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

The Wisdom Literature of the Silk Road
English 2006W
Section 01
David Read
Strickland 310
Course Description

This course offers students an opportunity to study the wisdom literature of the ancient world, literature that has shaped the ideas, values and beliefs of human communities throughout history. Its main focus is on texts that emerged along the Silk Road, the network of overland caravan routes between the Near and Far East that for many centuries enabled widely separated peoples to trade goods and ideas over very long distances.

Texts in this tradition include several that we will cover in this course: Gilgamesh, the Bhagavad Gita, the Tao Te Ching, The Ceasing of Notions (a Buddhist text from the Dunhuang caves), The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, and Rumi's poems. Careful consideration of these ancient texts reveals that the cultural differences that shape societies are balanced by a language of shared concerns: how to live a good life and face the inevitability of death; how to relate to others and to the natural world; how to confront the problem of evil. They teach us that the big human issues do not change very much over time and are not exclusive to any one group of people on the planet. That said, one area of wisdom literature that this course will not cover includes the sacred texts of the "People of the Book": the Old Testament, the New Testament, and the Quran. Since the old trade routes terminated in the lands of the Eastern Mediterranean where these sacred texts originated, there will obviously be some overlap, but the works that we will be studying belong to a network of traditions that are likely to be much less familiar to the average reader, and perhaps easier to approach without prior assumptions about their meaning and value.

This is a writing-intensive class, so students can expect weekly writing work, culminating in the drafting and revising of a longer (10-12 page) paper.