New Formalism and the Popular Religious Novel: Special Session MLA 2012 (Seattle, Jan. 5-8)

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Kathleen Howard
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New Formalism and the Popular Religious Novel: Special Session, MLA 2012

What does new formalism bring to the popular religious novel? Marjorie Levinson has suggested that new formalism, in its most sensitive and nuanced instances, offers a way of re-approaching central questions concerning the work of literature in modernity. It does this, not by rejecting history as a grounding methodological episteme, but by returning, historically, to the different ways literary form has been understood over time, as engendering experiences that are not perfectly coincidental with history itself.

The popular religious novel, approached via new formalism, raises certain questions: Is narrative reflexivity possible in works whose principle function is explicitly ideological and allegorical? Many accounts of the rise of the novel associate the genre with the ascendancy of historical and national thinking; does the religious novel complicate these narratives? What happens when religious authors adopt genres like the historical romance or realism, about which we have certain theories, firmly grounded in what Charles Taylor calls the dominant "subtraction story" of modern secularism. Could these novels expand our accounts of the ongoing and various nature of religion in a modern age? Likewise, might they broaden our understanding of the function of the literary work in modernity?

Please send 300-word abstracts by March 15 to Kathleen Howard at