By: Diana Gilday
Professor Paul Megna is the newest addition to the SUNY Purchase literature department. He is currently teaching Medieval English Literature, Shakespeare Then and Now, and is also a senior project advisor.
For the Spring 2020 semester, in addition to continuing as an advisor to senior projects and teaching Shakespeare Then and Now, he is also teaching Anxiety and Monstrosity in Early British Literature.
Megna earned his BA in English at SUNY Buffalo in 2005. He was inspired to study English because of a course he took on The Canterbury Tales.
“I was just so captivated by how funny it could be when it was as old as it was,” said Megna. “It was amazing to me that something that old could, through literature, continue to amuse us. And so that's what got me hooked.”
Megna’s interest in older literature led him to study medieval literature, with a focus on religious literature, and how different it is from literature now. His interest in medieval literature led him to do postdoctoral research at the University of Western Australia.
Megna spent two years in Perth, Australia working at the Center for the History of Emotions. While there he studied how, as a society, thinking about emotions has changed throughout history.
“It was great to kind of go down to Australia and find more than a hundred other people that were interested in the same things as I was,” said Megna. “Spending two years talking to them about those things and working on my research, as well as talking to other people about their research.”
In addition to his research at the Center for the History of Emotions, for the past ten years, Megna has been working on a book, Dread in Middle English Religious Writing. His book focuses on the concept of fear, and how fear was viewed very differently back in the medieval era, compared to how we view fear today.
“I think today we tend to think of fear as an emotion that we want to have a minimal amount of in our lives. We think of a good life as one without that much fear,” stated Megna. “In the Middle Ages, they thought quite the opposite, they thought fear was really important, it was a necessary emotion for making the right decisions and being ethical and being a good Christian. So I'm interested in ways that medieval English religious writing characterizes fear as that kind of important emotion for ethical and religious life.”
Megna decided to come teach at Purchase to inspire a new generation of literature students, as well as believing in the importance of affordable schooling.
“I really believe in affordable state-sponsored education,” said Megna. “I think it's a great thing that our society does and I would really like to be able to reach kids who aren't so different from what I was growing up.”
Megna believes that those wishing to pursue a career in literature should remember why they began studying it in the first place, the joy they get from reading.
“Try to read for fun in addition to all of the reading that you have to do for classes. It's easy to forget when you're studying literature because all of it becomes homework or work and you forget why you started doing it,” said Megna. “Reading literature is a really enjoyable experience that expands your horizons. “