Reading Matters 2: “Reading for the Soul and Reading for Critical Thinking” by Dr. Rekha Pappu, Professor and Chairperson of the Azim Premji School of Education, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Hyderabad. Reading Matters 2 was organised by the Department of English, University of Hyderabad on 15 September, 2021. 

Professor Rekha Pappu began by defining “reading for the soul” as a spiritual, emotional and transformative immersion of the reader into a text, as opposed to “reading for critical thinking” which she said is reading to unearth textual artifices and biases of the authors. She underlined a literary tradition of reading this difference, drawing distinctions between “deep reading” and “decoding;” “readerly” and the “writerly” texts; “carnal reading” and “spiritual reading;” and classifications such as “naïve” and “sentimental” novelists. She observed how students of English are trained to read for pleasure and for critical insights, perhaps even simultaneously for both, but are often advised to make informed reading choices, without privileging either of them. Reflecting on the features of English as a discipline unlike the social sciences, she commented on the students of English valuing interpretation and subjectivity while reading for critical thinking, an approach different from that of the students of “hard” / social scientific disciplines who seem to heavily depend on empirical data and objectivity. She further added some remarks on critical thinking and how best to lead students toward this exercise.

Professor Pappu’s lecture was well received. It was followed by interventions by students. Engrossing conversations in these sessions surrounded questions and topics like our over-dependence on literacy and textuality over other forms of reading in the electronic age, the modes of reading performed by marginalised people unable to access the visual texts, the creative ways in which memory works in non-academic reading, the appropriation of oral and other forms of reading that obtain in academic spaces, didacticism in reading for the soul, and whether reading can actually inspire readers to improve other people’s lives. The session concluded with a vote of thanks by Sayantan Lahiri of MA (Semester III).

Contributed by Laboni Mukehrjee, PhD (Semester V)