Samuel Catlin: Syllabus and Teaching Portfolio Workshop

Samuel Catlin

PhD Candidate, Comparative Literature & Religion, Literature, and Visual Culture

Syllabus Design and Teaching Portfolio Workshop: “Masters of Suspicion: The History of ‘Critique’ and Contemporary Debates in Hermeneutical Theory”

Monday, February 10, 12:30 PM, Swift 200

In this workshop, we will look at a syllabus-in-progress for an upper-level undergraduate seminar in comparative literature, continental, philosophy, and/or religious studies (including the philosophy of religions), titled “Masters of Suspicion: The History of ‘Critique’ and Contemporary Debates in Hermeneutical Theory.” I will supply beforehand the syllabus as well as excerpts from two of the readings, which should be read in advance of the workshop.

The purpose of a syllabus-design workshop is double. The syllabus is in the very roughest stage of conception and I am seeking constructive feedback about the course objectives, structure, readings, etc. Going in the other direction, the workshop contributes to the professional preparation of current pre-candidacy PhD students by giving them a chance to look at a component of most academic job portfolios, the sample syllabus, and learn about the process of developing such syllabi (how many? at what levels? What course content?) as well as the role these documents and related pedagogical materials play in positioning oneself on the academic job market. To that end, the PR Workshop has planned this workshop specifically to benefit pre-candidacy PhD students working at the intersection of (continental) philosophy, religious studies, and/or literary theory.

The course is intended for advanced undergraduates with a working familiarity either with major trends in continental philosophy since the 17th century or with contemporary literary theory. The course treats the notion of a “hermeneutics of suspicion” as it gets articulated in the 1960s by Paul Ricoeur and Michel Foucault; the syllabus aims to situate this notion in a longer genealogy of post-Enlightenment “critique” (especially the critique of religion) and to interrogate the recent, increasingly widespread push for “post-critical” reading in literary studies over the last two decades (e.g. R. Felski, B. Latour, H. Love, S. Marcus and S. Best, F. Moretti, The Point, the later E.K. Sedgwick). I want this course to accomplish three related objectives:

(1)   to get students reflecting about the relationship between the modes of critical reading in which their education has trained them and, by denaturalizing the genealogy of critique, religious modes of engagement with texts against which such critical reading has historically been defined;

(2)   to think seriously about the relationship – genealogical and phenomenological – between “suspicion” and “charity” as hermeneutical and ethical principles;

(3)   to acquaint students with of-the-moment theoretical and methodological debates in the study of literature, especially as these bear on philosophy and religious studies.

Finally, as you shall see on the syllabus document itself, the course is divided in two parallel streams: various short theoretical and philosophical texts, on the one hand, and on the other a single, particularly difficult literary work which the class will read very carefully with an eye toward its explicit thematization of the hermeneutics of suspicion and the unrestricted economy of charity – Herman Melville’s late novel The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade.

Lunch provided

The Workshop on the Philosophy of Religions is committed to being a fully accessible and inclusive workshop.  Please contact Workshop Coordinators Rebekah Rosenfeld ( or William Underwood ( in order to make any arrangements necessary to facilitate your participation in workshop events.