Spiritual Responses to American Literary Modernism--Call for Chapter Proposals

deadline for submissions: 
January 8, 2024
full name / name of organization: 
Windy Counsell Petrie / Azusa Pacific University
contact email: 

Spiritual Responses to American Literary Modernism~ Call for Chapter Proposals


At the end of 1920, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s first novel, This Side of Paradise, explored the crises of a new generation who had “grown up to find all Gods dead… all faiths in man shaken.” Scholars and theologians concur that American literature, like the culture at large, was undergoing a passage from a spiritual to a secular outlook throughout the 1920s and 30s. This transition was so dramatic and widespread that that the years between 1925-1935 have been termed “the American Religious Depression.” Indeed, many texts from these two decades present their own version of the larger cultural secularization thesis.

But while the secularization thesis is not wrong, it does not provide a complete picture of American literary history between the World Wars. This project seeks to fill this gap by examining the role of spiritual discourse in the literature of the era. It is true that many modernist texts convey a sense of cultural decay or spiritual darkness through cynicism, iconoclasm, or unintelligibility. However, there were a number of American writers who, despite the zeitgeist in which they lived and worked, still insisted on extending either hope, faith, or charity to their readers.

A number of scholars, critics, and editors called for a “spiritual readjustment” in American literature during the 1920s and 30s, and a cadre of writers were working towards this "readjustment" in their fiction or poetry. Some wrote using spiritually coded terms such as transcendence, surrender, sacrifice, or mystery. Others wrote within Judeo-Christian traditions, but were focused on righting injustices within those traditions. There were some who understood faith--although not necessarily religious faith-- as a human necessity. In this expanded sense, faith can mean belief in humanity, meaning, or commitment to progress. 

This volume will consist of readings of American texts from the 1920s and 1930s which foreground the presence or impact of the following spiritually-inflected terms in conversation with the ethos of literary modernism:







Connectedness or Community


Redemption, among other spiritually-inflected terms


This edited collection will trace the resurgence of these metaphysical concepts in the work of American writers who were not identified with formal religion as well as those who were. I am happy to receive proposals for chapters which reconsider the work of canonical authors, but would especially welcome proposals treating lesser known or neglected writers of the 20s and 30s. 

Please submit chapter proposals of 300-500 words by January 8, 2024 to Windy Petrie at wpetrie@apu.edu. Potential contributors will receive a response by January 26. Complete chapters of between 7,000- 10,000 words will be due July 15.