Dawn Coleman is an associate professor of English, with expertise in American literature. She has recently published Preaching and the Rise of the American Novel (Ohio State University Press, 2013), which recovers a crucial moment in the history of the intimate, often contentious relationship between American religion and literature.
According to Coleman, two cultural trajectories intersected in the United States during the middle of the nineteenth century: a boom in preaching, linked to the growth of evangelicalism and the country’s oratorical traditions, and a sharp upward tick in the “rise” of the novel. The cultural dominance of preaching, she argues, meant that the preacher in the pulpit spoke in the culture’s voice of moral authority and that novelists who wished to establish the moral value of their own storytelling needed to critique ministers while making their own use of sermons and sermonic speech. In illuminating how novelists such as George Lippard, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and William Wells Brown sought to displace traditional religious institutions, her book demonstrates the deep connections between nineteenth-century American literature and religion and speaks to how the processes of secularization are often less concerned with rejecting religion outright than with reimagining its elements.