University College | Gazing Long Into the Abyss: Reading and Writing About Evil

Questions?

  • University College
    202-885-6737
    universitycollege@american.edu
    Anderson, Room 1014

    Wyatt, Jamie J
    Associate Director, University College and Learning Communities

Mailing Address

College Writing
Gazing Long Into the Abyss: Witnessing Wickedness as Writers

LIT-100

Perhaps no problem has vexed the Western mind more than the problem of evil.  The greatest minds of every generation have struggled to explain why bad things happen to good people (and why good things happen to bad people), why and how humans can be cruel to one another, and, especially for the religious followers of the Abrahamic faiths, how a world can have evil in it if it’s been created by a god who is all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-good.

            It’s your turn, now.  But first you need to understand the conversations, the parameters of the problem, the depth of the answers, and the rationale behind the rebuttals.  You are entering a conversation humanity has been having for thousands of years—you have some catching up to do.  This semester’s goal is to bring you up to speed on the major problems of evil, the thinkers who have tried to answer these questions, and the arguments for and against all of them.  And, ideally, you will end your semester by contributing your voice to the conversation.

            This is a writing class that will push you to understand why writing’s essential to the problem of evil.  In seeing how the discussion could not have evolved to its current point without writing, you’ll see the fundamental value of writing—and the chance it offers you to enter the great hall of thinkers and speak your piece.  You’ll also leave prepared to write in academic prose—crafting bold arguments, using solid evidence, and organizing your essays for utmost effectiveness.

Fulfills 3 credits of the College Writing requirement.

This seminar is Fall semester only

Draft Syllabus- subject to revision


Adam Tamashasky

Adam "Tamo" Tamashasky has been with the College Writing Program since 2004. He graduated from the University of Dayton in 1999 with a BA in English, then came to AU's MFA Program. His most recent short story appeared in "The University of Dayton Quarterly." He's also published in "The Bellevue Literary Review," "Redivider," "Illya's Honey," as well as "Foilo."

Tamo holds an MFA from American University.

From the professor...

What is your style in the classroom?
I opt for the discussion-centric classroom.  In practice, this involves a good deal of Socratic teaching--I come into class with questions on the reading meant to engender thoughtful reflection on the material for the day and its broader implications.  Also, when possible, I like to start arguments in class--ideally, of course, between students, but when necessary I'm happy to adopt the devil's advocate persona to push students out of their comfort levels into critical thinking.  I tend to pace, to sit on a desk, to get enthusiastic about student insights and contributions--anything I can do to keep the classroom from becoming a place of the ordinary.

What's distinctive about the way you teach this class?
I suppose my conscious effort to keep students alert by using shocking examples and off-the-wall analogies.  The principles of college writing apply to most every other aspect of life--so it's not unusual for me to take lessons on transitions and connect them to an invented story about a first date going horribly, horribly wrong.  I also suspect, though I may be wrong, that I'm more willing than other profs to bring controversial topics into the discussion and make students confront their respective beliefs.  Writing classes at this level should be preparing students to challenges others' opinions, so I model that goal by actively trying to push at students' cherished beliefs and values.

What do you like best about teaching undergrads?

Undergrads seem to come with this weird cognitive duality: on the one hand, they believe they have all the answers, but on the other hand, many of them quickly drop these adopted answers when confronted with the level of critical thinking their classes require.  Watching a student struggle--really struggle--through this process, and playing some small role in facilitating the internal dialogue students have with themselves and their values, makes this profession so much more than a mere job.  Beyond this role, I also get to pass along advice on how to package these new-found ideas and rationales into persuasive and compelling prose.  Pretty awesome.