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Invisible Conversations

Religion in the Literature of America

Rober Lundin, editor

Publication Year: 2009

American literature offers exceptional resources for understanding the complex role religion has played in the life of the culture and in the experience of its people. In recent decades, however, the academic study of that literature has largely treated religion, in the words of a noted scholar, as an"invisible domain."In joining the rich conversations that have enlivened American culture for centuries, Invisible Conversations seeks to bring to light the vital role that religion has played in the literature of the United States.

Published by: Baylor University Press

Series: Studies in Christianity & Literature


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Title Page

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. 1-16

Invisible Conversations adapts its title from works by two American writers, one of them being the greatest theologian this culture has produced and the other an excellent scholar whose untimely death cut short a promising career. The first of these two is Jonathan Edwards, and the passage in question is to be found in his "Apostrophe to Sarah Pierpont," the young woman who ...

Part 1. Religion and American Fiction

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1. Finding a Prose for God: Religion and American Fiction

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pp. 19-38

For the purposes of this chapter (and for some purposes beyond it), I take religion to be Christianity, the expedient—as Nietzsche called it in The Genealogy of Morals—"that paradoxical and awful expedient, through which a tortured humanity has found a temporary alleviation, that stroke of genius called Christianity—God personally immolating himself for the debt of man, ...

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2. American Literature and/as Spiritual Inquiry

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pp. 39-46

To generalize in short form about the relation between "American fiction" and "American religion" is a very tricky undertaking, so vast is the terrain and so variously might these rubrics be understood. The United States—that is, the portion of "America" Denis Donoghue discusses in Chapter 1—is both the most materialistic nation on earth, measured ...

Part 2. Religion and American Poetry

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3. Variety as Religious Experience: The Poetics of the Plain Style

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pp. 49-62

Open Emily Dickinson's poetic daybooks of 1862–63 to virtually any page and find the same scene—the light altered, a new array of objects standing at the ready—in process. A reversal of hemispheres is under way. The poet, a student of reversal's laws, is breasting the streams and updrafts of a richly currented environment, which the poem fits her to navigate. The transformations ...

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4. Keeping the Metaphors Alive: American Poetry and Transformation

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pp. 63-66

Every lover of literature will remember Emerson's warnings to readers in "The American Scholar": "one must be an inventor to read well," and "the discerning will read in his Plato or Shakespeare only that least part,—only the authentic insights of the oracle,—and all the rest he rejects, were it never so many times Plato's or Shakespeare's." But how does one determine which ...

Part 3. Literature, Religion, and the African American Experience

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5. Genres of Redemption: African Americans, the Bible, and Slavery from Lemuel Haynes to Frederick Douglass

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pp. 69-82

The very first published work from an African American was a long poem by a slave from Long Island, Jupiter Hammon. It appeared in 1760 and was entitled, "An Evening Thought: Salvation by Christ, with Penitential Cries." The very first stanza of this very first published work featured themes, vocabulary, and a fixation on the Bible that remained central to much African American ...

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6. Balm in Gilead: Memory, Mourning, and Healing in African American Autobiography

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pp. 83-100

Permit me to begin autobiographically. The sun is bright. I am standing next to a wooden fence. Beyond the fence is a cow. The cow moves slowly towards me. She is called Mr. Frank's cow because she belongs to Mr. Frank, who lives next door to us. I try to feed my bottle to Mr. Frank's cow through the rails of the fence because milk comes from cows. A black dog named Sappo ...

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7. The Race for Faith: Justice, Mercy, and the Sign of the Cross in African American Literature

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pp. 101-120

My primary title, "the Race for Faith," revisits and revises the title of black feminist literary critic Barbara Christian's 1987 essay, "The Race for Theory." In it, Christian gave voice to the misgivings of many scholars of color about the political ramifications of the escalation of theoretical discourses marshaled in the late 1980s and early 1990s—a proliferation, I might add, that forever ...

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8. Forms of Redemption

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pp. 121-130

Following the ideals of freedom released by the American Revolution and evangelical religion, slavery and racial prejudice became the dark underside of the American dream. James Madison referred to slavery as America's "original sin"; it was the obstacle to white Americans' pretensions of perfection, the barrier blocking their path to the millennium. The tragic result of this formulation, ...

Part 4. Literature, Religion, and American Public Life

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9. Hamlet without the Prince: The Role of Religion in Postwar Nonfiction

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pp. 133-148

In 1956, the sociologist C. Wright Mills published The Power Elite, a book that would go on to become one of the leading best sellers in the history of the field, still earning royalties in 2005.1 (I should know; I get a small portion of those royalties from my afterword to the edition published in 2000.) The Power Elite was very much a product of its time; its account of the way ...

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10. "The Only Permanent State": Belief and the Culture of Incredulity

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pp. 149-156

In Chapter 9, Alan Wolfe makes a strong case that many of the key figures of American intellectual life in the 1950s and 1960s—C. Wright Mills, Richard Hofstadter, David Riesman, Daniel Bell, Betty Friedan, Arthur Schlesinger, among others—either missed or misused religion in their otherwise powerful analyses of American society. By the early '60s, Bell and Hofstadter realized ...

Part 5. Theology and American Literature

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11. How the Church Became Invisible: A Christian Reading of American Literary Tradition

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pp. 159-186

It is surely a scandal that "a nation with the soul of a church," as G. K. Chesterton famously described our country, should have produced so few writers who are Christian in any substantive sense of the word.1 Emerson, Thoreau, Dickinson, Melville, Poe, Hawthorne, Twain, James, Frost, Faulkner: nearly all of our eminent writers are heterodox at best, atheist or even nihilist at ...

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12. "The Play of the Lord": On the Limits of Critique

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pp. 187-194

Stanley Hauerwas and Ralph Wood have written a trenchant critique of American culture. Their thesis is clear, vivid, and pointed. It is that Christians in America have come to equate American opportunity with the human good and "have made American opportunity virtually coterminous with Christian freedom." From this, it follows that Christianity in America has what they ...


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pp. 195-218


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pp. 219-224

E-ISBN-13: 9781602582781
E-ISBN-10: 1602582785
Print-ISBN-13: 9781602581470
Print-ISBN-10: 1602581479

Page Count: 205
Publication Year: 2009

Edition: 1
Series Title: Studies in Christianity & Literature
Series Editor Byline: Roger Lundin See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 794700826
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Invisible Conversations

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Subject Headings

  • Religion and literature -- United States -- History.
  • Christianity and literature -- United States -- History.
  • American literature -- History and criticism.
  • Religion in literature.
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