Date of Award
To think of the human life as a walking, talking, living and breathing poem radically changes the way we view our day-to-day experiences. A strong tie exists between the written word and the human aesthetic experience, especially concerning religion, a tie that has existed since literature’s inception. Many great philosophers, psychologists, historians, and theologians alike have attempted to grasp what truly composes a religious experience and what gives these experiences meaning. Herein lies the dilemma: religious experience escapes concrete explanation, yet is felt and expressed by every person, albeit in an array of different ways. Religious experience is beyond the capacities of language, yet it requires language to be discovered. Literature, however, bridges the existing gaps by diving deep into human souls and bringing the inexpressible to the surface. This power is most evident in conversion stories, from the apostle Paul to Saint Augustine, from TS Eliot to Bob Dylan and beyond. Conversion experiences, whether a slow, arduous process or a dramatic “ah-ha” moment, exemplify what it means to believe on a profound and innate level. Additionally, there is an evident connection between the conversion experience to personal trauma. The discord between what a traumatized individual experiences daily and what they believe in that moment can lead to the “ah-ha” moment of transcendence that brings religious change. In this thesis, I closely analyze the conversion stories recorded in Things Fall Apart and The Color Purple, paying special attention to trauma, to showcase literature’s ability to tackle naked truths regarding what it means to be a human in ways that theology alone falls short. I explore what exactly it is about literature that allows readers to gain a deeper understanding of the human experience of belief. I prove that the power of literature lies in its ability to bring us closer to the divine and in the examples it provides of spiritual journey. Through the stories we read and characters we encounter, we are reminded of the profound beauty and complexity of the world and of the living theology that comprises what we believe.
Thomae, Elizabeth Ann Walker, "THE CONTEMPORARY NOVEL AS THEOLOGY: HOW NARRATIVES OF CONVERSION EXPERIENCE IN LITERATURE EXPOSE THE REALITY OF LIVED BELIEF" (2023). Theses and Dissertations. 590.