Mar 12, 2021 | NEWS | By Psalm Delaney | Photo by Patil Khakhamian
This past fall semester, the Department of Comparative Literature at Colorado College launched its newest minor program.
The world literature minor is pushing the boundaries beyond the conventional realm of world literature by immersing students into modern literature that is often left out of the literary canon.
“This is my hope: that CC’s world literature program is not going to live in the past,” said Ammar Naji, assistant professor of Comparative Literature and Arabic, Islamic and Eastern Studies (AIMES).
While the Comparative Literature department requires that students read in at least two languages, the world literature minor aims to make literature from across the globe accessible to all students on campus.
“We are going to look at the aspects of language, translation, and identity, and how all of that is reflected in what [students] would just think of as ‘English’ writing,” Naji told The Catalyst.
Furthermore, the world literature program at CC aims to break away from the conventionality of traditional study of world literature.
“World literature can actually help our students be able to engage with writings outside of the Eurocentric world,” Naji said.
“You might be able to teach white dead men, but how is that supposed to help our students?” he said. “If I keep teaching Shakespeare, Milton and all of these big names, then how is world literature different from English literature?”
Naji believes that through world literature, the Comparative Literature department has the expertise to break down the common misconception that students can only access the world if they can speak several languages.
He believes that world literature is an extremely valuable and necessary study for all students — even those studying STEM.
Through texts, discussion, and engagement with modern literary figures and scholars, world literature classes at CC explore topics including literary activism, environmental justice, ecotourism, migration, diaspora, and global identity.
In 2019, the Comparative Literature department taught “CO200: Debating World Literature Past and Present.”
According to Naji, the course received a lot of positive feedback from students — they encouraged the department to include more of a literary aspect in future courses. The success of the course urged the department to officially establish the minor.
First-year students experienced the first official world literature class as a First Year Program course. Taught by Naji during Block 1, “CC101: Environmental Justice in the Context of World Literature” examined environmental crises in the Middle East and North Africa, neo-imperialism, and environmental policy through 21st century literature.
Ariana Vargas ’24 told The Catalyst that her favorite part of the CC101 course was when she read “Oil on Water”and was able to speak with the author of the novel, Helon Habila.
“It was really fun because we got to hear from [Habila’s] perspective why he wrote the book and the impact that it had in his life,” Vargas said.
The most recent world literature course, “CO130: Literature and Contemporary Issues: Reading the World Through Contemporary World Literature,” was also taught by Naji in Block 4.
Students examined the origins of world literature, explored the works of postcolonial writings, and discussed topics of environmental degradation and justice, neo-imperialism, ethnocentrism, and diaspora.
Rhetta Powers ’23 told The Catalyst that she enjoyed reading several books in a short period of time. She said that it helped her connect themes and ideas across literature that she may not have before.
“It really opened my eyes to how small a pool of literature is read in the U.S.,” Portia DeSimone ’24 said.
Students from the course expressed that though the class was both academically and mentally challenging, they gained valuable knowledge about modern topics that has impacted them as readers and scholars.
“It was just a really informative experience because it wasn’t focused on learning about other cultures,” DeSimone said. “It was focused on learning about literature, but you ended up learning about other cultures too.”
Emma Phillips ’24 stated that the topics discussed in CO130 have helped her cultivate a “more critical eye” when she reads. She explained that because of that, she can better contextualize a literary piece as it relates to its origin.
Several students enjoyed learning about the theory of Orientalism, as it was a concept that they had never learned about before.
“The way that we approached [Orientalism], by looking at the theory, and then critiques of the theory, and then the theory in practice and all of the different elements of it was something that was [very enriching],” Powers said.
Jenny Kim ’24 expressed that through reading texts such as “Season of Migration to the North” and discussing Edward Said’s concept of Orientalism, the collision between the West and the East became starkly apparent.
During Block 5, Prof. Corrine Schiener taught “CO: 255 Comparative Literature/World Literature,” where students examined topics including the historical and conceptual principles, elements, and figures of the two fields of study and their relationship to one another.
This summer, the world literature program is offering a Block C course entitled, “CO300: Topics in Comparative Literature: Calling for Change: Literary Activism and Social Movements.” The department encourages all interested students to register for the course in Banner.
The Comparative Literature department intends to enrich the academic and non-academic perspectives of all students at CC regardless of their interests or major.
“This is my objective for the world literature minor,” Naji emphasized. “I want CC students to be global citizens not just of the world of CC, the Block Plan, and the places they travel. I want them to read about places they thought that they [knew] everything about — and it turns out they know nothing about.”
For more information about the minor and its offerings, students can visit the world literature page on the CC website.