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We offer a wide range of unique classes taught by professors who love what they do and take joy in furthering their students intellectually, spiritually and socially.

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Special Topics (ENGL 113)

Catalog course ENGL 113 consists of multiple topics of focus that vary each semester. Current and/or forthcoming descriptions are listed below. To see course details, including dates, times and professors, please use the Registrar’s course schedule.


ENGL 113.01 & 03 – The Will to Survive
After all, isn’t that what life is all about anyway — surviving? To what extent do human beings fight to survive? To what lengths and extremes will we go to cling to life? What is the limit of our hanging on?

In this English 113 section, participants will read, discuss and be asked to write in response to literature that exemplifies humankind’s desire to survive. To inspire our discussions and writing, we will explore three pieces of nonfiction “survival” literature. Titles include In Harm’s Way by Doug Stanton, Not Without My Daughter by Betty Mahmoody and The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls.

And, speaking of survival, the major goal of this class will be to help you “survive” the writing that will be demanded of you in the real world of college and beyond; therefore, we’ll explore and practice writing that narrates, informs, persuades, reviews, responds and shares.

Class time will be spent discussing the assigned literature and (to a greater extent) responding to and helping each other — in pairs, in small groups and as a whole class — with the writing we create. We will also spend time learning together through informal lectures, student presentations, in-class writing and individual student-teacher conferences. We’ll select from different types of writing in order to create some final products, and, eventually, we’ll create a more in-depth research project.

ENGL 113.02 – The Space Between Us

ENGL 113.05 & 113.18 – Creativity and the Unexpected
What are the ways and habits of creative people? How do creative people respond to adversity and the unexpected? In what ways (if any) are the insights and skills of creative people valuable during times of  unexpected (or even catastrophic) change? In “Creativity and the Unexpected” we will explore these and  related questions. Our reading will include The Razor’s Edge by Somerset Maugham, What You Have  Heard Is True: A Memoir of Witness and Resistance by Carolyn Forche, A Rumor of War by Philip  Caputo and The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion. We will have lively class discussions, and you will write four short essays, participate in a group presentation and write a longer research paper. We will utilize the “workshop” format for the discussion of our work. Each student will assemble a final  portfolio that will contain all five papers and a brief introductory statement. We will also receive some  expert training in the use of the Van Wylen Library.  

The ultimate objective of this class is to make you a better writer and critical thinker. Along the way we will have a great deal of fun, learn much and have some interesting discussions.

ENGL 113.06 – Analyzing Empathy
In this course, we will use the complex and sometimes controversial concept of empathy as a basis for the study of the conventions and possibilities of academic writing. Through a variety of readings — primarily essays and short fiction — we will explore the challenges that face writers endeavoring to define empathy and to determine how it can contribute to contemporary society. We will begin with texts that depict or challenge common methods, such as personal observation and storytelling, that allow us to engage with the feelings and experiences of others. We will then turn toward more specific cases, including works of historical drama and speculative fiction that attempt to give readers access to thoughts and emotions that might be drastically different from their own experiences. Throughout the course, we will think critically about this subject matter and the questions about it that our readings might raise: What are the limits of empathy? To what extent is it the responsibility of writers to create an easy sense of connection for their readers, and to what extent is it the responsibility of readers to engage with perspectives that differ from their own? Is empathy valuable as an abstract feeling, or does it only take on value when it translates into action? We will use these inquiries as the occasion for the development of skills necessary for academic writing, including coherent organization, thoughtful textual analysis, ethical research practices, persuasive rhetoric and use of the conventions of standard written English.

ENGL 113.07 – Stephen King: Trash or Talent?

“I think with the best writing you can actually feel the writer’s joy, the writer’s vision, or something like that.” —Stephen King

Stephen King is a modern literary phenomenon: Since the beginning of his career in the 1970s he has averaged at least one new title per year, and his books — many of them reborn as films — continue to sell like candy corn at Halloween. Some people dismiss his work as trash, just low-quality popcult horror stories; even King has jokingly referred to himself as a “salami writer.” But other readers insist that throughout his page-turner fiction King addresses serious, even urgent concerns. What are we afraid of, both as a society and as flesh-and-goosebumped individuals? What are the problems of family life and interpersonal relations? How does American society deal with racial prejudice? What about the scourge of alcoholism and other forms of substance abuse? How has our history made us what we are as a nation? What explains our perennial attraction to the supernatural, even in its more ghoulish manifestations? How has the literature of the past — especially the Gothic tradition, spawned in 1764 and still proliferating — infiltrated the literature of the present?

English 113 is intended to lay the foundations for your academic success at Hope College — and, for that matter, in life. Although every section offers its own topic or theme, the course in general stresses four things:

  • Reading (you will gain experience reading, understanding, and discussing texts)
  • Writing (classroom instruction and one-on-one conferences will help you produce high-quality papers)
  • Research (you will find out how to find reputable sources and make good use of the library)
  • Thinking (most important): like all your studies, this course is a step in preparing you for a life of integrity and service

With this in mind, we will begin with a basic review of sentence structure, punctuation and English usage; we will master the art of crafting a thesis, shaping good topic sentences, incorporating quotations and creating effective introductions and conclusions; we will survey and evaluate sources of information; and we will stress, above all, the relation between literary texts and life. King’s 1977 novel The Shining will be our foundational text, accompanied by a selection of his shorter fiction: and we will also contemplate the transmogrification of his scenarios into film and other media (comic books, cartoons, even opera). Shaking in your Nikes already? Forget your fears: There’s actually nothing mysterious about learning to write, and your instructor is committed to your success.

ENGL 113.08 – Crime and Punishment
Did your mom or dad or grandparents take this same course from me? If the COVID-19 situation allows me to teach this autumn, it will be the 50th year in a row that I have been offering this class title! Only the books and faces have changed. This is your chance to play Erin Brockovich or James Bond or Ralph Nader or Agatha Christie, hot on the trail of clues leading to the exposure of past or current problems of law and order, cops and robbers, race and gender, crime and punishment. Readings, written exercises and experiments, compositions, research projects, interviews, discussions and classroom capers will focus on such significant issues as prison conditions, crimes against women and minorities, biological terrorism, drinking laws, medical dilemmas, environmental crimes. With luck and skill, you may write the perfect crime or, at least, the perfect expository essay. Several classes will be devoted to writing workshops where you will read and comment on rough and polished drafts of papers by class members. TV programs and occasional films may supplement the reading material.  

ENGL 113.10 – The Compostion of Our Lives

ENGL 113:15 -  Everyday Rhetoric
Have you ever loved a song so much that you opened your car window and belted it out for all to hear? Have you ever leaned forward in your chair as a commercial voiceover proclaimed, “But wait, there’s more!”? Have you ever been convinced that someone was not being true to their word? From Socrates, to Civil Rights, to selling a product, this course will examine rhetoric — how people use things like language, images and even sound to persuade other people to do, think or feel something. As we study rhetoric, you’ll choose your own research focus and examine it through guided research and writing. You will also develop your work through revisable portfolios so that you have plenty of time to explore and experiment. This also means the majority of your grade will come from what you know at the end of the course instead of what you don’t know at the beginning. From books to news, to movies and music, rhetoric shapes our world. Through studying it, you will begin to see it at work all around you, but more importantly, you will be able to use it more effectively to shape the world we all share.

ENGL 113.23 – Adventures in Arthurian Adaptation
The tales of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table have been told and retold in every medium from rock albums to Japanese anime. For the last thousand years, the boy who pulled a sword from a stone and his court at Camelot have fascinated storytellers. Brave knights, strange magic, mysterious maidens and daring adventures never seem to go out of style!

But why do we tell the same stories over and over again? Arthur’s tales aren’t the only ones that get retold, after all. Adaptations dominate the current media landscape. In film, television, literature, theater and video games, most of the stories told are directly drawn from other sources and remade for new audiences.  Even when stories are “original,” they cannot help but respond to earlier narratives — all stories are in conversation with other stories.  

Academic writing isn’t that different from fiction: it’s about joining a conversation with a community of other scholars. It requires learning to listen well to what others say and responding to them with your own contributions.  

The goal of this section of English 113 is to empower students to join the academic conversation with confidence. We will use adaptations of Arthurian legends as a jumping off point to practice:

  • Reading and discussing texts carefully and thoughtfully
  • Developing good research skills, using reputable resources in the library and online
  • Writing and revising informative, persuasive and well-researched papers

We will work together on analyzing the arguments of other writers, developing a topic into a thesis, finding and utilizing sources, forming outlines and putting together paragraphs.

Through individual meetings with the instructor and small peer review groups, students will workshop their drafts and work up to an original research project. Readings will be drawn from academic articles and medieval and modern literature, supplemented with several films.

Be bold and take the adventure of college writing!

Special Topics (Upper-Level ENGL Courses)

English Upper-level section descriptions — Fall 2021

Several upper-level ENGL courses consist of multiple topics of focus that vary each semester. Current and/or forthcoming descriptions will be listed here as they become available.

This is not a complete list of available English classes. For a complete list of upcoming classes or to see course details, including dates, times and professors, please use the Registrar's course schedule

ENGL 248 – Monsters, From Beowulf to Beloved
What if we read Beowulf, an early medieval text written in Old English, through the lens of Toni Morrison’s Beloved, a novel about a ghost and about slavery? What would we learn about ourselves? About others?

This course is about monsters. It is a course on literature, because tales and stories are where monsters find form, where they find life. In this, monsters are bound up in our imagination, in what we find abhorrent, frightening, horrifying. And, to a large extent, what we most fear is the Other. This, then, is our task: to look at monsters through “dark” lenses that allow us see the devaluation of humanity in the making of monsters: in other words, the making of Others.

Along with Beowulf and Beloved, we will read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Octavia Butler’s Fledgling, William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and Jorge Luis Borges’s “The House of Asterion,” a short story told from the perspective of the Minotaur.

ENGL 373: Shakespeare 
Questions of Justice in Shakespeare’s Plays: Society’s Treatment of the “Other”

Many of Shakespeare’s plays explore what it means to be treated as an outsider. Studying these plays can guide us in questioning issues of justice when women are treated as possessions, Jewish merchants are ridiculed, and military commanders are questioned because of the color of their skin. In this course, we will work our way together through several plays, reading and watching and studying and arguing about the meaning we find in them. We will examine the historical and literary contexts, studying the plays as literature and as performance pieces and assessing various critical approaches’ insights.

ENGL 375: Children's and Young Adult Lit  
I invite you to think about kids and their work to save the world! In the Percy Jackson series, Percy and his cohort of demigods tangle with rebellious gods to save the world from evil. Fighting evil, in the form of Nazism, is likewise positioned in The Diary of Anne Frank and Number the Stars. The same emphasis is true of ecojustice narratives such as Stella Diaz Never Gives Up where Stella finds ways to help the oceans and its denizens from the dangers of pollution or Ship Breaker, in which the characters deal with the aftermath of climate change. Standing up to constricting social and racial practices is the topic of concern in Piecing Me Together, Out of the Dust, and Apple in the Middle. What our readings hold in common is kids’ active engagement in creating a better world.

The goal of this course is to explore a wide range of kid lit, including mythological fantasy, historical novels, picture books and realistic fiction. Due to our emphasis on how kids save the world, we will devote attention to struggles against evil (historical and fictional), environmental concerns, and social justice issues. By exploring literature for children and young adults in this way, we will see kids as the catalyst for dynamic change and their work to transform our world.