Scriptural Politics: Re-Imagining the Bible in 19th C. U.S. Culture [C19: Society of 19th C. Americanists, May 20-23]

full name / name of organization: 
Phillip Maciak
contact email: 

We are soliciting papers for a panel on uses of the Bible in 19th century U.S. culture for the inaugural C19: The Society of Nineteenth-Century Americanists conference this coming May 20-23 at Penn State.

This panel investigates how direct engagements with the Bible critically shaped United States cultures in the 19th century. Beginning in the antebellum period, and helped by the popularization of Holy Land tour diaries and German higher criticism, Biblical criticism emerged as a popular genre of writing in the U.S. public sphere. Scriptural interpretations appeared with increasing frequency in such myriad venues as popular fiction, literary magazines, and newspaper columns. Publishing houses paid huge advances for extended exegeses by celebrity ministers like Henry Ward Beecher, and social issues ranging from abolition to suffrage to workers' rights were brought to the attention of thousands of readers through the appropriation and explication of scriptural passages. But rather than simply invoking Christian themes, these authors and activists produced imaginative improvisations on "the Word" in order to explain increasingly hostile sectional conflicts, the sometimes unsettling advance of technology, and the rise of an American Empire. Whether reworking the traditional Jeremiad, re-conceiving the New Testament as a historical romance, or literally illustrating the events of Revelation, 19th century Americans turned to the Bible as they re-imagined the world and their place in it.

We are seeking papers that address the dynamic relationship between 19th century American writers and the Bible. Possible topics include:

- The rise of the evangelical print industry
- Holy Land travel narratives
- Uses of scripture in the rhetoric of progressive movements (labor, suffrage, anti-lynching, etc.)
- The evolution of African-American "talking book" traditions in the 19th century
- Debates over the Bible's position on slavery
- The Bible in popular religious fiction/stage melodrama
- Religious lithography
- American responses to German higher criticism
- Transcendentalist engagements with scripture
- The interaction between Christian missionaries and Native American culture
- The dynamic between Biblical prophecy and the rhetoric of Manifest Destiny

Please send abstracts (200 words) to Phil Maciak ( by September 1, 2009. Thanks very much,

Phil Maciak, University of Pennsylvania
Benjamin Fagan, University of Virginia