Deconstructing the Gods: Towards a Post-Religious Criticism

full name / name of organization: 
Brooklyn College English Department

Call for Proposals:
"Deconstructing the Gods: Towards a Post-Religious Criticism"
Third Annual Brooklyn College Graduate English Conference
April 10, 2009, Brooklyn College, Brooklyn, NY

If one were asked to provide a single explanation for the growth of English studies in the later nineteenth century, one could do worse than reply, 'the failure of religion.' -- Terry Eagleton

Literature would begin wherever one no longer knows who writes and who signs the narrative of the call - and of the "Here I Am"- between the absolute Father and Son. -- Derrida

The concept of "God," in our increasingly pluralist postmodern environment, is protean and subject to vastly divergent individual definitions. Yet gods are often regarded as the most objective and stable nuclei of religious communities. Whereas gods may be imagined as idealized selves, and may epitomize correct morality for a believer, they may simultaneously be said to function as political and rhetorical devices--dangerously slippery proxies of both transcendent subjectivity and faith-based violence.

One of the more liberating tasks of literary criticism, especially since the latter half of the 20th century, has been its attempt to uncover traces of dominant structures that lie dormant in literary texts. Marxist criticism has brought an examination of economic structures in a text. Feminist criticism has brought a critique of patriarchal forces. Postcolonial thought has unfolded the effects of colonialism and imperialism. Where, one might ask, is the criticism of religious power, and how might it be foregrounded? Unlike other modes of thought, religious discourse is uniquely protected by a veneer of the sacred, which allows it to be self-censoring or, as Derrida said, auto-immunizing. Literary criticism operates as a sort of secular exegesis; it is perhaps for this reason, and because of the pseudo-religious assumptions of criticism, that religion is often elided from critical inquiry. What might a post-religious criticism reveal about the religious forces at work within texts and canons? Within criticism itself?

From the feudal warrior culture of Beowulf to the heretical Catholicisms of Ulysses, religious forces are active, whether as narrative fulcra or dynamic backdrops. Literary works such as The Song of Roland depict warring factions of religionists, each with a god-concept at the helm of their ideological battleship. Dissecting these gods with the tools of cultural criticism has the potential to bring new insight, and to uncover power structures previously unnoticed. How might we discover, for instance, textual evidence for ways in which religions have been used as a means of solidifying tribal identity, and for ways in which religions have been the ideological forces behind genocide? This conference seeks to explore the significance of the "post-religious" in all of its senses, both as an object of literary representation and as a condition of literary study.

Sample topics might include, but are by no means limited to:
The Divine Author(ity)
Homoeroticism in Early Modern Devotional Literature
Eden, Exile, and the Fortunate Fall
Divine Revelation and the Muse
Via Negativa: What God Isn't
God, Ego, and the God-Self
The Sacred and the Taboo: Religion as a Self-Censoring Discourse
Atheist Literature of the 19th century
Ghosts: Spiritualism in the 19th Century
The Poetics of Transcendent Experience
The Apostate in Islamic Literature
Confessional Literature and the Catholic Confessional
Holy Texts and the Language of Violence
Alterity: Demonization of the "Other" Religion
Liberation Theologies
Blasphemous Humor as Social Satire
Madness and Heresy
The Christian Rhetoric of Imperialism

Abstracts of no more than 300 words are due by January 31st, 2009. Send them in the body of your email to