For the final session of my course Images of the Devil (syllabus here), I decided to write out a more formal lecture, somewhat on the model of a conference paper, to summarize and push forward the primary themes of the course, both to provide “closure” for the students and to spur myself toward developing a research project along these lines. The text follows, and readers who were skeptical of having group presentations will note that the presentations were, by and large, a great success — we’ll see about the final group papers.
I would like to begin by thanking you all for participating in this class. I conceived of the course as a collaborative research seminar, and I think that we have succeeded in making it that. Your presentations have contributed significantly to the course content, and discussion has generally been as good as could be expected for such a large class and an awkwardly laid-out classroom. I believe you have all benefited from each other’s work, and I have benefited as well—this course has spurred my own thinking in significant and unexpected ways.
What began as an attempt to follow up a strangely insistent sub-theme in my dissertation has moved closer toward a real research agenda, driven not only by the need to more clearly formulate my ideas for lectures and discussion, but also by your presentations and miscellaneous remarks in class (probably most often by remarks the students in question don’t even remember making). My goal for this paper presentation is simply to lay out my initial thoughts about how I might follow up on this class in my own scholarly work—but I hope it will be helpful in spurring your thinking as well, both for your final papers and beyond.
In the syllabus, I said that the course readings “trace a course from early Christianity to modern literature, attempting to find the theological roots of the modern tendency to view the devil as a fascinating and even heroic character—most famously in John Milton’s Paradise Lost.” Though we spent a significant amount of time in the biblical, patristic, and medieval eras, the real motivating question behind this course was about the modern era, a suspicion that understanding the strange fascination that the devil exerts on us might help to illuminate something about the modern West and about its relationship to its own past.
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