Languages of Unsaying: Islam, Secularism, and American Poetry

Spring 2019
Junior - Senior
Class Size: 50
16 Credits per quarter
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The term "unsaying" refers to the mystery of needing a name to refer to a transcendent that defies all representation, including that of names. In response to this need Sufi poets, in both Arabic and other languages, have created one of the richest of mystical poetries in world culture, often in a dialectic with concepts of Law. Contemporary Arab poets have also asserted a humanistic and secular worldview in response to these traditions. These poets have in turn inspired a rich translation tradition in American culture, and an answering music in American poetry. The program seeks to uncover the cross-cultural currents running between Islam and the episteme of the American poem.

Through the poetics of the "every day", these poets often conversely ask larger questions of "civilization" and what it means or does not mean. Readings for this program include Ibn Arabi, Rumi, Atar, and Hafez (Persian), Ibn Hallaj, and contemporary Arab poets such as Adonis, Naomi Shiban Nye, Mahmoud Darwish, and Etal Adnan. American poets and writers to be considered include Walt Whitman and Ralph Waldo Emerson, as well as contemporary poets such as Nathaniel Mackey, Joseph Donahue, and Fanny Howe. We will also consider the poetry and writing of the Spanish poet Frederico Garcia Lorca, himself an influence on many American poets, including Jack Spicer. Students pursuing the studies of literature, religion, cultural studies, and philosophy will find this program of interest; there will as well be opportunities to pursue creative writing projects from prompts that draw from the material. Learning objectives include the deepening of cross-cultural understanding, the sharpening of one's reading and writing skills, and the development of one's eye and ear for nuance and mystery.


Spring 2019 Registration

Course Reference Numbers

Jr - Sr (16): 30209
(1 - 16): 30432

Academic details

Preparatory for studies and careers in

religious studies and writing.

Maximum Enrollment
Class Standing


In Person or Remote
In Person
Time Offered
Schedule Evergreen link
see Schedule Evergreen for detailed schedule

First Meeting

SEM 2 D1105 - Lecture