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The Word and Its Witness

The Spiritualization of American Realism

“What would Jesus do?” is now a rhetorical fixture, but the phrase was first popularized in the nineteenth century’s best-selling novel In His Steps. Charles Sheldon’s book is part of the vast, but mostly overlooked, history of evangelical culture that began during the Great Awakening. In this groundbreaking study, Gregory S. Jackson reveals the full impact of this tradition by exploring the development of religious media in America.

Jackson shows how the homiletic tradition in Protestant sermons provided a foundation for the development of visual and literary realism. Evangelical preachers and writers used vivid language grounded in everyday life to translate abstract concepts like hell into concrete reality—a key influence on realist authors that brought about the more secular forms of the movement we know today. This emphasis on the sensuous also paved the way for Protestantism’s embrace of new media, evident in the photographs of Jacob Riis as well as the video game Left Behind: Eternal Forces.

With its remarkable scope and timely insights into the interplay between religion, secularism, and politics, The Word and Its Witness will transform the way we understand American realism and American religion.

424 pages | 12 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2008

Art: Photography

History: American History

Literature and Literary Criticism: American and Canadian Literature

Religion: American Religions

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Introduction Spiritual Realism and the Work of Homiletic Narrative
Homiletic Realism and the Forms of Fiction
Babes in Christ
Homiletic Patterns
Visualizing the Word
American Homiletic Realism

Chapter 1 Hell’s Plot: The Hermeneutic of Fear
Hell on Earth: The Seventeenth Century
The Return of Volition
Eighteenth-Century Puritan Medievalism
Lockean Epistemology: Homiletic Realism as Inoculation Theology
Children’s Spiritual Aptitude
Sensational Savagery
The Word Made Flesh: Personalizing Hell
Chapter 2 Personalizing Progress: Spiritual Masterplots and Templates of Redemption
Interested Reading: The Christian Pattern
Everyman’s Spiritual Biography: The Pilgrim’s Progress
Journeying to Jerusalem: Pilgrimages Old and New
Homiletic Fiction and the Novelization of Progress
Narrative Incrementalism
Bifurcated Time
The Novelization of Christian Duty
Chapter 3 “What Would Jesus Do?” Practical Christianity, Social Gospel Realism, and the Homiletic Novel
Homiletic Experiences
Who Was Jesus?
Homiletic Audiences
Enacting Allegory

Chapter 4 Cultivating Spiritual Sight: Jacob Riis’s Virtual-TourNarrative and the Visual Modernization ofProtestant Homiletics
Homiletic Theory in Social Gospel Reform
Homiletic Allegory and the Architectural Frame
The Interactive Text
The Timeless Flash of Light: The Spiritual Realism of Photography
Epilogue The New Media of Homiletic Realism

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