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.
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.
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.
Clashing Convictions: Science and Religion in American Fiction is the first study to identify a body of twentieth-century American fiction that represents the increasing tensions experienced by people of Christian faith in response to Darwinism, the higher biblical criticism, and modern medicine. Delineating how these works dramatize clashes between scientific and conservative Protestant understandings of the world, Albert H. Tricomi examines a canon of ten novels and one iconic play that present a cultural history of inner turmoil as well as social conflict. The three parts of the study chart this increasing inner turmoil, a rising secularist ideology, and finally a fundamentalist revival among alienated biblical literalists.
With chapters on James Lane Allen’s The Reign of Law, Harold Frederic’s The Damnation of Theron Ware, William Dean Howells’s The Leatherwood God, Sinclair Lewis’s Arrowsmith and Elmer Gantry, Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee’s Inherit the Wind, and James Scott Bell’s The Darwin Conspiracy, Tricomi offers new readings emphasizing how this canon represents science and religion as in deep, if not irreconcilable, conflict. Tricomi’s sweeping study, with its emphasis on the twentieth century, thus reveals from several directions the processes of secularism even as it identifies the emergence of what some have come to describe as the current “postsecular” moment in America.
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.
Fiction Beyond Secularism
Justin Neuman Northwestern University Press, 2014 Library of Congress PR888.R5N48 2014 | Dewey Decimal 820.9382
Modernist thinkers once presumed a progressive secularity, with the novel replacing religious texts as society’s moral epics. Yet religion—beginning with the Iranian revolution of 1979, through the collapse of communism, and culminating in the singular rupture of September 11, 2001—has not retreated quietly out of sight.
In Fiction Beyond Secularism, Justin Neuman argues that contemporary novelists who are most commonly identified as antireligious—among them Orhan Pamuk, Salman Rushdie, Ian McEwan, Margaret Atwood, Nadine Gordimer, Haruki Murakami, and J. M. Coetzee—have defied assumptions and have instead written some of the most trenchant critiques of secular ideologies, as well as the most exciting and rigorous inquiries into the legacies of the religious imagination. As a result, many readers (or nonreaders) on either side of the religious divide neglect the insights of works like The Satanic Verses, Disgrace, and Snow. Fiction Beyond Secularism serves as a timely corrective.
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.
This new study explores how evangelicalism played a vital role in the development of the Victorian novel. In contrast to those who see the evangelical movement as trivial to our histories of the novel and part of the losing side in religion’s battle with secularity, Good Words: Evangelicalism and the Victorian Novel examines fiction by major writers of the nineteenth century—Thackeray, Dickens, Wood, MacDonald, Collins, and Butler—and reveals the extent to which the novel was shaped by evangelical thought and practice.
Rather than getting lost in historical and theological rabbit holes, Good Words invites readers to think about why evangelicalism still matters for the stories we tell about fiction in the Victorian period. The result has major implications for our understanding of the Victorian novel, our conception of the relationship between nineteenth-century literature and religion, the way in which we think about evangelical culture in the modern world, and our ideas about the practices and protocols of scholarly reading.
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.
Challenging the prevailing belief that Mark Twain’s position on religion hovered somewhere between skepticism and outright heresy, Lawrence Berkove and Joseph Csicsila marshal biographical details of Twain’s life alongside close readings of his work to explore the religious faith of America’s most beloved writer and humorist. They conclude not only that religion was an important factor in Twain’s life but also that the popular conception of Twain as agnostic, atheist, or apostate is simply wrong.
Heretical Fictions is the first full-length study to assess the importance of Twain’s heretical Calvinism as the foundation of his major works, bringing to light important thematic ties that connect the author’s early work to his high period and from there to his late work. Berkove and Csicsila set forth the main elements of Twain’s “countertheological” interpretation of Calvinism and analyze in detail the way it shapes five of his major books—Roughing It, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, and No. 44, The Mysterious Stranger—as well as some of his major short stories. The result is a ground-breaking and unconventional portrait of a seminal figure in American letters.
In Search of the Sacred Book studies the artistic incorporation of religious concepts such as prophecy, eternity, and the afterlife in the contemporary Latin American novel. It departs from sociopolitical readings by noting the continued relevance of religion in Latin American life and culture, despite modernity’s powerful secularizing influence. Analyzing Jorge Luis Borges’s secularized “narrative theology” in his essays and short stories, the book follows the development of the Latin American novel from the early twentieth century until today by examining the attempts of major novelists, from María Luisa Bombal, Alejo Carpentier, and Juan Rulfo, to Julio Cortázar, Gabriel García Márquez, and José Lezama Lima, to “sacralize” the novel by incorporating traits present in the sacred texts of many religions. It concludes with a view of the “desacralization” of the novel by more recent authors, from Elena Poniatowska and Fernando Vallejo to Roberto Bolaño.
James Baldwin’s relationship with black Christianity, and especially his rejection of it, exposes the anatomy of a religious heritage that has not been wrestled with sufficiently in black theological and religious studies. In James Baldwin’s God: Sex, Hope, and Crisis in Black Holiness Culture, Clarence hardy demonstrates that Baldwin is important not only for the ways he is connected to black religious culture, but also for the ways he chooses to disconnect himself from it. Despite Baldwin’s view that black religious expression harbors a sensibility that is often vengeful and that its actual content is composed of illusory promises and empty theatrics, he remains captive to its energies, rhythms, languages, and themes. Baldwin is forced, on occasion, to acknowledge that the religious fervor he saw as an adolescent was not simply an expression of repressed sexual tension but also a sign of the irrepressible vigor and dignified humanity of black life. Hardy’s reading of Baldwin’s texts, with its goal of understanding Baldwin’s attitude toward a religion that revolves around an uncaring God in the face of black suffering, provides provocative reading for scholars of religion, literature, and history.
The Author: Clarence Hardy is an assistant professor of religion at Dartmouth College. His articles have appeared in the Journal of Religion and Christianity and Crisis.
Taking King Lear as her central text, Judy Kronenfeld seriously questions the critical assumptions of much of today’s most fashionable Shakespeare scholarship. Charting a new course beyond both New Historicist and deconstructionist critics, she suggests a theory of language and interpretation that provides essential historical and linguistic contexts for the key terms and concepts of the play. Opening the play up to the implications of these contexts and this interpretive theory, she reveals much about Lear, English Reformation religious culture, and the state of contemporary criticism.
Kronenfeld’s focus expands from the text of Shakespeare’s play to a discussion of a shared Christian culture—a shared language and set of values—a common discursive field that frames the social ethics of the play. That expanded focus is used to address the multiple ways that clothing and nakedness function in the play, as well as the ways that these particular images and terms are understood in that shared context. As Kronenfeld moves beyond Lear to uncover the complex resonances of clothing and nakedness in sermons, polemical tracts, legislation, rhetoric, morality plays, and actual or alleged practices such as naked revolts by Anabaptists and the Adamians’ ritual disrobing during religious services, she demonstrates that many key terms and concepts of the period cannot be tied to a single ideology. Instead, they represent part of an intricate network of thought shared by people of seemingly opposite views, and it is within such shared cultural networks that dissent, resistance, and creativity can emerge. Warning her readers not to take the language of literary texts out of the linguistic context within which it first appeared, Kronenfeld has written a book that reinterprets the linguistic model that has been the basis for much poststructuralist criticism.
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.
Seamus Heaney & the End of Catholic Ireland takes off from the poet’s growing awareness in the new millennium of “something far more important in my mental formation than cultural nationalism or the British presence or any of that stuff—namely, my early religious education.” It then pursues an examination of the full trajectory of Heaney’s religious beliefs as represented in his poetry, prose, and interviews, with a briefer account of the interactive religious histories of the Irish and international contexts in which he lived. Thus, in the 1940s and 50s, Heaney was inducted into the narrow, punitive, but also enabling Catholicism of the era. In the early 1960s he was witness to the lively religious debates from the Anglican Bishop of Woolwich’s Honest to God to the seismic disruptions of Vatican II. When the conflict in Northern Ireland between Catholics and Protestants broke out, Heaney was forced to dig deep for an imaginative understanding of its religious roots. From the 1980s on, Heaney more and more proclaimed his own religious loss while also recognizing the institution’s residual value in an Irish society of rising prosperity, weariness with the atrocities of a partly religion-inspired IRA, and beset by the scandals of sex abuse among the clergy.
Kieran Quinlan sees Heaney as an exemplar of this period of major change in Ireland as he engaged the religious issue not only in major writers such as James Joyce, W. B. Yeats, T. S. Eliot, Wallace Stevens, Philip Larkin, and Czeslaw Miłosz, but also in a diverse array of less familiar commentators lay and clerical, creative and academic, believers and unbelievers, Irish and international. Breaking new ground by expanding the scope of Heaney’s religious preoccupations and writing in an accessible, reflective, and sometimes provocative manner, Quinlan’s study places Heaney in his universe, and that universe in turn in its wider intellectual setting.
Most contemporary critics characterize Shakespeare and his tribe of fellow playwrights and players as resolutely secular, interested in religion only as a matter of politics or as a rival source of popular entertainment. Yet as Jeffrey Knapp demonstrates in this radical new reading, a surprising number of writers throughout the English Renaissance, including Shakespeare himself, represented plays as supporting the cause of true religion.
To be sure, Renaissance playwrights rarely sermonized in their plays, which seemed preoccupied with sex, violence, and crime. During a time when acting was regarded as a kind of vice, many theater professionals used their apparent godlessness to advantage, claiming that it enabled them to save wayward souls the church could not otherwise reach. The stage, they argued, made possible an ecumenical ministry, which would help transform Reformation England into a more inclusive Christian society.
Drawing on a variety of little-known as well as celebrated plays, along with a host of other documents from the English Renaissance, Shakespeare's Tribe changes the way we think about Shakespeare and the culture that produced him.
Winner of the Best Book in Literature and Language from the Association of American Publishers' Professional/Scholarly division, the Conference on Christianity and Literature Book Award, and the Roland H. Bainton Prize for Literature from the Sixteenth Century Society and Conference.
The peculiar dilemma of the self in our era has been noted by a wide range of writers, even as they have emphasized different aspects of that dilemma, such as the self’s alienation, disorientation, inflation, or fragmentation. In The Self: Beyond the Postmodern Crisis, Paul C. Vitz and Susan M. Felch bring together scholars from the disciplines of psychology, philosophy, theology, literature, biology, and physics to address the inadequacies of modern and postmodern selves and, ultimately, to suggest what an alternative, “transmodern” account of the self might look like. The transmodern self, the editors argue, acknowledges meaning and purpose transcending the individual. In other words, it reflects an understanding of the human person that is not only intimately connected with the Judeo-Christian tradition but also rejects the twin delusions of absolute autonomy and cosmic meaninglessness that mark the present age.
Unorthodox Beauty shows how Russian poets of the early twentieth century consciously adapted Russian Orthodox culture in order to create a distinctly religious modernism. Martha M. F. Kelly contends that, beyond mere themes, these writers developed an entire poetics that drew on liturgical tradition. Specifically, Russian Orthodoxy held out the possibility of unifying spirit and matter, as well as a host of other dichotomies—subject and object, empirical and irrational, noumena and phenomena. The artist could produce a work of transformative and regenerative power. Using a range of crossdisciplinary tools, Kelly reads key works by Blok, Kuzmin, Akhmatova, and Pasternak in ways that illustrate how profoundly religious traditions and ideas shaped Russian modernist literature.
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.
Visionary of the Word brings together the latest scholarship on Herman Melville’s treatment of religion across his long career as a writer of fiction and poetry. The volume suggests the broad range of Melville’s religious concerns, including his engagement with the denominational divisions of American Christianity, his dialogue with transatlantic currents in nineteenth-century religious thought, his consideration of theological and philosophical questions related to the problem of evil and determinism versus free will, and his representation of the global contact among differing faiths and cultures. These essays constitute a capacious response to the many avenues through which Melville interacted with religious faith, doubt, and secularization throughout his career, advancing our understanding of Melville as a visionary interpreter of religious experience who remains resonant in our own religiously complex era.
In a dramatically original analysis, Jackie DiSalvo explores Blake’s reworking of Genesis and Paradise Lost in his prophetic poem The Four Zoas, creating a compelling new reading of both Milton and Blake. With informed argument and provocative insights, DiSalvo shows how Blake’s view of history prefigures the revaluation of our own myths of origin prompted by new political, psychological, and feminist perspectives.
Emilia Pardo Bazán (1851-1921), the most important female author of Spain’s nineteenth century, was a prolific writer of novels, short stories, critical articles, chronicles of modern life, and plays. Active in the age of Catholic social teaching inaugura
“What would Jesus do?” is now a rhetorical fixture, but the phrase was first popularized in the nineteenth century’s best-selling novel In His Steps. Charles Sheldon’s book is part of the vast, but mostly overlooked, history of evangelical culture that began during the Great Awakening. In this groundbreaking study, Gregory S. Jackson reveals the full impact of this tradition by exploring the development of religious media in America.
Jackson shows how the homiletic tradition in Protestant sermons provided a foundation for the development of visual and literary realism. Evangelical preachers and writers used vivid language grounded in everyday life to translate abstract concepts like hell into concrete reality—a key influence on realist authors that brought about the more secular forms of the movement we know today. This emphasis on the sensuous also paved the way for Protestantism’s embrace of new media, evident in the photographs of Jacob Riis as well as the video game Left Behind: Eternal Forces.
With its remarkable scope and timely insights into the interplay between religion, secularism, and politics, The Word and Its Witness will transform the way we understand American realism and American religion.