The Sacred in Literature

deadline for submissions: 
September 30, 2019
full name / name of organization: 
New England Modern Language Association
contact email: 



     In today’s rapidly changing global world, there has been an increase in secularism concomitant with a resurgence of religion. Saba Mahmood argues in Religious Difference in a Secular Age that political  secularism has polarized  the religious divide, at least in the countries she has studied.  One form of this resurgence is a return to sacred texts: the Bible and the Qur’an, among others.  References to these sacred texts, as well as to other religious objects, are made  in literature both to uncover their effect in society, and to justify the writer’s agenda.  As an example of the former, in Lipstick Jihad, the Azedah Moaveni describes her view  that in Iran the pressure to conform to the State’s interpretation of Islam is pushing authentic spiritual seekers to find succor in India.

     One could argue that secular literature that incorporates references from sacred texts constitutes a hybrid space. This panel will explore such a space: specifically, references to pious figures, religious practices or sacred objects.  How do these religious references, imbricated into literary texts, affect the meaning?  To what extent is the sacred used for a sacred purpose? Or in other words, what  are the intent and the effect of these intertextual references?  



      Some questions which may be explored, include, but are not limited to the following:

  • the problematic of temporally decontextualizing sacred texts.
  • references to piety in  memoirs
  • literary descriptions of prayer, both individual and communal
  • descriptions of clergy as pious or hypocritical
  • the analysis of biblical or qu’ranic metaphors in literary texts
  • a study of descriptions of religious violence in literary texts
  • an analysis of spiritual autobiography



Our panel will examine the encounter of secular literature with  sacred references and texts.    We will look at the  interlacing of religious codes with  secular ones.   How do the authors describe alienation from the sacred or the embracing of its manifestation? What are the sites of tension between the sacred and the secular and how are they expressed or resolved?

     Please submit a 300 word  abstract and brief bio by September 30 through  the NeMLA URL:  Please direct any questions to the panel organizer, Joan Listernick, at .