UNLV English 231: World Literature I

Course Description

English 231 is a Second-Year Seminar (SYS) course that explores issues relevant to contemporary global society through the reading of world literature from antiquity to the early seventeenth century. Students will study current issues within their larger contexts by examining the aspects of literature, history, politics, economics, philosophy and scientific discovery that shaped them. The course reinforces the University Undergraduate Learning Outcomes (UULOs) introduced in the First-Year Seminar (FYS).

Course Objectives

As a natural consequence of learning to study and appreciate literature, some of the specific abilities students develop in this course include:

  • The ability to understand major literary works from antiquity to the present day
  • The ability to interpret works of world literature in light of their historical, social, and/or economic contexts
  • The ability to write and speak effectively about literature to both general and specialized audiences, as well as analyze and evaluate reasons and evidence in order to construct coherent and logical arguments
  • The ability to relate and apply the complex social and ethical situations illustrated in literature to your personal and professional lives
  • The ability to understand the effects of political, economic, and social institutions on literature in order to better articulate awareness of your own place in the world
  • The ability to respond to diverse cultural perspectives on identity, religion, politics, race, gender, and sexuality in an informed way

Past Course Themes

While the readings, notes, and class discussions will cover a wide range of literary movements, genres, styles, and critical theories, each class has a unique focus and overarching goal. Here are some of the previous themes used in this course:

Comparative Mythology

The focus of this particular class is on mythology with an emphasis on the nature of religious experience and the human pursuit of meaning through literature. The class will examine the various forms and central themes of religious literature as well as analyze the belief systems, moral codes, and symbolic rituals of major world religions from a historical and comparative perspective. We will seek to better understand the tension between faith and reason, the nature of divinity, and the place of religion in human life as depicted in literature.

Odysseys of the World

The focus of this particular class is not on destinations, but on the journey. This class will examine the evolution of the epic genre from its roots in the poetry of the Ancient World to its expansive influence on contemporary fiction. In addition to familiarizing students with the major Greco-Roman epics, the class will compare epic works of literature from India, Japan and China in order to better understand how the form has evolved and how current authors have adapted and modified its conventions. The purpose of the class is to explore the tension between the individual and society and how various cultures suggest we navigation the competing claims of self and group.

Representations of the Real

Literature is a representation of reality. It is an entertaining facsimile. This class will examine how authors illustrate the mundane details of everyday life in literature. Beginning with ancient Greco-Roman writers and then proceeding through Medieval and Renaissance writers into the 17th Century, we will examine how the depiction of reality in a work of fiction is connected with the real religious, economic, and political conditions of the society in which it was written. We will seek to better understand intellectual history and how deeply our understanding of the world is rooted in our own time and place.

Parental Advice

As long as humanity continues to grow and people age, there will always be some form of generational conflict between the old and the young. What is the motive for this conflict? Why does it occur? This class will explore the issues involved with parent-child relationships from the earliest literature in Mesopotamia through 17th Century Europe. The purpose of the class is to understand how the positional relationship of parents and children are defined in a variety of cultures, whether this relationship has evolved with time or not, and reflect on how our relationships with our parents are/were shaped by the society in which we grew up.

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