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Title: Framing Fanaticism: Religion, Violence, and the Reformation Literature of Self-Annihilation
Authors: Lerner, Ross
Advisors: Smith, Nigel
Dolven, Jeff
Contributors: English Department
Keywords: Annihilation
Literary form
Political Theology
Subjects: Literature
British and Irish literature
Issue Date: 2015
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: A study of the centrality of religious fanaticism to the development of European Renaissance politics and poetics, Framing Fanaticism suggests that the religious fanatic's claim to divine agency created an epistemological and representational crisis--an incapacity to know and depict whether human or divine will drove sacred violence. This crisis resulted in two tendencies: the targeting of fanaticism as a threat and the engagement with it as an epistemological and poetic problem. This dissertation explores how fanaticism's violence became inseparable from the basic problems with which modernity commenced: skepticism (how we can know anything about the passions and actions of others and ourselves), causation (how we can know whether and how divine agency functions within the world), and power (how we can know what shapes who we are and how we behave). The introduction reconstructs how the meaning of fanaticism evolved in relation to theories of state and mind in the Renaissance, from Martin Luther to John Locke, locating in the radical Anabaptist claim that self-annihilation could turn an individual into an instrument of God's violence a primal scene for fanaticism. Chapter two turns to Edmund Spenser's representation of "organs" of divine might to show how fanaticism at once resembles and threatens The Faerie Queene's allegorical project. My third chapter traces how John Donne uses sonnets to experiment formally with the self-annihilation required for the passive performance of God's violent will that Samson and Christ inimitably exemplify. Fanaticism reveals to Donne that devotional poetic making itself may prepare for, but also necessarily postpones, the self-loss required for both martyrdom and fanatical revolt. In contrast to Donne, Thomas Hobbes reinterpreted Samson and Christ to exclude religious justifications of rebellion or self-sacrifice. My fourth chapter contends that Hobbes redefined fanaticism as a product of passionate reading and cognitive breakdown and yet struggled to distinguish Christ from a self-annihilating fanatic. The final chapter claims that John Milton transformed tragedy to address the problem of fanaticism in Samson Agonisties. Milton reveals that tragic unknowability is the major aesthetic, epistemological and ethical problem with which the witness of fanatical violence confronts modernity.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:English

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