Protestant Postmodernism: Theory and Theology, Affect and Art
Spencer, Caleb D.
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Protestant Postmodernism: Theory and Theology, Affect and Art Caleb D. Spencer Department of English University of Illinois Chicago, 2011 Chicago IL Walter Benn Michaels, Chairperson Protestant Postmodernism examines the connections between protestant theology and postmodern, literature, film, and aesthetic and literary theory. It argues that many of the deep problems in postmodern theories about the work (of either art or literature) emerge because a theologically informed structure has been stripped of its theology even as the structure has been retained. Thus, for example, I show that the primacy of experience in Stanley Fish emerges from a Protestant insistence on the importance of right feeling to both right action and belief, but both flourishes and founders only insofar as right feeling becomes increasingly disconnected from right belief. Indeed the extraordinary success of Fish’s idea of the community of interpretation among Protestant theologians (especially evangelical theologians) itself suggests not only that postmodernism has a significant protestant component but that the religious revival that is sometimes called the Fourth Great Awakening has a significant postmodern component. Thus Protestant Postmodernism seeks to analyze a set of problems and not-always-successful solutions that define a range of writing, from theorists like Fish and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, to theologians like Stanley Hauerwas and the Emergent church’s Tony Jones, to memoirists like Anne Lamott, novelists like Don DeLillo, Thomas Pynchon, and even Fight Club’s Chuck Palahniuk. But where the First Great Awakening succeeded by linking experience to knowledge of doctrine—so that for Jonathan Edwards "having religious affections” mattered only insofar as they were accompanied by "actual knowledge" of “divine things"— the current religious awakening has mainly succeeded by unlinking what Edwards worked to keep together, by stressing affection instead of actual knowledge, by unlinking experience and doctrine. More fundamentally for English Studies, however, Protestant Postmodernism demonstrates just how deeply the shape of recent scholarship in English has been formed by preconceptions and arguments which only make sense in light of both the history and commitments of Protestant Christianity, even as those in the discipline move increasingly away from personal commitment to Christian faith.