RELI 235: Religion and Literature

RELI 235-003: Religion and Literature
(Fall 2020)

03:00 PM to 04:15 PM MW

Planetary Hall (formerly Science & Tech I) 206

Section Information for Fall 2020

Referred to by some as “the Bible of the ancient Maya,” the Popol Wuj (or “Book of the Council”) is the oldest and most complete collection of religious epics and creation stories written by any Native American group in either North or South America. Compiled and edited into a single volume by Maya elites in the 1550s, this set of Maya myths and pre-Hispanic history has become an increasingly influential text since its rediscovery in the 1850s. Archeologists use it as a lens to interpret scenes depicted on ancient murals and pottery. Ethnohistorians (historians interested in native accounts of the Americas prior to and immediately during the arrival of Europeans) comb it for indigenous understandings of society, time, and the cosmos. Latin American authors—namely in modernism and magical realism—were inspired by its alinear and fantastical narratives. Post-colonial theorists cite it as evidence of native resistance to Spanish and Catholic hegemony since the 16th century. And present-day Maya and other Native American activists—many within the Catholic and Protestant churches—make it a core of a current religious and social movement to critique the 500th anniversary of Columbus’s first voyage back in 1992.

This course will center on a close reading of the Popol Wuj in light of the wider literary (particularly poetic) and religious traditions of the Highland Maya of Guatemala, especially until and during the initial period of contact with Hispano-Catholicism. From this understanding and a comparison with other Maya and Aztec myths, two additional novels will explore the continued influence of the Popol Wuj in later fiction: Men of Maize by Miguel Ángel Asturias (the second Nobel laureate in literature from Latin America) and Time Commences in Xibalbá by Luis de Lión (the first Maya author to write a novel).

NOTE: Each section of Religion and Literature focuses on different readings. This is the only one that focuses primarily on religious literature by and about a Native American people.

View 7 Other Sections of this Course in this Semester »


Course Information from the University Catalog

Credits: 3

Explores the relationship between religion and literature in different times and cultures, the influence of religion on literary works, and how literature expresses major religious themes such as death and immortality, divine will and justice, suffering and human destiny, and religion and state. Limited to three attempts.
Mason Core: Literature
Schedule Type: Lecture

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