CFPs: American Literature Association Conference, 2023

The American Religion and Literature Society (ARLS) invites papers for a panel at the 2023 American Literature Association Conference, May 25-28th, and looks forward to reading your submissions for our three panels this year:

  • Contemplative Practice and Writing about Race
  • Midrash and the Literary
  • Marilynne Robinson, Jesus and John Wayne, and the American Evangelical Tradition (co-hosted with the Marilynne Robinson Society)

Submission Details

Please send your 350 word proposal and bio by January 6, 2023 and see below for relevant submission  emails.

Marilynne Robinson, Jesus and John Wayne, and the American Evangelical Tradition

The Marilynne Robinson Society and the American Religion and Literature Society (ARLS) will hold a joint panel at the annual American Literature Association Conference.  We are seeking papers that examine the author’s relationship to American evangelicalism.  Robinson’s spiritual vision has been shaped by the writings of Jonathan Edwards, who is considered to be the founding father of American evangelicalism.  How does Robinson’s body of work lead us to think critically about the evangelical tradition in the United States?  How do her essays and novels, particularly Gilead, provide a counter-narrative to the discourses found in modern and contemporary American evangelicalism?  In what ways can they respond to the incisive diagnosis presented by Kristen Du Mez’s recent book, Jesus and John Wayne, a text that examines the connection between American evangelicalism, Christian nationalism, rugged masculinity, and political power? How might Robinson’s novels and essays in conversation with Du Mez’s Jesus and John Wayne illuminate our understanding of the evangelical tradition in the United States?  These are some of the questions that the panel seeks to address.

Please submit a 350-word paper proposal and short bio to both and by January 6, 2023.

Midrash and the Literary

The American Religion and Literature Society (ARLS) invites papers for a panel at the 2023 American Literature Association Conference. We are seeking papers that explore the relevance of Midrash to contemporary literary criticism.

Midrash teaches that there exists not one authoritative meaning that we must discover but many possible meanings in whose unfolding we must participate. We see this happening in Talmud: a midrashic reader responds to a gap in the text by creating a narrative, which is, as Sandor Goodhart describes it, “a material extension” of the original text. The reader looks in between words, as well as in the space between God and man, in keeping with the rabbinic belief that meaning comes to be in dialogue between man and God. In this panel, we seek to consider how some of the attitudes and practices of ancient Midrash find echoes in contemporary theories of literary reading. Consider reader-response arguments that a text is not self-formulated but, rather, actualized through interpretation. Consider poststructuralist models in which the structure of language itself is interrogated and separated from the functioning of the literary.

We welcome papers that address questions including but not limited to:

  • What critical approaches seem to take cues from or reinstate midrashic patterns? Or, where do you see correspondences between Jewish hermeneutics and secular criticism?
  • How can an understanding of Midrash enrich our engagement with literary texts?
  • How can the midrashic mode inform efforts to make meaning in a post-Holocaust, poststructuralist, or postmodern age, when structures of meaning have failed or been deconstructed?
  • Does midrashic reading open up avenues for literary reading of sacred texts (as argued by Geoffrey Hartman)?
  • What has been the lasting impact of what David Stern named “the midrash-theory connection” that was expressed during the 1980s?

Please submit a 350-word paper proposal and short bio to by January 6, 2023.

Contemplative Practice and Writing about Race

More than three decades into the writing of his long-anticipated Hickman Novel, Ralph Ellison told an interviewer that the book’s composition represented his personal effort to achieve “a pause for contemplation of the moral significance of the history we’ve been through.” Taking Ellison’s words as inspiration, this panel will seek to generate a wide-ranging exploration of the ways in which contemplative practices of all kinds have helped American authors of different backgrounds depict, illuminate, and transform racial experience, consciousness, structures, and history. What role does reflection on the human self’s nature, situatedness, antecedents, and interconnectedness play in the writer’s struggle against racism? How have authors from different positionalities mobilized their search for increased awareness of divinity to reimagine racial identities, scripts, and relationships? What challenges do they face? What guidance does American literature—drawing on a host of widsom traditions, and perhaps even secular forms of mindfulness and meditation—offer the spiritual aspect of readers’ anti-racist work?

Please submit a 350-word paper proposal and short bio to bedelapiedra@gmail.comby January 6, 2023.


Queer and Trans Theologies in American Literature



November 17-20, 2022

The ARLS invites proposals for a panel that will focus on queer and trans theoretical approaches to the study of religion in American literature. In the U. S., religion and literature have historically been the principal sites of cultural work where dominant social norms are negotiated, reproduced, and resisted. Queer theory and trans studies are forms of critique that describe and disrupt this process, specifically, the production of normative categories of sexuality, gender, and embodiment. More broadly, these methods analyze the formation and function of all binary categories in society, and actively oppose such dualistic classifications. Recent scholarship has shown the value of applying the methods of queer theory and trans studies to the field of religious studies. This panel will examine works of literature that show how religion in America can destabalize heteronormativity and cisnormativity.

Papers may consider how norms concerning sexuality, gender, embodiment, desire, and affect are related to other foundational binary classifications in society such as sacred/profane, normal/deviant, virtue/vice, pure/dirty, material/immaterial. How are certain practices, rituals, and forms of embodiment rendered normal and sacred and others abject and profane? How are notions of sin, deviance, transgression, monstrosity, and perversion related to the maintenance of social norms? How are secularism, neoliberalism, and heteronormativity linked? We welcome papers that seek to queer the sacred/secular binary and question how this system of classification is related to forms of social inclusion and exclusion, to social recognition and social invisibility. How does American literature represent religious aspects of queer and trans embodiment? How does American literature challenge dominant ideas about the body, desire, and affect from a religious perspective? How does it bear witness to the religious regulation, disciplining, as well as liberation of the body? How do works of American literature express non-normative theologies of the body, sexuality, and the self? How do authors use religion to oppose dualistic norms and categories?

We welcome papers on American literature and print culture from any period. 

Please send abstracts to Andrew Ball ( by July 16.

American Literature Association Conference, Chicago

Please come join us for some great conversations at the American Literature Association Conference in Chicago this weekend! We will be hosting the following panels:

Saturday, May 28, 8:30-9:50am: Mysticism, Magic, and the Occult in American Literature

Saturday, May 28, 10-11:20am: Professing Literature/Professing Faith

Saturday, May 28, 11:30-12:50pm: Business meeting (If you are interesting in joining or serving with the ARLS, please join us!)…/ala-annual…/

ARLS CFPs: ALA Conference, May 26-29, 2022, Chicago

The American Religion and Literature Society will sponsor a panel and a roundtable discussion at the 2022 national meeting. Please submit proposals to the contact person indicated at the conclusion of the relevant CFP. Be sure to include your name, institutional affiliation, email address, and any AV requests. Electronic submissions only, in .doc or .docx format. The deadline for submission to the ARLS is January 26, 2022.

Mysticism, Magic, and the Occult in American Literature

American authors have demonstrated a sustained interest in mysticism, esoterica, magic, the occult, and what Emma Mason and Mark Knight have recently dubbed “weird faith.” The American Religion and Literature Society invites proposals for presentations that focus on American authors’ engagement with non-dominant forms of religion. We welcome papers that offer new perspectives on more well-known cases—such as H. D.’s take on the occult, or the influence of Gurdjieff’s mysticism on Toomer—as well as those that examine lesser known examples. We encourage proposals on any form – prose, poetry, drama – or time period. 

Please send abstracts (under 1,000 words) to Andrew J. Ball ( by January 26, 2022.

Professing Literature / Professing Faith: A Roundtable Discussion

In Professing Literature, Gerald Graff observes that, “as late as [1900], there remained only a faint line separating professors of English from the clergy” (29). By 1915, however, the English professor had transformed into a “secularized educational professional” after the German model: “a man who supposedly transcended morality and ideology in his disinterested search for truth” (59, 62). The German professor, commented James Morgan Hart in 1874, “shakes off spiritual bondage and becomes an independent thinker” (qtd. in Graff 63). 

Contrary to Graff’s secularization narrative, many institutions today retain strong religious affiliations, and many professors profess faith as well as literature. Nevertheless, the view represented by Hart is a commonplace for the profession as a whole, and the institutional transition between 1875 and 1915 and its legacy up to the present often go unexamined.

For this roundtable, the American Religion and Literature Society invites proposals that address the role of religion in the profession. We welcome approaches that are critical, historical, and/or pedagogical. What does it mean to profess literature and faith?  What role does a (secular) faith in the value of literature play in its teaching and study? How do religion and related assumptions inform our criticism, our teaching, and/or our division of labor and literature into periods, nationalities, subfields, and so on?

Please send abstracts of no more than 300 words to Ryan Siemers ( by January 26, 2022.

CFP: W(h)ither the Christian Right?

Deadline for submissions: February 28, 2022full name / name of organization: Post45 Contemporaries

Contact email:; Full CFP:

“W(h)ither the Christian Right?” Papers are invited for a Post45 Contemporaries cluster on the U.S. Christian Right and literature. Recent evidence suggests the evangelical share of the population may be decreasing, but its political power so far has not waned and it is geared for apocalyptic combat. Momentarily defeated but unbowed like their champion President Trump, conservative white Christians have not received much attention in literary studies. This cluster asks questions such as: where are they going / what now / what did we miss? A series of Trump-era books by scholars such as Kristen du Mez, Anthea Butler, Robert P Jones, Sarah Posner, Andrew L. Whitehead and Samuel L. Perry have focused on white evangelicals and their radicalization – all historians or social scientists. But the Christian Right and its authoritarian tendencies have been met with little interest among literary scholars. Why hasn’t literary studies been paying attention to the literature of this demographic that is shaking the country, driving its turn to authoritarianism? Essays might attend to fiction by Christian Right authors, or literature about the Christian Right. Essays are also invited to think about our discipline’s relation to the Christian Right. How does training in strategies of reading and a sense of the literary (complexity, richness, ambiguity, uncertainty, metaphor, etc) help students complicate fundamentalist culture and its reading practices of inerrantism and literalism? How is English, or literature and religion studies specifically, complicit in America’s descent into Christian authoritarianism? Could the Christian Right fiction we didn’t want to read or teach or research – the books that historians and social scientists were reading and teaching and researching – have given us an early warning about and increased understanding of the evangelical imagination? What current theoretical or methodological trends might enable or inhibit increased attention to the Christian Right in literary studies? Papers are invited for a June / July 2022 cluster of Contemporaries; deadline for first drafts is February 28th, 2022; contact and for inquiries or submissions.

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)