The Experience of Hell

As we begin this seminar, I want you to think about the issue of description.  There are, in fact, many different  descriptions of Hell and it matters which one we choose.  In the seminar, we will look at 10 of them.  In addition, I also want you to begin thinking about what it means to read, write, speak, and argue effectively.  No one is born with these skills.  You need to acquire them the old-fashioned way by working on them.

1. Tuesday, August 24:

Discussion Topic: Why is Hell so much of a daily part of our lives?

  • I will pass out a set of survey questions which you are required to administer and complete by class time on a date to be announced.
  • I will also administer a class survey.


Image I. World War I: “War is hell . . .”

2. Thursday, August 26

DiscussionTopic:   What is Hell?

  • “Hell” according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church: READ
  • Erich Maria Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front (first half)

3. Tuesday, August 31

Discussion Topic:

  • Finish reading Erich Maria Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front
  • Lewis Milestone, “All Quiet on the Western Front” (segment of film): Prepare for film by reading here.

4. Thursday, September 2

Discussion: Great Writing, Persuasive Criticism

  • Readings from George Orwell:
  • “Why I write”  READ
  • “Politics and the English Language” READ
  • “Review of Sartre” READ

5. Tuesday, September 7

An Excursus from the Twentieth to the Fourteenth Century. Depictions of Hell in Dante’s Inferno

Today’s class meets in Hesburgh Library, Special Collections Room

  • The Inferno of Dante, Canto 3 (READ) and Canto 33 (READ).
  • Background Reading: Alice Turner, The History of HellREAD


Image II. The Holocaust: “A living hell . . .”

6. Thursday, September 9

Discussion:  What is Wiesel’s depiction of Hell, both in Night and in his Nobel speech?  And how does it differ from those we have alread considered? 

  • Read the first half of Elie Wiesel, Night
  • Elie Wiesel, “Hope, Despair, and Memory,” Nobel Lecture, December 11, 1986 READ

7. Tuesday, September 14

Discussion: According to Wiesel’s arguments in both of these works, how should we respond  to Hell?  Again, how would this differ from the other works we’ve considered?

  • Complete your reading of Elie Wiesel, Night
  • Elie Wiesel, “Hope, Despair, and Memory,” Nobel Lecture, December 11, 1986 RE-READ

8. Thursday, September 16

First Great Debate:  “Auschwitz proves that God does not exist.”

9. Tuesday, September 21

Discussion: More Great Writing

  • In-class Film: Selections from Leni Riefenstahl’s phantasmagoria, “Triumph of the Will”


Image III. Life Itself: “Life is hell . . .”

10. Thursday, September 23

Existentialism: A World Without God

  • Jean-Paul Sartre, “The Wall” (hand-out)

11. Tuesday, September 28

Existentialism: A World With God

  • Flannery O’Connor, “The Lame shall enter first” (hand-out)


NOTE:  Please leave your technology at home.  This includes electronic devices of any kind, such as laptops, i-Pads, cell phones, Kindles, video cameras, or other personal digital devices.