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Elective Courses

Elective Courses in American Catholic Studies

American Catholic Fictions

AMCS 3333
4 Credits

This course explores the narratives created by American Catholic artists and the variety of forms their stories take. Emphasis will be on 20th-Century and contemporary American Catholic novelists and short story writers, such as William Kennedy, John O’Hara, Flannery O’Connor, Ron Hansen, Mary Gordon, David Plante, and Andre Dubus. In addition, students will engage the work of American Catholic filmmakers (such as Coppola and Scorsese), visual artists (including Andy Warhol), and the music & lyrics of Catholic composers/songwriters (such as Bruce Springsteen). We will consider the content of these visual,musical, and literary narratives—and the relationships among them--in light of their grounding in the specific American and Catholic cultures they portray, and we will explore the particular capability of each genre to convey the artist’s vision of the possibilities and limitations of the world he or she inhabits and (re)creates.

Catholicism and Democracy

AMCS 3340
4 Credits

This course will examine the relationship between Catholicism and democracy, placing particular stress on their relevance to contemporary American public life. In this context, Catholicism will be understood not only as a religious institution, but as the source of a tradition of communitarian social and political thought, while democracy will be understood not only as a form of government, but also as an ethos shaping American society. Authors and texts will include Alexis de Tocqueville, Orestes Brownson, Dorothy Day, John Courtney Murray, and relevant documents from Vatican II and the American hierarchy. The historic tension between Catholicism and democracy will be the subject of our conversation as will the possibilities for greater harmony between them. In particular, we will explore the possibility that Catholicism’s communitarian orientation might serve as a corrective to American individualism and consumerism, while democratic institutions and practices might have something to offer Catholicism.

The Writing Irish

AMCS 3320
4 Credits

This course will explore the influence of Catholicism on the development of Irish and Irish-American Literature from the early 20th century to the present. Featuring Irish- and American-born writers of Irish ancestry, the course will focus on the work of writes such as James Joyce, Patrick Kavanaugh, Seamus Heaney, Eavan Boland, Mebh McGuckian, F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Kennedy, Elizabeth Cullinan, Frank O’Hara, Alice McDermott and Michael Donaghy. Through selected historical and critical readings, we will attempt to create a descriptive narrative of what happens when Irish writers wrestle with Catholic identity in the context of 20th-century political and economic struggle, both in Ireland and in America, and a growing culture of unbelief.

American Catholic Women Writers

AMCS 3359
4 Credits

This course will explore American Catholic Women's imaginative writing and the ways in which it reflects the broad range of attitudes and the complexity of feelings towards the Church American women have given voice to in the 20th and 21st centuries. Students will read poetry, fiction, and memoir written by writers such as Dorothy Day, Mary McCarthy, Denise Levertov, Flannery O’Connor, Mary Karr, Alice McDermott and Mary Gordon. In addition, we will discuss the ways in which these writers have shaped the public discourse regarding the imaginative, religious and practical life of American Catholics.

American and Catholic

AMCS 3200
4 credits

This course examines the contributions of various Catholic figures and movements from the end of the 19th Century to the start of the 21st. How did the various Catholic generations of the past 110 years understand themselves as Americans and Catholics? And how did subsequent generations change that understanding? This course will give particular emphasis to how younger generations initiated or prompted change, with an eye to discovering how youth culture today might be shaping the future of American Catholic identity.

Faith in U.S. Politics

AMCS 3130
4 Credits


This course will examine the effects of religion on contemporary American politics. How does religion shape the political system? In what ways should religious considerations influence public policy? How does religion affect voting decisions? Does faith have an impact on the political behavior of elected officials? Special attention will be paid to the role of religion in recent presidential elections and to the influence exerted by the American Catholic Church.

Catholics and Pop Culture

AMCS 3150
4 Credits

An exploration of the intersection of popular devotion and popular culture in the experience of American Catholics, examining the ways in which Catholics are portrayed and participate in popular media and consumer society and how this expresses and/or transforms what it means to be both American and Catholic.

Contemporary Catholic Fiction

AMCS 3250
4 credits

This course will examine several major Catholic writers of the 20th century (Graham Greene, Flannery O'Connor, Mary Gordon, J.F. Powers and others). This course will examine Catholic themes and issues in their writings. 

Labor, Leisure, and God

AMCS 3251
4 Credits

One of the many things we have lost in becoming what scholar Eugene McCarraher describes as "prisoners of the free market" is a sense of the sacredness of labor and of leisure. Through examination of a variety of philosophical, theological, and aesthetic concepts and representations of work and play, including those expressed by such writers as Max Weber, Josef Piper, Dorothy Day, Theodore Dreiser, Andre Dubus, Pope Leo XIII, and John Paul II, we will examine the ways in which these ideas have shaped the culture and practice of labor in America. American Catholics have been active participants in the on-going attempt to define the meaning and value of labor and leisure as workers, as theorists, and as activists. These texts will enable us to reflect on this history and will help us to formulate a working definition of what might be termed an American Catholic Work Ethic.

American Catholic Poetry

AMCS 3350
4 credits

In this course, students will read a variety of poets whose work is grounded in the faith and culture of the Catholic Church in America. Our focus will be on Catholic poets writing in the U.S. during the 20th and 21st centuries and will include the work of Czeslaw Milosz, Adam Zagajewski, Denise Levertov, Thomas Merton, William Everson/Brother Antoninus, Franz Wright and Mary Karr. We will also read some poems by forerunners of these writers who exerted considerable influence on their work, such as John of the Cross and Gerard Manley Hopkins. As we engage the distinctive voice and subject matter of each poet, we will also try to determine what common qualities pervade the work. We will consider whether and how the work of the Catholic artist is marked by the sign of faith and will attempt to identify and characterize an essentially American Catholic vision that informs the art of these very different writers. 

American Catholic Novel

AMCS 3355
4 credits

The appearance and importance of faith in the work of American Catholic novelists, including J.F. Powers, Alice McDermott, Mary Gordon, Walter Miller, Ron Hansen and John Kennedy Toole. 

Ethnic and Catholic Literature

AMCS 3360
4 credits

This course engages the question of what it means to be both “ethnic” and “Catholic” in America and explores the ways in which these primary aspects of identity influence the work of writers affiliated with three of the most visible European Catholic ethnic groups that immigrated to the United States in the early 20th Century: the Irish, the Italians, and the Polish. Students will read memoir, fiction, and poetry by representative writers from each group, including the work of J.T. Farrell, ElizabethCullinan, Don Delillo, Helen Barolini, Czeslaw Milosz and Adam Zagajewski. Through selected historical and critical readings, we will attempt to create a descriptive narrative of what happens when writers wrestle with ethnic and Catholic identity in the context of 20th-century political and economic struggle in America, a predominantly White-Anglo-Saxon-Protestant society, and a growing culture of unbelief. 

The Catholic Metropolis

AMCS 3450
4 credits


A history of Catholicism in the New York metropolitan area, focusing on sites of historic significance that inscribed a permanent Catholic presence and shaped an evolving urban culture. Students will explore and research architectural sites, locations of popular devotions, and streetscapes that reveal identities of parishes as urban village.

Catholic Across Cultures

AMCS 3975
4 credits

A seminar exploring, comparing, and contrasting the Catholic fiction of disparate cultures, including Britain, Ireland, France, Brazil and Japan. Authors read will include Waugh, Greene, Percy, Bernanos, Endo and more. American authors will also be considered.

Christianity and Gender

AMCS 4950
4 Credits
Christianity and Gender/Sexual Diversity: Interdisciplinary Perspectives

Employing perspectives from history, theological ethics, and LGBT studies, this course will investigate what it means to take queer perspectives on Christianity, sexuality, and discipleship. Readings will include biblical, historical, and contemporary materials that seek to illuminate the ways in which Christians and Christian communities have responded to sexual and gender diversity.

Building the Ideal City

AMCS 3535
4 Credits
Building the Ideal City: Ethics and Economic Foundations of Realizable Utopias 

This course introduces students to the investigation of the roles that economic concepts such as profit, work, utility, and exchange play in defining the ideal city as a realizable political project. Students will investigate ethical and economic concepts and their interrelation in the debate on the best form of State and government that developed from antiquity to modern American Utopian Communities. The course includes texts from various sources, philosophical, theological, juridical, and literary. Through these readings, students learn how theoretical and practical ideas on the best form of society developed in time and influence modern political thought. The course focuses on the impact of the socio-economic doctrines of the Church in shaping the idea of a possible, realizable, ideal city. Among the texts and authors included are Plato, St. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Dante, Boccaccio, Thomas Moore, Leon Battista Alberti, Tommaso Campanella, and Francis Bacon.