Reframing Religion: Painting and Secularization in German Realism Public Deposited

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  • March 22, 2019
  • Bowen-Wefuan, Bethany
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Germanic and Slavic Languages and Literatures, Carolina-Duke Graduate Program in German Studies
  • This dissertation examines literary depictions of painting in novels and novellas of German Realism in light of recent theories of modern secularization. While traditional understandings of realism emphasize mimesis and disenchantment as its primary aim, the texts at hand suggest a more complicated relationship between realism and secularization. Indeed, painting as depicted in German Realism often resists secularization by engaging and deploying religious discourse. Framing close readings within theories of secularization by philosopher Charles Taylor and sociologists David Martin and Peter Berger, the four chapters of this dissertation examine Theodor Storm’s Im Schloß (1862), Gottfried Keller’s Der grüne Heinrich (1854/55), Adalbert Stifter’s Nachkommenschaften (1864), and Theodor Fontane’s L’Adultera (1882). These works not only reflect many aspects of secularization, but they do so in good part through their portrayals of painting. As a result, depictions of painting become inseparable from questions of the sacred in ways that fundamentally refigure and enrich our understanding of the secular in German Realism. Recent theories of secularization allow for new readings of German Realist texts by unsettling many of the assumptions that shape the scholarship on it, which by and large relies on a theory of secularization espoused by Enlightenment thinkers. That model assumes that human reason will replace religious belief, and has given rise to two broad currents of criticism. The first focuses on German Realism’s relationship to a distinctly modern world, often lamenting its apparent reluctance to engage that world. In response to that failure, the second examines instead German Realism’s distinctive aesthetic strategies. Alternative models of secularization and modernity, in contrast, reveal the worlds depicted in German Realism to be thoroughly modern in ways the Enlightenment model overlooks. Three aspects of nineteenth-century secularization, as identified by Taylor, Berger, and Martin, are particularly relevant to this project: the status of religion as an option for the modern subject, rather than a given; her feeling of alienation from the ordinary world; and the coexistence of secular and sacred discourses for understanding the world. By examining painting in light of secularization theories, new possibilities emerge for understanding the relationship between realist aesthetics and the sacred.
Date of publication
Resource type
  • Trop, Gabriel
  • von Bernuth, Ruth
  • Engelstein, Stefani
  • Downing, Eric
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Graduate School
Graduation year
  • 2018

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