Religion and English classes collaborate on Beloved

Prompted by a shared experience with Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved, Religion department chair Elizabeth Burns and English teacher Catherine Gallagher collaborated in planning and moderating a recent in-class discussion of issues of justice and punishment portrayed in the novel.

Over the summer, Ms. Burns attended an intensive five-week NEH Summer Seminar  titled “Punishment, Politics, and Culture” in Amherst, MA for which the novel was required study; the students in Mrs. Gallagher’s AP English Literature and Composition classes just completed the same book. 

“Our conversation about the novel began very casually, as we chatted about reading Beloved, but the idea to work together to organize something for the classroom came very quickly.  We both were very enthusiastic about the possibilities for more in-depth discussion about the nature and purposes of punishment.”  Students were asked to consider the circumstances, consequences and punishment for the crime committed by the novel’s central character-an escaped-slave mother who murders her child rather than allow her return to slavery.

Ms. Burns brought the insights she gained from the summer seminar to bear in the student discussion, providing some philosophical framework as well as some terminology useful for articulating ideas about punishment.

Emma Catafalmo, ’12 said, "The class was a great way to connect and combine my interests in politics, literature and human rights."

The experience was a positive and productive one for both students and teachers.


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