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Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life

Writers Save: How Poets and Novelists Came to Comfort the Faithful and Strengthen the Doubters

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Alan Jacobs
Wheaton College

Respondent: Judith Wilt, Boston College

Date: Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Time: 5:00-6:30PM
Location: Gasson 305 • Map and Parking Information

Abstract: It is not uncommon for modern American Christians to say, with real warmth and deep gratitude, that they owe their faith to literary writers. C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, Flannery O'Connor, Walker Percy, Frederick Buechner, T. S. Eliot, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Gerard Manley Hopkins, even John Donne and George Herbert — these writers have been spiritual anchors for many Christians left utterly cold by pastors and theologians. But this is a relatively recent phenomenon: it is hard to find examples of it before the middle of the 20th century. How did this state of affairs arise? What does its existence suggest about the condition of American religious belief and the role of literature in sustaining it? And, is this good or bad news for Christianity?

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Alan Jacobs is the Clyde S. Kilby Chair Professor of English at Wheaton College in Illinois where he has taught since 1984. His teaching and scholarly interests include Modern British and British Commonwealth literature, hermeneutics, literary theory and the history of criticism, as well as Christian theology and literature. He is the author of A Theology of Reading: The Hermeneutics of Love (2001), The Narnian: The Life and Imagination of C.S. Lewis (2008), Original Sin: A Cultural History (2009), and most recently, The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction (2011). Jacobs attended the University of Alabama as an undergraduate and received his doctorate in English from the University of Virginia. 

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Judith Wilt is Professor Emerita of English at Boston College. She was a founding member of the Women's Studies Program, chair of the English Department from 1990-1996, and became the Newton College Alumnae Chair in Western Culture in 2002. Her current writing project is on women novelists and the heroes they create.

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In the News

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Will Harry Potter, the ‘boy who lived,’ survive among those Christian audiences skeptical of dark magic and witchcraft? Recently, some conservative religious leaders have begun to praise the series' moral framework. On November 16th, Alan Jacobs discussed the impact that Western poets and novelists have had on believers and doubters alike.

Read Alan Jacobs' discussion of J.K. Rowlings' moral compass in First Things.