Why English?

The Arts and Sciences for Life

We study the arts and sciences because these are the fields that ask the basic questions: What is life, and how should it be lived? What really happened, and how can we know? What is beautiful, and why does beauty matter?

We enter specific disciplines—physics to art history, mathematics to English—because particular ways of asking these questions speak to us, because particular teachers in these fields inspire us, because we cannot resist the primary materials that are at the heart of a field (a poem, an equation, a novel, an argument, a theory, a play, a film, a constellation, a painting, a fossil, the sound of a foreign language).  But ultimately the tradition of studying in the arts and sciences is driven by fundamental questions that are never fully answered just because they are so basic and so important.  Not “How can I make a living today,” but “How shall we live at all?”

The English language, the product of a unique amalgamation of cultures since its earliest days, is a never-finished tool of self-expression.  The tradition of English literature is one of the most powerful contributions to world culture of English-speaking men and women from around the world.  If you want to know what words mean, how powerful they can be, if you want to meet more people than you could ever encounter in many lifetimes of living, and get to know them more closely than you may know yourself, if you want to think about how beautiful or dreadful things are made, and why you feel and think the way you do about them: English is what you want to study

To read, the way we understand the term in a Department of English, is to learn the discipline of looking so closely at a thing that its underlying structure becomes clear to you: the suppositions shaping an idea, the traditions structuring a form, the allusions on which a text is built.  What we understand by writing is the practice of disciplined, creative, effective expression of complex ideas.  Writing in this sense is not simply important as a tool for persuasion or self-expression, but one of the best ways to discover what you are really thinking. 

It is widely agreed that the jobs of the future are not going to be characterized by stability nor clearly-demarcated career paths.  What the new careers will call for is the ability to recognize and adapt to new situations, understand complex social interactions, and adjust to changing circumstances. The study of literature familiarizes students with such new worlds.

Rutgers is a Top-ranked, Carefully Designed Program

Regularly ranked as one of the top twenty programs in the country, Rutgers English is recognized for having a faculty committed to pursuing historically-grounded, theoretically-informed research across the full span of literary production—from Anglo-Saxon to contemporary, from the British isles, the Americas, and across the globe.

The wide-variety of our course offerings at the undergraduate level affords students the opportunity to acquire a firm grounding in the literary canon, and also to explore the full range of contemporary writing—film, graphic narrative, visual culture and digital composition and more.  In other words, we study how written and spoken language overlaps with other forms of representation and communication.

Between Tradition and Innovation

Whereas fifty years ago the discipline largely understood itself as committed to examining an established literary canon by British and American authors, the goal of English studies now includes a wide range of political, theoretical, and historically-grounded reading practices which raise questions about canon-formation and institutional legitimation. Our major is intended to develop expertise in all areas of English, from traditions going back centuries, to the newest forms of experimental literature, from the history of culture to the theoretical exploration of texts, from the political and moral claims shaping literary works to the most sophisticated techniques of formal analysis. We offer minors in both literature and creative writing. Even if you don’t decide to major or minor in English, we urge you to take a look at our slate of courses; recently we’ve developed a range of 200-level offerings, covering topics from Children’s Literature to Crime Fiction to the End Times, that will open your eyes and enrich your life.

A Dynamic Center for Study, Creativity, and Teaching

The English Department is proud to be home to the Plangere Writing Center, the Center for Cultural Analysis, and Writers House, as well as a chief sponsor of the Rutgers British Studies Center. Along with the many courses we offer at the graduate and undergraduate level, support of these centers is part of the department's commitment to excellence in written expression, the interdisciplinary study of culture, and the promotion of creative writing and multimedia composition. In addition to its curricular programs, our department sponsors lectures, conferences, and, through Writers at Rutgers, readings for the university community and the general public.

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