Theology and Literature after Postmodernity

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Editor(s): 
Zoë Lehmann Imfeld, Peter Hampson, Alison Milbank
Religion and the University
  • New York, NY: 
    Bloomsbury T&T Clark
    , May
     2015.
     304 pages.
     $120.00.
     Hardcover.
    ISBN
    9780567251145.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

In Theology and Literature After Postmodernity, editors Zoë Lehmann Imfeld, Peter Hampson, and Alison Milbank bring together twelve essays by scholars from literary studies to philosophy to theology to religious studies in order to examine the past, present, and possible intersections between theology and literature within a postmodern context. This collection continues and expands the critical discussion about theology and literature that began in the 1990s with the “broadening and deepening of literary scholars’ engagements with religion” (19). For example, David Jasper’s 1993 edited collection Postmodernism, Literature and the Future of Theology (Palgrave Macmillan) unpacks the effects of postmodern literary theory on contemporary theology. More recently, Amy Hungerford’s 2010 Postmodern Belief: American Literature and Religion Since 1960 (Princeton University Press) traces the postmodern American literary tradition’s treatment of religious thought and practice. More broadly, the journals Literature and Theology and Religion and Literature remain committed to the interdisciplinary study of theology and literature. Following these works and journals, Theology and Literature After Postmodernity offers a set of provocative essays that “defy disciplinary boundaries, helping us glimpse intimations of what Christianity might—or should—look like, as well as how theology should be done” (vii).

Lehmann Imfeld, Hampson, and Milbank divide the book into two sections, “Pedagogy” and “Theological and Literary Reconstructions.” The first section contains three essays that center more on pedagogical issues of theology and literature, while the essays found in the second section “offer new engagements between literature and theology often by the recovery of themes and concepts that have been lost or buried” (5). More than a mere collection of emerging essays, this volume also includes two essays—John Milbank’s “Fictioning Things” and Rowan Williams’s “Language, Reality and Desire in Augustine’s De Doctrina”—that have played an influential role in the study of theology and literature. In this manner, the editors hope to introduce Milbank’s and Williams’s essays to emerging scholars of the theology and literature field.

The collection’s strength lies in its diversity. Not only do the contributors work in a variety of fields, but their essays cover a wide range of literary works. For example, among the many poets and writers mentioned are William Shakespeare, Dante Alighieri, R. S. Thomas, George Herbert, Graham Green, Phillip Roth, George Elliot, John Updike, Cormac McCarthy, Phillip Pullman, J. K. Rowling, James Joyce, William Wordsworth, Lionel Shriver, George Macdonald, G. K. Chesterton, Hesiod, Virgil, Homer, J. R. R. Tolkien, Gerald Manley Hopkins, and many others. Likewise, the collection draws on a wide range of theologians including Augustine, Gregory-the-Great, Thomas Aquinas, Karl Barth, Hans Ur von Balthasar as well as philosophers or theorists, including Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, Gilles Deleuze, and Félix Guattari. These many theorists, philosophers, theologians, and writers bespeak the book’s broad approach to understanding postmodernism, literature, and theology.

Theology and Literature After Postmodernity reveals the need for an ongoing interdisciplinary exploration of literature and theology. This collection shows that there is not one, single way to approach literature and theology; the collection’s wide approach is thus, a major strength of the work. I recommend Theology and Literature After Postmodernity to theologians, literary critics, and anyone interested in imagining “a welcoming space of future possibilities reclaimed by theology and literature” (10).

About the Reviewer(s): 

James M. Cochran is a doctoral candidate in English at Baylor University.

Date of Review: 
February 27, 2017
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Zoë Lehmann Imfeld is a lecturer at the English department at the University of Bern, Switzerland.

Peter Hampson is Research Fellow at Blackfriars Hall, Oxford, UK.

Alison Milbank is an Associate Professor in Literature and Theology at the University of Nottingham, UK. She was formerly John Rylands Research Institute Fellow at the University of Manchester, UK, and taught at the Universities of Cambridge, UK, Middlesex, UK, and Virginia, USA.

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