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World Literature Studies: Witnessing Trauma

Dr. Tanja Stampfl, University of the Incarnate Word (San Antonio, TX)

Shared with Permission1

In 2017, Dr. Tanja Stampfl participated in a Teaching Interfaith Understanding faculty development seminar, run in partnership between the Council of Independent Colleges and Interfaith Youth Core, and generously funded by the Henry Luce Foundation. For information on future seminars, and to access more resources created by seminar alumni, visit

Course Description

This course is designed as a directed exploration of worldwide literary genres and techniques of close study that emphasizes the development of critical reading skills and methodologies of literary analysis.  Literature is studied as a universal and trans-historical mode of knowledge, and specific selections are representative of our multifaceted and multicultural globe. Close readings of the assigned literary works will help develop our appreciation of literature as finely crafted, multidimensional art. In addition, such readings allow us to examine the connections between literature and culture.  In examining these connections, we explore the role of art and the artist in social justice, an important aspect of study at our university. Equally close readings of literary criticism will expand our knowledge of literary analysis, of what has been and can be said well about a work of art. Close reading of texts and criticism of those texts will illuminate strengths and limitations in specific critical approaches.

Student Learning Outcomes

Upon taking this course, students will be able to:

  • Refine the student’s background in World literature, beginning with Ancient Near Eastern texts and ending with Twentieth Century literature.
  • Demonstrate note-taking, outlining, composition, and appropriate research skills.
  • Identify numerous critical approaches and methodologies.
  • Develop active reading, which engages the reader with the text and the text’s author.
  • Develop the skills required to present ideas clearly and effectively about literature in oral and written forms.
  • Write a well-crafted position paper which conveys a strong thesis and supports that thesis with textual backing, using MLA style.
  • Arouse awareness of the various “voices” which cultures have used to preserve, sustain, or empower their identities.

The Mission of the University of Incarnate Word and World Literature Studies

This course serves as the one Core requirement that ties academic content to the University Mission. By examining the various “voices” cultures have used and continue to use to preserve, sustain, and empower their identities, students engage our Mission values as represented over time and across cultures. Not only do we examine how literature addresses the universal human condition, but we also consider how such factors as colonialism, racism, and greed can disrupt and destroy the delicate balance between humans and the environment. Informed by solid study in literary theory and various literary traditions and guided by the university Mission, we approach texts with critical eyes, ears, and minds.

Special Emphasis: Witnessing Trauma

This class will focus on the theme of trauma and narrative. Oftentimes we read literature that contains graphic and traumatic events, and we as readers bear witness to them. For those who have suffered a severe trauma, writing often helps them to work through their experiences, and it this becomes a way of healing. In yet other instances, we can understand literature better by “diagnosing” particular characters in the text and to analyze their particular medical and mental condition. We will experience all three of these aspects of trauma in this class. Our class discussions and readings will be supplemented by a few critical articles and expert visitors.

Required Texts

  • Shakespeare, The Tempest
  • Homer, Iliad
  • Coleman Barks, The Essential Rumi
  • Hosseini, The Kite Runner
  • Various short stories

Course Requirements

In this class you will be expected to be an engaged and active learner, who comes to class regularly, participates in class discussions and group work, completes assignments, readings, and essays in a timely and appropriate fashion, and interacts with his or her peers and professor respectfully and responsibly. This class is collaborative in format, so your input and active participation are a must. As part of your graded work, you will write two essays, give an in-class presentation, read and write about each day’s reading in your portfolio entries, write reflections on your study buddy meetings, and complete a final exam. Please find brief descriptions for each below; you have more detailed guidelines and assessment tools on Blackboard.

Essays (2 x 15% = 30%)
Your essays will consist of reflections, close readings, and literary analysis for various texts. Each essay will be 6-7 pages in length, use quotes from the texts, comply with MLA format, and may incorporate some outside sources. You will use these essays to develop your close reading and analytical skills by explaining a particular theme, symbol, or character in one work in detail and creating connections to your personal experience. I will post prompts on Blackboard, and you can decide on which of these you wish to write. All essays have due dates, and you will find the grading rubric for all essays on Blackboard.

In-Class Presentation (20%)
The in-class presentation will be about 10 minutes in length and provide background information about the work we are discussing on that day. You can give information about the author, the work, or the historical and geographical setting. You will need to use at least three scholarly sources for this presentation and include the appropriate citations in MLA format on your slides. You will work in pairs for this assignment, and there is a grading rubric for the presentation on Blackboard.

Portfolio (4 x 5% = 20%)
Your portfolio will consist of your cumulative writing assignments and quizzes that you will complete for each class. You are required to write a 300 – 500 word entry for each class meeting, where you react to specific characters and passages in the text, and bring it to class. You may connect text passages to your own life, explore them in preparation for one of the essays, or relate them to our trauma articles and visitors. At times I will give you a specific question or prompt to explore in your portfolio; at other times you can expand on any idea related to the reading for the day.

Study Buddy Reflections (10%)
For the study buddy reflections in this class you will work with a student in the class who is as different as possible from you. The instructor will pair students based on their answers to the “Study Buddy Cultural Self-Identifier” exercise, included below. Part of this class builds cultural competency, which you will need in any career field, and this is one way of shaping and practicing these skills. You will set up four meetings throughout the semester, discuss your readings and understandings of the text, share some of your portfolio entries, and explain how your cultural background allows you to see particular aspects of the text. In your 4-page study buddy reflection, you will a) summarize your meetings with your buddy, b) discuss and analyze one or two particular aspects of your conversations, and c) explain what you have learnt about yourself, your buddy, or the course from these meetings. The reflection paper requirements are also included below.

Study Buddy Cultural Self-Identifier        

Name: _________________________________

Race: ______________________________    Gender: __________________

Nationality: _________________________    Ethnicity: _________________

Languages: __________________________ Religion: _____________________

Are you:            an athlete        a veteran        an international student

3 most important values: _______________, ______________________, _________________

Study Buddy Ground Rules
Please observe the following guidelines when meeting with your study buddy:

  • We can disagree respectfully
  • Ask rather than assume
  • Ask instead of pretending to know
  • Ask rather than misunderstand
  • Everyone needs to be heard

Study Buddy First Steps
Please plan to complete the following tasks when meeting with your study buddy for the first time:

  • Draft common goals for this semester
  • Identify areas/parts of the class where your collaboration will be most beneficial
  • Share the top three things your study buddy should know about you
  • Establish a meeting plan (4x in the semester)
  • Submit your goals, areas of collaboration, and schedule to the instructor after your first meeting

Study Buddy Reflection
Each time you meet with your study buddy, each of you will complete a 1-page double-spaced reflection, where you will a) summarize your meetings with your buddy, b) discuss and analyze one or two particular aspects of your conversations, and c) explain what you have learnt about yourself, your buddy, or the class from these meetings.

You will submit these reflections as one document by April 26, 2018. Even though these reflections are due at the end of the semester, I strongly encourage you to write them right after your actual meeting and to submit the first entry for review. Study Buddy Reflections will be graded on how well they address each of the three reflection parts:

I. What? (Summary and Description)

  • What happened at the meeting? Who did you meet? When? Where? What did you talk about?
  • What was your buddy like? Which observations can you make about him or her?

II. So What? (Analysis)

  • What were your expectations coming into this meeting, and how were those met? What did you find pleasant, and what did you find awkward or uncomfortable? Why? What surprised you, and why? What bothered you, and why? What did you find interesting, and why? What did you find shocking, and why? What made you smile, and why?

III. What Now? (Proposal, Findings)

  • What did you learn about the class or specific text you discussed because of your meeting and conversation with your study buddy?
  • What did this meeting and the analysis of this meeting teach you about your study buddy, his or her culture, his or her values, and his or her goals?
  • What did this meeting and the analysis of this encounter teach you about yourself, your culture, your values, and your goals?
  • What is one lesson you draw from this experience, and why? How is that lesson going to affect you?

Final Exam (20%)

For the final exam you will complete the last set of writing assignments for the poetry out of class and write a 2-page reflection about your learning process and insights in this class during our exam period.


Course Calendar

Class meets 2 times per week for 16 weeks

Week 1:

  • Tuesday: Course Introduction: How to Read and Write in World Literature
  • Thursday: Gocsik, “Writing about Literature;” Rabie, “Drought” (on Blackboard, noted as “Bb”)

Week 2:

  • Tuesday: Cisneros, “Woman Hollering Creek” (Bb); Mahfouz, “The Answer Is No” (Bb)
  • Thursday: Dr. Chris Leeth (Asst. Director of Counseling) visits class

Week 3:

  • Tuesday: Read from “Bless Me, Ultima” (Bb)
  • Thursday: Portfolio 1 due in class

Week 4:

  • Tuesday: Read from Achilles in Vietnam (Bb)
  • Thursday: Read Iliad (book i)

Week 5:

  • Tuesday: Read Iliad (books iii, vii, ix)
  • Thursday: Read Iliad (books xi, xiv)

Week 6:

  • Tuesday: Read Iliad (books xvi, xviii, xix)
  • Thursday: Read Iliad (xxii, xxiv)

Week 7:

  • Tuesday: Read Caruth, “The Wound and the Voice” (Bb); Portfolio 2 due in class
  • Thursday: Read The Tempest (Act 1)

Week 8:

  • Tuesday: Read The Tempest (Act 2 and 3)
  • Thursday: Read The Tempest (Act 4)

Week 9:

  • Tuesday: Read The Tempest (Act 5 and epilogue)
  • Thursday: Portfolio 3 due in class

Week 10:

  • Tuesday: Jacob Pursell (from Media Services) visits class
  • Thursday: Read Kite Runner (chapters 1 - 5)

Week 11:

  • Tuesday: Read Kite Runner (chs. 6 – 10)
  • Thursday: Read Kite Runner (11-15)

Week 12:

  • Tuesday: Read Kite Runner (15-20)
  • Thursday: Read Kite Runner (20-25); Portfolio 4 due in class

Week 13:

  • Tuesday: Read Pennebaker, “Why Write about Trauma?” (Bb)
  • Thursday: Read “Story Water” (171); “A Given” (282)

Week 14:

  • Tuesday: Read “No Need to Ask” (306); “Music Master” (105)
  • Thursday: Read “Guesthouse” (109); “The Tent” (Rumi, 98); Study Buddy Reflections due in class

Week 15:

  • Tuesday: Read “The Force of Friendship” (Rumi, 84); “Two Kinds of Intelligence” (178)
  • Thursday: Review and Reflection

Week 16:

  • Tuesday: Final Exam


1In consultation with the author, this syllabus has been edited for length, removing details particular to the author’s context such as office hours and location, absence policies, honor codes, and other instructor-specific (or institution-specific) details.