Description: In Recalling Religions, Peter Kerry Powers demonstrates the pervasive influence of religion in the literature produced by ethnic women writers in late-twentieth-century America. Through close readings of works by Alice Walker, Maxine Hong Kingston, Leslie Marmon Silko, and Cynthia Ozick, the author shows how particular religious traditions have served as a resource for ethnic women, enabling them to sustain their communities in the face of oppression.
Powers’s analysis serves as an important corrective to earlier investigations of literature and religion. Too often, he argues, such studies have functioned with an abstract or individualistic notion of religion, thus downplaying the significance of ethnic traditions and practices. Other studies have emphasized the religious traditions of discrete groups but have failed to see the points of contact and common purpose between different ethnic experiences.
By examining writers with disparate religious heritages, Powers introduces important new insights. He finds that even as traditions and cultural memories have nurtured ethnic wormen writers, their works have frequently rewritten or recreated such traditions for the present day—seeking, for instance, to overcome or transcend the sexism that may have characterized earlier periods.
Excerpt: In many ways I hope that this image of the spider web is an apt metaphor for the method I have tried to follow in this book. The connections between the authors are various and pragmatic, having the logic of the spider web rather than the architectonic logic of the skyscraper. The differences in their literature and their religions will not allow them to be reduced to a single foundation that we might call “Religion” or even “Ethnicity.” Neither can they be treated discretely as belonging to separate ethnic or literary traditions. Like the points of connection in a web, they share too much. Similarly, their work suggests that the important connections between the disciplines of literary studies, religion, history and gender studies cannot be ignored. While any single one of these fields provide useful points of entry into the work, without the contact with other fields a point of strength and understanding will be lost.
The image of the spider web, of course, suggests all the strengths and precariousness of the project at hand, both in this work and in the work of the authors I have examined. Nothing is easier than brushing aside a spider web. As I have suggested, the possibilities envisioned here remain hopeful rather than triumphalist. Ozick’s audience remains forgetful. It is unclear that Walker’s Celie can find a way to translate her domestic utopia to the everyday realities of working women in the twenty-first century. Like Kingston’s Aunt, Moon Orchid, some women really do go crazy under the pressure of ethnic and gendered expectations, this despite the most fervently changed descent lines. Religion no doubt sometimes still seems like a pointless enterprise given the evil that Silko envisions in a book like Almanac of the Dead. Nevertheless, if the cultural memories sustained by religion sometimes seem ephemeral and easily destroyed, they remain annoyingly persistent and difficult to forget. Memories and traditions change and stumble, but they go on, providing points of resistance to those who would forget cultural difference. Like spider webs, they come out at night. They are there in the morning.
Kudos: “Peter Powers brings together critical sophistication in both theology and cultural history, while also demonstrating superior skills at literary analysis. There are few books that address the role of religion in American fiction, let alone ethnic American fiction. None do so in so profoundly revisionary a way as this.”—Joseph T. Skerrett, Jr., University of Massachusetts–Amherst
Hardcover: 160 pages
Publisher: Univ Tennessee Press; 1st edition (August 15, 2001)