By Brian Harris
For better or worse, when most people outside of New Jersey think of the Garden State, the first thing that usually pops into their heads is Bruce Springsteen. A true working-class hero, “The Boss” is the embodiment of the blue-collar ethos that makes up this state; a borderline religious figure for some New Jersey residents. His lyrics resonate with people like gospel from up on high.
Springsteen’s perception as a modern day “sage” influenced Rutgers-New Brunswick associate professor of Jewish studies and classics, Azzan Yadin-Israel to create a one-credit class for first-year students beginning next semester entitled “Bruce Springteen’s Theology,” in which students taking the class will examine the lyrics of The Boss from all of his albums and the various religious references and overtones in them.
Now don’t get it twisted, I’m a big a fan of Bruce (pronounced “Brooooooooce”) as every other kid who grew up in the shadow of “The Stone Pony,” but in all seriousness, are we stretching a bit here for new ideas for college classes?
Granted, this class doesn’t sound as ridiculous as other courses that have been offered at other colleges like “Zombies in Popular Media” (Columbia College), “Underwater Basket Weaving” (Reed College) and “The Art of Walking” (Centre College). It still seems, however, like a bit of a stretch to me.
There are many other courses being offered and taught at colleges all over that are outside of what people would consider a lesser academic quality and standing than say, a class on the works of John Milton (which I have taken).
For example, I’m currently taking a class on the seminal HBO series “The Wire” that serves as both an English as well as a Sociology class. Being a fan of the show, I can see why one would study the show under the microscope of a sociologist, but an English class about a TV show? A little bit of a reach, but in today’s society young people would be more intrigued by the character trajectory of Omar Little as opposed to the one of Satan in “Paradise Lost.”
College is all about living new experiences, meeting different people, and exploring unique ideas. Learning the same stuff that you already learned in high school, but having to pay for it is far from appealing. Does that mean that instead of learning about the dramas of Shakespeare, you can take a class entitled “Topics in Comparative Media: American Pro Wrestling,” a class which was once offered at MIT a few years back? Perhaps it does. It’s probably better than watching the version of Hamlet starring Mel Gibson for the 15th time or learning about the Panama Canal or any other thing that you learned about in middle/high school.
So, I guess, when you think about it, maybe a class on the religious overtones of the lyrics of Bruce Springsteen is something worth learning about. It will encourage the kids taking the class to look at something as simple as music lyrics in a whole new concept and context. It also serves a much more important purpose, and that is to get more kids to like Bruce, which isn’t a bad thing at all.