Fall 2018, REL2930/1G62-1G57 Women and Religion in Popular Fiction

Time and Location

T | Period 5 – 6 (11:45 AM – 1:40 PM) Room: MAT 0002/

Th | Period 6 (12:50 PM – 1:40 PM) Room: MAT 0004

Description and Goals

Women and religion have played central roles in American popular fiction since the terms “America” and “fiction” came into popular use in the 18th century. Women have always been the bulk of the fiction-reading public; novels that treat religious life have waxed and waned in popularity, but have always been what publishers call “steady sellers.” This was particularly true in the mid-20th century. After World War 2, many women who had moved into the paid workforce during the War returned to the domestic sphere, and mainstream religions (Protestantism, Catholicism, and Judaism) assumed a new centrality in public discourse as Americans reckoned with the horrors of the Holocaust and the atom bomb. TV, with its seemingly unlimited possibilities of genre and subject-matter, was only just becoming a staple of the middle-class home. In this “golden age” of American literature, fiction captured the centrality of gender and religion in society.
This course examines best-selling fictions dealing with women and religion, first in the immediate post-WW2 period and then in the late 20th century, as the popular culture pendulum swung in a more secular and, for women, “liberated” direction. Emphasis is placed on understanding works in historical context as well as on critical self-reflection; students are invited to understand how, like the authors they study, their own position as people with specific gender identities and relationships to religious practice (including being a non-religious person) affects what and how they read. This class is made possible by a team-teaching award from UF’s Center for the Humanities and the Public Sphere.

Texts may include: Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852); Antin, The Promised Land (1911); Yezierska, The Breadgivers (1925); Hobson, Gentleman’s Agreement (1947); Hansberry, A Raisin in the Sun (1959); Walker, The Color Purple (1982); Sebold, The Lovely Bones (2002); Horn, Eternal Life (2018)

STUDENT LEARNING OUTCOMES: At the end of the semester, students will be able to:

  • Identify and describe elements of the evolving religious landscape of Post-WW2 America
  • Identify, describe, and explain the importance of historical context, including critical reception history, for the interpretation of literary texts
  • Analyze literature using contextualizing historical sources and close reading
  • Express ideas about literature in appropriate oral and written forms