Former John Abbott College professor and Chair of the English Department Yves Saint-Pierre is bringing one his personally created courses, The Bible as Literature, to the Monkland Community Centre this spring. In his first series at the community centre, located on West Hill Avenue in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, the 74-year-old Saint Pierre is modifying his popular CEGEP course to fit into a condensed seven-week format. The class, which will dissect the first two books of the Hebrew scriptures, Genesis and Exodus, is open to anyone in the public looking to broaden their understanding of the bible. There are two sessions available, Wednesday evening or Thursday afternoon. And the classes will run from March 20 to May 2.
Saint-Pierre concluded his John Abbott tenure two years ago, with more than 28 years of teaching experience under his belt. But retired life hasn’t suited him. He says that he decided it was time to start a new chapter in his life.
“A lot of people find that they need to find things to do when they retire,” said Saint-Pierre. “There’s a whole area of interest in that. A lot of people take jobs after they retire or create jobs to remain active.”
He began digging into teaching part-time students and adults at the university level but he quickly found that there is a lack of English literature courses available.
The only courses that they offer is for developing English skills, said Saint-Pierre. They focus mainly on business English, so he saw an opportunity to seize upon an untouched market that could use his expertise. “It occurred to me that there would be a need. There are people out there who are not full time students, who are adults or seniors and who would like to take courses in literature,” said Saint-Pierre.
He decided to focus his lecture series on the bible as a piece of literature due the popularity of his course at John Abbott. It’s one of the most influential texts in history and it’s part of the tradition of the three major religions, he said.
“The thing is that the bible is an important document in Western culture, indeed in global culture,” said Saint-Pierre. “It has had an impact on architecture, on art, on music, on our sense of justice. It’s had a huge impact on the cultural and intellectual landscape of the world.”
Saint-Pierre isn’t a religious person, but he doesn’t identify as an atheist. Instead, he considers himself a humanist. He says that he doesn’t approach the bible with a religious angle, although he understands the importance of recognizing it as a faith-based text.
He’s transparent about his religious beliefs — or lack thereof — from the moment his students step into the classroom. In fact, his course flyers indicate that the lessons will focus on the premise that “all religious narratives are myths.”
“I make it clear that I’m not a believer,” said Saint-Pierre. “With a course like this, where it’s the two fundamental texts of two important religions, you need to make clear the perspective that you’re approaching it from.”
There is plenty of literature to be found in the bible, he says and there is a lot to unpack. His goal is to help his students dispel preconceived notions of faith and to foster healthy discussions about the origins of these texts and the people who created them.
While this series in particular looks to deconstruct the bible and understand its foundational myths, he also hopes to introduce other lecture series’ in the future based on literature classes from his Abbott days. “I think that if you want to know a people’s myths you study their history, study their philosophies, but if you want to know who they are and how they lived, study their literature,” he said.
The seven, two-hour lecture and discussion classes cost of $80 plus $20 for the course pack. Classes offered Wednesdays from 7 to 9 p.m. or Thursdays from 2 to 4 p.m. For more information about the course or if you would like to register, contact Yves Saint-Pierre by phone at 514-358-8336 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org