Date of Award

Spring 2007

Document Type

Dissertation - Restricted

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Sorby, Angela

Second Advisor

Wadsworth, Sarah

Third Advisor

Blair, Amy


The motivation for this study comes from a variety of sources. First, I wanted to find a space in literary studies for religion and faith. As a professing Christian, it is important to me to infuse my faith constantly and consistently in all aspects of my life. Secondly, I have always been fascinated with reform literature and the implied notion in the nineteenth century that literary products could have socio-political and religious purposes. Subsequently, I wanted to work with writers who ascribed to or battled with Christianity, especially Calvinism, as they attempted to address civic crises. This led me to Angela Sorby's classes on Transcendentalism and Civil War Literature. In both classes, we discussed how the religious landscape influenced creative writers and shaped their literary products. My seminar papers on Emerson and Melville were incredibly helpful as I started to formulate my own opinions regarding the role of religious rhetoric in nineteenth-century literature, especially literature written by authors who spent much of their life resisting and at times rejecting orthodox Christianity. What amazed me in both classes was the extensive amount of religious language, theology, and Biblical allusions appropriated by writers who did not necessarily adopt the Christian doctrine. What rhetorical role did this type of language have in literature responding to a national crisis? My exploration of the poetry, prose, and fiction led me to think about how other groups in American literature used religious language. And, this in turn led me to the Puritans, their jeremiad, and Sacvan Bercovitch's seminal work on the seventeenth-century political sermon. Ultimately, I decided that religious language creates a connection between the writer and the audience by assuming that the Biblical reference implied a community of like-minded individuals. What I discovered was that the language did not necessarily call for religious conversion. In fact, I found that Civil War literature used Biblical language to convert the readers and listeners to adhere to the writer's socio-political platform. In a sense, writers were more interested in a united civic response than a religious conversion. The many issues revolving around the Civil War allowed the believer and non-believer alike to use religion and its language to recreate the jeremiad for a new era and possibly new ideologies. Essentially, this project aims to redefine or broaden the definition of the jeremiad-to explain and better explore a particular genre that combines civic duty-with religious obedience. My chosen texts for this project include Walt Whitman's war diary, Memoranda During the War; Herman Melville's Battle-Pieces and Aspects of the War: Civil War Poems; John Greenleaf Whittier's abolitionist poetry published in William Lloyd Garrison's The Liberator (1832-1865); and Harriet Beecher Stowe's abolitionist novel Dred. I chose to explore poetry, fiction, and nonfiction prose to demonstrate that the jeremiad should not be relegated merely to the structure of a traditional sermon. Moreover, reform literature during the Civil War, in light of jeremiad studies, takes on the rhetorical role of the sermon...



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