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Graduate Research Collaborative

religion and the arts

The Graduate Research Collaborative in Literature and Religion, sponsored by a grant from the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at Boston College in conjunction with Religion and the Arts, provides a forum for ongoing dialogue between graduate students and professors on topics related to the developing field of religion and literature.  Specific topics vary from year to year, ranging from broad theoretical discussions to analyses of specific texts.  Past collaboratives have focused on the role of religion in scholarship and teaching, on Marilynne Robinson's novels Gilead and Home, on Chaim Potok's The Chosen, on Czeslaw Milosz's poetry, on Cormac McCarthy's The Road, the religious dimensions of contemporary fantasy films, and the notion of “evil” and its presentation in literature.  Any interested individuals are welcome to participate.


For this year’s collaborative (2012/2013), we will discuss the rise of “the nones” and their representation in literature. According to the recent Pew Research Poll on Religion and Public Life, “nones” are on the rise, as “one-in-five adults have no religious affiliation” ( As a way in to this topic, we will read Israel Zangwill’s 1908 play, The Melting-Pot (Createspace, 2012), and Richard Kearney’s recent book, Anatheism: Returning to God After God (Columbia UP, 2011). The term “melting-pot” and its association with the United States originated out of Zangwill’s play. The Jewish hero of the play, a survivor of a Russian pogrom, states “America is God’s Crucible, the great Melting-Pot where all the races of Europe are melting and reforming…Germans and Frenchman, Irishmen and Englishmen, Jews and Russians—into the Crucible with all of you! God is making the American!” An interfaith romance, The Melting-Pot has religious pluralism as its central focus, and we are interested in exploring its relation to the present condition defining religion in America—the decrease in religious affiliation.  From Zangwill’s play, we will turn to Kearney’s work to continue our discussion.  Kearney, the Charles H. Seelig Chair of Philosophy at BC, interrogates the space between theism and atheism, between hostility and hospitality, articulating a religious position free from the dogmatic tenets and assumptions associated with organized religions or lack thereof.  He calls this ana-theos or “God after God,” a space of “not knowing,” that opens up the possibility for a sacred secularity. Kearney draws upon the writings of philosophers Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Paul Ricoeur, as well as the modernist writers James Joyce, Marcel Proust, and Virginia Woolf. Using Zangwill’s play and Kearney’s text as a spur, we will also discuss the 2011 film, Sunset Limited, written by Cormac McCarthy, which presents a religious debate between an atheist and an evangelical.  All of these texts open pathways to understanding our current historical moment and the motivations contributing to the rise of America’s “nones.”

In past years, members have written and presented on texts and themes first aired in the collaborative, and we dedicate a portion of our meetings to discuss writing and publishing in the field of Religion and Literature.

For inquiries regarding the Collaborative, please contact Beth Tressler (