Faith in Modern Literature: Supreme Fictions and Gods that Failed
Reports on the death of God may or may not be exaggerated, but issues of faith and doubt, both religious and secular, continue to figure prominently in 20th-century literature, from Samuel Beckett’s God-forsaken seekers to Graham Greene’s whisky priests; from Charles Williams’ apocalyptic London to Flannery O’Connor’s “Christ-Haunted south.” In this course, we look at works of fiction, poetry and drama that addresses either Judeo-Christian belief or the secular creeds that have been proposed as replacements for conventional religion. We read brief selections from theologians and philosophers (Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Buber, Karl Jaspers, Jacques Maritain), but our principle focus in on literary authors such as (in addition to those mentioned above) T.S. Eliot, Wallace Stevens, C.S. Lewis, Albert Camus, Arthur Koestler, Paul Celan, Isaac Bashevis Singer, and Cynthia Ozick. We consider not only the religious (or anti-religious) views expressed in the work, but also how the literary form of each text contributes to the meaning. Our discussion of style extends to student work; several essays are assigned over the course of the semester, and we look at effective examples of student writing.