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Book Chapter

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Mouton de Gruyter


Religion and literature do not play identical roles in society, but they both rely heavily on imagination. This book has provided an examination of representative writings from both fields to demonstrate this fact, and to suggest points at which the differences between the two disciplines become less important. Viewed together, these examples. raise interesting questions regarding the viability of discussing enduring truths outside the realms of imagination. This paradox, in turn, points to the limitations of rationality · in the pursuit of such truths, and the inevitability of subjectivity in the quest for the objectively true.

These are important philosophical questions, but some readers will be more interested in the historical and sociological aspects of the topic. Some may characterize the trajectory trac~d by these chapters as an example of Arnold Toynbee's model for the collapse of a civilization - the civilization in question here being western Christianity. The first six studies focus on the words of Scripture, especially as they were reflected upon in sermons to imagine the end of time, and to call the congregation to personal conversion: as it happens, all six chapters demonstrate the sense of crisis culminating in the Reformation. A return to the Word was seen to be the best and effective Response to the clarion Challenge heard throughout Europe (I here use Toynbee's vocabulary for the dialectical movement typical within civilizations). Subsequent chapters in this volume, however, use a similar vocabulary but take an increasingly secular tone. The movement in many is inward, a psychological self-analysis that yearns for conversion, as in the earlier chapters - but the desired movement of soul is not forthcoming. By the time we reach the volume's closing chapters, the individualistic response has broadened: institutionalized religion has become not only irrelevant, but a hindrance to self-understanding and any hope for epiphany. In the place of religion, the scriptural Word conti nues to speak - but no longer with the commanding eloquence of unique revelation. What had formerly been accepted as sacred has become, for many contemporary writers, an unusually rich story from which one's own imagination can extrapolate - one tool, among others, for the modern prophet's idiosyncratic search. Validation of truth has moved away from the community.

Chapter of

Reform and Counterreform


John C. Hawley


Copyright © 1994 Mouton de Gruyter. Reprinted with permission.



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