The Desert Experience:
From the Middle East to the American Southwest
I will lead you into the desert,
and there I will speak to your heart.
Block 7, 2007
Instructors: Tessa Bielecki and David Denny
What is the desert experience? What is
desert spirituality? How do we “read”
a desert landscape? How does the landscape
affect our “soulscape”? How
does the desert of the Middle East influence
the three Abrahamic traditions? What happens
when they move to the American Southwest
(via Spain)? Is the life of the desert
hermit relevant today? If we are “secularists”
like Edward Abbey, how is our experience
of the desert similar to or different from
the experience of a person from the Abrahamic
traditions? We focus on the Middle East
during the first week, Spain and the American
Southwest the second week. During the third
week at the Baca Campus and Ghost Ranch
in New Mexico, we explore these questions
Method, Meeting Times,
and Office Hours:
We combine lectures and discussion, some
of which include small group discussions
and presentations. Reading assignments
are listed below. Further photocopied material
may be added where appropriate, with plenty
of lead-time. Classes meet at 9:00 a.m.-noon
Monday through Fridays (except Good Friday,
April 6). Each class roughly includes discussion
of readings, a lecture or group presentation,
two 10-minute breaks, and occasional videos/DVDs.
Office hours are by appointment. Fr. Dave’s
campus phone number: 389-6307.
Requirements and Grading:
You are responsible for careful reading
of and reflection on the assigned texts,
as well as active participation in classroom
discussion. Please make an effort not to
dominate or disappear.
Final grades are based thirty percent
on intelligent class participation that
demonstrates familiarity with the reading
assignments, twenty-five percent on the
first weekend essay (not graded), which
you will be able to rewrite/revise the
second weekend (graded), twenty percent
on your field trip essay, and twenty-five
percent on your final, a 10-page paper
based on the readings and class experience.
Please type all your essays, questions
and exams double-spaced in 12 pt. Times
Roman type with margins of one inch. Staple
and number the pages. If delivered to our
office under the door, please place in
an 8.5”x11” envelope.
We emphasize the importance of writing
well; refer to Fr. Dave’s customized
style sheet. We also suggest you consult
the Harbrace College Handbook
(Horner/Webb/Miller, 12th edition, 1994).
We are committed to correcting writing
errors and expect improvement as a result.
If you are concerned with grade point
averages, you may want to consider taking
the class pass-fail. No cell phones in
the classroom. Water bottles? Si! Food?
No! Please remain in the classroom until
break, except in case of emergency. Tardiness
and unexcused absences will not help your
- Abbey, Edward. Desert Solitaire.
Simon & Schuster Touchstone, 1990
- Chávez, Fray Angélico.
My Penitente Land. University
of New Mexico Press, 1974, 1993
- Lane, Belden. The Solace of Fierce
Landscapes: Exploring Desert and Mountain
Spirituality. Oxford University
- Merton, Thomas. Wisdom of the Desert.
Boston: Shambhala, 2004
- Peters, F.E.. The Monotheists:
Jews, Christians, and Muslims in Conflict
and Competition. Princeton: Princeton
University Press, 2003
(all on E-Res unless otherwise indicated)
- Abrahamic Initiative: http://www.sjcathedral.org/internal/?page_id=48
- Abrahamic Path: http://www.abrahampath.org
- Calvin, Ross. Sky Determines.
Albuquerque: University of New Mexico
Press, 1948: pp. 1-84.
- Ernst, Carl. Preface and “What
Is Sufism?” from Sufism.
Boston: Shambhala, 1997: pp. xi-31.
- Hordes, Stanley. “Adjustments
to Anglo-American Society,” from
To the End of the Earth: A History
of the Crypto-Jews of New Mexico.
Columbia University Press, 2005: pp.
- Ibn Khaldun. “Bedouin Civilization
and their Conditions of Life,”
from The Muqaddimah. Princeton
University Press, 2004: pp.91-123.
- Lings, Martin. “The Desert,”
from Muhammad: His Life Based on
the Earliest Sources. Inner Traditions,
2006: pp. 23-26.
- McNamara, William. “The Desert
and following pages
- Menocal, Maria Rosa. “A Brief
History of a First-Rate Place,”
from Ornament of the World: How Muslims,
Jews, and Christians Created a Culture
of Tolerance in Medieval Spain.
Boston: Little, Brown, and Co., 2002:
- Murata and Chittick. “The Hadith
of Gabriel,” from The Vision
of Islam. St. Paul: Paragon House,
1994: pp. xxv-xxvii.
- Qur’an (E-Res)
- Steele, Thomas, SJ; “Holy Art,
Holy Artist,” from Santos and
Saints. Santa Fe: Ancient City,
1994: pp. 1-15.