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Literature and Spirituality in the English-Speaking World


Kathie Birat and Brigitte Zaugg

This collection of essays focuses on the role of spirituality in American literature through an examination of the multiple ways in which a deep engagement with the spiritual has shaped and affected literature in the Americas (three of the essays involve Canadian and Caribbean literature). The essays in the first section explore the intimate links between the spiritual and the social as they are manifested in forms of fiction like fantasy, science fiction, and the Christian fundamentalist fiction of Jerry B. Jenkins. The second section looks at the ways in which poetry has allowed writers as diverse as Emily Dickinson, Ellen Glasgow, Fanny Howe and Leonard Cohen to use language as a tool for exploring their complex relation to the spiritual seen in terms of radical otherness, or of exile, or of the search for common ground as human beings. The final section approaches spirituality as a defining element of the American experience, from Nathaniel Hawthorne to Toni Morrison and Paul Auster.
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Incarnation and the Spirit of the Social: Demelza Marlin


Demelza MARLINSchool of Social Science and International StudiesUniversity of New South Wales, Australia

What constitutes “spiritual literature”? Is it literature about the spirit? Is it literature about spiritual practice? Should our study of spiritual literature be confined to the properly “literary,” to the poetry of William Blake, John Donne, or Wallace Stevens? Or are the writings of mystics such as Meister Eckhart, Teresa of Avila, or John of the Cross, those detailed accounts of the disciplinary practices used in their personal encounters with the divine, the proper stuff of our scholarship? Does spirituality necessarily entail a relation to the other-worldly, or could it involve something much more this-worldly – a gracious encounter with a stranger perhaps? If so, should we be looking to the sociological, as well as theological, disciplines?

Of course, determining the scope of our investigations will depend on how we define our “object.” Such a discussion is timely because the question of the spiritual has received a great deal of scholarly attention in recent years from sociologists, philosophers, and theologians. In part, this literature has emerged in response to the once widely accepted paradigm of secularisation. Although there is no single agreed-upon theory of secularisation, throughout much of the 20th century one of the prevailing views amongst scholars of religion was that processes of modernisation (the structural differentiation of society, the urbanisation of society, the rationalisation of the economy, political and legal systems, the rise of empirical science and the emergence of industrial capitalism)...

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