Associate Professor, New York University
I have been writing, researching, studying, and teaching for 15 years on the relationship of Christian history and thought to 20th century literature and popular culture. Although I have written on subjects from baseball to television to modernist literature, the common element has been finding unexpected ways that religious belief and practice (Particularly Christianity) can help us to understand their aesthetic and cultural impact.
My current project—tentatively titled Christian Heresy, James Joyce, and the Modernist Imagination—will make the claim that the study of classical and medieval heresy offers new ways of understanding modern literature and literary theory.
My interest in helping form this group comes from my frustration in not finding an intellectual home and community for my work. Although, in some ways, my research is best suited to organizations like “Christianity and Literature,” the “Arts and Religion” section of the American Academy of Religion, or various groups doing “religion and literature,” my own atheistic/agnostic bent leaves me on the outside. Yet my focus on religion more than even on literature leaves me looking for spaces outside of standard literary scholar organizations. I am, by my definition, a “Christian” scholar, but I am not a Christian scholar.
My concern is that this group not just become another secular humanist organization, but instead a group interested in taking religion seriously, but not from an assumed confessional position.
It is tricky, as I am interested in heresy and blasphemy, but I begin almost every presentation I make these days by explaining that heresy is not blasphemy, and that heretics are fervent believers. What the concept of heresy gives me, as a literary critic, are alternate ways of questioning assumptions about the relationship of religion to literary texts.