Modernist Reformations

BookModernist Reformations

Modernist Reformations

Poetry as Theology in Eliot, Stevens, and Joyce

Clemson University Press


April 1st, 2022





“Religion” has become suspect in literary studies, often for good reason, as it has become associated with reactionary politics and outdated codified beliefs.  In Modernist Reformations: Poetry as Theology in Eliot, Stevens, and Joyce, the author demonstrates how three high modernist writers work to reform religious experience for an age dominated by the extremes of radical skepticism and dogmatic rigidity. The author offers new and provocative readings of these well-studied writers: Joyce and Stevens are usually considered purely secular, and the Eliot in this book is more progressive than reactionary. The readings here provide a fresh approach to their work and to the period.  Using studies of religious experience by sociologists and theologians both from the modernist era and from our own contemporary world to frame the argument, the author examines the poetry closely and in detail to demonstrate that the work of these writers does not merely reflect religious themes and issues but does the actual work usually considered theological. Their poetry is theology. Modernist Reformations will renew and deepen appreciation for these writers, and perhaps their efforts at reformation may allow for our own engagement with religion in a secular age.

Author Information

Stephen Sicari is Professor of English at St. John's University. He teaches a variety of courses, ranging from our writing course for new English majors, through electives in the major on modernism, to graduate seminars. His graduate teaching these days is focused on religion and literature, extending beyond high modernist writers to more recent and contemporary writers.

Table of Contents

Section TitlePage
Introduction to Modernist
Reformations: A Problem of Vocabulary Part One. Reforming Belief: Renewing Religious Feeling and
Introduction. “What Am I to
Believe?”Chapter One. T. S. Eliot: “We had
the experience but missed the meaning”
Chapter Two. Wallace Stevens: “We
reason of these things with a later reason”Part Two. Reforming God: Modernist Encounters with the East
Otto and the PluralistsChapter
One. Eliot’s Buddhized Christianity
Two. Ulysses as Buddhist Epic
Three. Stevens’ Late Poems as Buddhist Meditation
Part Three. Reforming Church: “Upon this rock I will build
my Church”
Still “Churchgoing”
One. Joyce: “It is in here that I must kill the priest and the king”
Chapter Two. Eliot: “And the Church
must be forever building and always decaying and always being restored”
Chapter Three. Stevens: “And yet
what good were yesterday’s devotions”
Appendix. Reforming Jesus: The Gospel According to Lazarus