Between Human and Divine is the first collection of scholarly essays published on a wide variety of contemporary (post 1980) Catholic literary works and artists. Its aim is to introduce readers to recent and emerging writers and texts in the tradition.
Traditionally, scholars have traced the origin of Christianity to a single source—the kingdom of God as represented in the message of the historical Jesus. Through a rhetorical critical analysis of one of the most important texts in early Christian literature (the Beelzebul controversy), Michael L. Humphries addresses the issue of Christian origins, demonstrating how the language of the kingdom of God is best understood according to its locative or taxonomic effect where the demarcation of social and cultural boundaries contributes to the emergence of this new social foundation.
The Beelzebul controversy exists in two versions— Q and Mark—and thereby allows the study to engage the import of the kingdom language at the point of juxtaposition between two distinct textual representations. This makes it possible to deal directly with the issue of the disparity of texts in the synoptic tradition. Humphries suggests that these two versions of the same controversy indicate two distinct social trajectories wherein the kingdom of God comes to mean something quite different in each case but that nevertheless they demonstrate a similarity in theoretical effect where the language contributes to the emergence of relatively distinct social formations.
Humphries establishes the Q and Markan versions of the Beelzebul controversy as relatively sophisticated compositions that are formally identified as elaborate chreiai (a literary form used in the teaching of rhetoric at the secondary and post-secondary level of GrecoRoman education) and that offer an excellent example of the rhetorical manipulation of language in the development of social and cultural identity.
Christ's Subversive Body offers a fascinating exploration of six historical examples of politically or culturally subversive usages of the body of Christ. Shining a light on the enabling potential of religious rhetoric, Solovieva examines how in moments of crisis or transition throughout Western history the body of Christ has been deployed in a variety of discourses, including recent neo- and theoconservative movements in the United States.
Solovieva’s survey includes the iconoclastic polemics of Epiphanius at the moment of struggles for supremacy between the Roman state and the Christian church, the mystical theologico-political alchemy of an anonymous treatise circulated at the Council of Constance, Lavater’s counter-Enlightenment visions of the afterlife expressd through physiognomy, Dostoevsky’s refashioning of ethical communities, Pier Paolo Pasolini’s attempts to provoke the “scandal” of Jesus’s mission once more in the modern world, and the elaboration of a political theology subordinating democratic dissent to the higher unity of a corporately conceived “unitary executive” in early twenty-first-century America.
Solovieva presents her findings not as an entry into theological or Christological debates but rather as a study in comparative discourse analysis. She demonstrates how these uses of Christ’s body are triggered by moments of epistemological, political, and representational crisis in the history of Western civilization.
"Polhemus sketches several distinctions between nineteenth- and twentieth-century novelists and concludes that what most characterizes the nineteenth century, from the perspective of the twentieth, is the tendency in its comic fiction to criticize and to undermine the dogma and institutions of religion and to put faith instead of the existence of the comic perspective. Comic Faith is a virtuoso performance of impressive stature; I suspect the book will be influential for many years to come."—John Halperin, Modern Fiction Studies
The cross stirs intense feelings among Christians and non-Christians alike. Robin Jensen takes readers on an intellectual and spiritual journey through the 2,000-year evolution of the cross as idea and artifact, illuminating the controversies and forms of devotion this central symbol of Christianity inspires.
Dante’s Volume from Alpha to Omega brings together essays written by internationally recognized scholars to explore the poet’s encyclopedic impulse in light of our own frenzied information age. This comprehensive collection of essays, coedited by Carol Chiodo and Christiana Purdy Moudarres, examines how Dante’s spiritual quest is powered by an encyclopedic one, which has for more than seven centuries drawn a readership as diverse as the knowledge his work contains. The essays investigate both the intellectual and spiritual pleasures that Dante’s Commedia affords, underscoring how, through the sheer breadth of its knowledge, the poem demands collective and collaborative inquiry. Rather than isolating the poetic or theological strands of the Commedia, the book acts as a bridge across disciplines, braiding together the well-worn strands of poetry and theology with those of philosophy, the sciences, and the arts. The wide range of entries within Dante’s poetic summa yield multiple opportunities to reflect on their points of intersection, and the urgency of the convergence of the poem’s aesthetic, intellectual, and affective aims.
Three religious scholars delve into the potential of literature as a site of radical transformation.
We are living in a time of radical uncertainty, faced with serious political, ecological, economic, epidemiological, and social problems. What brings scholars of religion Constance M. Furey, Sarah Hammerschlag, and Amy Hollywood together in this volume is a shared conviction that “reading helps us live with and through the unknown,” including times like these. They argue that what we read and what reading itself demands of us open new ways of imagining our political futures and our lives.
Each chapter in this book suggests different ways to characterize the object of devotion and the stance of the devout subject before it. Furey writes about devotion in terms of vivification, energy, and artifice; Hammerschlag in terms of commentary, mimicry, and fetishism; and Hollywood in terms of anarchy, antinomianism, and atopia. They are interested in literature not as providing models for ethical, political, or religious life, but as creating the site in which the possible—and the impossible—transport the reader, enabling new forms of thought, habits of mind, and ways of life. Ranging from German theologian Martin Luther to French-Jewish philosopher Sarah Kofman to American poet Susan Howe, this volume is not just a reflection on forms of devotion and their critical and creative import, but is also a powerful enactment of devotion itself.
Figuring Faith and Female Power in the Art of Rubens argues that the Baroque painter, propagandist, and diplomat, Peter Paul Rubens, was not only aware of rapidly shifting religious and cultural attitudes toward women, but actively engaged in shaping them. Today, Rubens’s paintings continue to be used -- and abused -- to prescribe and proscribe certain forms of femininity. Repositioning some of the artist’s best-known works within seventeenth-century Catholic theology and female court culture, this book provides a feminist corrective to a body of art historical scholarship in which studies of gender and religion are often mutually exclusive. Moving chronologically through Rubens’s lengthy career, the author shows that, in relation to the powerful women in his life, Rubens figured the female form as a transhistorical carrier of meaning whose devotional and rhetorical efficacy was heightened rather than diminished by notions of female difference and particularity.
Hard Sayings: The Rhetoric of Christian Orthodoxy in Late Modern Fiction by Thomas F. Haddox examines the work of six avowedly Christian writers of fiction in the period from World War II to the present. This period is often characterized in western societies by such catchphrases as “postmodernism” and “secularization,” with the frequent implication that orthodox belief in the dogmas of Christianity has become untenable among educated readers. How, then, do we account for the continued existence of writers of self-consciously literary fiction who attempt to persuade readers of the truth, desirability, and utility of the dogmas of Christianity? Is it possible to take these writers’ efforts on their own terms and to understand and evaluate the rhetorical strategies that this kind of persuasion might entail?
Informed by the school of rhetorical narratology that includes such critics as Wayne Booth, James Phelan, and Richard Walsh, Hard Sayings offers fresh new readings of fictive works by Flannery O’Connor, Muriel Spark, John Updike, Walker Percy, Mary Gordon, and Marilynne Robinson. In its argument that orthodox Christianity, as represented in fiction, still has the power to persuade and to trouble, it contributes to ongoing debates about the nature and scope of modernity, postmodernity, and secularization.
Enlightening reexamination of an American ideology of progress and its enduring fascination with mission, Manifest Destiny, and the ends of history.
Westward expansion on the North American continent by European settlers generated a furry of writings on the frontier experience over the course of a hundred years. Asserting that the dominant ideology of America's Manifest Destiny embodied a tense, often contradictory union of Christian and secular republican views of social progress, In the Work of Their Hands Is Their Prayer investigates the ambivalence of the frontier as it was inscribed with redemptive, historical significance by a host of frontier writers.
Enlisting canonical and noncanonical sources, Joel Daehnke examines the manner in which the imagery of the human figure at work and play in the frontier landscape participated in the nationalist, "civilizing" project of westward expansion. While he acknowledges the growing secularization of American life, Professor Daehnke surveys the continuing claims of the Christian redemptive scheme as a powerful symbolic domain for these writers' meditations on social progress and the potential for human perfectibility in the landscapes of the West.
Whether discussing the Edenic imagery of women's gardens, the advocacy of an ethics of land use, or the affairs of fortune in the mining districts of Nevada, In the Work of Their Hands Is Their Prayer presents an enlightening reexamination of an American ideology of progress and its enduring fascination with mission, Manifest Destiny, and the ends of history.
In the Work of Their Hands Is Their Prayer is a welcome addition to the extended library of critical attention to the ideology, history, and literary traditions of the American frontier.
In Ironies of Faith, celebrated Dante scholar and translator Anthony Esolen provides a profound meditation upon the use and place of irony in Christian art and in the Christian life. Beginning with an extended analysis of irony as an essentially dramatic device, Esolen explores those manifestations of irony that appear prominently in Christian thinking and art: ironies of time (for Christians believe in divine Providence, but live in a world whose moments pass away); ironies of power (for Christians believe in an almighty God who took on human flesh, and whose “weakness” is stronger than our greatest enemy, death); ironies of love (for man seldom knows whom to love, or how, or even whom it is that in the depths of his heart he loves best); and the figure of the Child (for Christians ever hear the warning voice of their Savior, who says that unless we become like unto one of these little ones, we shall not enter the Kingdom of God).
Esolen’s finely wrought study draws from Augustine (Confessions), Dante (The Divine Comedy), Shakespeare (The Tempest), and Tolkien (“Leaf, By Niggle”); Francois Mauriac (A Kiss for the Leper), Milton (Paradise Lost), and Alessandro Manzoni (The Betrothed); the poems of George Herbert and Gerard Manley Hopkins, and Edmund Spenser (Amoretti); Charles Dickens (A Christmas Carol), Dostoyevsky (The Brothers Karamazov), and the anonymous author of the medieval poem Pearl, among other works. Readers who treasure the Christian literary tradition should not miss this illuminating book.
When the Puritans arrived in the New World to carry out the colonization they saw as divinely mandated, they were confronted by the American wilderness. Part of their theology led them to view the natural environment as “a temple of God” in which they should glorify and serve its creator. The larger prevailing theological view, however, saw this vast continent as “the Devil’s Territories” needing to be conquered and cultivated for God’s Kingdom. These contradictory designations gave rise to an ambivalence regarding the character of this land and humanity’s proper relation to it.
Loving God’s Wildness rediscovers the environmental roots of America’s Puritan heritage. In tracing this history, Jeffrey Bilbro demonstrates how the dualistic Christianity that the Puritans brought to America led them to see the land as an empty wilderness that God would turn into a productive source of marketable commodities. Bilbro carefully explores the effect of this dichotomy in the nature writings of Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, Willa Cather, and Wendell Berry.
Thoreau, Muir, Cather, and Berry imaginatively developed the Puritan theological tradition to propose practical, physical means by which humans should live and worship within the natural temple of God’s creation. They reshaped Puritan dualism, each according to the particular needs of his or her own ecological and cultural contexts, into a theology that demands care for the entire created community. While differing in their approaches and respective ecological ethics, the four authors Bilbro examines all share the conviction that God remains active in creation and that humans ought to relinquish their selfish ends to participate in his wild ecology.
Loving God’s Wildness fills a critical gap in literary criticism and environmental studies by offering a sustained, detailed argument regarding how Christian theology has had a profound and enduring legacy in shaping the contours of the American ecological imagination. Literary critics, scholars of religion and environmental studies, and thoughtful Christians who are concerned about environmental issues will profit from this engaging new book.
The Passionate Triangle
Rebecca Zorach University of Chicago Press, 2011 Library of Congress N8253.T75Z673 2011 | Dewey Decimal 701.8
Triangles abounded in the intellectual culture of early modern Europe—the Christian Trinity was often mapped as a triangle, for instance, and perspective, a characteristic artistic technique, is based on a triangular theory of vision. Renaissance artists, for their part, often used shapes and lines to arrange figures into a triangle on the surface of a painting—a practice modern scholars call triangular composition. But is there secret meaning in the triangular arrangements artists used, or just a pleasing symmetry? What do triangles really tell us about the European Renaissance and its most beguiling works of art?
In this book, Rebecca Zorach takes us on a lively hunt for the triangle’s embedded significance. From the leisure pursuits of Egyptian priests to Jacopo Tintoretto’s love triangles, Zorach explores how the visual and mathematical properties of triangles allowed them to express new ideas and to inspire surprisingly intense passions. Examining prints and paintings as well as literary, scientific, and philosophical texts, The Passionate Triangle opens up an array of new ideas, presenting unexpected stories of the irrational, passionate, melancholic, and often erotic potential of mathematical thinking before the Scientific Revolution.
Preaching and the Rise of the American Novel by Dawn Coleman recovers a crucial moment in the history of the intimate yet often contentious relationship between religion and literature. Coleman’s book highlights the intersection of two cultural trajectories in America around 1850, both often downplayed in literary histories: a boom in preaching, associated with the growth of evangelicalism and the country’s oratorical traditions, and the long struggle of the novel, still facing considerable disdain at mid-century, to achieve moral legitimacy and aesthetic autonomy.
Before the Civil War, the preacher in the pulpit was the culture’s paradigmatic voice of moral authority, and novelists who wished to establish the moral value of their own storytelling needed to incorporate sermons. This book explores how antebellum ministers sought to preach effective, authoritative sermons and how novelists sought to claim a similar authority through canny representations of preachers, often veiled critiques of actual ministers, and sermonic voice, or a creative reworking of the sound of preaching. Such intense engagement with sermons shaped some of the period’s most interesting and important novels, including The Scarlet Letter, The Quaker City, Moby-Dick, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and Clotel.
In illuminating how novelists sought to displace traditional religious institutions, Preaching and the Rise of the American Novel reminds readers of the deep connections between Americans’ religious practices and their literature and speaks to how the processes of secularization are often less concerned with rejecting the elements of religion than reimagining them.
In Puritanism and Modernist Novels: From Moral Character to the Ethical Self, Lynne W. Hinojosa complicates traditional interpretations of the novel and literary modernism as secular developments of modernity by arguing that the British novel tradition is fundamentally shaped by Puritan hermeneutics and Bible-reading practices. This tradition, however, simultaneously works to dismantle the categories associated with social morality and moral character, helping to form “Puritanism” into a fictional stereotype. Hinojosa demonstrates that the novel thus perpetuates a narrative that associates Puritanism with moral and religious confinement, on the one hand, and modern longing with escape, on the other—even as it remains tied to Puritan views of history and the self.
Puritanism and Modernist Novels offers new formal and contextual readings of early modernist novels by Oscar Wilde, E. M. Forster, James Joyce, and Ford Madox Ford. Hinojosa demonstrates that, while they long for escape, these authors still question the value of the novelistic narrative of confinement and escape. Bridging modernist and novel studies, Puritanism and Modernist Novels contributes to conversations about secularization and religion in both fields, highlighting the limitations created by the secularization narrative of modernity.
Once feared by Queen Elizabeth I and admired by William Shakespeare, Robert Southwell, s.j. (1561–1595), clings today to a thinning canonical presence in English literature among a sphere of other writers incongruously called the metaphysical poets. Southwell’s Sphere lifts this sixteenth century Jesuit priest and prolific writer from the obscurity in which he too often resides and places him instead at the center of a sphere of English poets upon whom his life and works exerted an observable influence. As he weaved his religious content into the familiar loom of Elizabethan form and style, this young missionary priest was seeking not just to catechize those whom he regarded as the faithful and the fallen, but to intentionally reform the verse of his native England. Remarkably, during his brief six-year mission, he actually managed in many respects to do so. Surviving for six years by successfully navigating and fostering a complicated underground Catholic network in and around London before being captured, tortured and imprisoned, Southwell was brought to trial and executed at Tyburn at age 33. He therefore never knew most of the “skillfuller wits” that he called upon to direct their poetic skills to the service of God. And like the marks upon his tortured body, the poetic marks of influence that his work left upon individual writers of this era were in many cases deliberately concealed. Southwell’s Sphere seeks to rediscover those marks and offer the reader a renewed appreciation for this subverted and subverting literary force in Early Modern England. In individual explicative chapters this book examines works by six poets whose verse may be appreciated differently in light of Robert Southwell’s life and work. The author makes the case that Southwell’s works, posthumously and prolifically published, instructed William Alabaster, provoked Edmund Spenser, prompted George Herbert, haunted John Donne, inspired Richard Crashaw and — two and a half centuries later — consoled Gerard Manley Hopkins, s.j. With the exception of Spenser, all of these poets were, like Southwell, ordained ministers. The particular personal, political and religious complexities of each of their lives notwithstanding, what they most shared in common with Southwell was their priestly vocation, their talent as English poets and the inevitable and inextricable joining of these two activities in their lives. While it would have made little sense for any of these poets to acknowledge Southwell as a poetic peer, each of them authored important verse that can best be appreciated within the sphere of this improbably successful and influential English poet.
Scott Dill’s A Theology of Sense: John Updike, Embodiment, and Late Twentieth-Century American Literature brings together theology, aesthetics, and the body, arguing that Updike, a central figure in post-1945 American literature, deeply embeds in his work questions of the body and the senses with questions of theology. Dill offers new understandings not only of the work of Updike—which is importantly being revisited since the author’s death in 2009—but also new understandings of the relationship between aesthetics, religion, and physical experience.
Dill explores Updike’s unique literary legacy in order to argue for a genuinely postsecular theory of aesthetic experience. Each chapter takes up one of the five senses and its relation to broader theoretical concerns: affect, subjectivity, ontology, ethics, and theology. While placing Updike’s work in relation to other late twentieth-century American writers, Dill explains their notions of embodiment and uses them to render a new account of postsecular aesthetics. No other novelist has portrayed mere sense experience as carefully, as extensively, or as theologically—repeatedly turning to the doctrine of creation as his stylistic justification. Across this examination of his many stories, novels, poems, and essays, Dill proves that Updike forces us to reconsider the power of literature to revitalize sense experience as a theological question.
Tomáš Špidlík: A Theological Life offers one of the first comprehensive reflections on the life and work of the enigmatic Czech theologian. In part one, Karel Sládek explores Špidlík’s thoughts on family, the formation of Jesuit priests, the ecumenical mission of the monastery at Velehrad in Moravia (where Špidlík himself studied), and the wisdom he acquired during stays in Rome. The latter part of the book focuses on Špidlík’s spiritual theology, which was grounded in a synthesis of Eastern and Western Christianity. Here, the book explores subjects such as the Holy Spirit, the Eucharist as a source of spiritual life, and the influence of the Philokalia on Eastern spirituality.
By the conclusion, we see Špidlík’s most mature ideas and his forming of a theology of beauty; Špidlík spent his final years in Rome, living and working at the Centro Aletti’s renowned art studio, where he put his mind to observing the theology of art for an understanding of music, film, literature, and iconography.
Ilana M. Blumberg The Ohio State University Press, 2013 Library of Congress PR468.R44B58 2013 | Dewey Decimal 823.809382
In Victorian Sacrifice: Ethics and Economics in Mid-Century Novels, Ilana Blumberg offers a major reconsideration of the central Victorian ethic of self-sacrifice, suggesting that much of what we have taken to be the moral psychology of Victorian fiction may be understood in terms of the dramatic confrontation between Christian theology and the world of modern economic theory. As Victorian writers Charlotte Mary Yonge, Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Anthony Trollope, Wilkie Collins, and Mary Augusta Ward strove to forge a practicable ethics that would reconcile the influences of an evangelical Christianity and its emphasis on selfless charity with the forces of laissez-faire capitalism and its emphasis on individual profit, they moved away from the cherished ideal of painful, solitary self-sacrifice in service of another’s good. Instead, Blumberg suggests, major novelists sought an ethical realism characterized by the belief that virtuous action could serve the collective benefit of the parties involved. At a mid-century moment of economic optimism, novelists transformed the ethical landscape by imagining what the sociologist Herbert Spencer would later call a “measured egoism,” an ethically responsible self-concern which might foster communal solidarity and material abundance.
Bringing the recent literary turns to ethics and to economics into mutual conversation, Blumberg offers us a new lens on a matter as pressing today as 150 years ago: the search for an ethics adequate to the hopes and fears of a new economy.
The Writer and Religion
Edited by William H. Gass and Lorin Cuoco Southern Illinois University Press, 2000 Library of Congress PN49.W74 2000 | Dewey Decimal 809.93382
“Every significant religious system stands upon a sacred text. This text is indeed its temple. Inside, its heroes and their history are enshrined. Although leaders of varying degrees of divinity are always involved in the creation of a new sect, they usually have short lives, often come to bad ends, and their influence, diluted by disciples, soon disappears as water does in sand. What the leader leaves behind is Mein Kampf or its equivalent: his testament. Occasionally, by the indolent, an existent text is chosen, or a compilation selected—a golden treasury. From time to time, other writings may be dubbed divine, as though knighted. This is not a simple social thing, however. It is more important than a nation adding to its territories. Any addition to the divine canon will approve, proscribe, or admit new thoughts, new practices, and in consequence elevate different people to positions of privilege and power.”—William H. Gass
These essays and panel discussions made up The Writer and Religion Conference held at Washington University in St. Louis. The six essays, all by writers of international stature, were followed by panel discussions, with audience participation.