SOAS University of London

Centre for English Studies, School of Arts

Ways of Reading: Introduction to Critical Theory

Module Code:
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Year 1
Taught in:
Full Year

Ways of Reading is designed to introduce students new to English Studies in Higher Education to new kinds of literary reading through the compelling world of critical theory, the network of key ideas and thinkers that have revolutionised literary study. The module will open a number of questions about value and the interpretation of texts of all kinds - looking at 'the literary' through a range of different mediums - expanding understandings of literature whilst unpicking some of the myths and limitations of common-sense approaches to literary study, and providing key points of information about how to conduct research at university level. From our contemporary moment and our location in the Global North, we look to challenges to the idea that the author, the reader, history and culture, or even the text itself might control our experience of meaning, reflecting critically on the nature and development of English Studies, and our own reading practices.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

At the end of the course, students should be able to . . . 

  • Demonstrate a foundational understanding of and engagement with a range of key literary and critical terms and concepts
  • Demonstrate a familiarity with a range of literary genres and periodisations, and an expanded understanding of the literary text
  • Develop skills in close and analytical reading and an awareness of texts in their structural, historical, and ideological contexts
  • Develop independent, informed approaches to literary study through arguments and ideas which demonstrate university-level creative and critical reading, writing, discussion, and research skills, with an awareness of different audiences and contexts


This course will be taught over 22 weeks with a 2 hour lecture and a 1 hour tutorial classroom contact per week.

Scope and syllabus

Students will read key critical and theoretical strands alongside a paired literary text, placing each in dialogue with the other in order to encourage creative and critical interconnections in processes of analytical reading, writing, and thinking. Primary creative texts will include a range of forms, genres, and mediums – from short stories, novellas, novels, poems, and tales (folk, fairy and more), to short films, paintings, lyrics, and performance – to develop innovative ways of reading and discussing literary study.

The module begins in Term 1 by exploring the idea of ‘Founding Texts’ and the critical trouble involved in locating the beginning, origins or the ‘original’; we then move through ‘Interconnections’ and the ways in which texts are permeable, ‘made’ in the processes of various interactions and myriad influential connections in communities of reading, also reflecting on the 'art' of the essay and its contribution to our own writing and thinking. We go on to develop these ideas in Term 2 through the theoretical developments and the impact on literary studies of radical, new, and political forms of reading.

The module includes a wide range of different aspects of literary and critical theory including: postcolonial and decolonial studies, new criticism, ecocriticism, Afrofuturism, Reader Response, Marxist and materialist approaches, a range of feminist and womanist approaches, psychoanalytic readings and the uncanny, queer theory, structuralism and post-structuralism, humanism and post-humanism. We will also explore key literary-critical terms and strategies for reading, and a range of genre and period markers and distinctions.

Suggested reading
To prepare for the module -  
Terry Eagleton, ‘Introduction: What is Literature?’ in Literary Theory: An Introduction (Oxford: Blackwell, 1983), pp.1-14. 
Barbara Christian ‘The Race for Theory’. New Black Feminist Criticism, 1985-2000, by Barbara Christian (edited by Gloria Bowles, M. Giulia Fabi, and Arlene Keizer. Chicago and Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2007), pp. 40-50;
Ngugi Wa Thiong'o, Taban Lo Liyong, and Henry Owuor-Anyumba, 'On the Abolition of the English Department'. The Postcolonial Studies Reader - a collection edited by Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths, and Helen Tiffin (New York: Routledge, 1995), pp. 438-442. 

The readings above, and nearly all the major critics and theories on this module and beyond, through your degree can be found in Vincent B. Leitch et al (eds.), The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism (New York and London: W.W. Norton).  
See also: Andrew Bennett and Nicholas Royle (2009). An Introduction to Literature, Criticism and Theory. (4th Edition). London: Longman. 
Jonathan Culler (1997). Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.  

Method of assessment

  • One three-hour written exam (worth 45%)
  • One essay of 1,500-2,000 words (worth 15%)
  • One essay of 2,000-2,500 words (worth 20%)
  • In-class presentation and (academic) blog post of 500-800 words (worth 10%)
  • In-class presentation and (academic) blog post of 500-800 words (worth 10%)


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules