Learning to Love Dante: Moevs, Teaching, and Transcendence

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Location: Romance Languages and Literatures Dept.

Ask most students their opinion about Dante’s Inferno, and you may prompt grimaces, pained looks, or half-smiles. Ask Christian Moevs’ students the same question, and you will provoke surprisingly passionate responses.

“Professor Moevs was nearly moved to tears just reading or discussing the Divine Comedy,” says junior Derrick Testa. “He even once started reciting Sanskrit poetry in class. From memory. And no one in the class seemed surprised.”

An Associate Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures, Moevs teaches Dante II on the Purgatorio and Paradiso each spring semester, and he has taught University Seminars on the Divine Comedy.Moevs is the coeditor of the Devers Series in Dante Studies, which has published eight volumes so far, and he wrote The Metaphysics of Dante's Comedy (Oxford, 2005), which was awarded the 2006 Best Book Prize from the American Association for Italian Studies.

Highly respected for his leadership, Moevs has helped strengthen Notre Dame’s Italian program by advertising the major, creating a semi-annual newsletter, Lingua Italica, and becoming the faculty liaison for a new study abroad program in Bologna, Italy.

He is celebrated by faculty and students for his approach to instruction and, in 2004, received a Kaneb Teaching Award and the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures’ first Junior Faculty Award for Excellence in Teaching. In 2006, he won the Sheedy Award, which is given annually to an outstanding Arts and Letters teacher. He dedicated the award to his students and Dante, his two inspirations for teaching.

“I learned that the key to all teaching is: You must love your students with a deep, self-giving love,” says Moevs. “There is a famous phrase in Dante, about how no one loved can escape from loving in return. That love is the bond, the link of communication, through which real teaching and learning can happen.”

Says senior Rachel Jurkowski, who was taught by Moevs in her College Seminar: “Professor Moevs has a way of breaking open the Dante of 1300 and making him incredibly relevant to my life today.”

“Teaching is a legacy of generations: my teachers, and my teachers’ teachers, teach through me,” said Moevs when he accepted the Sheedy.Having learned from his professors as a student at Harvard and Columbia, Moevs now challenges his students to see past their limitations to become better readers, writers, and observers of the world.

“Every class is, in essence, a journey through the core of the liberal arts: it is an inter-textual ‘close reading’ that hits at the profound questions motivating our pursuit of knowledge," said a student who anonymously nominated Moevs for the Sheedy Award. "I never would have believed that class could be a transcendental spiritual experience. Now I am convinced.”

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