For today's entry in the Friday Five interview series, we catch up with Karen Swallow Prior.
Karen Swallow Prior is Professor of English at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. She is the author ofBooked: Literature in the Soul of Meand a contributing writer for Christianity Today.
Today we chat with Karen Swallow Prior about classic literature, literacy, and the discipline of reading.
What fostered your love and lifelong passion for classic literature?
Nature and nurture: I grew up with a mother who read prodigiously to my two brothers and me when we were young (and into our not-so-young years, too). Yet, I was the one who turned out with the great love of books, so there must be some God-given nature at work as well. My parents also provided me with a great deal of classic works of literature, so I learned to love them from an early age. By the time I met Mrs. Lovejoy in seventh grade, I was hungry for the classic works she taught as my English teacher for the next two years.
You teach at the largest Christian university in the United States. Are you finding that incoming students are more or less literate when it comes to the classics?
I taught at secular institutions before coming to Liberty University. I would say, on one hand, we are probably like most other colleges and universities in having students who represent a wide spread on the spectrum of academic preparedness and cultural literacy. But I would say, on the other hand, we probably get more students than most secular schools who do have a background in quality reading because we have more students who come from Christian, classical, and home schools where such works tend to have greater emphasis. Regardless of their condition when they arrive, our students are required by the General Education curriculum to take more classes in classical literature than I have seen at most secular institutions. I think this is one of the fairly uniform strengths of Christian education across the board. We are a "people of the Word" and that identity manifests itself in greater appreciation for literary texts than might be found in the surrounding culture.
Why is it important for followers of Christ to read deeply and read well?
Christianity is a Word-centered faith. That term—"Word"—takes on layers of significance, all of which are meaningful and relevant to our faith. Because Christ is the Word and the Bible is God's revealed Word, it is clear that Christians have a special calling to the understanding of words—and therefore the Word. Neil Postman famously points out in his classic treatise, Amusing Ourselves to Death, that the prohibition of graven images in the Ten Commandments suggests that the Judeo-Christian God is one who is to be known through rational, abstract language rather than the immediate, sensory experience of images as seen in the idol worship of the surrounding pagan cultures. If we know God through reading the Word, then the practice of reading—deeply, faithfully, and well—helps us to do that. Furthermore, reading demanding works of literature that require our time and attention can foster the very spiritual disciplines that enable us to slow down, attend, and heed the Word of God. As our society reverts increasingly to an image-based culture, our calling as a Word-centered people becomes even more compelling and resonant.
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