccer and track). He has a B.A. and M.A. in English from Notre Dame and teaches in Notre Dame’s First Year Writing Program.