Gender, Race, And Secular Agency In American Protestant Fiction, 1820-1870 Public Deposited

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  • October 10, 2018
  • Reed, Ashley K.
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of English and Comparative Literature
  • This dissertation argues that disenfranchised authors of the antebellum and early postbellum periods used fiction as an imaginative space in which to explore new forms of collaborative agency grounded in particular Protestant beliefs. In chapters on Catharine Maria Sedgwick, William Wells Brown, Susan Warner and Augusta Jane Evans, and Elizabeth Stoddard, it asserts that authors excluded not just from voting citizenship but also from the clergy and from sectarian journals explored in fiction questions of atonement, free will, and predestination that helped them to imagine into being new forms of spiritual and temporal agency. This narrative of religiously based cultural innovation has been overlooked by historicist critics working within a secularized and individualist model of self-determination. Building on recent work in the field of secularism studies that replaces inaccurate sociological models of secularization with a more nuanced description of post-Enlightenment secular society, this project illuminates how modern secular conditions offered new opportunities for the circulation and expression of religious thought and enabled nineteenth-century authors to envision collaborative action across race and gender lines. By attending to the religious concerns woven into fictional plots, this dissertation reveals how states and behaviors that look (to a secularized criticism) like passivity--expressions of belief, unconscious cognition, collective immersion, or willful submission--often represent potent forms of theological engagement that helped writers at the political margins catalyze significant cultural change in a volatile period in American history.
Date of publication
Resource type
Rights statement
  • In Copyright
  • Thrailkill, Jane
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Graduation year
  • 2014

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