Topics for Final Paper, REL253 Religion, Love, and Death

Double-spaced, not more than 1500 words. (You may use parenthetical notation to indicate page numbers for textual references.)

Due 5 p.m., Friday, November 30, 2012 no extensions - submit to GTF

Be sure to write your name, the name of the class, and the topic number and title of your topic at the top of the page.

You may write on your own topic if you wish. However, you must: 1) Submit a one-paragraph description by email to your discussion section leader. 2) You must submit your topic by Friday, November 23. 3) You must obtain approval from your section leader.

I also strongly encourage you to read the essays on my Writing web pages, especially "Four Keys to Writing in the Humanities," "Paper Writing Guidelines," "Checklist for Papers," and "Writing: The Bridge between Consciousness and Unconsciousness."


1. Storied Selves in Theory and Practice
Apply the views of the narrative self according to Brockelman, Bruner, and Foucault to one of the main texts we read in the second half of the course (Zhuangzi, Color Purple, Pure Heart, Enlightened Mind, or An Interrupted Life), and discuss what insights one can gain by applying each of these theories. You can limit yourself to one or two key ideas each from Brockelman, Bruner, and Foucault.
2. Secrets
Elspeth Graham suggests that keeping secrets may enable one to maintain the integrity of one's own storied self in the face of a dominant culture that would not accept one's story. At the same time, Hilde Nelson in Damaged Identities, Narrative Repair suggests that one cannot simply remain within one's own narrative, one own inner world, that one must challenge the dominant narrative and culture to truly repair or heal oneself, or one's storied self. Discuss how their theories do or don't apply to the case of one of the following: the story of the protagonist Jacob in Jacob's Ladder; Maura Soshin O'Halloran in Pure Heart, Enlightened Mind; or Etty Hillesum in An Interrupted Life. You can do two of these figures if you like, but you will need to be efficient with your prose.
3. Applying Katsuki Sekida's Nen-Theory
Apply Sekida's Nen-Theory to three or four episodes in one of the following works: The Color Purple, Pure Heart, Enlightened Mind, or An Interrupted Life. Describe how these episodes show the ways in which the character/person in question can get stuck in second- or third-nen and thus becomes separated or ungrounded from first-nen, as well as episodes in which the character/person is able to transition smoothly through the progression back from third-nen back to first-nen.
4. Maura O'Halloran and the Ten Oxherding Pictures
To what extent might the Ten Oxherding Pictures be helpful in understanding Maura Soshin O'Halloran's development as presented in Pure Heart, Enlightened Mind. You don't have to go into detail about all ten pictures or stages, but you should deal with at least 6 pictures, including the last three.
5. Deepening of Knowledge regarding Religion, Love, and Death
One way to think about how knowledge deepens is to trace a progression from intellectual (analytical, linear thinking), to intuitive (holistic, seeing the whole in the part), to affective (experiencing and idea, person, or event emotionally), to somatic (embodied knowledge). Identify key turning points in one of the main texts from Week 7 onwards, or the film Jacob's Ladder, for which this progression through intellectual, intuitive, affective, and somatic knowledge might be helpful in understanding the protagonist's story of religion, love, and death.
6. Etty Hillesum, Music, and Narrative
Identify passages from Etty Hillesum's journal entries and letters that mark key turning points in her personal and spiritual development. Find a piece of music that you think resonates well with the progression of Etty's life, and explain how setting key turning points in relation to the piece of music you have selected might help one understand Etty's journey.
7. Dialogue between Maura Soshin O'Halloran and Etty Hillesum
Imagine that Etty and Maura are living at the same time, with Maura living in Etty's time in the 1940s. Create a series of letter correspondences in which they discuss themes of religion, love, and death as Etty is increasingly facing the threat of death. Show where they may be both similarities and differences in their views, as well as how they share resonances in their journeys.

8. A Tale of Religion, Love, and Death
Imagine that you are a war correspondent reporting from Afghanistan. You are injured by shrapnel and sent to a makeshift military hospital. There, you meet a wounded soldier and befriend him/her, and you become personally involved (interpret this however you like). Although he/she seems to be getting better, a week later, due to infection, things turn for the worse, and the soldier is on the verge of death. Write a letter to "your best friend" about your relationship with this soldier, as a tale of religion, love, and death. Weave quotations and page references from the readings into your "letter."
9. Influence of Course Readings
Describe how three of the readings from the course have changed or influenced your view of religion, love, and death. At least two of those sources must be from Week 6 onwards (You can include the film Jacob's Ladder, if you like). If you selected this topic for Paper 2 or 3, do not overlap sources. BE SURE TO INCLUDE PAGE REFERENCES FROM THE READINGS.