Faith in Fiction: American Literature, Religion, and the Millennium
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This dissertation examines treatments of religious faith in American fiction written in the 1990s and in the wake of the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001. The springboard for my analysis is what historians have identified as the paradoxical nature of recent religious history in America. By the 1990s, an era marked by millennial anxiety, America can be understood as a nation comprised of devout believers governed by Christian evangelical and fundamentalist ideologies, but it can also be understood as a wholly secular nation that has opted for devotion to the fruits of late capitalism alone. Putting Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, and Muslim fictional works into dialogue with one another, I argue that authors writing about America interrogate this apparent paradox. In the process, they become literary theologians of sorts, reinventing orthodox or centered faith as a decentered way of thinking and being that thrives in a middle space between orthodoxy and doubt. Both fin de millÇ¸naire authors like Philip Roth, John Updike, and Don DeLillo as well as authors who write in the aftermath of 9/11, such as Mohsin Hamid and Laila Halaby, represent believers in America as endorsing hybridity by fusing secular elements of postmodern life with the sacred, but not to ends that fulfill them unequivocally. In the age of terror, an age marked by intolerance toward Islam and all things apparently Islamic, both the authors who write about America as well as the Jewish, Muslim, and Christian Americans that they fictionalize must continue to grapple with the changing nature of what it means to be a believer in America. They must determine not only whether increasingly polarized American politics preclude opportunities for hybridity, but also whether believers who resist orthodoxy can and will remain part and parcel of the post-9/11 American narrative.