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Title page for ETD etd-03282011-155105

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Dark, James David
Author's Email Address david.dark@vanderbilt.edu
URN etd-03282011-155105
Title Insert Soul Here: The Witness of Sacramental Poetics as Apocalyptic for the People
Degree PhD
Department Religion
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
William P. Franke Committee Chair
Richard McGregor Committee Co-Chair
Hortense J. Spillers Committee Member
M. Douglas Meeks Committee Member
  • james joyce
  • daniel berrigan
  • apocalyptic
  • religion
  • poetics
  • science fiction
  • literature
  • derrida
Date of Defense 2010-03-22
Availability unrestricted
This study considers the category of religion, the phenomena ostensibly contained therein, and the cultural forces that often manage to evade or insulate themselves against critique by positioning themselves (or by being positioned) outside it. Like any organizing fiction, animating concern, or web of signification, religion itself is treated as a neutral social fact even as religion, as a category, is deployed as a critical tool to problematize unavowedly religious forms. I am here afforded a point of leverage by the term sacramental poetics which names the practice of religious creativity, those initiatives of conscience (whether in story, public action, image, or lyric) which posit an apocalyptic and therefore inescapably social witness within, against, and in spite of dominant forms of religiosity. James Joyce, Ursula Le Guin, Ralph Ellison, W.E.B. Du Bois, and Daniel Berrigan are examined as self-conscious practitioners of sacramental poetics, those for whom human interest questions of marketing strategies, natural resources, state-sponsored violence, and national borders are treated as unavoidably religious questions. As I understand them, these figures occupy and, to some extent, conjure a public commons where, as Derrida has it, literature functions as an institutionless institution, calling into question institutionalized forms, and religion will be understood as responsibility or nothing at all. Their witnessing work of interrogation is framed as the task of critical-prophetic consciousness which voices, again and again, the possibility of right religion which, like true worship, good government, or the hope of environmental sustainability, is alive and signaling in discourses deemed political, economic, and artistic. In this sense, I posit the witness of sacramental poetics as the primary, renewable resource of the ethical imagination.
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