Studies in English: Beginning to 1603: The Wisdom Literature of the Silk Roads - Writing Intensive

English 2006W
The Wisdom Literature of the Silk Roads
Section 1
Ray Ronci
Arts & Science 300

Just about everything we know today about philosophy, religion, math, science and literature had its origins in the ancient world along the slender threads that connected the East and the West known as the Silk Roads. This course traces the origins of the wisdom literature of the ancient world that shaped the ideas, values and beliefs of our present world and that reveal our common humanity. People from all around the world are more alike than they might think and these texts prove that.

Among the texts to be studied are: Gilgamesh, The Bhagavad Gita, the Tao Te Ching, the Analects of Confucius, the Gospel of Thomas (a Gnostic gospel), The Ceasing of Notions, (a Buddhist text from the Dunhuang caves), The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, The Last Days of Socrates (Plato), The Poems of Rumi. (The selection of texts may vary from semester to semester since there are so many possibilities to choose from).

A careful study of these books reveals that many of the cultural differences that shape peoples from around the world are fairly superficial. Dig deeply enough and you can see those differences disappear and our common humanity shine through. Marcus Aurelius, for example, would have had a great time hanging out with Confucius; Lao Tzu and Socrates could easily have been pals. The Jesus figure in The Gospel of Thomas would have been right at home with the Buddhist monk in The Ceasing of Notions. There’s a little bit of Gilgamesh in all of us. And I would bet that any of us would appreciate a friend like Arjuna’s Krishna in The Bhagavad Gita.

(Note: I have deliberately not included wisdom literature from The Old Testament, The New Testament, or the Quran because this is not a comparative religion course and because it is not my intention to question or challenge anyone’s personal religious beliefs or spiritual practices. The point of this course is to reveal, through this variety of texts, our common humanity not our superficial differences).

There will be weekly writing assignments (2 to 3 pages each week) that will culminate in a rough draft for a 10-page formal paper at midterm. This will be explained in class, but here’s the gist: if your weekly assignments are done well you’re effectively writing installments of your paper each week. Then you’ll just have to shape your weekly assignments into a draft to be workshopped and revised at least twice. This process will be repeated for the final formal paper as well.