ALA 2020 Panels Rescheduled

Due to the cancellation of ALA 2020, we have rescheduled this year’s panels for ALA 2021. We look forward to the great conversations ahead! For full panel abstracts, please see the posts below.

Keywords in the Study of American Religion and Literature 

Religion and Utopia in American Literature 


ALA 2020 CFPs

Religion and Utopia in American Literature

Recent scholarship excavates the politics of religions in American literature but has largely left untreated the utopian quality of religion. In many literary texts, religion provides bases for imagining new social relations. Reading religion as utopian invites us to look anew at the multivalent relations between religion and politics in American literature.

The American Religion and Literature Society seeks proposals for presentations on literary expressions of religious utopia or utopian religion broadly construed. We welcome presentations on any period, genre, or form of American literature, and those regarding any religious orientation. We are open to a variety of approaches and topics, including but not limited to:

  • Utopia, Dystopia, Anti-Utopia
  • Secularism and post-secularism
  • Sex and Gender
  • Queer Theory
  • Disability
  • Race
  • Political Economy
  • Ecocriticism, Environmental Writing, Climate Change
  • Science Writing
  • Geographies and Temporalities
  • Religious Fundamentalism
  • Reparative and Counter-hegemonic Religion

We also encourage interpretations of works of literature that do not overtly thematize religion.

Please email abstracts of no more than 300 words, questions, and /or concerns to Dave Morris (

Abstracts are due by January 10th.


Keywords in the Study of Religion and American Literature

Nearly twenty-five years since Jenny Franchot described religion as American literary study’s “invisible domain,” methods and keywords for the study of religion and American literature have proliferated. Panels, special issues, and edited collections abound featuring conversations about the “postsecular,” “secularization theory,” “secular studies,” and “religion and literature studies,” among many other categories. These terms are often, though not always, used interchangeably, signaling shared thematic and topical interests among Americanists who study religion rather than identifying distinct methodological commitments and critical orientations.

For this roundtable discussion, the American Religion and Literature Society invites scholars working in all areas of these subfields to propose or revise a keyword that helps to clarify a significant movement within the study of religion and American literature today. Topics might include, but are by no means limited to: postsecularism, secularization, secular criticism, religious or devotional reading, the religious right / left, race and religion, gender and religion, religion and immigration / diaspora, ritual, lived religion, literature and theology, and transcendence.

The American Religion and Literature Society aims to assemble a diverse roundtable of 5-6 speakers from all academic career stages and from a wide range of institutions. Priority will be given to proposals that interrogate the keyword’s utility, that explore overlooked limitations or opportunities afforded by the keyword, or that offer a keyword to propose new paths for linking or distinguishing among the many different branches of religion and American literature studies active today.

Please submit abstracts of no more than 300 words to Ryan Siemers ( Be sure to include your name, institutional affiliation, email address, and any AV requests.

Abstracts are due by January 10th.


Two Gileads in Contemporary Fiction: Margaret Atwood and Marilynne Robinson

In light of the 2019 publication of The Testaments (Margaret Atwood’s long-awaited sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale), the widespread popularity of the television adaptation of Atwood’s fiction, and a forthcoming special issue of Christianity & Literature on the subject of literature and the Christian Right, the American Religion and Literature Society and the Marilynne Robinson Society will co-host a special session on the two Gileads of contemporary fiction: Margaret Atwood’s theocratic dystopia and Marilynne Robinson’s homage to religious life in the American Midwest.

Beyond sharing a name, Atwood and Robinson’s respective Gileads feature many fruitful similarities that warrant further consideration by scholars of religion and North American literature. Each features women in unconventional relationships with older men bearing considerable religious authority; each contains extensive meditations on the impact of religion on American ideas about family and childhood; each devotes considerable attention to the way reading and writing, particularly as these practices are facilitated or restricted by religious contexts, shape the subject’s perception of her everyday experience; and each invites its readers to consider the role that religious discourse, biblical hermeneutics, and the dynamics of faith play in contemporary public and political life.

Please submit an abstract of no more than 500 words to Ray Horton, Be sure to include your name, institutional affiliation, email address, and any AV requests.

Abstracts are due by January 10th

CFP: Postsecularism in High and Popular Culture

For Original Posting, see here.

Organizer: Ryan Siemers

Contact the Seminar Organizers

Organized by the American Religion and Literature Society, this seminar proposes to examine international postsecularism—that is, the persistence or resurgence of religion—in both high and popular culture. While religion has garnered increasing attention in both literary and pop-cultural studies since the late 1990s, relatively little scholarship has juxtaposed religion in (or as) high and popular culture. John Wiley Nelson, in his classic text Your God Is Alive and Well and Appearing in Popular Culture, articulates received wisdom when he states that high art “challenges one’s self-understanding towards self-criticism and insight” and that, by contrast, the “worship” of popular culture “affirm[s] already held beliefs and values.”1 We may wish to revise Nelson’s dichotomy, however. To point out one difficulty, for individuals who value self-criticism (in accordance with the precepts of many religions), high art as Nelson defines it would affirm their already held beliefs and values and thus function like popular culture. Nevertheless, religion probably does work differently in and across these cultural domains, and the differences between artifacts of high and popular culture—in terms of their production, form, marketing, reception, and so on—may help us shed light on the postsecular generally.

The seminar organizers welcome paper proposals concerning postsecularism in high culture, popular culture, and both high and popular culture. Borrowing from Bruce David Forbes,2 we may divide the relationship between religion and culture (high, popular, or both) into four areas, all of which are welcome avenues of inquiry:

    1. Religion in culture – that is, religious characters, rituals, symbolism, etc. in culture
    1. Culture in religion – that is, the influence of the broader culture on religion
    1. Culture as religion – that is, the adaptation or transformation of religion in the secular domain
    1. Religion in dialogue with culture – for example, interventions in cultural debates by religious figures


1. John Wiley Nelson, Your God Is Alive and Well and Appearing in Popular Culture (Philadelphia, Westminster Press, 1976), 196.

2. Bruce David Forbes, Introduction, Religion and Popular Culture in America(University of California Press, 2017), 11.

ARLS at 2019 ALA

The ARLS will host three sessions at the 2019 American Literature Association Conference in Boston. Also, please join us at our business meeting! Details are below.

American Literature Association

30th Annual Conference
May 23-26, 2019
Westin Copley Place
10 Huntington Avenue Boston, MA 02116

Literature and Ritual Thursday, May 23, 2019 1:30 – 2:50 pm (Great Republic)
Chair: Ryan Siemers, Southern Utah University

  1. “Making it Old: Ritual in O’Connor’s The Violent Bear It Away,” William Gonch, University of Maryland, College Park
  2. “Family Communions in Sarah Orne Jewett’s The Country of the Pointed Firsand Li-Young Lee’s ‘The Cleaving,’” Walter Hesford, The University of Idaho
  3. “The Uses of Ritual in a Time of Revolution: El Dios de los Reyes in Martin Delany’sBlake; or, the Huts of America,” Lucas Nossaman, The University of Tennessee
  4. “The 1920s New York Tabloids as Secular Liturgies,” Stephanie Redekop, The University of Toronto


Religion and Film Thursday, May 23, 2019 3:00 – 4:20 pm (Empire)
Chair: Catherine Rogers, Savannah State University

  1. “This is The Shackthat Job Built: Theodicy and Polytheism in William Paul Young’s Evangelical Bestseller,” Christopher Douglas, University of Victoria
  2. “The Tyranny of Masculine Creation and the Potency of a Replicant Adam and Eve Mythology: Postsecular Critique of Materialism in the Blade RunnerFilms,” David S. Hogsette, Grove City College
  3. “The Volatile Truth: Terrence Malick’s Thoreauvian Cinema,” Jonathan McGregor, U.S. Air Force Academy
  4. “Postsecular Signs: the disincarnate sign, the ordinary sacred, and transcendence in Jarmusch’s Paterson, Kogonada’s Columbusand Malick’s Tree of Life,” Caleb Spencer, Azusa Pacific University


Layered Identities: Women Writers and Jewish-American Identity Friday, May 24, 2019 12:40 – 2:00 pm (Great Republic)
Chair: Caleb Spencer, Azusa Pacific University

  1. “The Role of Jewish Identity for Wing’s ‘becoming a woman’ in Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying,” MyungJoo Kim, Chungnam National University
  2. “The Promise of God in Rachel Barenblat’s 70 Faces: Torah Poems (2011) and Elana Bell’s Eyes, Stones (2012),” Philipp Reisner, Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf
  3. “In Praise of Cloistered Virtue: The ‘Orthodox’ Women of Kaaterskill Falls,” Makayla Steiner, The University of Iowa


Business Meeting Friday, May 24, 2019 2:10 – 3:30 pm (St. George C)

ARLS Officer Elections

The American Religion and Literature Society elects its officers every three years. Our next election will take place at our upcoming business meeting, which will be held at the American Literature Association conference on Friday, May 24.

We invite nominees for the following positions: President, Vice President, Information Officer, Media Officer, and Treasurer. Please send an email to if you would like more information about any of these roles or if you wish to nominate yourself or a colleague. If you wish to run for a position, please submit a short statement of intent as soon as possible.

We ask that candidates for President or Vice President demonstrate a record of regular involvement with the ARLS. All members of the ARLS are eligible to run for the other three positions, regardless of previous involvement with the organization.

CFP – Ritual in Jewish Fiction

Organized by the American Religion and Literature Society
Midwest American Academy of Religion Regional Conference, March 1-2, 2019, Muncie, IN

With the birth of a modern culture in which instrumental reason plays a dominant role, the religious has tended to appear as a conscious adoption of a belief system. In Western cultures, in particular, we see the widespread reduction of ‘‘religion’’ to ‘‘belief.” And yet many traditions experience the religious not as belief but as practice. In Judaism, in particular, devotion is a matter of deed. When the Jews at Sinai accepted the Torah, they said. “Na’aseh venishma,”which translates as, “We will do and we will hear” (Exodus 24:7). The Jews’ unconditional acceptance of Torah and their submission to God’s law was expressed in a commitment to action. They were redeemed by their declaration, which acknowledges that obedience precedes understanding (Tractate Shabbat 88a).

This panel seeks to ask, How does fiction by Jewish authors show religious devotion enacted through ritual practice? We invite papers examining literary works that emphasize the importance of ritual, either through narratives in which ritual constitutes a meaningful aspect of characters’ religious experience or through formal elements that point the reader to the centrality of ritual. Areas of interest include but are by no means limited to Jewish American fiction, Yiddish fiction, science fiction by Jewish writers and Jewish feminist fiction.

Please send 250-word abstracts and brief bios to Kathryn Ludwig at Presentations should not exceed 20 minutes in length. The deadline for abstracts is November 1, 2018.

CFP “Race, Religion, and Post-Secularism in American Literature” – ALA 2018

In the recently published essay collection Race and Secularism in America (2016), editors Jonathon S. Kahn and Vincent W. Lloyd point to a conspicuous gap in, as well as sketch out an emerging sub-field within, the literature of (post-)secular studies in an American context: race and secularism. The book’s introduction poses the question best, “Why has whiteness characterized not only [the study of] the secular but also, all too often, critiques of the secular?” (5). In other words, scholars across disciplines, including American literary critics, have tended to prioritize and privilege the study of (post-)secularism’s relationship to white writers, literatures, cultures, histories, and subjectivities, as it also has unwittingly contributed to the marginalization and exclusion of ‘(O)ther’ non-white races that have long constituted the various sacred/secular landscapes from early America to our present day. (Post-)secularism and race are inextricably entwined within the literatures of America and thus require an American “turn” in our critical attention to more completely understand the entanglements of race and religion in post/modernity.

With this “turn” in view, the American Religion and Literature Society invites paper proposals that engage with, and explore, the sundry intersections between race, religion, and (post-)secularity in American literature. We encourage submissions from all American historical periodizations, literary movements, formal genres, and individual writers, as well as papers that address the various writings of American writers whose (non-)religious worldviews, racial identities, and (post-)secular writings help to shed new light on how we better understand race and religion in America. The panel indeed welcomes proposals that broadly interpret this topic and delve into its immense complexities, but with always an eye toward questions of race, religion, and all things (post-)secular in American literary cultures.

Please submit all abstracts to Kathryn Ludwig ( by January 15. Be sure to include your name, institutional affiliation, email address, and any AV requests in your abstract. The subject heading of the email should be “Race, Religion, Postsecularism – ALA 2018.”


CFP “Literature of the Christian Left” – ALA 2018

A truth too often overlooked is that radicalism in the United States originally emerged from forms of Christianity that far preceded Marxism. The roots of American radicalism are religious and moral rather than scientific or dialectical. Moreover, print culture, from the days of the early republic to our own era, has remained the primary site where religion and the political, where word and action, thought and deed, have met to impel the transformation of individuals and the social order. Antebellum abolitionists used the medium to appeal to religious sentiment and the ethical imperatives of the faith to condemn racism and advocate for the liberation of all Americans. Transcendentalist ministers and Christian socialists published small magazines like The Harbinger, The Present, the Spirit of the Age, and The Dawn, among others, to disseminate anticapitalist polemics that were predicated on liberal theology and intended to encourage reforms that would broaden social justice in the young nation. Union organizers and rank and file workers wrote in a prophetic, religious idiom to denounce economic inequality and to portray the early labor movement as a necessary step toward establishing the kingdom of heaven on earth. The turn of the century reforms that defined the Progressive Era were initiated by the prolific writing of Christian socialists and proponents of the Social Gospel who also founded institutions dedicated to social justice, such as William Ellery Channing’s Christian Union Church, the Religious Union of Associationists and its Church of Humanity, Bouck White’s The Church of the Social Revolution, William Dwight Porter Bliss’s Church of the Carpenter, and the Church Association for the Advancement of the Interests of Labor, to name but a few. These radical religious publications and organizations were integral to labor reform and to the Women’s Rights movement. Susan B. Anthony was among Channing’s congregants, “whose teaching,” Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote, “had a lasting spiritual influence upon” Anthony. Later, Dorothy Day would carry on this tradition with the Catholic Worker Movement. Later still, the historian William McLaughlin would argue that the upsurge of activism, spirituality, intentional communities, and moral recalibration in the 1960s, which contributed to the Civil Rights Movement and to the Sexual Revolution, constituted America’s Third Great Awakening. Today, while figures like Shane Claiborne and his brand of radical evangelicalism have rebooted the tradition of utopian practical Christianity for the new millennium, the power of the Christian left to initiate social change appears to be decidedly on the wane.

For this panel, in an effort to recover the role of religious radicalism in the social and political development of the nation, we seek presentations on any topic related to the history or literature of the Christian left in America. We also seek essays concerned with the present status of the Christian left and its ability or inability to be politically effective in America today.

Please submit 300-500 word abstracts to Kathryn Ludwig ( by January 15. The subject of the email should be “Christian Left” and the proposal should include any A/V needs you will require.