Religious Experience and English Poetry, 1633-1985
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  Application Materials



  • The Seminar will begin with a brief introduction, in which Samuel Johnson’s and Harold Bloom’s judgments on religious poetry are elucidated, and the dispute between Iconoclasm and Anti-Iconoclasm is outlined. Course packets will be distributed. The English and Theology librarians will introduce participants to the electronic and print resources in the Hesburgh Library. The Seminar will reconvene at 5 pm for a reception at which members will be welcomed and introduced to the local visiting faculty.
  • Debate between the Iconoclasts and the Anti-Iconoclasts. Main text: St Theodore the Studite, On the Holy Icons. Reference made to St John of Damascus, On the Divine Images, and to background material in John Meyendorff, Christ in Christian Thought (1975). Discussion points: inscription and circumscription; experience and meditation; Platonic metaphysics and Aristotelian categories. Critical Reading : Miguel Tamen, Friends of Interpretable Objects (selections).
  • Blanchot and Levinas on the image. Main texts: Blanchot, “Two Versions of the Imaginary”, and Levinas, “Reality and its Shadow”. Discussion points: the image and revelation; the image and ethics; the image and atheism. Critical Reading : Kevin Hart, The Dark Gaze (selections).


  • A discussion of experience and image in Herbert’s The Temple , based on a selection of exemplary lyrics. Discussion points: “experience” in the seventeenth century and beyond; different regions of experience (individual, liturgical, symbolic, and so on); perceptual experience v. transcendental experience (Rahner); kenosis as “experience of non-experience” (von Balthasar); the relations of experience and form, experience and meaning; forms of image and emblem in Herbert. Critical Reading : Roger Munier, “Experience”; Robert H. Scharf, “Experience”. Professor Schwartz will participate in the discussion.
  • The concept and practice of prayer in The Temple, based on a selection of exemplary lyrics, and approached by way of Chrétien’s “Wounded Speech”. Discussion points: prayer and the relation of experience and non-experience; call and response; Augustinian theology of prayer in seventeenth-century Anglican practice; Crashaw on “The wounded is the wounding heart”; prayer as performative; Eliot’s estimation of Herbert. Critical Reading: Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, Poetry as Experience (selections); Kevin Hart, “The Experience of Poetry”; Karl Rahner, “Poetry and the Christian”. Professor Schwartz will participate in the discussion.
  • The Eucharist in The Temple , based on exemplary lyrics. Discussion introduced by Professor Schwartz. Discussion points: transubstantiation and its displacements in Reformation England; Herbert as poet of body or Word; the poetry and/as sacrament. Critical Reading : Schwartz, Real Hunger (selections); Asals, Equivocal Predication (selections). Presentation and discussion of participants’ work.



  • A discussion of theological aesthetics with particular relation to Hopkins ’s major poems, based on a selection of exemplary texts. Discussion points: von Balthasar’s notion of “seeing the form” in poetry; von Balthasar’s notion of poetry as sacrament v. criticisms of that notion. Critical Reading : Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Glory of the Lord, vol. 1: Seeing the Form (selections), The Glory of the Lord, vol. 3 (discussion of Hopkins ). Professor Cyril O’Regan will provide an introduction to von Balthasar’s theological aesthetics.
  • The concept of poetry as sacrament in von Balthasar’s account of Hopkins ’s poetry; the strengths and weaknesses of von Balthasar’s reading of Hopkins . Discussion points: the challenge and limits of von Balthasar’s theological aesthetics for literary criticism. Critical Reading : Phillip Ballinger, The Poem as Sacrament (selections). Professor O’Regan will participate in the discussion. Presentation and discussion of participants’ work.
  • Prayer as theme and structure in Hopkins ’s poems, especially the “terrible sonnets”; Newman’s Catholicism v. Ultramontane Catholicism in Hopkins ’s verse; addressing an absent God; Eliot’s criticisms of Hopkins . Critical Reading , Jill Muller, Gerard Manley Hopkins and Victorian Catholicism, ch. 2. Professor O’Regan will participate in the discussion. Presentation and discussion of participants’ work.



  • A discussion of the relation between experience and meaning in T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets; introduction to the notion of “saturated phenomenon”. Discussion points: two approaches: experience and image v. experience and meaning; Eliot’s poetry as saturated phenomenon. Critical Reading : Jean-Luc Marion, Being Given (selections) and In Excess (selections).
  • The darkness of God in Eliot’s Four Quartets and “Ash Wednesday”; apophaticism as excess; image and absence in the poetry; questions of vocabulary: “religious verse”, “devotional verse”, “Christian verse”, etc. Discussion points: differences between the via negativa and apophaticism; kenosisv. the displaced subject; excess of non-experience v. excess of phenomenological intuition. Critical Reading : Jean-Luc Marion, In Excess (selections) and The Crossing of the Visible (selections). Presentation and discussion of participants’ work.
  • Religious poetry and religious feeling; the critical background to Four Quartets. Discussion points: “religious feeling” as reduction of “religious experience”; the two sources of religious poetry: faith and the holy; Eliot’s religious poetry as “wounded speech”. Critical Reading : T. S. Eliot, “The Modern Mind” (1933), “Religion and Literature” (1935), “The Social Function of Poetry” (1945). Presentation and discussion of participants’ work.



  • A discussion of the roles of experience and translation in Geoffrey Hill’s “religious poetry” with particular reference to Tenebrae (1978). Discussion points: further exploration of poetry as “saturated phenomenon”; experience of poetry v. experience of God; parallels with Charles Wright’s verse. Critical Reading : Henry Hart, The Poetry ofGeoffrey Hill (selections). Professor Henry Hart will introduce the theme. Presentation and discussion of participants’ work.
  • Hill’s debts to Herbert, Hopkins and Eliot; the relation of Hill’s criticism to his poetry. Critical Reading :The Lords of Limit (selections); In the Enemy’s Country (selections); Style and Faith (selections). Professor Henry Hart will guide discussion. Presentation and discussion of participants’ work.
  • Presentation and discussion of participants’ work. Conclusion and discussion of the Seminar’s work. Closing reception and dinner.


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