John Everett Millais, Ophelia

Confessions: Philosophy, Literature, and Inner Life

Instructor: Samantha Hill
This is an online course (Eastern Time)

What are confessions? Why are we seduced by them? Why do writers choose the confessional form? How do we understand confessions as literary texts? How do we read confessions as theological or philosophical works? What is one doing when they publicly confess their misdeeds or sexual exploits? From Augustine who took pleasure in wickedness, to Rousseau who wanted to provide a picture of man “in every way true to nature,” to Thomas De Quincey who chronicled his hallucinatory experiences on opium, confessional writers invite us into their inner worlds. Can confessions help us deepen our understanding of the individual in relationship to culture, society, politics, and religion? How are we to understand confessions as an act, a form, a literary experience, apart from memoir, biography, or autofiction?

This course will explore the confessional writings of Augustine, Theresa of Avila, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Michel Foucault. Alongside our four confessors we’ll also turn to Thomas De Quincey, André Gide, Sylvia Plath, and Anne Sexton to help us think about the history and politics of the confessional form while asking: Is there any truth to be found in confessions? How do we distinguish confessions from memoir and autobiography? How does one recount their struggles, from juvenile transgressions to adult debauchery? In a society of hyper-individualism what can confessions teach us about contemporary conceptions of authenticity and self-revelation?

Course Schedule

Sunday, 2:00-5:00pm ET
September 19 — October 10, 2021
4 weeks


Registration Open

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