Theology as style: Dinah Mulock Craik, Margaret Oliphant, and the development of the modern religious subject
Thesis DisciplineReligious Studies
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
This study argues that, in terms of their engagement with theological discourse, the contribution of women writers to the rise of modernity has been presented, incorrectly, as an element in the secularization paradigm of history, itself now seen by many scholars as an overly simplistic account. Because most existing critical approaches to reading women's theology and literature also fail to provide an adequate historical analysis, my study presents a series of comparative readings that attempt to rectify this situation. I argue that the texts of Dinah Mulock Craik and Margaret Oliphant, two popular and influential nineteenth-century authors, while differing in many ways, both function as agents of "religionization," engaged in a conscious and crafted dialogue with secularity, and promoting a feminine non-sectarianism that opposes a domestic maternal realm to the social and theological law and institutions of the Fathers. I consider these texts to be involved in the development of a "somatic textuality," that is, the embodiment of theology and the rise of the textualized religious subject. This modern religious subject, like Nancy Armstrong's generic modern individual outlined in Desire and Domestic Fiction: A Political History of the Novel (1987), is primarily female and exists, as do the texts themselves, in a complex relationship to hegemony. My readings trace the development of this somatic textuality from mid-century to the fin de siècle. I find that both authors write the body as essential to the integrity and realisation of the word, and that both explore the poetics of faith and the politics of religious literacy. I conclude that Craik's and Oliphant's texts are involved in the delineation and dissemination of a form of "diffusive Christianity," "diffusive" both in the sociological/historical sense and in a discursive sense referring to the intertextual transformation of theology—"theology as style."