Update: Social Activism in American Religious Literature (MMLA 2017)

deadline for submissions: 
April 5, 2017
full name / name of organization: 
American Religion and Literature Society
contact email: 

The American Religion and Literature Society invites proposals for our panel at the 2017 Midwest Modern Language Association convention, November 9-12, 2017 in Cincinnati, OH.

Session title: “Social Activism in American Religious Literature” 

From the colonial era to the present day, American religious literature has exhibited an abiding concern with social activism. For example, John Winthrop’s historic sermon aboard the Arbella evinced the Puritans’ emphasis on matters of social organization and the imperative of economic benevolence. As William G. McLoughlin has observed, the early republic’s Great Awakenings and periods of intense revivalism were invariably attended by campaigns for social reform. Similarly, David Paul Nord has shown that the period’s religious press—led by the American Tract Society—constituted the nation’s original mass media and was committed to reshaping the public’s social mores. Anne C. Rose has argued that Transcendentalism was primarily an anti-capitalist social movement led by ministers who also sought to reform America’s gender norms, educational system, and ecological ethics. Gregory S. Jackson has revealed that the immensely popular post-Civil War genre of homiletic fiction encouraged activism, “social engagement,” and the creation of “communities of action.” And in his landmark work, The Social Christian Novel, Robert Glenn Wright analyzed the numerous Social Gospel novels of the Progressive Era that made authentic piety contingent upon social activism. However, clerical authors have not been alone in wedding religion to social activism, as the laity has consistently made use of religious tropes to advance and legitimate their social causes. For example, Jama Lazerow and Teresa Anne Murphy have proven that religious motifs were central to the antebellum labor movement. Similarly, in his The Soul of the Wobblies, Donald E. Winters has shown that the early twentieth century literature of the I.W.W. provides us with “a valuable lesson about how religious sensibility and imagery helped mobilize the radical element of the labor movement.”

In keeping with this year’s conference theme, we seek proposals for presentations on American religious literature that promotes or engages in social activism, as well as presentations on the writing of reformers who appeal to a religious idiom to advocate for the transformation of society.

Potential topics may include but are certainly not limited to:

  • Puritan social theory
  • Religious Awakenings and social reform
  • Transcendentalism and social activism
  • Religious motifs in abolitionist literature, print culture
  • Homiletic fiction and social reform
  • Utopian literature, print culture
  • Literature of the Social Gospel
  • Christian Socialist literature, print culture
  • Religious motifs in labor literature, print culture
  • Religious motifs in suffragist literature, print culture
  • Religious motifs in the literature of the settlement movement
  • Religious motifs in African-American literature

Please submit abstracts to Andrew Ball (aball@lindenwood.edu) by April 5. Be sure to include your name, institutional affiliation, email address, and any AV requests in your abstract. The subject of the email should be “MMLA 2017.”