“Religion, Sport, and Water” Syllabus

Finally, I am posting the syllabus for my seminar on fly fishing literature:

“Religion, Sport, and Water: Contemplation and Conservation

in over 500 years of Fishing Literature”


RELI 438, Religion, Nature, and Environment, Spring 2013

E-mail: lokensga@email.unc.edu (use only if you cannot contact instructor in person)



This course is an introduction to the literary history, religious significance, and cultural impact of fishing.  Students will read historically and culturally important texts ranging from those written in Ancient Rome, Medieval Europe, and in contemporary North America.  All of these texts emphasize a relationship between religious experience, fishing, and the environment.  We will explore this relationship, considering the cultural settings of each text while also learning about the overlapping aesthetic, ritual, and ecological dimensions ascribed to fishing—particularly fly fishing—by some of the most notable writers and intellectuals in European and Euro-American history.  For comparisons’ sake, we will briefly examine religion and fishing in cultures outside of the European and North American literary worlds, as well.  In addition to fishing literature, students will read relevant theoretical texts on religious experience, conservation, ecology, and “nature.”

As a whole, this course will serve as a focused study of the role that water, the environment in general, and religious practice play in the European, North American, and other cultural contexts.  Thus, the course will introduce students to literature and ways of thinking that can be applied to any implicitly or explicitly religious phenomena that are practiced in so-called “natural” places.  Moreover, the course will introduce students to the often religious significance that conservation and other ecologically informed practices play in the lives of many contemporary people.

As an upper-level seminar, this course is both reading and writing intensive.  Most of the readings, however, were originally written for a popular audience.  Also, the writing assignments will allow the student to incorporate his or her own, carefully examined reactions to these readings in his or her papers and essays.  Therefore, this class is intended to be entertaining and engaging.  Yet, it is designed for the student who is willing to consider religion within its broadest contours, who can devote concerted time to readings, and who is willing to engage in regular and thoughtful writing.  If you are not such a student, then, this course is not designed for you.



Required Books:

Swearer, Donald. Ecology and the Environment: Perspectives from the Humanities (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2009).

Herd, Andrew. The Fly (Ellesmere,UK: Medlar Press, 2003).

Browning, Mark, Haunted by Waters: Fly Fishing in North American Literature (Athens: Ohio University Press, 1998).

Walton, Izaak and Charles Cotton, The Compleat Angler, Oxford World’s Classics. (New York: Oxford University Press, USA: World’s Classics, 2009).

Luce, A.A., Fishing and Thinking (Shrewsbury, UK: Swan Hill Press, 2002).

Maclean, Norman, A River Runs Through It and Other Stories, Twenty-fifth Anniversary Edition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001).

Duncan, David James, The River Why, Twentieth-Anniversary Edition (Sierra Club Books, 2002).

Other readings are listed in the tentative schedule and will be accessible online.

Films and Guest Lectures will also serve as important resources.  The films are listed in the tentative schedule, below. Informal guest lectures will be delivered by bamboo rod maker Munsey Wheby, fly tier Brad Kern (http://justwonderingflies.webs.com), professor and author Craig Nova (http://www.craignova.com), artist Michael Simon (http://www.michaelsimonanglingart.com), and others, at dates to be announced.  Each guest will address the aesthetic and spiritual dimensions of fly fishing, from his or her perspective as an artist or craftsperson.

Please note this course is designed to help students develop their critical reading and writing skills  Specific methods of critical reading and writing will be discussed in class at opportune times.  You are also strongly encouraged to make use of the instructor’s office hours and, if necessary, of the campus writing center (http://writingcenter.unc.edu).



Four three-page critical reaction papers will be submitted throughout the semester. Papers should be written in a 12 point font with 1 inch margins.  Each of these papers is worth 5 percent of your total grade (5 points each).  There will be two exams, which will include short answer and essay questions.  Each exam is worth 20 percent of the total course grade (20 points each).  Toward the end of the semester, a ten-page paper, analyzing the treatment of religion in at least three of the assigned readings, or in three texts dealing with other “outdoor” practices sometimes characterized as religious (I will provide a bibliography), must be submitted.  This paper is worth 30 percent of your total grade (30 points). Ten points are reserved for attendance.  Attendance will be taken randomly 10 times during the semester; an unexcused absence during any of these days will result in the loss of one point.  See the tentative schedule, below, for due dates and exam dates.

An accumulated 93 or more total points for the course will result in a final “A” grade (“A+” and “D-“ letter grades are not awarded at UNC).

90-92pts = A-

88-89 pts = B+

83-86 pts = B

80-82 pts = B-

77-79 pts = C+

73-76 pts = C

70-72 pts = C-

67-69 pts = D+

60-66 pts = D

0-59 pts = F



All students are expected to act in accordance with the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill Honor Code.  Among the violations of this code is plagiarism.  Plagiarism is defined at UNC as the “deliberate or reckless representation of another’s words, thoughts, or ideas as one’s own without attribution in connection with submission of academic work, whether graded or otherwise.” In order to avoid engaging in plagiarism in your papers, you must cite all quotations and paraphrases that are not your own or that are not common knowledge.  Failure to do so, or engaging in any other violations of the honor code (including any form of cheating related to test-taking), will be dealt with through the student-administered honor system.  If you have any questions about the honor code, honor system, or specific acts such a plagiarism, please see me or contact the Office of the Dean of Students.  You can also read more about plagiarism, the honor code, and the honor system at http://honor.unc.edu.

All written assignments must be submitted by 10:00 PM on the day they are due. Save and submit your papers in the “assignments folder” on Sakai before this time. The title of your actual document should be “RELI 438 Paper # – your first and last name” (e.g., RELI 438 Paper 1 – Jane Doe).  Late assignments will not be accepted unless prior arrangements are made or if a documentable emergency occurs.

Tentative Midterm Exam Date: March 7.

Final Exam Date and Time: Monday, May 6, 12:00 PM.



Week 1: January 10

Academic Integrity, the Academic Study of Religion, and Religion as a Lived, Social Phenomenon.

Readings: Browning, ch’s 1 and 2, Haunted by Waters; Herd, The Fly; Snyder, “New Streams of Religion (online).

Week 2: January 15 and 17

Water, Humanity, and Other-Than-Human Worlds.

Readings: Primiano, “Vernacular Religion” (online); Jackson, “Cultural Readings of the ‘Natural World,’” in Ecology and the Environment; Herd, The Fly.

Film: Prosek, The Complete Angler.

Paper 1 Due

Week 3: January 22 and 24.

Ancient and Medieval European Fishing, Monasticism, Sustenance, and Leisure.

Readings: Hoffman, ed., “Tegernsee Fishing Advice, ca 1500” (online); Berners, “The Treatise of Fishing with an Angle” (online); Herd, The Fly.

Week 4: January 29 and 31.

King Arthur’s Knights, Celtic and Anglo Saxon Fishing, and England.

Readings: Walton and Cotton, The Compleat Angler; Herd, The Fly.

Week 5: February 5 and 7.

The Enlightenment, Play, and the Escape to Nature.

Readings: Turner, “Liminality and Communitas” (online); Walton and Cotton, The Compleat Angler; Herd, The Fly.

Paper 2 Due

Week 6: February 12 and 14.

The Americas, Natural Law, and Romanticism.

Readings:  Worster “Nature, Liberty, and Equality,” in Ecology and Environment; Seecombe, “Business and Diversion” (online); Schullery, “Carlisle Mornings” (online).

Week 7: February 19 and 21.

Environmental Ethics and Fishing as Literature.

Browning, ch’s 5 and 6 (skip “Interludes), Haunted by Waters; Buell, “Literature as Environmental(ist) Thought Experiment,” in Ecology and the Environment.

Week 8: February 26 and 28.

Fishing, Religion, and Boundaries.

Readings: Browning, ch’s 7 and 8, Haunted by Waters.

Paper 3 Due 

Week 9: March 5 and 7

Fishing, Religion, and Boundaries.

Readings:  Browning, ch’s 9 and 10, Haunted by Waters.

Midterm Exam: March 7

Week 10: March 19 and 21

Fishing, Religion, and Conservation.

Readings: Luce, Fishing and Thinking.

Week 11: March 26 and 28.

Lived Religion, Map, and Territory.

Readings: Maclean, A River Runs Through It.

Week 12: April 2 and 4

Lived Religion, Nature Mysticism, and Ecology.

Readings:  Duncan, The River Why.

Film: A River runs Through It.

Week 13: April 9 and 11.

 Lived Religion, Nature Mysticism, Ecology.

 Readings: Duncan, The River Why; Nova, ch.1 (online).

Paper 4 Due.

Week 14: April 16 and 18.

Native American and other Religious Views of Water, Fish, and Fishing.

Readings: Browning, ch 3, Haunted by Waters; Tucker, “Touching the Depths of Things,” in Ecology and the Environment; Lokensgard, “One-Horned Serpents, Underwater People, and Fly Fishers” (online).

Week 15: April 23 and 25

Religion, “Nature,” and the Environment.

Readings: Taylor, “From the Ground Up,” in Ecology and the Environment; Browning, ch’s 10 and 11, Haunted by Waters

Analytic Paper Due, April 25.

Final Exam: Monday, May 6, 12:00 PM

6 Responses to ““Religion, Sport, and Water” Syllabus”

  1. Kev Says:

    Have you read any books written by John Muir? I was wondering what you thought about this religious philosophies.


    • Kenov Says:

      Not for a long time, Kevin. Beautiful writing, for sure. And we’re all very, very much the better for his work. Still, I do take issue with a few of his views. I think the uniquely Euro-American concept of “wilderness” is deeply flawed. Let me get back to you about that…. I think I’d say the same about Thoreau. Pester me if need be. I really need to get back to these authors. Hmmm. A reading group would be interesting.


  2. cofisher49 Says:

    I always beat myself up for not being “literary” enough and yet still call myself a writer. I’m going to take your reading list and start edjimacating myself.


    • Kenov Says:

      No worries. Reading and writing are two different things. You can write a beautiful letter without having read all the letters written in the past.

      Still, there is some amazing fly fishing literature. If you have any interest in the classics, just look at Arnold Gingrich’s The Fishing in Print. He’ll walk you through it all. His own, original fly fishing books are also wonderful.


  3. Scott Says:

    Yes! A reading group is a great idea!


  4. Kenov Says:

    It could be done. I’m happy to share the online readings.


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