CFP: Bible in Modernity (ACLA 2016 Seminar, Harvard University)


Modernity is usually thought of as the age of secularization. At the turn to the 20th century, thinkers such as Darwin, Nietzsche, or Freud fundamentally challenge a world view based on Judeo-Christian religiosity, and their respective substitutes for religion – evolutionism, nihilism, or psychoanalysis – try to make sense of a world that dismisses God as the governing principle. This formerly sacrilegious possibility arises after a fundamental shift in regard to the foundational texts of Judeo-Christianity has taken place: Starting from the 19th century, a number of philologists, theologians, orientalists, historians, and philosophers developed a new Bible criticism that sees the Bible as a human cultural artifact rather than a divine and unquestionable revelation, thus dismissing it as a source of authority and making it an object of criticism in secular academies.

This leaves deep traces in the realm of modern art, and especially in literature. Far from disappearing, the Bible becomes an object of fascination: In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, more and more modernist writers such as Baudelaire, Joyce, Rilke, Valéry, Pound, Döblin, or T.S. Eliot turn to the Bible without an explicitly religious agenda, using it as a source of aesthetic inspiration and motifs. Also in political contexts, subversive and heterodox readings of the Bible have provided strategies of legitimation for social movements of emancipation since the Enlightment, and continue to do so at the turn of the century when merging with Marxist and humanist ideologies, e.g. in the New French Catholicism. In culturally hybrid spaces like Latin America, syncretistic constructions of biblical narratives not only challenge the authority of Catholicism, but also undermine the dominance of Eurocentric visions of art and literature in general. Moreover, in theoretical terms, thinkers in literary theory eventually come to use the Bible as a model for developing new theories of criticism, of reading, of translation, or of narration. Nevertheless,  all those seemingly secularized works of art, political essays, and theoretical reflections are clearly indebted to certain forms of religious reading, thus challenging the very notion of secularization.

In our seminar, we are interested in discerning modernist writers’ different strategies of coming to terms with the foundational texts of Judeo-Christianity in a radically changing modern world. While drawing on the diverse forms and effects of biblical intertextuality, we simultaneously wish to reconsider our understanding of secularization itself. We therefore invite papers on modernist writers and/or theorists from all languages and cultures that are explicitly dealing with the Hebrew Bible and/or the New Testament.

If you are interested in participating, please email the seminar organizers. Paper abstracts must be submitted through the ACLA website: Paper submissions through the portal will close Sept. 23, 2015.


Jenny Haase (Stanford University),

Caroline Sauter (ZfL Berlin),

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics.
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