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The process began in the first class, when as an introductory exercise, we asked students to join in pairs and tell each other a story that would in some way reveal themselves.We assured them that the story need not be profound or violate their privacy, but that it should help the listener to understand something about their lives.
From the perspective of narrative theology, that search for stories reveals human beings' efforts to understand the ultimate ("God") and discloses an interpretive structure for both their actions and their values as they try to make sense of their lives.
To help our students develop an appreciation for the complex ways in which narrative shapes and reshapes what we know and can know about our experience and how such narratives determine and reflect what we value, we experimented with several approaches.
Recently, I've had the pleasure of team-teaching several courses with a colleague from the discipline of Religious Studies.1 The latest and, in many ways, the most exciting of these cooperative ventures was entitled "(Looking for) God in Faulkner," a course that focused on Absalom, Absalom!
as a way to explore the role of narrative and intertextuality in defining culture and values.
Then we asked each listener to re-tell the story they heard, while the original storyteller listened.
After these exchanges were complete (in about half an hour), we engaged the class in a discussion of how the stories changed and what each listener heard.Nearly everyone was appropriately impressed with the differences in the versions and the messages that were received.Having suggested to them Faulkner's own fascination with stories and storytellers and having armed them with some techniques for tackling his daunting prose, we asked, for the following week, that they write a three-to-five page story about an event in their lives that revealed something about their relationships to whatever reality they meant when they spoke of the divine.This portion of our exercise was probably the most helpful to students in learning to appreciate the significance of Faulkner's style--as well as the most easily excerpted for other courses and contexts.By this point in the semester, after nearly a month of re-working their initial narrative, most students were thoroughly engaged by the project and eagerly awaited our next "pitch"--which was a change-up.We suggested that students review their work on the stories and examine the exercises for evidence of the relationship between story and value, but encouraged them to use other material as well, including library research.The intent was a formal, even theoretical, reflection on what they had learned about the relation between the stories we tell and the values we profess.This proved to be a dramatic experience for many students, as they imagined an important moment in their lives, often for the first time, from a perspective other than their own.It was also a powerful lesson in narrative point of view as a shaper of meaning, a lesson wonderfully reinforced by our concurrent reading of Faulkner's novel, with its pyrotechnic uses of multiple points of view.We reviewed all of the exercises for the first time, giving students our thoughts about the significance of what they had been finding, which they could couple with the continuing feedback they had been getting from their small groups.We did not grade their efforts at this point, reserving that evaluation for their final products--which generally turned out to be excellent.