George Eliot's Religious Imagination addresses the much-discussed question of Eliot’s relation to Christianity in the wake of the sociocultural revolution triggered by the spread of theories of evolution. The standard view is that the author of Middlemarch and Silas Marner “lost her faith” at this time of religious crisis. Orr argues for a more nuanced understanding of the continuity of Eliot’s work, as one not shattered by science, but shaped by its influence.
Orr’s wide-ranging and fascinating analysis situates George Eliot in the fertile intellectual landscape of the nineteenth century, among thinkers as diverse as Ludwig Feuerbach, David Strauss, and Søren Kierkegaard. She also argues for a connection between George Eliot and the twentieth-century evolutionary Christian thinker Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. Her analysis draws on the work of contemporary philosopher Richard Kearney as well as writers on mysticism, particularly Karl Rahner.
The book takes an original look at questions many believe settled, encouraging readers to revisit George Eliot’s work. Orr illuminates the creative tension that still exists between science and religion, a tension made fruitful through the exercise of the imagination. Through close readings of Eliot's writings, Orr demonstrates how deeply the novelist's religious imagination continued to operate in her fiction and poetry.