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Grant number: AQ-51117-14

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University of Arkansas, Fayetteville (Fayetteville, AR 72701-1201)
Padma Viswanathan (Project Director: September 2013 to present)

NEH Enduring Questions Course on Literature and Morality

The development of a course for third- and fourth-year undergraduates on concepts of morality, as represented in literature from different times and cultures.

A course for third- and fourth-year undergraduates on concepts of morality, as represented in literature from different times and cultures. The course on the question, Can good books make us better people? examines ways in which stories have been used for moral instruction. During the first unit of the course, Religious and Originary Texts, students read selections from the Indian epic, the Mahabharata; the Qur'an; the Bible; and Greek mythology as both literary productions and declarations of cultural values. The second unit, Teaching Tales, Fairy Tales and Moral Entertainments, focuses on allegorical tales for children as exemplified in Aesop's fables and the Indian Panchatantra. It then turns to the heavily symbolic märchen of the Grimm brothers and the inventive, ambiguous stories of Hans Christian Anderson before concluding with darker, more challenging selections from The Arabian Nights and Dante's Inferno. The third unit, Satire, focuses on the ways that humor and caricature work with and against our natural desires to identify with fictional characters as exemplified in works by Aristophanes, Jonathan Swift, and Molière. During the final unit, "Colonial Encounters and Cosmopolitanisms," students read Aphra Behn's Oroonoko; selections from Anton Chekhov, Italo Calvino, and Archibald Colquhoun's The Nonexistent Knight and The Cloven Viscount; and Alison Bechdel's Fun House. Students learn to analyze narrative texts for their literary value and effects, becoming conversant in character development, narrative perspective, description, dialogue, doubling and repetition, metaphor, story structure (including withholding and suspense), and the creation and use of dramatic conflict. They are asked to tease out the moral axes in each text--to describe a character's decision points, for example, and how these emerge out of and thereby reveal his or her nature. They then discuss whether or how narrative offers the possibility of different, equally plausible plot lines. Three course assignments include a paper discussing the moral values of a text discussed in class, a short story that proceeds from a clear moral dilemma, and a short reflective essay on the writing process.

Project fields:
Literature, Other

Enduring Questions: Pilot Course Grants

Education Programs

Total amounts:
$21,614 (approved)
$19,415 (awarded)

Grant period:
5/1/2014 – 5/31/2017