Dr. Svetlana Corwin earned her B.A./M.A. at Herzen State University, her M.A. at Appalachian State University, and her Ph.D. at Emory University. In addition to teaching English courses for the past twelve years at the Abbey, Dr. Svetlana Corwin has been teaching Poetic Wisdom II for the Honors College over this spring, which covers the “Giants of European Literature,” such as Cervantes, Goethe, and Dostoevsky. In the past, she has also taught the Greek Tragedy class for the Honors College.
Q. Why teach at the Abbey? A. I had three options for my first full time teaching job. Of the three, Belmont Abbey perfectly combined the good features of both of my other options. I would have the freedom to teach world literature from a Christian perspective and explore the spiritual illumination of the texts. I would also have more engaged students who would truly benefit from the classes they took or at least students who, if they were unengaged, might be more willing to be woken up to the moral significance of literature. To have thought through important texts on your own is always a joyous experience for student and teachers alike, and I wanted to be able to give that joy to my students.
Q. What is the most influential class you ever took? And taught? A. As part of my undergraduate degree at Herzen State University in St. Petersburg, I took a class called “Fundamentals of General Linguistics,” which is what first got me hooked on languages and laid the foundation for the rest of my college career. However, as a seventeen-year-old at the time, it was a particularly terrifying experience. Just one example of exactly how scary it was were our oral examinations, where we had to translate whole passages from Beowulf without prep. However, our teacher made one promise to the class. He said that we would acquire the language and advance in it, to the extent that we ought to be able to dream in foreign languages. And it really was true! I do dream in English.
The most influential class I ever taught was actually one of the first Honors classes that I got to teach. It was about Dostoevsky and it was truly a joy to have such friendly, joyful, and eager minds to discuss his works with. I remember Christine Basil was in that class! There was an excellent response to what I was teaching, and Dostoevsky is particularly interesting to teach with an eye to the translation from Russian into English.
Q. If you could live inside any book, what book would you choose? A. The Book of Life from the Apocalypse! Although on a more basic level, and certainly not forever, in the Purgatorio, Canto 18, where Dante describes the slothful running races. As an academic it is very easy to become slothful about many things and use studies as an excuse not to do things like yard work and household chores, so running races in Purgatory sounds very helpful to me. I particularly have trouble with the yard work, but the Honors students are so helpful—perhaps they would be willing to come and do it for me? *laughing*
Q. What is one piece of advice you would give to students? A. I always tried to trick myself into falling in love with nearly every class I took, and it is the best piece of advice I can give. I even managed to convince myself to fall in love with an organic chemistry and physics class and now I have a deep fascination with the beauty of that subject. I will admit that there was one time my own advice has failed me. I couldn’t fall in love with my modern dance class—I was not a complete klutz—but I was, unfortunately, unable to find the beauty in it and was not motivated to do well. But it is very important to be motivated to find the beauty and good in each subject if is a worthy subject to learn and does not contradict truth! Try to orient it in its greater culture and history, and no class will be a waste of time. Even if you don’t like certain ideas you can certainly appreciate learning about them even for the sake of argument. Everything you learn affects you in some way and becomes a permanent part of yourself, teaching you to know yourself and your soul.
Q. What is a skill you would like to learn in the future? A. Academically, I would love to learn Latin and Greek as they come in handy when studying literature. However, what might be very useful to me is to learn how to do some plumbing and around-the-house handiwork. *laughing* Things in the house are so expensive to get fixed—I really should learn how to DIY!