The "Modern Mary": The Virgin Mary in Cross-Cultural Contemporary Literature

deadline for submissions: 
September 30, 2016
full name / name of organization: 
Northeast Modern Language Association (NeMLA)
contact email: 

Seeking proposals for a panel on "The 'Modern Mary'" at the NeMLA Annual Convention in Baltimore, Maryland, March 23-26, 2017.

As Maureen Orth recently observed in “How the Virgin Mary Became the World’s Most Powerful Woman,” “Mary is everywhere: Marigolds are named for her. Hail Mary passes save football games. The image in Mexico of Our Lady of Guadalupe is one of the most reproduced female likenesses ever. Mary draws millions each year to shrines [….] She inspired the creation of many great works of art and architecture […], as well as poetry, liturgy, and music.” Orth further points out that “Muslims as well as Christians consider her to be holy above all women.” Likewise, Marina Warner acknowledges in the preface to the new edition of Alone of All Her Sex: The Myth and the Cult of the Virgin Mary that her original conclusion (in 1976), which predicted that the “cult of Mary would become […] a myth which no longer inspires belief,” has proven to be incorrect. The “cult of Mary” not only continues today, but has, in many ways, intensified. In addition, Warner argues that Mary’s character has undergone a “modern metamorphosis”: she is “evolving […] into a countercultural peace symbol, closer to the voodoo goddess Erzulie or the candomble figure of Iemanja than a traditional Madonna. It isn’t that her myth has died—far from it; but it has changed with regard to its historic meanings, alliances, and effects.”

A great deal has been written about the “traditional Madonna” and Mary’s presence in medieval and early modern literature, but very little has been written about the “modern Mary” in literature—the Mary that appears in contemporary novels, stories, and poems across cultures. This NEMLA panel aims to address that absence by exploring the ways in which contemporary literature, from a variety of national, ethnic, and religious traditions, invokes the figure of Mary.

Abstracts will only be accepted online through NeMLA's website ( If you do not have a NeMLA user account, you will need to You will need to create one first (