The Apparent Irrelevance of Literary Studies

The Apparent Irrelevance of Literary Studies: Can Theocentric Criticism and Practice Provide Solutions?1

 by David S. Hogsette, PhD

Intégrité: A Faith and Learning Journal 4.1 (Spring 2005): 40-50


Introduction: Lamenting the Apparent Irrelevance of Literary Studies

In April 2003, the editors of Critical Inquiry invited a group of prominent literary scholars to the University of Chicago to examine the current state of literary theory and to speculate upon its future.  These theorists pondered a crucial question: What does literary theory have to offer a world in conflict?  Can theory liberate people or offer solutions to the deepest cries of their hearts, or is it just empty intellectualism, a vacuous enterprise or, at best, sound and fury signifying nothing?  After a few hours of discussion and debate by such figures as Stanley Fish, Fredric Jameson, Homi Bhabha, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Sander L. Gilman, Catherine R. Stimpson, and Mary Poovey, the prevailing conclusion was that, sadly, literary theory seems quite incapable of contributing anything substantial to the harsh realities of human experience.  The New York Times reports Sander L. Gilman as claiming, “‘I think one must be careful in assuming that intellectuals have some kind of insight.  In fact, if the track record of intellectuals is any indication, not only have intellectuals been wrong almost all of the time, but they have been wrong in corrosive and destructive ways’” (Eakin).  Fish concurred, stating, “‘I wish to deny the effectiveness of intellectual work.  And especially, I always wish to counsel people against the decision to go into the academy because they hope to be effective beyond it’” (Eakin).  According to these scholars and theorists, the field of literary studies is incurably irrelevant, offering no hope for intellectual, spiritual, personal, or cultural transformation.2  Terry Eagleton, in his book After Theory (2003), arrives at much the same conclusion, claiming that theorists have not addressed the larger issues of morality, metaphysics, love, and religion.  He argues that Marxist theories of politics, economics, and literary production and consumption still provide the best roadmap for a moral society and for ethical literary criticism.  But what kind of roadmap could this be, especially if it is drawn in the absence of God, as it must in any orthodox Marxist perspective?3  Without God, the absolute Moral Lawgiver, the best we can hope for is a relativistic moral map that can be radically different from someone else’s moral map.  The obvious result is total confusion and a bunch of lost people.

For the most part, Eagleton is right.  Contemporary high literary theory has not adequately dealt with the pressing personal and social issues of morality and metaphysics.  But atheistic Marxism, secular humanism, and relativistic postmodernism do not provide adequate answers to this crisis.  Such perspectives only contribute to criticism’s apparent irrelevance.  So what are Christian literary teachers and scholars to do?  Must we acquiesce to the conclusions of these theoretical giants, throw up our hands in disinterested disgust, and proclaim the death of theory and the irrelevance of scholarship and teaching?  Or, do we stand on the backs of these giants and claim the eternal relevance of serving God and working unto the Lord?  The discipline to which God has called us surely cannot be irrelevant.  Surely, literary studies have a value that extends beyond the academy, beyond producing self-interested papers and publications and merely helping students satisfy certain curricular requirements.  Surely, literature professors are more than just cogs in a larger curricular machine cranking out skilled workers.  If God is indeed the Great Creator, the Grand Designer of all things, the Great I AM, then certainly the minds He has given us, the positions in the university He has granted us, and the historical time period in which He has placed us all have a larger purpose, all serve an important function in His divine plan for human existence.

It is indeed my deeply held and rationally sustained belief that God is who He claims to be in Scripture, and because of this truth, I am confident that Christian literary scholars and teachers have historically important and eternally relevant roles to play in His grand design.  I am convinced, unlike some of our postmodernist colleagues, that literary studies are more than just a historically specific cultural construction that seems to have lost its relevance or that is desperately seeking an evolutionary re-creation to avoid the fate of all irrelevant things—extinction.  In fact, literary studies can be powerfully and eternally relevant when they are conducted from a theocentric perspective.  What would it mean if every Christian literary scholar and teacher viewed his or her work as unto the Lord?  What would it mean for the Kingdom of God if we all were to approach our scholarship, writing, teaching, service, and advising as if we were continually engaging in a Christian apologetic and exhibiting the love of Christ?  I will discuss some of my recent research projects and some of my classroom practices to illustrate a few specific examples of how we might conduct theocentric literary studies.  I hope these ideas can initiate further thinking, discussion, and specific practice in each of our scholarly and personal lives so that we might be emboldened to make a difference for Christ in our work and lives as academics.

A Crisis Nearly Averted: Considering the Company We Keep

In many ways, this postmodern literary crisis is one of our own making.  Reflecting upon the apparent irrelevance of literary studies, I am reminded of William Wordsworth’s beautiful poem “Lines Written in Early Spring” (1798):

To her fair works did Nature link

The human soul that through me ran;

And much it grieved my heart to think

What man has made of man.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

If this belief from heaven be sent,

If such be Nature’s holy plan,

Have I not reason to lament

What man has made of man?  (5-8; 21-24)

Of course, from an historical perspective, Wordsworth is speaking of the spiritual relationship among humanity, creation, and the Creator in the late eighteenth century, and he laments the fracturing of these sacred relationships due to humanity’s fallen condition, prideful self-interestedness, increasing industrialization, and seemingly endless national aggression.  But what if we replace the word “man” here with “critic,” “literary theorist,” or “literature professor,” and replace “Nature” with “God”?  Would we not have reason thus to lament what professional academics have done to the discipline?  In Christ, are not our souls and minds eternally linked to the Father who imbues all that we are and do with everlasting significance?  If such be God’s holy plan, then in some ways we have made a mess of things.  (Indeed, there is nothing new under the sun.)

This recent crisis in literary studies is not an overdetermined consequence of social history, and it did not necessarily have to occur.  As I thought about the seemingly vacuous state of contemporary literary theory and practice, and as I considered the ironies of a Marxist informing us that our work has not focused enough upon ethics, morality, religion, and spirituality, I immediately recalled a book that should have received much more critical and pedagogical attention than it did, but that remained in the deepest recesses of my mind, waiting to emerge into renewed significance.  This book is Wayne C. Booth’s The Company We Keep: An Ethics of Fiction (1988).  Writing in the 1980s, Booth noted that such politically oriented criticism as feminism, Marxism, post-colonialism, and African-American studies asked certain questions about literature that traditional critics thought irrelevant.  These socio-political critical perspectives raised moral, ethical, and political issues before it was ever fashionable to do so, and they produced a large body of work that challenged the academic status quo and, in some cases, shamed scholars and students into considering some really difficult historical realities and human conditions (Booth 6-7).  Booth identified this moment in critical history as an opportunity to legitimize ethical criticism, and he sought to develop a whole program that would lend intellectual rigor and effectual pragmatism to a mode of criticism that had been traditionally dismissed as naïve or anti-intellectual.  He simply asked, what is the company we keep through our reading, how does this company influence us as people, and how do we imaginatively and critically interact with this company?

These direct critical questions should have opened literary criticism to the truly meaningful arena of ethical analysis, encouraging readers, critics, and scholars to engage literary texts on deeper philosophical levels and to explore the legitimate and complex metaphysical issues of ethics, morality, spirituality, emotions, intellect, mind, volition, autonomy, and truth.  Unfortunately, as far as I can tell and as Eagleton’s assessment suggests, ethically oriented criticism never really caught on.  Much contemporary and fashionable criticism treats the literary text as a mere linguistic artifact with no true or stable substance, nothing more than a temporal cultural construct that can be played with in ways that suit the critic’s own subjective critical desires.  Criticism has become more about the historically and/or culturally situated critic than the complexities of the literature and the metaphysical issues it engenders.  Many postmodernist critics uncritically dismiss notions of ethics, morality, and truth as nothing more than cultural constructs with, at best, historically relative value.  Ultimately, for such critics, there is nothing eternal, absolute, or universal behind morality and truth, and such inquiry is dismissed as hopelessly naïve.  This arrogant condescension, however, belies an underlying fear of what is undeniable, and these critics react to notions of absolute morality or truth in the way Dracula reacts to a crucifix—with ghastly hisses and breathless protest.  Such postmodern critics seem to find solace in confusion, safety in ambivalence, protection in multiplicity, and justification in relativism.  After all, in the postmodern critical worldview, anything goes, all things are equally valid and significant, and, best of all, no one is accountable to anyone else.  No one is right, no one is wrong, value is ultimately determined by the individual, and we can rejoice in the multiplicity and multiplication of perspectives, each free from evaluation.  Such is the triumph of contemporary postmodern critical perspectives.

And such is its critical doom, for, ironically, this same perspective has rendered itself intellectually shallow and spiritually bankrupt.  Those literary scholars at the University of Chicago conference on the efficacy of criticism came to the only logical conclusion regarding the state of contemporary literary studies and criticism—it is essentially irrelevant.  Postmodernism, with its unflinching insistence on moral relativism, has backed itself into a corner and has argued itself into imbecility.  This critical perspective is ultimately self-defeating.  In its insistence that there is no absolute truth, it repeatedly makes absolute truth claims.  When it maintains that there is no right interpretation or that no one interpretation is better than any other, it assumes that its own claim is essentially right, that its own interpretation of this reality is indeed correct, and that any view that disagrees with this position is necessarily wrong.  When it claims that concepts, theories, and ideas are not intrinsically right or wrong and that there is no logical reason why any one idea should be followed or believed over any other idea due to its culturally or historically constructed nature, it seems to be ignoring the culturally and historically constructed nature of this very idea.  If we should be wary of totalizing concepts because they are, in the end, historically contingent, then the same is true of this very claim, and we should be wary of its totalizing nature.  Moral relativism makes an awful lot of “ought” statements in order to say that we ought not hold ourselves to moral statements.  Ironically, moral relativism holds quite a bit of moral indignation against morality, and its very argument against ethical criticism is an ethical position.

It is no wonder so many students leave the university unable to reason morally, and it is no surprise that the council of literary theorists at the University of Chicago concluded that literary studies are irrelevant.4  The political and moral perspectives of postmodernism were destined to this fate because postmodern ethics is rooted in secularism which dooms any ethical claim to temporality and idiosyncratic irrelevance.  Secular ethics is no real ethics at all, for at best it is merely historically, culturally, or personally relevant.  A secular ethical criticism is by definition subject to the self-defeating problems of relativism.  Moreover, there is no compelling reason to choose one secular ethical system over another, and, like a lunch buffet, the critic picks and chooses what he or she wants based upon fleeting taste or upon what is culturally fashionable, politically correct, or morally expedient at that time.  Such criticism is a smorgasbord of “isms,” in which one “ism” has no greater claim to truth, supremacy, correctness, or relevance than any other “ism.”  The logical ramification is that the various postmodern critical schools have idiosyncratically bred themselves into irrelevance.  This crisis is their own logical undoing.

Avoiding the Ash Heap of Academic History: Theocentric Criticism

I firmly believe there is hope for literary studies in a theocentric criticism, which is located within the absolute and is thus eternally relevant, not subject to mood, fashion, taste, history, or idiosyncrasy.  If we oppose theocentric criticism and squelch the theological imagination, then our discipline is doomed to be swept onto the ash heap of academic history.  I am convinced that if we sit back and allow the tide of secularism to overtake us, then we must accept our fate.  I agree with Gavin D’Costa who notes that the secularization of the academy has introduced an insidious secular imagination that oppresses the theological imagination: “The tyranny is most insidious, for it exists unseen, claiming to be the way things are, claiming the authority of tradition and learning, claiming an unchallenged form” (177-78).  Secular thought is the most strident opponent to theocentric views and criticism.  Sadly, many students are required to check their faith in God at the supposed gate of Reason, and a professor who bases knowledge and academic inquiry in a faith in God generally—Christianity specifically—is usually dismissed as uncritical, unscholarly, or at worst as a self-righteous bigot intent upon judging those who disagree.  Many Christian professors in secular colleges have witnessed secular stridency firsthand, along with its self-important smugness and indignant wrath.  Many of these Christian professors have conceded to secularism’s coup d’état, acknowledging its pervasive influence and opting not to speak.  Thus, they have polarized their lives into the public secular self and the private Christian self.  However, we must remember that Jesus Christ calls His believers to be lamps unto the dark and blind world, and academia, at times, is one of the darkest worlds I know.  Theocentric criticism offers a practical way to break the tyrannical bonds of the secular imagination, to teach and conduct literary research as unto the Lord, and thus to sprinkle the bland and distasteful secular palate with the enriching and preserving salt of God’s truth.

The real challenge is to engage this secular stridency directly, to question secularism’s presuppositions, to interrogate its methods, to critically analyze its conclusions, and to do all this without being dismissed as a kook or patronized as an uncritical simpleton.  Moreover, we cannot necessarily deploy all the language of Christian theology, at least not directly at first.  I have found that an effective way to engage the secular academy is to apply a Christian apologetic from within, starting with secularism’s own linguistic, critical, and theoretical perspectives, just as Paul did when he engaged the Greeks or debated the Jews.  As we interact with the secular imagination from the perspective of the eternal theological imagination, we can critically evaluate the secular views, offer well-argued critiques, and present carefully reasoned theocentric and biblical alternatives.

Theocentric Literary Research

There are many ways to conduct theocentric literary research.  The key is to consider prayerfully what interests God has given us and then ask Him for guidance on how to research that area unto His purposes and glory.  Let me share just two recent projects that may serve as examples of how we can work within the context of the secular literary field in such a way that engages the secular systems of thought and brings the light of God’s truth into the dark recesses of the secular imagination.

Mary Shelley and the Myth of Secular Radicalism in Frankenstein

In July 2003, I delivered a paper at the International Gothic Association conference in Liverpool, England, entitled, “When Adam Creates: Rebellion and Transgressive Autonomy in Frankenstein.”  Most critics present Mary Shelley as a secular materialist who, along with her radical mother Mary Wollstonecraft, father William Godwin, and husband Percy Shelley, challenged traditional Christian beliefs.  My research uncovered an astounding historical truth: Mary Shelley was actually an anti-materialist who subscribed to vitalistic science.  In the paper, I analyze the novel as a theistic speculative narrative that explores the ideological vacuum engendered by scientific materialism and that examines the futility of replacing theism with secular humanism.  The thesis to this paper is as follows:

This novel is a speculative narrative that asks, what would happen if man attempted to create in the absence of woman and with indifference to God?  What if Adam were to reject his own Creator and create life after his own fleshly or material image?  Mary’s answer to these questions is not a triumphant humanist manifesto, nor is it an ironic subversion of a supposedly outmoded theistic perspective.  Rather, it is a deeply philosophical nightmare revealing the horrific consequences of scientific naturalism taken to its logical conclusion.  Frankenstein explores the ideological vacuum engendered by materialism and examines the futility of replacing theism with secular humanism.  Victor Frankenstein’s transgressive autonomy, grounded in materialism, results in a scientific reductionism that ultimately leads to existential despair, individual crisis, and communal disintegration.  (Hogsette, “When Adam Creates” 2)

My research revealed that despite Mary’s and Godwin’s radical roots, they drastically changed their worldviews as theistic perspectives and orthodox Christian doctrine influenced their thinking.  More specifically, in the contemporary scientific debates between vitalism, which presupposed a divine Creator, and materialism, which denied a Creator and was the basis for Darwin’s later theory of evolution, both Mary and Godwin sided with the vitalistic views.  The profound significance of theism and Christianity upon Mary’s novel is often ignored, or critics go to great lengths to apologize for it or to explain it away through outlandish critical maneuvering.  However, theocentric criticism cuts through the distortion of a prejudicial literary history to reveal a whole new interpretation of the novel and to offer a refreshing understanding of these key literary figures and political thinkers within the dynamic intellectual context of the nineteenth century, a context including science, philosophy, and Christian theology.

Cyberpunk and Deconstructing Postmodern Relativism

My next example involves a more contemporary subject and illustrates how theocentric criticism can inform popular culture studies which continues to be a significant focus of theoretical energy, much to Terry Eagleton’s political and literary dismay.  However, analyzing popular genres through Christian critical perspectives offers us compelling ways to reach our students, if not our colleagues, who are often staunchly resistant to Christian thinking.  In June 2001, I gave a paper at the International Gothic Association conference in Vancouver, entitled “Cults of Redemption in Gothic SF:  The Postmodern Messiahs of Blade Runner and The Matrix.”  This paper examines the intellectual and spiritual bankruptcy of postmodern thought by analyzing the surprising messianic figures in such Gothic science fiction films as Blade Runner and The Matrix.  I begin the paper with a brief introduction to contemporary definitions of Gothic literature and argue that postmodern cyberpunk literature and film represent the major Gothic narratives of our contemporary age.  I then ask the question of why, in the midst of these dark, Gothic cyberpunk narratives that seem to decenter reality and fragment the self, are we presented with messianic figures?  And I present the following thesis:

Blade Runner, The Matrix, and many other Gothic science fiction novels, stories, and films—such as Neuromancer, Snow Crash, The Diamond Age, and Alien to name only a few—indeed explore the postmodern horrors of fragmented identities, self-alienation, and technological dehumanization.  However, in the midst of this postmodern Gothic terror is a redemptive uncanniness.  Occasionally, a messianic narrative peeks through the cracks of this fragmentation, revealing a repressed desire for spiritual truth that figuratively manifests itself in the biomechanical and cybernetic creations of postmodern civilizations.  The characters Roy Batty in Blade Runner and Neo in The Matrix are messianic figures who lead redemptive cults offering the hope of personal and cultural salvation through mercy, grace, and love.  (Hogsette, “Cults of Redemption” 1-2)

After discussing the two films, I reach the following conclusion:

These cyberpunk, Gothic science fiction films ultimately invert the postmodern worldview.  Postmodern thought is revealed to be the veil that attempts to mask messianic truth.  Because it cannot accept this reality, postmodern thought attempts to hide it behind a contradictory theory that is unlivable.  In the context of these films, the postmodern thinkers are the limited, fearful humans of Blade Runner or the drones in the tanks of The Matrix.  The messianic believers, on the other hand, are those who free their minds and escape the Gothic dystopia through love, mercy, and grace. (Hogsette, “Cults of Redemption” 9)

In “Cults of Redemption in Gothic SF,” I analyze two key postmodern texts from a theocentric perspective in order to reveal the limitations and contradictions of postmodern thought and to expose it as spiritually bankrupt and ultimately unlivable.  Theocentric criticism not only deconstructs the vacuous nature of postmodern thought, but it also presents an engaging, rational, and deeply satisfying alternative, at least for those who choose to listen and consider its thoughts with a truly open mind and unbiased heart.

Apologetics in the Classroom

In addition to imbuing literary criticism with true purpose and ultimate significance, theocentric criticism can also inform classroom teaching in such a way that challenges students to think outside the secular box of academia.  In many cases, such a critical perspective asks students to think truly independently for the first time in their college careers, presenting them with radical ideas that challenge and often debunk the academic status quo in decisive, specific, rational, and logical ways.  As Dallas Willard notes, those students who study ethics in college today unfortunately do not learn it as a true knowledge that corresponds to reality or that bears any relevance to their own lives and to the world around them (2-5).  They learn about different ethical systems, but they are not taught how to evaluate the systems and to determine which are true and which are false or which systems are better than others and why.  Nor are students taught to think through the ethical systems, to reason morally, or to base their behavior and character upon soundly reasoned ethical principles.  In this secular context, ethics is an academic subject, not knowledge.  Theocentric critical teaching offers a light in the midst of such dark, irrelevant academic work that leaves many students wondering what is the point of clever thinking and lofty ideas (which, they discover, are not so clever after all) if, at the end of the day, they do not amount to true knowledge that impacts their daily lives in true and meaningful ways.  Theocentric teaching enables students to discover that ideas have consequences, that in fact individuals do matter, and that truth is not relative but is that which corresponds to reality, which is—they discover with astonishment—quite knowable indeed.  Adopting the basics of Christian apologetic thought and applying it in creative ways in our curriculum lifts us out of the mind-numbing doldrums of contradictory postmodern pedagogy and equips us to equip our students with truly meaningful critical thinking skills.

Apologetics and Critical Thinking in College Composition

In the classroom, we should not shrink from analyzing, evaluating, and challenging postmodernism, relativism, and social constructivism.  Students encounter these theoretical concepts in one form or another in just about every one of their classes, and these theories are presented as accepted presuppositions with little or no evidentiary support or logical justification.  We should examine our own classes and develop creative ways to introduce students to critical ways of evaluating the assumptions of these postmodern theories in such a way that supplements and advances the main curricular goals of the particular class.  We should teach this kind of critical thinking in ways that are consistent with the subject matter of the course itself.  For example, critical thinking is a curricular requirement in college composition in most colleges.  When I teach critical thinking in my composition courses, I present students with three key steps to critical thinking: “understanding” (determining what the argument is trying to say on its own terms), “overstanding” (critically evaluating the merits of the argument and interrogating its principles and assumptions), and “standing” (developing an informed opinion on the subject).  When explaining how to test or evaluate arguments in the “overstanding” stage, I teach the basic apologetic model of testing truth claims: logical consistency, empirical adequacy, and experiential relevance.  Then, as a class, we test-drive the model by analyzing social constructivism, macroevolution (juxtaposing it with microevolution), or moral relativism.  I use a similar approach in my writing about literature course, discussing the problems with postmodern views of interpretation and demonstrating the weaknesses of relativistic notions of meaning and truth.  I use this apologetics model for teaching good interpretation as that which is logical and consistent with itself, presents and analyzes sufficient textual and contextual evidence, and relates in coherent ways to the experience of the reader.  I also choose widely anthologized poetry, fiction, and drama that deal with issues of God, spirit, morality, sin, evil, pain, suffering, joy, hope, and redemption in an attempt to foreground metaphysical issues and to discuss them intelligently from various philosophical and theological perspectives.  The objective here is to equip the students with specific strategies for critically evaluating the intellectually problematic and spiritually bankrupt postmodern theories that many students have assumed to be true, largely because they have been presented in our public educational system as truth and then reaffirmed by media and popular culture.  Also, this teaching strategy reintroduces theistic perspectives as legitimate avenues of intellectual inquiry that reveals the inadequacy of fragmentary postmodernity and that encourages students to reconsider theories of universalism and the absolute.

Cries of the Human Heart in Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature

Theocentric criticism can also inform how we approach our literary instruction.  In my upper-level science fiction and fantasy literature courses, we cover a variety of issues and themes that allow us to discuss issues of faith, belief, ethics, the relationship between faith and science, the differences between macroevolution and design, the nature of good, the nature of evil, the relationship between the natural and the supernatural, and the relationship between the physical and the metaphysical.  I design course units, discussion questions, research assignments, oral presentations, and exams in such a way that encourages students to explore these issues.  I do not require students to explore these issues, but at the same time I do not deny or avoid the larger questions of origin, meaning, morality, and destiny that are the cry of every human heart and that are at the core of most literature.  Moreover, I present Christian perspectives on these questions as we discuss various other worldviews and their perspectives on these issues.  The main point here is to reintroduce theocentric thought as a relevant and compelling intellectual model that provides rationally sustained, intellectually rich, and spiritually significant perspectives on literature and lived experience.  I have found that students are deeply engaged and provoked to rigorous thought when presented with these ideas, and I have witnessed the blessing of intellectual liberty experienced by many Christian students who, in most of their other classes, are ridiculed for their beliefs and thoughts or who hide their views and stifle their thinking.  Theocentric criticism challenges the academic status quo, equips students to think deeply and significantly about literature and life, and liberates students to explore the relationships between faith and reason in an academic setting often hostile to such endeavors.

Conclusion: Toward Theocentric Literary Studies

It is my prayer that by considering some of these examples and strategies, we may begin theorizing a model for theocentric literary studies upon which to build our practice.  In conclusion, I propose a working model of theocentric literary studies that integrates the following principles:

  1. Question common secular notions of epistemology and ontology, replacing them with sound biblical principles.
  2. Evaluate and expose the self-defeating and contradictory nature of postmodernity and relativism, especially as they negatively impact notions of absolute morality and truth.
  3. Adopt a biblical approach to political questions, cultural issues, and literary interpretation, concentrating on clear and logically presented biblical understandings of origins, meaning, morality, and destiny.
  4. Adopt a critical methodology grounded in Christian apologetics.
  5. Present a tone of inquiry and discussion modeled after Christ, exemplifying Christ-like love and encouraging meaningful dialog by answering questions with questions so as to motivate students to start thinking critically about the postmodern and relativistic views they assume to be true.
  6. Pursue the highest form of humanism.  By this I mean a godly humanism that values the human as a special creation of God: our students matter most in our classes and our readers matter most in our scholarly work.  We should strive to understand the human from God’s perspective, to value the human as God does, as His unique creation made in His image who needs God’s love, truth, and salvation.

The discipline of secular literary studies may very well be doomed to irrelevance if it remains trapped within the postmodern stranglehold it now finds itself.  However, if we wrestle it free from the imprisoning secular imagination by adopting various theocentric principles and apologetic strategies, I believe we can reclaim literary studies for the glory of God.  There is no greater relevance than that.


1. An earlier version of this paper was delivered at the National Faculty Leadership Conference, Washington D.C., June 25, 2004.

2. See Harold K. Bush’s article “Ecclesiastes and Revelation: The Embodiment of Authentic Hope in the Classroom” for an engaging discussion of how Christian professors should counter the prevailing pessimism of postmodernity and offer the authentic hope of heart, spirit, and mind found exclusively in the carefully reasoned, absolutely truthful, and eternally salvific teachings and person of Christ.

3. Admittedly, it is hard to say precisely where Eagleton stands on the relationship between his Marxism and his views on God, or even if he holds to any Marxist or theological orthodoxy.

4. For a compelling discussion of the ways in which the academic world no longer considers morality to be knowledge that can be taught and for an analysis of the logical ramifications of this intellectually and spiritually bankrupt ideology, see of Dallas Willard’s The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering our hidden life in God (1-34).  For an excellent overview and analysis of ethical systems, see Norman L. Geisler’s Christian Ethics (17-132) and Norman L. Geisler and Paul D. Feinberg’s Introduction to Philosophy: A Christian Perspective (353-427).  For a detailed analysis of moral relativism, see J.P. Moreland’s Scaling the Secular City: A Defense of Christianity (240-48) and Love Your God with All Your Mind: The Role of Reason in the Life of the Soul (149-54).

Works Cited

Booth, Wayne C.  The Company We Keep: An Ethics of Fiction.  Berkeley: U of California P, 1988.

Bush, Harold K.  “Ecclesiastes and Revelation: The Embodiment of Authentic Hope in the Classroom.”  Intégrité: A Faith and Learning Journal 2.1 (Spring 2003).  6 Dec. 2004 <>.

D’Costa, Gavin.  “The Tyranny of the Secular Imagination.”  Through a Glass Darkly: Essays in the Religious Imagination.  Ed. John C. Hawley.  New York: Fordham UP, 1996.  177-93.

Eagleton, Terry.  After Theory.  New York: Basic Books, 2003.

Eakin, Emily.  “The Latest Theory is That Theory Doesn’t Matter.”  New York Times 19 April 2003, late ed.  LexisNexis Academic.  8 June 2004 <>.

Geisler, Norman L.  Christian Ethics: Options and Issues.  Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1989.

Geisler, Normal L. and Paul D. Feinberg.  Introduction to Philosophy: A Christian Perspective.  Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1980.

Hogsette, David.  “Cults of Redemption in Gothic SF:  The Postmodern Messiahs of Blade Runner and The Matrix.”  International Gothic Association.  Vancouver, Canada.  June 2001.

_______.  “When Adam Creates: Rebellion and Transgressive Autonomy in Frankenstein.”  International Gothic Association.  Liverpool, UK.  July 2003.

Moreland, J.P.  Love Your God with All Your Mind: The Role of Reason in the Life of the Soul.  Colorado Springs: Navpress, 1997.

_______.  Scaling the Secular City: A Defense of Christianity.  Grand Rapids: Baker, 1987.

Willard, Dallas.  The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God.  New York: HarperCollins, 1997.

Wordsworth, William.  “Lines Written in Early Spring.”  1798.  Romantic Poetry and Prose.  Eds. Harold Bloom and Lionel Trilling.  New York: Oxford UP, 1973.  127.