Call For Papers: BSECS Roundtable on “Writing Religion”

Writing Religion: Religious Purpose
in Eighteenth Century Literature

British Society of Eighteenth Century Studies Annual Conference
3rd-5th January 2013, St Hugh’s College Oxford

In reclaiming the eighteenth century as an era of serious engagement with a whole spectrum of religious concerns, recent critics have looked to incorporate both canonical and little-known texts within their new portrayal of eighteenth century society, culture, and literature. As a consequence, our understanding of the period is undoubtedly richer. Yet in pursuit of these examples of religiosity, such scholarship has frequently beaten a retreat from the customary business of literary criticism: attention to the form, tone, language, genre, textuality and voice of eighteenth-century texts.

This roundtable session therefore encourages participants to ask new questions of eighteenth century texts which might broadly be categorised as ‘religious’ by paying attention to precisely these features. In particular, it seeks to generate discussion of central ‘literary’ significance – authority, intention and purposiveness – as they emerge within the special circumstances and contexts surrounding the creation of religious writing. Furthermore, it hopes to identify points of connection and disjunction between such writing and the wider field of literary production, and to ask: i) what, if anything, makes religious writing unique? And, ii) what can we learn from an investigation of religious writing that might influence our analysis of literary texts more broadly?

Questions we might address include, but are not limited to:

  • How might a sense of religious vocation shape notions of authorship?
  • How can the nature of scriptural and sacred texts be assessed via the vehicles of literary criticism?
  • What is the nature of the relationship between literature and liturgy, and how might liturgy relate to issues of performance?
  • How do eighteenth-century writers validate their religious writing, and on what grounds do they negotiate the internal and external authority of their work?
  • How were religious genres including hymnody, sermon and prayer conceived of in the period? What differentiates them from genres in the secular tradition?
  • Is it possible or beneficial to recuperate close reading and form-based criticism as an alternative to the historicist monopoly over the study of religious literature?
  • What status do scripture and other authoritative texts hold for eighteenth century authors?
  • How do religious writers imagine their readers?
  • How and to what extent are moral and religious educative aims revealed in eighteenth century writing?
  • How might we counter claims that religious writing fails to conform to the ideal of the literary?
  • Does religious writing operate under different criteria with regard to value?
  • Is it anachronistic to employ terms such as ‘religious’ and ‘secular’? Why do we use them and for what ends?

This session will take the form of a roundtable with six participants, each of whom will be asked to speak for five minutes. In order to encourage discussion we hope to pre-circulate each paper before the start of the conference.

Abstracts of 200 words or fewer should be submitted by 20th September 2012 to

Details of the BSECS Annual Conference can be found at

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