Greensboro College Professor Publishes Book on Transubstantiation in Dante's "Divine Comedy

Sheila J. Nayar, professor of English and
Communication Studies, Greensboro College
"GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Sheila J. Nayar, professor of English and Communication Studies at Greensboro College, has written "Dante's Sacred Poem: Flesh and the Centrality of the Eucharist to the Divine Comedy," being published Aug. 28 by Bloomsbury Academic Press.

The book treats the subject of substantiation - the doctrine that the bread and wine consumed during the sacrament of the Eucharist, or Holy Communion, become, symbolically or literally, the body and blood of Christ.

The belief stems from Christ's instructions to the disciples when he offered them bread and wine at the Last Supper, the Passover dinner held on the eve of his crucifixion, saying of the bread and wine respectively: "Take and eat; this is my body," and "Drink from [this cup], all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins" (Matthew 26:26-27, NIV).

Almost all of Christianity celebrates the sacrament, although some denominations disagree on the notion of transubstantiation, believing instead that the bread and wine served are symbolic only.

Nayar's new book examines the thorough embedding of the Eucharist in Dante's work, including the many flesh allusions and references to metamorphosis. From beginning to end, Nayar writes, "The Divine Comedy" is filled with Eucharistic references, making Christ and his sacrifice central to the work.

Nayar says she was inspired to write the work by the students she taught three years ago, and she includes them in the book's acknowledgements.

"Finally -- and most fundamentally -- I must offer a hearty grazie mille to those members of the Greensboro College Honors class of 2014 who participated in the honors course Word & World II, as well as to Dan Malotky, with whom I co-taught that course.

"It was in preparing to teach Dante's Inferno for that class that this particular Eucharistic motif revealed itself to me. Yes, I am fully aware how overly mystical that sounds, perhaps even puerile; but I can get no closer to describing an experience when suddenly you see something so certainly, so clearly, that, for an instant, its size and responsibility terrify you. Of course, after the initial terror comes the joy of research and discovery -- and, admittedly, of ownership -- but foremost for me was the utter delight I experienced in engaging with something altogether new and wondrously old. More importantly, can there be anything as lovely (and as hoped-for) as having a book idea emerge as the consequence of (hopefully) passing on to the latest generation of undergraduates the joy of critically engaging with literature? And, so, I dedicate this book to those honors students who, in the spring of 2011, willingly and wondrously toiled through Hell."

Nayar's previously published books include 2010's "Cinematically Speaking: The Orality-Literacy Paradigm for Visual Narrative," and "The Sacred and the Cinema: Reconfiguring the 'Genuinely' Religious Film," published this past January.

Originally trained as a screenwriter, Nayar holds a B.A. from Concordia University and an M.F.A. from Columbia University. She joined the Greensboro College faculty in 1999. She won the 2004-05 Virginia Clarke Gray Aard, presented annually to an outstanding faculty member with less than five years of full-time teaching experience, and the Greensboro College Alumni Association's annual Outstanding Teacher Award in 2009.

Greensboro College, an independent, coeducational college affiliated with the United Methodist Church, is an academic and social community that unites the liberal arts and Judeo-Christian values in an atmosphere of diversity and mutual respect.

Founded in 1838 and located near downtown Greensboro, the college enrolls about 1,250 students from 32 states, the District of Columbia and 24 nations in its undergraduate liberal-arts program and four master's degree programs. In addition to rigorous academics and a well-supported Honors program, the school features a 16-sport NCAA Division III athletic program and dozens of service and recreational opportunities."

- A Press Release

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