Center for Latter-day Saint Arts

College and University Courses on Latter-day Saint Arts

Would you like to teach a course on Latter-day Saint arts in a college or university?  Do you need assistance with readings or approach?  We would like to help.

The Center is assembling examples of syllabi as an aid to teachers who are contemplating a course on Latter-day Saint art.

Devotional Poetry


Course Texts

  •  Renee Angle, WoO (Letter Machine Editions, 2016)

  • Kristen Eliason, Picture Dictionary (Sundress Publications, 2014)

  • Jay Hopler and Kimberly Johnson, eds., Before the Door of God: An Anthology of Devotional Poetry (Yale University Press, 2013)

  • Timothy Liu, Vox Angelica (Alice James, 1992)

  • Rachel Hunt Steenblik, Mother’s Milk (BCC Press, 2017)

  • There will also be a goodly number of readings distributed electronically

  • Optional

  • Each student must have access to a non-KJAV translation of the Bible and a Book of Mormon.  I don’t care what edition of each of these texts you use.  In the event that you don’t own one or both of these texts, or wish to own a more scholarly edition of either, I’ve ordered the following texts as part of this course’s book list.

  • Harold Attridge et al., eds., The Harper-Collins Study Bible (HarperOne, 2006)

  • Grant Hardy, Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Edition (University of Illinois Press, 2005)

Course Description

This class will survey the development of a strong tradition of devotional poetry in the Anglophone tradition, and discover its application in and influence on Mormon literature.  We will begin our conversation with a brief introduction to the genre’s earliest expressions in the hymns of ancient Greece and Rome and of the Bible, and its development in early Christian lyrics.  We will discover how medieval Scholastics used poetry to augment affectively their intellectual engagements with Christianity, which together would govern the later expansion of lyric poetry in English, both secular and sacred.  Shaped both by the generic fashions of continental literature and the upheavals in continental theology, the devotional lyric in English sees an unprecedented efflorescence during the Reformation and post-Reformation eras, and establishes this mode of poetic writing as central to the literary landscape.  This seminal period codifies the conventions and expectations of the devotional lyric, and influences its development for the succeeding centuries up until the present day. 

After having established through this survey a shared lexicon and historical understanding, we turn our attention to the Mormon literary tradition, to examine how and why Mormon poets from the nineteenth century through the present both exploit and undermine the conventions and expectations of this venerable subgenre of literature. We will explore early Mormon uses of poetry as vehicles for theological codification, development, and even innovation; we will investigate the ways in which Mormonism’s diminished cultural isolation in the middle twentieth century produced a turn from didacticism in LDS poetry; and we will explore how contemporary Mormon writers navigate the tensile boundaries between what has become an increasingly secular American literary tradition and the peculiar interests and lexicon of their faith community.

I have designed this class with three main goals in mind:

  1. to provide students with a solid historical grounding in the poetic tradition generally, and in the tradition of religious poetry specifically;

  2. to introduce students to the theoretical underpinnings of lyric poetry, so that they may have a more nuanced appreciation of literary genre and a more sophisticated apprehension of poetic conventions;

  3. to elaborate a framework in which to situate Mormon writing in order to understand the investments that govern its development, both in the past and as it continues to evolve, to appreciate its aesthetic and theological allegiances, and to understand its integration into and peculiar departures from its poetic inheritance. 

Good writing is the product of good critical thinking—whether that writing is creative or critical in nature.  At the same time, good critical thinking often arises from the process of writing oneself into more nuanced understanding. Accordingly, this writing- and reading-intensive course hopes to exercise, and to sharpen, critical and expressive faculties simultaneously. 

Course requirements

Grades for this course will be calculated according to the following formula:

Paper 1:  10%; Paper 2:  20%; Final research paper:  25%; Presentation:  10%; Devotional lyric and argumentative support:  10%; Annotated Bibliography:  5%; Response to poetry reading:  10%; Thoughtful contribution to class discussion:  10%

Research papers: Students will write a series of three critical/analytical papers of increasing length and complexity, beginning with a short paper requiring you to do some close reading and culminating in a substantial final research paper.  You’ll also write a short devotional lyric—and though poetic skill is not required, your lyric must be accompanied by a supporting critical-analytical essay that justifies your poem’s inclusion in the category “devotional lyric.”  

Presentations:  Each student must, once during the semester, give a presentation relating to that week’s reading. This presentation is NOT a book report.  You will identify salient issues in the week’s reading, and illuminate them for the class using close textual analysis and research into primary and/or critical sources.  Plan your presentation to be about 15 minutes in length.   I will pass around a sign-up sheet in the first weeks of the semester to determine the presentation schedule.   


Schedule of Readings:

January 9: The devotional lyric contextualized. Hymns of the ancient world (Greece, Rome, ancient Mesopotamian cultures):   

  1. In Before the Door of God: Introduction to Part One, and all poems in Part One 

  2. In Bible:  Exodus 15:1-18 (the Song of Moses); Exodus 15:21 (the Song of Miriam)

  3. Electronic handout:  Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite, Cleanthes’s Hymn to Zeus, Aristophanes’s hymn to Athena Nike


January 16: Early-church theologians and medieval writers on the relationship between man and God.

  1. Introduction to Part Two, and all poems in Part Two in Before the Door of God 

  2. Electronic handout: Augustine, from Confessionschapters 1 and 10; Origen, Prologue to commentary on The Song of Songs; Bernard of Clairvaux, Sermon 7 and 84 On the Song of Songs


January 23: Psalm translation and the English lyric.   Introduction to Part Three, and all poems in Part Three in Before the Door of Godpaper 1 due


January 30: The Flourishing of Devotional Poetry in the Post-Reformation Era. Introduction to Part Four, and all poems in Part Four in Before the Door of God


February 6 The Poetic Sublime.Introduction to Part Five, and all poems in Part Five in Before the Door of God


February 13:  Biblical Poetic Models Adapted in Mormon Scripture. 2 Nephi 1.13-15, 21-23; 2 Nephi 4.15-35; 2 Nephi 9.17-19; 2 Nephi 22.1-6; Jacob 5-6, Mosiah 14 (compare Isaiah 53); Alma 26.11-16; Alma 33.4-11; Alma 36.27-29; 3 Nephi 20.36-45; paper 2 due


February 20: Peculiar people, peculiar poems: “Doing” Theology in Poetry.  Joseph Smith, “The Vision” []; George Manwaring, “A Temple Hymn” [];  Emmaline B. Wells, “Shadow-Land” [.pdf]; W. W. Phelps, “This Earth Was Once a Garden Place” []; Orson F. Whitney, “What Is Life?” and “Lehi” [Google Books:  The Poetical Writings of Orson F. Whitney, pages 113-115 and 176-178]


February 27:  A Mother There: Gender and Prayer:  

  1.   Eliza R. Snow, “Invocation, or the Eternal Father and Mother” [.pdf]; Emily H. Woodmansee, "Apostrophe”[Google Books:The Latter-Day Saints' Millennial Star, Volume 50, page 16.] ; Lula L. Greene Richards, “A Thread of Thought”; Nola Wallace, “A Psalm”

  2. Rachel Hunt Steenblick, Mother’s Milk


March 6:  Integration and Exile.May Swenson [.pdf], Lisa Bickmore, selected poems [.pdf]. 


March 13: Queering “peculiar” in form and content

  1. Alex Caldiero:  please view the following videos:  (AC on relationship to Mormonism) (Words Are Living Beings) (Bite-Size poem) (“Speaking in Tongues”)

    Watch first 1:54 of this video:

  2. Alex Caldiero, selected poems [.pdf]

  3. Timothy Liu, Vox Angelica


March 27:   Toward a Mormon Psalter.  Orson F. Whitney, “A Poet’s Prayer” [Google Books:  The Poetical Writings of Orson F. Whitney, pages 9-11] and essay on “Poets and Poetry” [Google Books: The Poetical Writings of Orson F. Whitney, pages 154-168] (Joyce Crocheron, “Thoughts Within” [.pdf]; Josephine Spencer, “Twilight” [.pdf]; Susan Evans McCloud, “Lord, I Would Follow Thee”; Emma Lou Thayne, “Where Can I Turn for Peace” and two poems [.pdf]; Carol Lynn Pearson, selected poems [.pdf]


April 3:   Mainstreaming. Lance Larsen, selections [.pdf]; Philip White [.pdf]);  and Susan Elizabeth Howe [.pdf].              


April 10: The Mormon Postmodern.Kristen Eliason, Picture Dictionary,and Renee Angle, WoO


April 17: Accounting for Mormon Devotional Poetry.[Electronic handouts]: Critical introductions for Harvest (eds. Eugene England and Dennis Clark, Signature Books, 1989), Discoveries(eds. Susan Elizabeth Howe and Sheree Maxwell Bench, JFSI, 2004), and Fire in the Pasture (ed. Tyler Chadwick, Peculiar Pages 2011)


April 24: Mini-conference.Students present their own research. 

Paper Assignments

OED Paper

No more than two pages (double-spaced)

Due January 23

Good literature resists paraphrase, which means that every word is essential to its communication

Your assignment is to get to know a single word, both on its own and in the context of its usage in a single poem.  Choose your word from any of the translations of the Psalms into English in section 3 of Before the Door of God.  Pick a word that gives you pause for some reason, a word that makes you want to scratch further—either because you don’t know it or because its usage is unfamiliar to you.  You must go to the Oxford English Dictionary, both to discover what the word meant during the 16th century, when these lyrics were composed, and to familiarize yourself with its etymology.  But remember that these investigations are simply background research:  don’t narrate your process of discovery to me in this paper, but instead use that process of discovery as a foundation for an argumentative thesis.

After you’ve come to be intimate with the word on its own terms, turn your analysis on the text itself.  Why does the translation use that particular word?  What does it contribute/how does it slant your apprehension of the text’s ideas?  What arguments does it import into the text?  How does it affect your reading of the text at hand?  You might consider its sound, its etymology, its contemporary meaning, its connotations, its implied reference to other texts...whatever helps you to understand how the text’s function depends upon that one word.  How does your word help the text succeed in its agenda(s)?  

Please note that despite its short length, this is a formal paper, and must have an argumentative thesis (not just the assertion that “words are important in literature” or some such vague and unprovable rubbish….). Avoid also getting into red-herring unprovable speculations like “The author could have used that word, but instead she used this word, which is significant.”  And please remember that you are using the word as a lens through which to understand the text at hand, not doing a book report on the history of its usage.  

Your grade on this assignment will be based both on the amount of relevantresearch you bring to bear on your thesis, and on the depth of your analysis of the word in context.

Paper 2

5ish pages

Due February 27

Your assignment is to argue against some point made by some critic about any text we’ve covered in the first 5 weeks of our class (that is, any text from the Before the Door of God anthology).  I’d counsel you to limit yourself to poems written in English (as opposed to in translation) unless you speak the original language fluently.  

As you read around in the body of critical commentary on the work/poet in question, find an idea that seems unpersuasive to you and prove that it’s wrong (that is, demonstrate why and howi t’s unpersuasive), using evidence from literary and critical sources.  (N.B. My suspicion is that you’ll have your hands full with a small point, so don’t try to prove that, say, Barbara Lewalski is totally misguided in seeing 17th-century lyrics as influenced by Protestant paradigms in 5 pages.)

This paper is (as ever) not a book report about some critic you’ve read, nor should it launch you into an indignant declaration against the deficiencies of the critic’s idea. Indeed, your critic really needn’t appear in your paper must at all after the first paragraph (unless you’d like to return to deliver a parting blow in your last paragraph J), which you should use to frame out the points against which your paper will argue. That is, to establish the space in which your argument will develop.  But the bulk of this paper should be spent SUPPORTING YOUR OWN COUNTERCLAIM, using evidence and argumentation.  

This paper asks you to begin to take ownership of the material we’re covering, to explore around in the critical conversation about the poems we’ve been discussing and to engage some ideas yourself.  Feel free to talk it out with me as you develop it. 

Again:  make a claim (thesis) and prove it (argumentation/ explanation).

Devotional Lyric and accompanying essay

Due by the last day of the semester

The task before you, now that you’ve had some time to get some theory and conventions under your belt, is to write a devotional lyric.  I’m not inclined to put further restrictions on the creative portion of this assignment (in terms of style, length, form), but whatever you write must be both a lyric and devotional.  

Your poem must be accompanied by an essay of no more than two pages,in which you defend your creative work’s status as a devotional lyric.  That is, explain what features of your poem mark it as a devotional lyric?  Bear in mind that this portion of the assignment does require that you do real scholarly analysis:  it ain’t a journal entry or an opportunity for you to rhapsodize, and don’t summarize your poem (I can read it just fine).  Instead, make an argument, and support that argument with evidence drawn from the text you’ve produced, from other poems, and from critical sources—whatever’s relevant.  

Final Project – An adventure in two parts



Annotated Bibliography

Due April 17

As part of your final project, you must complete an annotated bibliography, which will be due a week before your final project is due.  This bibliography should document the course of your research, identifying the critical works you’ve found most relevant to your subject of study, and abstracting their content.  Your annotated bibliography should contain 5 works of criticism that you’ve read in preparation for your final project.  (Please note that while your final project requires at least 5 sources, this annotated bibliography may discuss works that don’t end up contributing directly to the argument of your final project.)

An annotated bibliography is a much longer version of the familiar entries on your “works cited” page.  Each citation should have two components:  Begin with conventional bibliographical information. The body text of the annotated bibliography follows the bibliographical information on the page.  This body text consists of a couple of clearly constructed paragraphs that first explain the argument of the work at hand and then evaluate its content.  In other words, your first paragraph should essentially summarize the article you’ve read. The second paragraph should briefly evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the article’s argument.  You should, in other words, do formally and on paper the analysis you may have done in your head as you were reading the article.  


Research Paper – Due last day of class

10-12 pages, double-spaced

Your final paper should present a substantial argument, supported by research and textual evidence, on any subject relating to this class’s semester-long conversation.  You may investigate a text or texts we have covered during the term in class or explore further afield.  Your paper should advance a sophisticated argument, and should include reference to at least 5 sources of literary criticism (three of which MUST have been published since 1990) (these 5 sources do not have to be the same 5 sources you discussed in your annotated bibliography; research is dynamic and usually reveals that the materials you thought would be useful aren’t, and giving you the opportunity to open up sources you didn’t know you would rely upon).  

Make certain that the argument you make is textual in nature.  

You are required to discuss your project with me before you immerse yourself in it.  Please make an appointment with me sometime on April 3 or 10 so that we can talk through your anticipated research topic.