Reading Poetry Theologically

Class Number: 
Week Two
June 12-16
1:30 - 4:00

Class Price: 

What is the relationship between theology and the arts, and what does it look like to bring these into conversation with each other? Can reading poetry, for example, be one way of thinking theologically or even of ‘doing theology’? In this course we will study poetry as a source of theological reflection and insight through close readings of individual poems and poetic sequences by some of the best poets of the English language in modern times. As we proceed, we will consider how the form as well as the subject matter of poetry open up new horizons for interpreting and articulating religious ideas and concerns.  Through reading poems by such notable writers as Gerard Manley Hopkins, T.S. Eliot, Langston Hughes, and Denise Levertov, and a range of contemporary voices including African-American and Native-American poets, we will examine how modern and late-modern poetry has created fresh embodiments of a religious perspective and has contributed to the public tasks of theology. (As in previous years, we will be reading some works from last summer’s course, but also many new works, and exploring new facets of our theme.)  We have three main objectives for the course: to develop skills in reading poetry as both theological and literary students; to open up new methods of doing theology through works of the imagination; to consider how ‘poets of faith’ in modernity and late-modernity tutor us in ways that deepen our own faith and help us to engage our contemporaries thoughtfully and creatively. No specific background in literature is required or expected. No textbooks are required, and all materials will be provided as PDFs.


Rev. Dr. David Mahan is Executive Director of the Rivendell Institute at Yale University and an Associate Fellow and Lecturer in Religion and Literature in the Institute of Sacred Music, Yale Divinity School. He completed his BA in history at Miami University of Ohio, his M.A.R. in religion and the arts at Yale Divinity School, and his PhD in theology and poetry at the University of Cambridge (UK). He is the author of the book An Unexpected Light: Theology and Witness in the Poetry and Thought of Charles Williams, Micheal O’Siadhail, and Geoffrey Hill. His courses at Yale include “Reading Poetry Theologically,” “Imagining the Apocalypse,” and most recently “Literature of Trauma.” In addition to his work as a scholar and teacher, Dr. Mahan has worked in university campus ministry for nearly 35 years, having served at Yale since 1987. He and his wife Karen, a Spiritual Formation Director at the Rivendell Institute, live in Hamden, CT.

Yale Divinity School

David Mahan