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Title: "I could almost believe in God" : the evolution of American theology in American literary naturalism
Author: Bembridge, Steven
ISNI:       0000 0004 6351 0892
Awarding Body: University of East Anglia
Current Institution: University of East Anglia
Date of Award: 2017
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This dissertation is about the prevalence of religious themes in American literary naturalism, which emerged in the late nineteenth century. The centrality of themes such as the indifference of nature and the struggle for survival are common to naturalism, owing to its close association with post-Enlightenment and post-Darwinian advances in science and philosophy. From a contemporary perspective, where science and religion often appear as oppositional explanations for life and its development, it becomes all too easy to assume that those authors associated with naturalism represented religion in limited ways, or with a spirit of antagonism. However, I demonstrate that religion occupies a central position in naturalism. I argue that the religious themes of Frank Norris, Stephen Crane, Jack London, Upton Sinclair, and Sinclair Lewis are reflections of nineteenth and early twentieth-century theological and cultural histories that saw American Protestantism adjusting to a post-Darwinian and post-Enlightenment context through a process of liberalisation. Whilst I do not set out to form an overarching theory of religion in naturalism, I do argue that the naturalists consistently explore the veracity of the Bible, the humanity of Christ, the eschatological promise of life after death, the socio-economic and socio-political implications of Christ’s teaching, and the concept of original sin. In conclusion, I note that both the Great Depression and post-9/11 America saw a return to naturalism as a mode of representation. I therefore also explore how twentieth- and twenty-first century naturalists continued to incorporate into their works the religious themes explored in the works of the earlier generation of naturalists. The naturalists were, and perhaps continue to be, scientists, philosophers, and non-conventional theologians. Religion and naturalism coexist in a complex relationship that ebbs and flows between orthodoxy and liberalism, but never do they deny the right for the other to exist.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available