Special Issue "Christian Literary Imagination: Seeking Transcendence in an Age of Identity"

A special issue of Religions (ISSN 2077-1444).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (1 May 2019).

Special Issue Editor

Prof. Dr. Christopher Denny
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
Department of Theology and Religious Studies, St. John's University, Queens, NY 11439, USA
Interests: theological aesthetics; religion and literature; Hans Urs von Balthasar; Christian theological tradition; eschatology

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

The past century has witnessed a flowering of aesthetic and literary methodologies taking root within the soil of Christian theology.  Beginning with the writings of Henri Bremond, Jacques Maritain, and T. S. Eliot, through the mid-century works of Nathan Scott, William Lynch, and Amos Wilder, to the theological appropriations of literature by Hans Urs von Balthasar and Paul Fiddes,  theology has reached the point at which William Franke can write in his recent book A Theology of Literature that “the older practice of reading the Bible as literature has gone through a remarkable ‘conversion’ into reading literature as theology.”

Originally fostered as a counterweight to theologies that critics deemed overly rationalistic and abstract, Christian theologies of literature have made common cause with postliberal theologies that have emphasized the irreducible particularity of Christianity.  George Lindbeck’s 1984 book The Nature of Doctrine paved the way for a generation of scholars who promoted cultural-linguistic theologies as a preferable alternative to doctrinal or experiential expressions of religious belief.  Imaginative literature escaped cognitive abstractions that threatened to domesticate the gospel within universalist categories, and so literature proved to be a valuable medium for Christians seeking to explain how human encounters with the transcendent God could overlap with unique narratives, symbols, and images.

In the twenty-first century, however, Christian theology has continued to be challenged by a subaltern critique that claims to expose the manner in which Christians throughout history have made common cause with structures of power and domination.  Pioneers such as Gustavo Gutiérrez, James Cone, and Rosemary Reuther have pointed out Christian theology’s collaboration with colonialism, neoliberalism, racism, and patriarchy, a charge amplified in recent books on postcolonialism by Kwok Pui-lan and Catherine Keller.

Are the Christian theologies of literature developed over the last century complicit with the targets of liberationist critiques?  Does theological aesthetics aid those on the margins who struggle to maintain personal and collective identities in the face of globalization and neoliberalism?  Or are Christian theologies of literature too indebted to neoplatonic and ahistorical understandings of transcendence to be of use for such Christian praxis?

This issue of Religions, “Christian Literary Imagination: Seeking Transcendence in an Age of Identity,” is open to theologians and scholars of literature who desire to take a stance on any side of these questions.  Literary, historical-critical, and theological methodologies are welcomed in the quest to broaden current scholarship in the theology of literature.  Our goal will be to bring voices from different academic specializations together to examine whether the contemplative and aesthetic roots of Christian theologies of literature can find common ground with identity politics in the twenty-first century.

Prof. Dr. Christopher Denny
Guest Editor

Manuscript Submission Information

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Keywords

  • religion and literature
  • transcendence
  • literature and identity
  • religious aesthetics
  • beauty

Published Papers (5 papers)

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Article
Redeeming the Age in Which We Live: Ignazio Silone’s The Story of a Humble Christian
Religions 2019, 10(9), 494; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10090494 - 22 Aug 2019
Viewed by 1001
Abstract
This essay explores Ignazio Silone’s seldom considered book, “The Story of a Humble Christian.” Part memoir, history, and theatre, this book tells the story of Pope Celestine V, the first, and until Benedict XVI, the only pope to resign. The book lends itself [...] Read more.
This essay explores Ignazio Silone’s seldom considered book, “The Story of a Humble Christian.” Part memoir, history, and theatre, this book tells the story of Pope Celestine V, the first, and until Benedict XVI, the only pope to resign. The book lends itself to an interpretation that applies a consideration of Silone’s recently revealed and complicated biography with a reflection on the current occupant of the papacy, Pope Francis, as a way to articulate how flawed humans can experience transcendent and transformative possibilities when they lead with humility. Full article
Article
A Negative Theological Critique of Postmodern Identity Politics
Religions 2019, 10(8), 488; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10080488 - 19 Aug 2019
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 1115
Abstract
This paper leverages the Christian tradition of negative theology (Gregory of Nyssa, Dionysius the Areopagite, Eriugena, Eckhart, Cusanus) in order to think past the impasses of identitarian politics and culture. It essentially bears on Christianity and on literary imagination by valorizing their focus [...] Read more.
This paper leverages the Christian tradition of negative theology (Gregory of Nyssa, Dionysius the Areopagite, Eriugena, Eckhart, Cusanus) in order to think past the impasses of identitarian politics and culture. It essentially bears on Christianity and on literary imagination by valorizing their focus on the mystery of who we are beyond all divisive identities and on how an orientation to negative-theological transcendence can save us from a toxic obsession with identities in a postmodern, postcolonial, post-gender society. Full article
Article
What Is Charity? William Langland’s Answers with Some Diachronic Questions
Religions 2019, 10(8), 458; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10080458 - 31 Jul 2019
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Abstract
Charity turns out to be the virtue which is both the root and the fruit of salvation in Langland’s Piers Plowman, a late fourteenth-century poem, the greatest theological poem in English. It takes time, suffering and error upon error for Wille, the central [...] Read more.
Charity turns out to be the virtue which is both the root and the fruit of salvation in Langland’s Piers Plowman, a late fourteenth-century poem, the greatest theological poem in English. It takes time, suffering and error upon error for Wille, the central protagonist in Piers Plowman, to grasp Charity. Wille is both a figure of the poet and a power of the soul, voluntas, the subject of charity. Langland’s poem offers a profound and beautiful exploration of Charity and the impediments to Charity, one in which individual and collective life is inextricably bound together. This exploration is characteristic of late medieval Christianity. As such it is also an illuminating work in helping one identify and understand what happened to this virtue in the Reformation. Only through diachronic studies which engage seriously with medieval writing and culture can we hope to develop an adequate grasp of the outcomes of the Reformation in theology, ethics and politics, and, I should add, the remakings of what we understand by “person” in these outcomes. Although this essay concentrates on one long and extremely complex medieval work, it actually belongs to a diachronic inquiry. This will only be explicit in some observations on Calvin when I consider Langland’s treatment of Christ’s crucifixion and in some concluding suggestions about the history of this virtue. Full article
Article
Seeking Christian Theology in Modern Chinese Fiction: An Exercise for Sino-Christian Theology
Religions 2019, 10(7), 422; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10070422 - 09 Jul 2019
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 1518
Abstract
The development of Christian theology in contemporary China can learn much from Chinese fiction beginning with Lu Xun and his dedication to writing for the spirit of the Chinese people. Increasingly, Chinese novelists have reflected the growth of spiritual life in the Chinese [...] Read more.
The development of Christian theology in contemporary China can learn much from Chinese fiction beginning with Lu Xun and his dedication to writing for the spirit of the Chinese people. Increasingly, Chinese novelists have reflected the growth of spiritual life in the Chinese People’s Republic in spite of the burden placed on the Christian church and religious believers. Full article

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Erratum
Erratum: Jasper, David. Seeking Christian Theology in Modern Chinese Fiction: An Exercise for Sino-Christian Theology. Religions 10 (2019): 422
Religions 2019, 10(8), 472; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel10080472 - 08 Aug 2019
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Abstract
The author wants to make the following corrections to the paper (Jasper 2019): [...] Full article
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