Spiritual Identities: Literature and the Post-Secular Imagination

By Hill, Susan E. | Christianity and Literature, Summer 2012 | Go to article overview

Spiritual Identities: Literature and the Post-Secular Imagination


Hill, Susan E., Christianity and Literature


Spiritual Identities: Literature and the Post-Secular Imagination. Edited by Jo Carruthers and Andrew Tate. Bern, Switzerland: Peter Lang, 2010. Vol. 17 of Cultural Interactions: Studies in the Relationship Between the Arts. ISBN 978-03911-925-7. Pp. vi + 231. $58.95.

The Peter Lang series, Cultural Interactions: Studies in the Relationship Between the Arts, of which this volume is a part, directs its attention to forging new relationships between the arts, expanding their interdisciplinary possibilities. Spiritual Identities serves this purpose well, emphasizing fresh perspectives on the role of "the religious in contemporary literary studies" (1).

Those who dispute nineteenth-century claims that religion was no more than a relic of unscientific thinking will be heartened by the articles in this volume, which start from the perspective, reminiscent of Rudolf Otto, Mircea Eliade, and others, that "the religious is increasingly revealed as an irreducible category of thought, feeling, experience and imagination which can never be explained away and with which we will always have to reckon" (1). In recognizing the importance of contemporary religious yearnings, the editors maintain that the '"cracks' into which religious impulses flow in a world without religion are nothing other than the space of literature itself: literature is neither an alternative to, nor a substitute

for religion, but a way in which religious experience can happen" (5). All of the essays in the volume, then, invite readers to rethink and reimagine the persistence of religious ideas, questions, and influences on the lives and works of a wide variety of authors and literary works.

The essays in this volume are wide-ranging, some more illuminating than others. The essays in the volume which seem least successful at highlighting a contemporary return to the recognition of religious impulses in art are those focused on eighteenth- and nineteenth-century authors and their works. Essays by Nancy Jiwon Cho and Emma Mason that investigate the work of lesser-known writers, like eighteenth-century devotional writer Susanna Harrison, and poets Anne Barbauld and Felicia Hemans, do helpfully underscore the ways that these women negotiated their identities as writers by using, in various ways, their relationships with and commitments to both traditional and dissenting forms of Christianity. But Brian Ingram's essay on George Eliot's early Evangelicalism and Simon Marsdon's piece on the spiritualized landscape of Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights cover already analyzed territory. And although Andy Mousley's essay on spiritual humanisms focuses on more recent writers, in using the work of Martin Luther King to create a dialogue between Walter Benjamin and Julia Kristeva, the essay takes up so many aspects of these writers' work that it fails to bring its point home clearly.

The essays that have more promise for thinking about the religious in contemporary literary studies are those that specifically engage newer works of literature, underscoring the ways in which religious impulses cut across, undermine, and reformulate traditional, dichotomous ways of thinking. …

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