English Language and Literature
At its most fundamental level literature explores what it means to be a human being in this world and tries to describe what our human experience is like. As such, literature pushes us to confront the large human questions that have plagued humankind for centuries: issues of fate and free will, issues relating to our role in the universe, our relationship to God, and our relationships with others. Studying literature not only helps us to understand the complexity of these questions intellectually, but because of its very nature, it allows us to experience these tensions vicariously. Literature does not just tell us about human experience; it recreates it in a way we can feel and visualize. In other words, it calls for a total response from us--it stretches us beyond who we are.
First, literature can enhance our ability to relate to people. Because literature focuses on human relationships and self perception, it can broaden our own experience--to help us understand different kinds of people, different cultures, different problems--and, consequently, help us better understand our own relationships with others.
The study of literature also helps to foster an appreciation for beauty, symmetry, and order. This means more than the intuitive response of liking or disliking something we see or read or hear; it means a carefully thought-through response that will enhance appreciation--not destroy it.
Perhaps the most important skills that the study of literature teaches are analytic and synthetic skills. In learning to read carefully and analytically, we learn to ask hard questions both of the work and of ourselves. And as we seek to discover the relationships between the ideas and images we uncover in a work, our ultimate goal is to see the whole--to see how the parts work together to make the piece what it is. In grappling with the complex and difficult ideas contained in literature, we learn to accept the multiple dimensions and ambiguity that are so often present in life.
Finally, the study of literature will also help develop our writing abilities as we come to value the written word and understand its power to communicate.
Beyond all of these skills, however, it is not what literature can do for us as individuals as much as what it can do to us. Literature speaks to the whole person. Listen to it, says C. S. Lewis, and you will be changed.
For any questions about the English degree or curriculum, please contact
Dr. Janet Boyd
Director, School of the Humanities
Voice: (201) 692-2263