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New Scholarship on Religion and Literature, 2000-2012 (November 2013): Introductions and Theory

By Miriam Elizabeth Burstein

Introductions and Theory

General introductory and theoretical overviews of the field span a variety of approaches from apologetic to comparative.  Most of them engage with contemporary work in theology (particularly narrative theology), as one might expect, but a number also seek for fruitful intersections with psychoanalysis, historicism, gender theory, and, not surprisingly, secular and postsecular theory.  Thus, Mark Knight’s An Introduction to Religion and Literature uses a series of exemplary close readings to model how critics can appropriate insights from contemporary theology (especially narrative theology) and theologians insights from literary theory, drawing on theologians ranging from the Protestant to the Neo-Orthodox, as well as Midrashic commentators; the text criticizes the blind spots inherent in both professedly secularist and fundamentalist approaches.

Other introductions are more explicitly apologetic.  Luke Fetterer’s Towards a Christian Literary Theory (with “Christian” defined as those beliefs shared by all denominations) analyzes how such theoretical approaches as Freudianism attempt to sequester, subvert, or otherwise undermine religious belief, then demonstrates that the implications of such theories are already present in Christian theology.  By contrast, David Lyle Jeffrey and Gregory Maillet’s Christianity and Literature: Philosophical Foundations and Critical Practice, part of the “Christian Worldview Integration Series,” actively opposes postmodernist and other contemporary theoretical approaches with an argument for what the authors (evangelical and Catholic) call “theological aesthetics,” a theory of truth and of value ultimately resting on revelation.

For less apologetic but more specialized approaches, focusing on theology as an intervention in current theoretical practice, see the edited volumes of Cassandra Falke, Intersections in Christianity and Critical Theory, which offers not a unified theory of the subject, but rather twelve essays on the many forms such theoretical interventions may take, and Heather Walton, Literature and Theology: New Interdisciplinary Spaces, which is as interested in the concept of interdisciplinarity (or “intradisciplinarity,” as one contributor describes it) as it is in practical applications.