Literature and Religion after 1900 (NeMLA, April 30-May 3, 2015, Toronto)

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Since the early 2000s, there has been a rise in scholarship about the religious and ethical dimensions of American postwar fiction. The literary historian Amy Hungerford investigates how intense religious experiences can coexist with pluralism by reading postwar authors such as James Baldwin, Flannery O'Connor, J.D. Salinger, Cormac McCarty, and Marilynne Robinson. She suggests that writers often turn to the nonsemantic aspects of language to depict a religious experience that is not doctrine specific. Similarly, John McClure's Partial Faiths uses the framework of post-secularism to argue for the emergence of a partial, hybrid, and weak theology in postwar fiction. Both critics articulate how American authors confront the postmodern/existential loss of faith by rethinking a new religious subjectivity that neither succumbs to religious fundamentalism nor secular reason. How do fictions imagine faith as a possibility in an increasingly pluralistic and secular world? Are recent philosophical debates about 'the return to religion' useful for literary interpretations? In the context of contemporary discussions of the post-secular, where might one look for help in developing a concept of the ethical that succumbs neither to the temptations of a mere relativism on the one hand, nor to the authoritarianism of the moralism of absolutes on the other?