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Title: Faithful Readings: Religion, Hermeneutics, and the Habits of Criticism 1880-1950
Authors: Adair, Carl C
Advisors: Fuss, Diana
Kotin, Joshua
Contributors: English Department
Keywords: criticism
Subjects: English literature
Issue Date: 2019
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: Faithful Readings outlines a revisionist history of the discourse and practice of Anglo-American literary criticism between 1880 and 1950. This dissertation contests the secularization narratives that structure many received histories of the discipline, narratives in which habits of critical interpretation and reflection inevitably supersede or simply survive a credulous, pre-modern religion that had become increasingly untenable through the nineteenth century. The project presents a genealogy of this enduring concept of religion as naïve and literal belief, arguing that the concept was produced as a polemical strategy in a theological contest: it was first promoted not by disinterested secular critics but by the under-remarked nineteenth-century theological movement known as Protestant modernism as a dismissive depiction of its theological rivals. For modernists, faith was a self-consciously interpretive relation to the Christian tradition as a complex of historically and culturally mediated forms whose ultimate object was an ineffable, infinite reality: defined against propositional belief, true religion was a way of reading this tradition critically. This dissertation argues that the habits of literary criticism developed in this period were recursively entangled with the powerful and problematic hermeneutics that defined this one contemporary Protestant theology. In chapters dedicated to the reading practices of such formative figures as Matthew Arnold, John Crowe Ransom, Cleanth Brooks, and T.S. Eliot, the project elucidates the political, epistemological, and institutional pressures that led both biblical and literary critics to develop new methods to legitimize their work as specialized, modern disciplines and also to remain faithful to their cherished texts as authorities that exceeded the knowledge such specialized methods could produce. Thinking beyond the purported opposition between the critical and the religious, the project defamiliarizes tensions within enduring habits of literary criticism and invites serious reflection on the forms of discipline that may be required should critics decide to change their habits.
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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