Special Issue "English Poetry and Christianity"

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

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (1 August 2016)

Special Issue Editor

Guest Editor
Prof. Kevin Hart

Department of Religious Studies, University of Virginia, 323 Gibson Hall, 1540 Jefferson Park Avenue, PO Box 400126, Charlottesville, VA 22904-4126, USA
Website | E-Mail
Phone: 1-434-924-1097
Interests: modern theology; mysticism; theology and poetry

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

The topic of “English poetry and Christianity” has frequently been discussed, and often simply so, in terms of “devotional poetry” and mostly with respect to settled Christian doctrines or canonical figures within the faith. However, the English language, as it is not only used within Britain, but also within North America, Australia, New Zealand, and other countries, has generated a wide range of poetry that resonates with Christianity in a variety of ways. Not all of it fits at all neatly into a category such as “religious verse.” Sometimes there are hidden Christian motifs that inform a poem, which need to be isolated and examined; sometimes there is poetry that is critical of Christian institutions, beliefs, or practices; sometimes there is poetry that is syncretist in one or more ways; and sometimes a body of poetry stretches Christian motifs and practices so that they can be perceived anew and are of fresh theological interest. This Special Issue of Religions seeks essays that explore, in any manner, the conjunction of poetry written in English and Christianity, understood broadly. Some contributors may wish to re-read and re-direct familiar impulses in the field, such as Rahner’s speculations on poetry and the Christian, von Balthasar’s project of examining “lay styles” in theology, or Tillich’s investigations into theology of culture. Others may wish to initiate new impulses. Particular interest should be given to unfamiliar choices of poets or poems (lyrical, narrative, dramatic, etc.), although it needs to be kept in mind that some canonical poets and poems by them are unfamiliar in terms of “religion and literature.” Contributors are free to approach the field of “religion and literature” in any way they wish: for example, involving to a greater or lesser extent the perspectives of theological aesthetics, phenomenology of Christianity, political theology, feminist theology, theory of spiritual exercises, theology of prayer, and liturgical theology. Contributors should not feel limited by this range of examples. However, all essays must attend to at least one poem in some detail. It is hoped that the Special Issue of Religions will extend critical discussion of “religion and literature” in the field of poetry written in English and under the purview of Christianity.

Prof. Dr. Kevin Hart
Guest Editor

Manuscript Submission Information

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Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a double-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Religions is an international peer-reviewed open access monthly journal published by MDPI.

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Keywords

  • Christianity
  • Christian theology
  • poetry written in English
  • theological aesthetics
  • political theology
  • spiritual exercises
  • phenomenology
  • narrative poetry
  • lyric poetry
  • dramatic poetry

Published Papers (11 papers)

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Editorial

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Open AccessEditorial
Introduction to Special Issue “English Poetry and Christianity”
Religions 2017, 8(9), 161; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel8090161
Received: 15 August 2017 / Revised: 18 August 2017 / Accepted: 18 August 2017 / Published: 24 August 2017
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Abstract
The hallowed scholarly area known as “Religion and Literature” has been seeking to expand itself, clarify itself, and even justify itself over the last decade or two.[...] Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue English Poetry and Christianity)

Research

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Open AccessArticle
Entanglement in Fir: Thinking Matter in Peter Larkin’s “praying // firs \\ attenuate”
Religions 2018, 9(1), 1; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel9010001
Received: 24 November 2017 / Revised: 19 December 2017 / Accepted: 19 December 2017 / Published: 21 December 2017
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Abstract
This article reads Peter Larkin’s poem “praying // firs \\ attenuate” (2014) as a way to think the divine in relation to the ecological as a mutual poetic giving. It suggests that the poem entangles the reader in a series of relational imaginings [...] Read more.
This article reads Peter Larkin’s poem “praying // firs \\ attenuate” (2014) as a way to think the divine in relation to the ecological as a mutual poetic giving. It suggests that the poem entangles the reader in a series of relational imaginings that complicates the modern commodification of the nonhuman and questions a secular fatigue with the divine. Through a Catholic metaphysics in which all things—human, nonhuman, holy—are entangled, Larkin’s religious ecology maps the way to horizons promising that which cannot yet be imagined. In an entangled, layered, rhythmic, and echoing poetic form, Larkin reveals the intimate relationship between plenitude and the attenuated, gift and scarcity. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue English Poetry and Christianity)
Open AccessArticle
Elizabeth Bishop’s Grammar School for the Aspect-Blind and A-rhetorical
Religions 2017, 8(7), 125; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel8070125
Received: 29 May 2017 / Revised: 28 June 2017 / Accepted: 28 June 2017 / Published: 11 July 2017
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Abstract
This paper uses Elizabeth Bishop’s poem, “Over 2000 Illustrations and a Complete Concordance” as an exemplar that displays the centrality of aspect perception in her work. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue English Poetry and Christianity)
Open AccessArticle
The Negative Theology of Wallace Stevens’s “Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction”
Religions 2017, 8(4), 54; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel8040054
Received: 6 February 2017 / Revised: 22 March 2017 / Accepted: 29 March 2017 / Published: 1 April 2017
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Abstract
The supreme fiction is the one that cannot be said or represented at all. Like a negative theologian; Stevens starts from a position of critical reflection that can no longer naively believe in the myths of the gods. They have become fiction rather [...] Read more.
The supreme fiction is the one that cannot be said or represented at all. Like a negative theologian; Stevens starts from a position of critical reflection that can no longer naively believe in the myths of the gods. They have become fiction rather than revelation. And yet this supreme fiction; now become nameless; nevertheless animates all his desire: “For what; except for you; do I feel love?” These myths or fictions bring him peace of mind in vivid transparence; even though he can assign them no definite reference in reality. What becomes transparent in this late age of critical reflection is that the world we see and talk about is an “invented world,” the product of our own imagination and language. This destroys our naive belief in the myths projected by our language. Our gods die. Yet precisely this realization can open us to that “heaven/That has expelled us and our images,” the heaven that we do not perceive and cannot conceive—since it is beyond the reach of language. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue English Poetry and Christianity)
Open AccessFeature PaperArticle
Elizabeth Bishop and the Poetry of Meditation
Religions 2017, 8(1), 10; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel8010010
Received: 5 July 2016 / Revised: 4 January 2017 / Accepted: 4 January 2017 / Published: 11 January 2017
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Abstract
Elizabeth Bishop’s poetry has won the admiration of a number of Christian poets and scholars. This essay argues that one reason for this is Bishop’s subtle engagement with the work of the poet-divines Gerard Manley Hopkins and, especially, George Herbert; through their influence, [...] Read more.
Elizabeth Bishop’s poetry has won the admiration of a number of Christian poets and scholars. This essay argues that one reason for this is Bishop’s subtle engagement with the work of the poet-divines Gerard Manley Hopkins and, especially, George Herbert; through their influence, she enters into the guiding western poetic tradition of the meditative lyric, which is rooted in the Platonic and Christian accounts of the human person as an image of the Triune God in virtue of the mind as a trinity of memory, understanding, and will. Bishop practiced poetry as a moral act open to a divinity it cannot account for or even name, but traces of whose significance run through the world her poems depict. By considering her work, and her poem “The Weed” in particular, in the context of Herbert, the historical studies of Louis L. Martz, and the literary theory of Yvor Winters, we see that Bishop the unbeliever cannot properly be understood as a “secular” poet, but as one who recognizes the meditative lyric as a way of arriving at understanding of a truth that transcends us. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue English Poetry and Christianity)
Open AccessFeature PaperArticle
Transatlantic Abolitionist Discourse and the Body of Christ in Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim’s Point”
Religions 2017, 8(1), 3; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel8010003
Received: 29 November 2016 / Revised: 22 December 2016 / Accepted: 23 December 2016 / Published: 27 December 2016
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Abstract
Despite renewed interest in roles played by Christianity in the poetry of Elizabeth Barrett Browning (EBB), few scholars have discussed her treatment of the body of Christ—understood as both the figure of Christ and his body of followers—in her antislavery poem, “The Runaway [...] Read more.
Despite renewed interest in roles played by Christianity in the poetry of Elizabeth Barrett Browning (EBB), few scholars have discussed her treatment of the body of Christ—understood as both the figure of Christ and his body of followers—in her antislavery poem, “The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim’s Point”. This article argues that “The Runaway Slave” reworks portrayals of the body of Christ in transatlantic abolitionist print culture. It examines the poem in its original context of publication in the 1848 issue of The Liberty Bell, the Boston-based antislavery annual. As EBB would have known from earlier issues of the annual that she received before writing her poem, its contributors—primarily though not exclusively privileged northern whites—represented themselves as messianic martyrs whose Christ-like suffering would liberate slaves. EBB’s poem challenges this self-glorifying rhetoric, in part by making a refrain out of words from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s well-known poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. This refrain indicates that the symbols used by Liberty Bell authors to portray themselves as messianic martyrs might, to those they labor to liberate, seem perversely bound up in slavery and the color binary used to justify it. “Runaway Slave” further suggests that the Liberty Bell’s messianic rhetoric, like the slave system itself, parodies Christ’s sacrifice of himself for the good of others. In both cases, wittingly or not, whites seek to turn the bodily agony of blacks to their benefit, whether ethical or economic. Stressing that such parodies of the crucifixion only perpetuate racial violence, the poem pursues what we might call a post-secular vision of Christ’s body, suggesting that people can through love act as members of Christ outside of any official church body. EBB’s poem nevertheless risks trading in the abuses it critiques—a risk, the material history of her poem indicates, of which she might have been aware. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue English Poetry and Christianity)
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Open AccessFeature PaperArticle
Poem as Endangered Being: Lacostian Soundings in Hopkins’s “Hurrahing” and Stevens’s “Blackbird”
Religions 2016, 7(12), 146; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel7120146
Received: 13 October 2016 / Revised: 15 November 2016 / Accepted: 25 November 2016 / Published: 8 December 2016
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Abstract
This essay situates the recent phenomenology of French Heideggerean-priest Jean-Yves Lacoste in Être en Danger (2011) in a wider discussion of the sacramentology of “things” to pursue the hypothesis that the being of a poem is endangered—crossed between the concrete and the abstract, [...] Read more.
This essay situates the recent phenomenology of French Heideggerean-priest Jean-Yves Lacoste in Être en Danger (2011) in a wider discussion of the sacramentology of “things” to pursue the hypothesis that the being of a poem is endangered—crossed between the concrete and the abstract, the perceived and the imagined, the object and the thing. Whereas for Heidegger danger entails a technocratic closure of Dasein’s being-toward-death, for Lacoste danger is proper to the being of life. Lacoste offers two “counter-existentials” to show, contra Heidegger, that life simply cannot be being-toward-death all the time: sabbatical experience and art experience. It is to these kinds of experience that poetry clearly belongs. To illustrate what Lacoste means by sabbatical experience, I offer a reading of G.M. Hopkins’s “Hurrahing in Harvest” (1877); to illustrate what Lacoste means by art experience, I turn to Wallace Stevens’s “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” (1917). Finally, I conclude that rather than contrast the secular poem with the religious poem it is best to think of all poetry as generically sacramental, i.e., signs and things (signum et res), with religious poetry constituting an excessive pole that is addressed to the sacrament of God (res tantum). The Christian loves the poem because the poem does not make him or her choose between God and things—in light of the Incarnation, an insupportable choice. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue English Poetry and Christianity)
Open AccessFeature PaperArticle
‘The Way of Our Streets’: Exploring the Urban Sacred in Three Australian Poems
Religions 2016, 7(12), 138; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel7120138
Received: 9 September 2016 / Revised: 4 November 2016 / Accepted: 13 November 2016 / Published: 25 November 2016
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Abstract
This article examines three contemporary Australian poems that concern themselves with matters of the sacred within the modern Australian city. Noting that Australian poetry and the sacred have often been studied in terms of the landscape, the article approaches these poems as part [...] Read more.
This article examines three contemporary Australian poems that concern themselves with matters of the sacred within the modern Australian city. Noting that Australian poetry and the sacred have often been studied in terms of the landscape, the article approaches these poems as part of an undercurrent of spiritual or sacred writing that takes up urban Australian spaces as important and resonant sites. Through readings of Kevin Hart’s ‘Night Music’ (2008), Jill Jones’s ‘Where We Live’ (2007) and Benjamin Frater’s ‘Ourizen’ (2011), the article demonstrates the various ways that contemporary Australian spirituality is poetically expressed in cities such as Brisbane, Adelaide and Sydney. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue English Poetry and Christianity)
Open AccessFeature PaperArticle
Shelley’s Unknown Eros: Post-Secular Love in Epipsychidion
Religions 2016, 7(9), 118; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel7090118
Received: 3 June 2016 / Revised: 7 August 2016 / Accepted: 5 September 2016 / Published: 14 September 2016
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Abstract
Whether Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Epipsychidion—a Platonic poem on love addressed to the patriarchally imprisoned Theresa Viviani or “Emily”—receives praise or blame has generally been determined by two focal passages: a secular sermon on free love and a planetary allegorical thinly veiling his [...] Read more.
Whether Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Epipsychidion—a Platonic poem on love addressed to the patriarchally imprisoned Theresa Viviani or “Emily”—receives praise or blame has generally been determined by two focal passages: a secular sermon on free love and a planetary allegorical thinly veiling his own imbroglio. This essay re-reads Shelley’s 1821 work drawing on two recent arguments: Stuart Curran’s Dantean call to take the poem’s Florentine narrator seriously as a character, not just as an autobiographical cypher, and Colin Jager’s outline of Shelley’s move beyond the assumptions of his professed atheism after 1816. Based on the poem’s structure and imagery, the paper argues that Epipsychidion critiques the false sense of revolutionary ascent and dualistic escape offered to Emily, who is commodified and erased by the narrator’s egocentric, “counterfeit divinization of eros” (Benedict XVI). Turning from this Radical Enlightenment Platonism, the poem momentarily realizes an embodied, hylomorphic romantic union akin to the Christian nuptial mystery of two becoming “one flesh” (Mark 10:8). This ideal, however, collapses back into solipsism when the narrator cannot understand or accept love as a “unity in duality” (Benedict XVI). This paper thus claims Epipsychidion as a post-secular inquiry into the problem of love whose philosophic limits and theological horizons are both surprising and instructive. It also reclaims Shelley as a phenomenological poet who can open up the world to Christian and non-Christian readers, one whose Platonic and Dantean formation lend him an openness to transcendence and one whose countercultural path through life makes him wary of inhumane appropriations of religion. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue English Poetry and Christianity)

Other

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Open AccessEssay
“And Thou, all-Shaking Thunder…”A Theological Notation to Lines 1–38 of King Lear, Act III, Scene II
Religions 2017, 8(5), 91; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel8050091
Received: 16 August 2016 / Revised: 15 February 2017 / Accepted: 8 May 2017 / Published: 11 May 2017
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Abstract
In the dramas of Shakespeare, the madman and the fool speak in prose; wisdom and sanity are properly poeticised. King Lear is no exception: I go some way in providing a theological notation to a crucial moment of Lear’s descent into madness, the [...] Read more.
In the dramas of Shakespeare, the madman and the fool speak in prose; wisdom and sanity are properly poeticised. King Lear is no exception: I go some way in providing a theological notation to a crucial moment of Lear’s descent into madness, the fracturing of his blank verse into prose. Is the storm on the heath a representation of the turmoil of his mind? Or is it a theophany, the manifestation of divine displeasure at human foolishness? Finding between the verse and the prose the theological tradition of Christianity will allow us to negotiate this question and to understand a little more clearly the peculiar wisdom of poetry for Christianity. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue English Poetry and Christianity)
Open AccessFeature PaperEssay
Geoffrey Hill’s “Hard-Won Affirmation”: The Mystery of the Charity of Charles Péguy
Religions 2016, 7(12), 143; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel7120143
Received: 26 July 2016 / Revised: 20 October 2016 / Accepted: 22 October 2016 / Published: 5 December 2016
Cited by 1 | PDF Full-text (209 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
Sir Geoffrey Hill, long hailed as Britain’s greatest living poet, was devoted to remembering the deceased, those forgotten in the debased din of mass culture—some of them worthy of our emulation, others edifying by their “folly” or “criminality” (Paris Review interview). Hill’s [...] Read more.
Sir Geoffrey Hill, long hailed as Britain’s greatest living poet, was devoted to remembering the deceased, those forgotten in the debased din of mass culture—some of them worthy of our emulation, others edifying by their “folly” or “criminality” (Paris Review interview). Hill’s recent death, on 30 June 2016, presents an apt time to remember his own life-work. In its act of memorial as homage, The Mystery of the Charity of Charles Péguy marks a departure for Hill: whereas his earlier work often rests in ambiguity, Péguy labors through the ambiguity—through characteristically antiphonal tones of voice, rhythms, and images—and concludes in affirmation, a note of hope, which points in the direction of some of his later work. Through all of his complexity, Péguy’s life—like Hill’s poem—conforms to a kenotic, Christological pattern and is thus worthy of our emulation. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue English Poetry and Christianity)
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