Freshman Seminar 61e. Ghosts: How we have Summoned, Repelled, and Represented Intrusions from the Afterlife

Instructor: Deidre Shauna Lynch
Terms: Fall Term

Mondays, 3-5 pm | Location: Morton Prince 21

The living grieve for their lost dead, and world religions uniformly promise that this separation will be temporary and encourage us to anticipate happy reunions in the afterlife. But the ghost stories that theologians, philosophers, poets, dramatists, and novelists have recounted over the last two millennia suggest that the prospect that the restless dead might return to our world and to their former haunts in fact occasions rather more mixed feelings. We love and dread the dead. We need them (more than they need us), and so we preserve their memories, sometimes their remains, in graveyards, museums, and our photograph albums. At the same time, we fear their malevolence.

In this class you’ll investigate such mixed feelings in various ways: for instance, by visiting cemeteries and considering how burial practices ease the dead out of the world of the living; by exploring religious accounts of the relationship between body and spirit; by learning about the modern sciences’ commitment to making rational sense of the occult; and above all by reading and viewing stories of hauntings and spirit possession, from Hamlet to Beloved to Birth.  The class will exploit, as well, our location in the Boston area: a setting where the past often refuses to stay put and stay dead, and which, since the era of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, has been haunted by disquieting histories of violence, usurpation, and vengeance. Nineteenth-century Boston and Cambridge, we’ll find, each have a claim to be considered ground zero for modernity’s characteristic projects of soul searching and ghostbusting.

Note: Open to freshman students only.

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