Faith in fiction : postsecular critique and the global novel

Neuman, Justin, Department of English, University of Virginia
Wicke, Jennifer, Department of English, University of Virginia
Levenson, Michael, Department of English, University of Virginia

The past quarter century has witnessed a global resurgence of religion in both public and private life, a trend that has heightened antagonisms between major world religions and increased the polarization between secular and religious ideologies. While scholars in many fields have undertaken interventions in these areas, entrenched ideas about the novel's status as a product and expression of secular culture have reinforced trends in the study of contemporary Anglophone literature that occlude religiosity as they celebrate hybridity and diaspora. Literary criticism thus finds itself out of joint with global culture and limited in its contribution to critical debates, even as novelists like J. M. Coetzee, Orhan Pamuk, Anne Michaels, Ian McEwan, Haruki Murakami, Salman Rushdie, and others renegotiate "faith" in fiction on multiple levels: as a theme of renewed centrality within narratives of global culture, as a rhetorical and stylistic resource, and in terms of what it means to believe in-to have faith in-fiction. Offering a revisionary understanding of contemporary fiction that questions the uniformly secular commitments of the novel as a genre, my dissertation delineates heretofore unexplored affinities between experimental fiction and the domains of religiosity.

"Faith in Fiction: Postsecular Critique and the Global Novel" attends to the ways' novels mediate between and within secular and religious sensibilities and argues that this mediation is a formative characteristic of literature's global horizons. My argument advances along two trajectories: one is social, addressing the individual, the collective, and the global; the other is thematic, engaging fidelity and commitment, suffering and death, sexuality and the body, time and memory. Each chapter analyzes a specific textual articulation of the sacred/secular nexus: within the fragile "we" of religious cosmopolitanism in Rushdie's novels, at the level of individual, corporeal subjectivity in Coetzee's explorations of radical asceticism and erotic charity, and in messianic encounters with the past that structure temporality in Michaels, Murakami, and Pamuk. I frame these readings within comparative genealogies of spiritual engagement to claim the literary as an essential site of ethical and spiritual thought.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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