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  • Introduction to "Literature of / about the Christian Right"
  • Christopher Douglas (bio)

In the 2016 election, when 81 percent of white evangelicals voted for the serial adulterer and confidence man Donald Trump, the particularly political register of the U.S. Christian Right was confirmed. The election of the born-again Christian George W. Bush in 2000 was a striking enough clarion call that something radically unor post-secular was occurring in the U.S. religious landscape, but this was something new altogether. Journalists, pundits, and commentators—like many in the population at large—struggled to make sense of what seemed to casual observers like an excessive incongruity between self-professed value voters and the new bullshitter-in-chief who boasted of sexual assault and lied routinely about things large and small.1

Granted, we had learned, by 2016, that the secularization thesis with which many of us had narrativized the twentieth century was no adequate picture of what was happening in American (and often non-American) religious life. But in the field of literary studies, what we might call the new paradigm of the postsecular seemed just as ill-suited to grappling with this new phenomenon. The postsecular had imagined the return in literature, "after" the secular regime, of "weak religiosity" heralded by faint religious yearnings, amorphous, non-doctrinal spiritualties, and an aversion to institutions and traditional power. A parallel postsecular literary criticism had critiqued the way often invisible secular assumptions had undergirded literary studies itself, assuring that religious belief had waned in modernity. Meanwhile, the forty-fifth President was being hailed as a biblical type of Cyrus the Great, the pagan Persian emperor who, "anointed" by God (Isa 45.1), had defeated the Babylonian empire in 538 bce, releasing God's people from captivity (back when God's people were the Jews) and allowing them to return to Judea to rebuild Jerusalem and the Temple.2 This politically muscular religiosity was strongly doctrinal, and it was attached to an array of powerful conservative political, civic, church, and media institutions. There was a vast gulf between what the paradigm of the postsecular [End Page 1] thought religiously—interested literature was doing, and how religion was actually working on the ground to bring into being the imagined Christian nation.

The Christian Right was another, different kind of postsecularism, "postsecularism's Other."3 It likewise returned "after" the secular regime—but it is embarrassing to pay attention to, and contemporary literature and religion studies generally ignore it. We imagine that its political valence discounts it as authentic, genuine, religious expression. Its biblical literalism and theological certainty strike us as unsophisticated and retrograde. Its inability—or unwillingness—to detach itself from a growing white nationalism is frightful. We prefer the kind of mystery, wonder, thoughtfulness, and "wisdom of humility" evinced by one of the greatest Christian writers at the turn of the twenty-first century, Marilynne Robinson. With its commitment to power in and control over this world—not to mention its xenophobia, white nationalism, defense of patriarchy, and anti-LGBTQ+ animus—the Christian Right seems too this-worldly and political. Certainly, popular evangelical writings seem less sophisticated and less artful than serious literary writing such as Robinson's. Contemporary religion and literature studies prefer the postsecular for its gestures toward the divine—not certainty about God. It admires the postsecular's hints of the other world—not a commitment to power in this one. And it desires the postsecular idealization of ad-hoc, multi-cultural / -gender / -faith networked questing subjects—not the hierarchical reaffirmation of white cis-heterosexual patriarchy.

This special issue seeks to open a broader conversation in contemporary literature and religion studies about the Christian Right and its place in our literature. John McClure helped establish the conversation about the postsecular in literature in Partial Faiths: Postsecular Fiction in the Age of Pynchon and Morrison (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2007), and the conversation was notably advanced by Amy Hungerford in Postmodern Belief: American Literature and Religion Since 1960 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010), where she outlined the conditions of "postmodern belief" that seemed to align with McClure's vision. Inspired by sociologist Will Herberg's 1955 classic Protestant-Catholic-Jew...


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