Above the American Renaissance takes David S. Reynolds’s classic study Beneath the American Renaissance as a model and a provocation to consider how language and concepts broadly defined as spiritual are essential to understanding nineteenth-century American literary culture. In the 1980s, Reynolds’s scholarship and methodology enlivened investigations of religious culture, and since then, for reasons that include a rising respect for interdisciplinarity and the aftershocks of the 9/11 attacks, religion in literature has become a major area of inquiry for Americanists. In essays that reconsider and contextualize Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Herman Melville, Abraham Lincoln, and others, this volume captures the vibrancy of spiritual considerations in American literary studies and points a way forward within literary and spiritual investigations.
In addition to the editors and David S. Reynolds, contributors include Jeffrey Bilbro, Dawn Coleman, Jonathan A. Cook, Tracy Fessenden, Zachary Hutchins, Richard Kopley, Mason I. Lowance Jr., John Matteson, Christopher N. Phillips, Vivian Pollak, Michael Robertson, Gail K. Smith, Claudia Stokes, and Timothy Sweet.
John V. Glass III Catholic University of America Press, 2016 Library of Congress PS3539.A74Z655 2016 | Dewey Decimal 818.5209
This study reconsiders and reassesses the work of Allen Tate as a poet whose themes and expression place him among the most studied and canonical Modernists of the last century. Allen Tate (1899-1979), a former Poet Laureate of the US, although generally regarded during his lifetime as one of the twentieth century's preeminent literary critics and men of letters, has been largely overlooked by critics in the years since his death. John V. Glass III rectifies this by tracing the development of Tate's thought and verse from his early years as a student at Vanderbilt in the 1920s through his final terza-rima sequence completed in the 1950s. Tate's poetry in the intervening years charts the course of an American modernist who brings to bear on the problems of his age the unique perspective of a southerner, one who refuses either to accept sentimentality or to repudiate the past in his search for a solution to the dissociation of sensibility.
Jordan Carson’s American Exceptionalism as Religion looks at how American nationalist ideologies intersect with religious ones in contemporary literature. Carson traces out how an exceptionalist belief system began to emerge historically with a distorted picture of religious commitment. He then connects this trend to writers such as Don DeLillo, Ana Castillo, Thomas Pynchon, George Saunders, and Marilynne Robinson to argue that these authors dismantle the privatization of religion in their writing and then offer their own alternatives. Their work, he argues, redefines religion in terms of practice and discipline, gauging it by its power to ground and guide behavior, morality, and sociality.
As American exceptionalism resurfaces in public discourse, Carson’s timely work invites readers to reconsider the nexus of religion, politics, and culture. Carson argues that defining religion according to secularist criteria has insulated ostensibly secular ideologies as well as traditional religion from public scrutiny. DeLillo’s, Castillo’s, Pynchon’s, Saunders’s, and Robinson’s redefinitions of religion result in a better grasp of how individuals actually live out their religious lives. More importantly, these authors help erect a framework for constructively engaging American exceptionalism and the ideas that support it.
Secretary to the Salem witch trials, Cotton Mather is the most reviled of our national historians. Yet James Russell Lowell admitted that “with all his faults, that conceited old pedant contrived to make one of the most entertaining books ever written on this side of the water.” In America’s Gothic Fiction, Dorothy Z. Baker investigates the ways in which nineteenth-century authors Edgar Allan Poe, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Nathaniel Hawthorne, among others, look to Mather’s Magnalia Christi Americana at critical moments in their work and refashion his historical accounts as gothic fiction.
Cotton Mather’s 1702 Magnalia captured the imagination of its readers more than any other colonial history and impressed Americans with its message of American exceptionalism and God’s dramatic intervention on behalf of the country and its citizens. Poe, Stowe, and Hawthorne, who are rarely grouped together in literary studies, have radically divergent responses to Mather’s theology, historiography, and literary forms. However, each takes up Mather’s themes and forms and, in distinct ways, interrogates the providence tales in Magnalia Christi Americana as foundational statements about American history and identity.
In Blood Relations, Janet Adelman confronts her resistance to The Merchant of Venice as both a critic and a Jew. With her distinctive psychological acumen, she argues that Shakespeare’s play frames the uneasy relationship between Christian and Jew specifically in familial terms in order to recapitulate the vexed familial relationship between Christianity and Judaism.
Adelman locates the promise—or threat—of Jewish conversion as a particular site of tension in the play. Drawing on a variety of cultural materials, she demonstrates that, despite the triumph of its Christians, The Merchant of Venice reflects Christian anxiety and guilt about its simultaneous dependence on and disavowal of Judaism. In this startling psycho-theological analysis, both the insistence that Shylock’s daughter Jessica remain racially bound to her father after her conversion and the depiction of Shylock as a bloody-minded monster are understood as antidotes to Christian uneasiness about a Judaism it can neither own nor disown.
In taking seriously the religious discourse of The Merchant of Venice, Adelman offers in Blood Relations an indispensable book on the play and on the fascinating question of Jews and Judaism in Renaissance England and beyond.
Blending biography, cultural history, and literary criticism, The Bop Apocalypse explores the religious concerns, metaphysical realities, and spiritual pursuits that undergirded the early friendship and literary collaborations of Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and William S. Burroughs.
Presenting a religious biography of the Beats from the mid-1940s to the late 1950s, John Lardas shows that in rejecting many of the cultural tenets of postwar America, Kerouac, Ginsberg, and Burroughs created new visions of both self and country, visions they articulated through distinctive literary forms. Lardas examines how the Beat writers distilled a theology of experience--a religious vision that animated their everyday existence as well as their art--from a flurry of disparate influences that included the saxophone wails of Charlie Parker and Lester Young, the psychology of Wilhelm Reich, the linguistic theories of Alfred Korzybski, the hipster dialects of New York City, and especially the prophecies of Oswald Spengler. Revisiting the major works the Beats produced in the 1950s in terms of critical content, Lardas considers how their lived religion was incorporated into the way they wrote.
The first sustained treatment of Beat religiosity, The Bop Apocalypse takes a sophisticated look beyond the cartoonish reductions of the Beat counterculture. The Bop Apocalypse takes the Beats at face value, interpreting their sexual openness, drug use, criminality, compulsion to travel, and madness as the logical, physical enactments of a religious representation of the world. Far from dallying irrelevantly on the fringes of society, Lardas asserts, the Beats engaged America on moral grounds through the discourse of public religion.
Bringing together scholars from literary, historical, and religious studies,Constructing Nineteenth-Century Religioninterrogates the seemingly obvious category of “religion.” This collection argues that any application of religion engages in complex and relatively modern historical processes. In considering the various ways that nineteenth-century religion was constructed, commodified, and practiced, contributors to this volume “speak” to each other, finding interdisciplinary links and resonances across a range of texts and contexts.
The participle in its title—Constructing—acknowledges that any articulation of nineteenth-century religion is never just a work of the past: scholars also actively construct religion as their disciplinary assumptions (and indeed personal and lived investments) shape their research and findings. Constructing NineteenthCentury Religion newly analyzes the diverse ways in which religion was debated and deployed in a wide range of nineteenthcentury texts and contexts. While focusing primarily on nineteenthcentury Britain, the collection also contributes to the increasingly transnational and transcultural outlook of postsecular studies, drawing connections between Britain and the United States, continental Europe, and colonial India.
As much a doubter as a believer, Emily Dickinson often expressed views about God in general—and God with respect to suffering in particular. In many of her poems, she contemplates the question posed by countless theologians and poets before her: how can one reconcile a benevolent deity with evil in the world?
Examining Dickinson’s perspectives on the role played by a supposedly omnipotent and all-loving God in a world marked by violence and pain, Patrick Keane initially focuses on her poem “Apparently with no surprise,” in which frost, a “blonde Assassin,” beheads a “happy Flower,” a spectacle presided over by “an Approving God.” This tiny lyric,Keane shows, epitomizes the poet’s embattled relationship with the deity of her Calvinist tradition.
Although the problem of sufferingis usually couched in terms of natural disasters or human injustice, Dickinson found new ways of considering it. By choosing a flower as her innocent “victim,” she bypassed standard “answers” to the dilemma (suffering as justified punishment for wickedness, or as attributable to the assertion of free will) in order to focus on the problem in its purest symbolic form. Keane goes on toprovide close readings of many of Dickinson’s poems and letters engaging God, showing how she addressed the challenges posed—by her own experience and by an innate skepticism reinforced by a nascent Darwinism—to the argument from design and the concept of a benevolent deity.
More than a dissection of a single poem, Keane’s book is a sweeping personal reflection on literature and religion, faith and skepticism, theology and science. He traces the evolving history of the Problem of Suffering from the Hebrew Scriptures (Job and Ecclesiastes), through the writings of Paul, Augustine, and Aquinas, to the most recent theological and philosophical studies of the problem. Keane is interested in how readers today respond to Emily Dickinson’s often combative poems about God; at the same time, she is located as a poet whose creative life coincided with the momentous changes and challenges to religious faith associated with Darwin andNietzsche.Keane also considers Dickinson’s poems and letters in the context of the great Romantic tradition, as it runs fromMilton throughWordsworth, demonstrating how thework of these poets (perhaps surprisingly in the case of the latter)helps illuminate Dickinson’s poetry and thought.
Because Dickinson the poet was also Emily the gardener, her love of flowers was an appropriate vehicle for her observations on mortality and her expressions of doubt. Emily Dickinson’s Approving God is a graceful study that reveals not only the audacity of Dickinson’s thought but also its relevance to modern readers. In light of ongoing confrontations between Darwinism and design, science and literal conceptions of a divine Creator, it is an equally provocative read for students of literature and students of life.
A revealing study of the connections between nineteenth-century technological fiction and American religious faith.
In Gears and God: Technocratic Fiction, Faith, and Empire in Mark Twain’s America, Nathaniel Williams analyzes the genre of technology-themed exploration novels—dime novel adventure stories featuring steam-powered and electrified robots, airships, and submersibles. This genre proliferated during the same cultural moment when evolutionary science was dismantling Americans’ prevailing, biblically based understanding of human history.
While their heyday occurred in the late 1800s, technocratic adventure novels like Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court inspired later fiction about science and technology. Similar to the science fiction plotlines of writers like Jules Verne and H. Rider Haggard, and anticipating the adventures of Tom Swift some decades later, these novels feature Americans using technology to visit and seize control of remote locales, a trait that has led many scholars to view them primarily as protoimperialist narratives. Their legacy, however, is more complicated. As they grew in popularity, such works became as concerned with the preservation of a fraught Anglo-Protestant American identity as they were with spreading that identity across the globe.
Many of these novels frequently assert the Bible’s authority as a historical source. Collectively, such stories popularized the notion that technology and travel might essentially “prove” the Bible’s veracity—a message that continues to be deployed in contemporary debates over intelligent design, the teaching of evolution in public schools, and in reality TV shows that seek historical evidence for biblical events. Williams argues that these fictions performed significant cultural work, and he consolidates evidence from the novels themselves, as well as news articles, sermons, and other sources of the era, outlining and mapping the development of technocratic fiction.
Despite the proliferation of criticism on the cultural work of the Harlem Renaissance over the course of the past two decades, surprisingly few critics have focused on the ways in which religious contexts shaped the works of New Negro writers and artists during that time. In Goodbye Christ? Christianity, Masculinity, and the New Negro Renaissance, Peter Kerry Powers fills this scholarly void, exploring how the intersection of race, religion, and gender during the Harlem Renaissance impacted the rhetoric and imagination of prominent African American writers of the early twentieth century.
In order to best understand the secular academic thought that arose during the Harlem Renaissance period, Powers argues, readers must first understand the religious contexts from which it grew. By illustrating how religion informed the New Negro movement, and through his analysis of a range of texts, Powers delineates the ways in which New Negro writers of the early twentieth century sought to loosen the grip of Christianity on the racial imagination, thereby clearing a space for their own cultural work—and for the development of a secular African American intelligentsia generally.
In addition to his examination of well-known authors, including W. E. B. Du Bois, Langston Hughes, and Zora Neale Hurston, Powers also offers an illuminating perspective on lesser-known figures, including Reverdy Ransom and Frederick Cullen. In his exploration of the role of race and religion at the time, Powers employs an intersectional approach to religion and gender, and especially masculinity, that sets the discussion on fertile new ground.
Goodbye Christ? answers the call for a body of work that considers religion as a relevant precursor to the secular intelligentsia that grew during the Harlem Renaissance in the early 1900s. By offering a complete look at the tensions that arose between churches and Harlem Renaissance writers and artists, readers can gain a better understanding of the work that Harlem Renaissance writers undertook during the early decades of the twentieth century.
In Imagined Spiritual Communities in Britain’s Age of Print, Joshua King demonstrates how nineteenth-century Britons turned to the printed page to imagine themselves in Christian communities spanning their nation. In contrast with traditional views of the nineteenth century, which regard the period as a turning point for religion from a public life to a privatized decline, Imagined Spiritual Communities argues that the rapid growth of print culture and a voluntary religious market inspired vigorous efforts to form virtual national congregations of readers.
Focusing primarily on the work of Anglicans between the 1820s and 1890s, this study begins by freshly interpreting reading and educational programs promoted by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Frederick Denison Maurice, and Matthew Arnold. King then traces the emergence of John Keble’s Christian Year as a catalyst for competing visions of a Christian nation united by private reading. He argues that this phenomenon illuminates the structure and reception of best-selling poetic cycles as diverse as Alfred Tennyson’s In Memoriam and Christina Rossetti’s late Verses. Ultimately, Imagined Spiritual Communities reveals how dreams of print-mediated spiritual communion generated new poetic genres and rhetorical strategies, theories and theologies of media and reading, and ambitious schemes of education and church reform.
The enduring "black legend" of the Italian Counter-Reformation, which has held sway in both scholarly and popular culture, maintains that the Council of Trent ushered in a cultural dark age in Italy, snuffing out the spectacular creative production of the Renaissance. As a result, the decades following Trent have been mostly overlooked in Italian literary studies, in particular. The thirteen essays of Innovation in the Italian Counter-Reformation present a radical reconsideration of literary production in post-Tridentine Italy. With particular attention to the much-maligned tradition of spiritual literature, the volume’s contributors weave literary analysis together with religion, theater, art, music, science, and gender to demonstrate that the literature of this period not only merits study but is positively innovative. Contributors include such renowned critics as Virginia Cox and Amadeo Quondam, two of the leading scholars on the Italian Counter-Reformation.
Published by University of Delaware Press. Distributed worldwide by Rutgers University Press.
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.
Behind James Baldwin’s uncanny ability to evoke a nation’s crisis and potential hope lies his use of religious language to describe social and sexual transformation. The first study of its kind, James Baldwin and the Heavenly City shows that Baldwin’s novels use biblical ideas in partly but not fully secularized ways to express the possible human attainment of a new life embodying a real but undefinable holiness. Focusing on Baldwin’s six novels, along with essays, stories, and drama, the book first shows Baldwin’s method of recasting biblical and African American prophetic traditions to reveal their liberating core. It then examines several key themes: the prophet’s selection, seen in Baldwin’s debut novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain; the three linked ideas of prophetic art, the “apocalyptic body,” and the “apocalyptic city,” as presented in all his novels; and the polarity between prophecy and doubt, the subject of his last novel, Just Above My Head. This important work provides new readings of Baldwin’s novels, reassesses his once-neglected later fiction, and shows Gospel music’s centrality (with blues) in his fictional imagination.
Jasper Cragwall The Ohio State University Press, 2013 Library of Congress PR468.R44C73 2013 | Dewey Decimal 820.9382
Lake Methodism: Polite Literature and Popular Religion in England, 1780-1830, reveals the traffic between Romanticism’s rhetorics of privilege and the most socially toxic religious forms of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The “Lake Poets,” of whom William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge are the most famous, are often seen as crafters of a poetics of spontaneous inspiration, transcendent imagination, and visionary prophecy, couched within lexicons of experimental simplicity and lyrical concision. But, as Jasper Cragwall argues, such postures and principles were in fact received as the vulgarities of popular Methodism, an insurgent religious movement whose autobiographies, songs, and sermons reached sales figures of which the Lakers could only dream.
With these religious histories, Lake Methodism unsettles canonical Romanticism, reading, for example, the grand declaration opening Wordsworth’s spiritual autobiography—“to the open fields I told a prophecy”—not as poetic self-sanctification, but as a means of embarrassing Methodism, responsible for the suppression of The Prelude for half a century. The book measures this fearful symmetry between Romantic and religious enthusiasms in figures iconic and unfamiliar: John Wesley, Robert Southey, Wordsworth, Coleridge, as well as the eponymous scientist of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and even Joanna Southcott, an illiterate servant turned latter-day Virgin Mary, who, at the age of sixty-five, mistook a fatal dropsy for the Second Coming of Christ (and so captivated a nation).
Scholars have long separated a few privileged “religions of the Book” from faiths lacking sacred texts, including ancient Roman religion. Looking beyond this distinction, Duncan MacRae delves into Roman treatises on the nature of gods and rituals to grapple with a central question: what was the significance of books in a religion without scripture?
In Many Gods and Many Voices distinguished scholar Louis L. Martz addresses works by Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, William Carlos Williams, H. D., and D. H. Lawrence, with brief treatment of the relation of Pound's Cantos to Joyce's Ulysses. In a graceful, lucid style, Martz argues that a prophetic tradition is represented in the Cantos, The Waste Land, Paterson, and H. D.'s Trilogy and Helen in Egypt, along with Lawrence's Plumed Serpent and the second version of Lady Chatterley's Lover. Pound's often- cited view that an epic is a poem that "includes history" does not define epic alone, for the books of biblical prophecy also contain history: the history of Israel's misdeeds and continuous redemption.
On the other hand, Martz suggests that the term prophecy should not be limited to works that foretell the future, arguing that the biblical prophet is concerned primarily with the present. The prophet is a reformer, a denouncer of evil, as well as a seer of possible redemption. He hears "voices" and transmits the message of those voices to his people, in the hope of moving them away from wickedness and toward the ways of truth. According to Martz, such was the mission that inspired Walt Whitman and that Whitman passed on to Pound, Eliot, Williams, and Lawrence. (H. D. found her own sources of inspiration in Greek and Egyptian lore.)
Martz's premise is that biblical prophecy, with its mingling of poetry and prose, its abrupt shifts from violent denunciation to exalted poetry, provides a precedent for the texture of these modernist works that will help readers to appreciate the mingling of "voices" and the complex mixture of elements. Examining their interrelationships and their common themes, Many Gods and Many Voices offers fresh insights into these modern writers.
In Modernist Heresies, Damon Franke presents the discourse of heresy as central to the intellectual history of the origins of British modernism. The book examines heretical discourses from literature and culture of the fin de siècle and the Edwardian period in order to establish continuities between Victorian blasphemy and modernist obscenity by tracing the dialectic of heresy and orthodoxy, and the pragmatic shifting of both heterodox and authoritative discourses.
Franke documents the untold history of the Cambridge Heretics Society and places the concerns of this discussion society in dialogue with contemporaneous literature by such authors as Pater, Hardy, Shaw, Joyce, Woolf, Lawrence, and Orwell. Since several highly influential figures of the modernist literati were members of the Heretics or in dialogue with the group, heresy and its relation to synthesis now become crucial to an understanding of modernist aesthetics and ethics.
From the 1880s through the 1920s, heresy commonly appears in literature as a discursive trope, and the literary mode of heresy shifts over the course of this time from one of syncretism to one based on the construction of modernist artificial or "synthetic" wholes. In Franke’s work, the discourse of heresy comes forth as a forgotten dimension of the origins of modernism, one deeply entrenched in Victorian blasphemy and the crisis in faith, and one pointing to the censorship of modernist literature and some of the first doctrines of literary criticism.
In the decades surrounding World War I, religious belief receded in the face of radical new ideas such as Marxism, modern science, Nietzschean philosophy, and critical theology. Modes of Faith addresses both this decline of religious belief and the new modes of secular faith that took religion’s place in the minds of many writers and poets.
Theodore Ziolkowski here examines the motives for this embrace of the secular, locating new modes of faith in art, escapist travel, socialism, politicized myth, and utopian visions. James Joyce, he reveals, turned to art as an escape while Hermann Hesse made a pilgrimage to India in search of enlightenment. Other writers, such as Roger Martin du Gard and Thomas Mann, sought temporary solace in communism or myth. And H. G. Wells, Ziolkowski argues, took refuge in utopian dreams projected in another dimension altogether.
Rooted in innovative and careful comparative reading of the work of writers from France, England, Germany, Italy, and Russia, Modes of Faith is a critical masterpiece by a distinguished literary scholar that offers an abundance of insight to anyone interested in the human compulsion to believe in forces that transcend the individual.
How did the English Reformation, with its illiberal, intolerant beginnings, lay the groundwork for the Enlightenment—free will, liberty of conscience, religious toleration, constitutionalism, and all the rest? In his provocative rewriting of the history of liberalism, James Simpson uncovers its unexpected debt to Protestant evangelicalism.
When it was first published, Radical Tragedy was hailed as a groundbreaking reassessment of the drama of Shakespeare and his contemporaries. An engaged reading of the past with compelling contemporary significance, Radical Tragedy remains a landmark study of Renaissance drama. The third edition of this critically acclaimed work includes a new foreword by Terry Eagleton and an extensive new introduction by the author.
Our historical understanding of the Reformation in northern Europe has tended to privilege the idea of disruption and innovation over continuity - yet even the most powerful reformation movements drew on and exchanged ideas with earlier cultural and religious practices. This volume attempts to right the balance, bringing together a roster of experts to trace the continuities between the medieval and early modern period in the Nordic realm, while enabling us to see the Reformation and its changes in a new light.
Erich Auerbach’s seminal Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature was published more than sixty years ago and is deservedly considered a classic. The book brought into focus the fundamental difference that exists between the two basic approaches to the textual representation of reality in Western culture. These two “styles,” as Auerbach called them, were archetypically displayed in Homer’s poems and in the Old Testament, respectively. Auerbach’s differentiation is the starting point for Bandera’s insightful work, which expands and develops on this theory in several key ways. One of the more significant differences between the two styles transcends and grounds all the others. It concerns the truth of each of the two archetypal texts, or rather, the attitude exhibited in those texts with regard to the truth of what they narrate. Auerbach, Bandera notes, is amazed at the Bible’s “passionate” concern for the truth of what it says—a concern he found absent in Homer. Bandera finds that what the prophet Isaiah called “a refuge of lies” defines Homer’s work. He draws on his own research and René Girard’s theory of the sacred to develop an enhanced perspective of the relationship between these texts.
In The Revelation of Imagination, William Franke attempts to focus on what is enduring and perennial rather than on what is accommodated to the agenda of the moment. Franke’s book offers re-actualized readings of representative texts from the Bible, Homer, and Virgil to Augustine and Dante. The selections are linked together in such a way as to propose a general interpretation of knowledge. They emphasize, moreover, a way of articulating the connection of humanities knowledge with what may, in various senses, be called divine revelation. This includes the sort of inspiration to which poets since Homer have typically laid claim, as well as that proper to the biblical tradition of revealed religion. The Revelation of Imagination invigorates the ongoing discussion about the value of humanities as a source of enduring knowledge.
“I was made in His image,” Mark Twain once said, “but have never been mistaken for Him.” God may have made Mark Twain in His image, but Twain frequently remade himself by adopting divine personae as part of his literary burlesque. Readers were delighted, rather than fooled, when Twain adopted the image of religious vocation throughout his writing career: Theologian, Missionary, Priest, Preacher, Prophet, Saint, Brother Twain, Holy Samuel, the Bishop of New Jersey, and of course, the Reverend Mark Twain. Joe B. Fulton has not written a study of Samuel Langhorne Clemens’s religious beliefs, but rather one about Twain’s use of theological form and content in a number of his works—some well-known, others not so widely read.
Twain adopted such religious personae to burlesque the religious literary genres associated with those vocations. He wrote catechisms, prophecies, psalms, and creeds, all in the theological tradition, but with a comic twist. Twain even wrote a burlesque life of Christ that has the son of God sporting blue jeans and cowboy boots. With his distinctive comic genius, Twain entered the religious dialogue of his time, employing the genres of belief as his vehicle for criticizing church and society.
Twain’s burlesques of religious form and content reveal a writer fully engaged with the religious ferment of his day. Works like The Innocents Abroad, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc, Roughing It, and What Is Man? are the productions of a writer skilled at adopting and adapting established literary and religious forms for his own purposes. Twain is sometimes viewed as a haphazard writer, but in The Reverend Mark Twain, Fulton demonstrates how carefully Twain studied established literary and theological genres to entertain—and criticize—his society.
Grounded in the thought of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Romanticism and Transcendence explores the religious dimensions of imagination in the Romantic tradition, both theoretically and in the poetry of Wordsworth and Coleridge. J. Robert Barth suggests that we may look to Coleridge for the theoretical grounding of the view of religious imagination proposed in this book, but that it is in Wordsworth above all that we see this imagination at work.
Barth first argues that the Romantic imagination—with its profound symbolic import—of its very nature has religious implications, and notes parallels between Coleridge’s view of the imagination and that of Ignatius Loyola in his Spiritual Exercises. He then turns to the role of religious experience in Wordsworth, using The Prelude as a privileged source. Next, after comparing the conception of humanity and God in Wordsworth and Coleridge, Barth considers the role of religious experience and imagery in two of Coleridge’s central poetic texts, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Christabel. Finally, Barth examines the continuing role of the Romantic idea of the religious imagination today, in literature and all the arts, linking it with the thought of theologian Karl Rahner and literary critic George Steiner.
Romanticism and Transcendence brings together literary theory, poetry, and religious experience, areas that are interrelated but are often not seen in relationship. By exploring levels of Wordsworth’s and Coleridge’s poetry that are often ignored, Barth provides insight into how and why the imagination was so important to their work. He also demonstrates how rich with religious value and meaning poetry and the arts can be.
The interdisciplinary nature of this important new study will make it useful not only to Wordsworth and Coleridge scholars and other Romantic specialists, but also to anyone concerned with the intellectual history of the nineteenth century and to theologians in general.
Harold Bloom surveys with majestic view the literature of the West from the Old Testament to Samuel Beckett. He provocatively rereads the Yahwist (or J) writer, Jeremiah, Job, Jonah, the Iliad, the Aeneid, Dante’s Divine Comedy, Hamlet, King Lear, Othello, the Henry IV plays, Paradise Lost, Blake’s Milton, Wordsworth’s Prelude, and works by Freud, Kafka, and Beckett. In so doing, he uncovers the truth that all our attempts to call any strong work more sacred than another are merely political and social formulations. This is criticism at its best.
Yothers’ Sacred Uncertainty examines Melville’s engagement with religious difference, both within American culture and around the world. It is impossible to understand Melville’s wider engagement with religious and cultural questions, however, without understanding the fundamental tension between self and society, self and others that underlies his work, and that is manifested in particular in the way in which he interacts with other writers. There is almost certainly no more concrete or reliable way to get at Melville’s affirmations of and arguments with these interlocutors than in the markings and annotations that appear in his copies of many of their works, so Yothers examines Melville’s marginalia for clues to Melville’s thinking about self, other, and difference. Sacred Uncertainty provides a much needed exploration of Melville’s encounter with and reflection upon religious difference.
With Secular Scriptures: Modern Theological Poetics in the Wake of Dante, William Franke reexamines the role that literature plays in theological revelation. In the modern world, secularism typically means the exclusion of God from the world. Yet Franke, recognizing that secularity itself is built into religion and revelation, argues that theologically sensitive poetry has driven secularization throughout the modern period. The essays in this volume construct a trajectory through modern poetic literature as it struggled with the sense of a loss of the very possibility of theological revelation. Can literature replace religion? Can it do so triumphantly or only mournfully? Is this literary transmogrification of revelation the death of religion or its rebirth in a vital new form? Secular Scriptures examines, through its own original speculative outlook, some of the most compelling exemplars of religious-poetic revelation in modern Western literature. The essays taken as an ensemble revolve around and are bookended by Dante, but they also explore the work of Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Blake, Leopardi, Baudelaire, Dickinson, and Yeats. Looking both backward and forward from the vantage of Dante, Franke explores the roots of secularized religious vision in antiquity and the Middle Ages, even as he also looks forward toward its fruits in modern poetry and poetics. Ultimately, Franke’s analyses demonstrate the possibilities opened by understanding literature as secularized religious revelation.
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.
Examining autobiographical texts by Malcolm X (The Autobiography of Malcolm X), Oscar Zeta Acosta (The Autobiography of a Brown Buffalo and Revolt of the Cockroach People), Amiri Baraka (The Autobiography of LeRoi Jones), and Richard Rodriguez (Hunger of Memory, Days of Obligation, and Brown), Walker questions the often rosy views and simplistic binary conceptions of religious conversion. Her reading of these texts takes into account the conflict and serial changes the authors experience in a society that marginalizes them, the manner in which religious conversion offers ethnic Americans “salvation” through cultural assimilation or cultural nationalism, and what conversion, anticonversion, and deconversion narratives tell us about the problematic effects of religion that often go unremarked because of a code of “special respect” and political correctness.
Walker asserts that critics have been too willing to praise religion in America as salutary or beyond the ken of criticism because religious belief is seen as belonging to an untouchable arena of cultural identity. The Trouble with Sauling Around goes beyond traditional literary criticism to pay close attention to the social phenomena that underlie religious conversion narratives and considers the potentially negative effects of religious conversion, something that has been likewise neglected by scholars.
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.
If Victorian women writers yearned for authorial forebears, or, in Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s words, for “grandmothers,” there were, Gail Turley Houston argues, grandmothers who in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries envisioned powerful female divinities that would reconfigure society. Like many Victorian women writers, they experienced a sense of what Barrett Browning termed “mother-want” inextricably connected to “mother-god-want.” These millenarian and socialist feminist grandmothers believed the time had come for women to initiate the earthly paradise that patriarchal institutions had failed to establish.
Recuperating a symbolic divine in the form of the Great Mother—a pagan Virgin Mary, a female messiah, and a titanic Eve—Joanna Southcott, Eliza Sharples, Frances Wright, and others set the stage for Victorian women writers to envision and impart emanations of puissant Christian and pagan goddesses, enabling them to acquire the authorial legitimacy patriarchal culture denied them. Though the Victorian authors studied by Houston—Barrett Browning, Charlotte Brontë, Florence Nightingale, Anna Jameson, and George Eliot—often masked progressive rhetoric, even in some cases seeming to reject these foremothers, their radical genealogy reappeared in mystic, metaphysical revisions of divinity that insisted that deity be understood, at least in part, as substantively female.
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.