How are hobbits, dragons and dire wolves related to religion and its complexities?
Religion and Fantasy (REL 4937) is a unique remote course offered this fall that examined the relationship between these concepts and more. It’s offered through the Department of Religious Studies – part of the Steven J. Green School of International & Public Affairs, and it is open to all students.
Students delve into various readings including The Narnia Series by C.S Lewis, The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, A Song of Ice and Fire, popularly known as Game of Thrones, by George R.R. Martin and other relevant materials that will help answer questions relating to the role of religion in fantasy literature.
“I think that so many of us have enjoyed fantasy literature over the years but not always made the connections with culture, history, or even current events,” explains Jeanette Smith, course professor. “A large part of the class is discussion and engagement with the students either reading or watching various materials ahead of time in preparation for what usually turn out to be very spirited class discussions.”
FIU students were also joined by a group of international students and their professor, Sebastian Concha Vargas, from Corporación Universitaria Minuto de Dios (UNIMINUTO) in Bogota, Colombia. “They are English language students whose professor has a passion for everything Game of Thrones,” Smith says.
Conducive to the joint learning environment, additional material on Colombian folk tales and myths has been added to the course and students had the opportunity to interact and work together on different projects.
“This class has been one of the highlights of my college experience and I could not recommend it more,” says Yarien Suarez, a previous student in the class. “[Smith] is an absolute gem of an educator. All the students were active participants in the course and she encouraged us all to voice our opinions and thoughts in class without fear of judgment or reprisal of any sort.”
At the beginning of the semester, Smith arranged a surprise video featuring Game of Thrones actor Miltos Yerolemou for her students.
There is no prior knowledge required for the course, students just need an interest in fantasy literature, explains Smith. “If they bring that along with an open mind, they will be just fine.”
As an added bonus, students who successfully complete the course receive a certificate for Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL) through FIU Global Learning.
“As C.S. Lewis said, "Someday you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again," Smith says. “I can't think of a better thing for us to do during a pandemic than immerse ourselves in a world of wonder!”
Religion and Fantasy will be offered again in Fall 2021. In the Spring, Smith will teach a similar course on Religion and Science Fiction, (REL 4937), which examines religious themes in a wide range of science fiction, including Star Wars, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Dune and The Matrix. FIU students will again be joined by a group of international students, this time from Universidad Catolica del Maule in Chile.