Partial Faiths
Postsecular Fiction in the Age of Pynchon and Morrison

John A. McClure

What contemporary novels tell us about our yearning for a spirituality of substance without dogma


"McClure gives useful and original accounts of Pynchon, DeLillo, Morrison, Momaday, Silko, Erdrich and Ondaatje, demonstrating their complex spirituality. His definition of the 'poet seeker' is a persuasive clarification of the kind of American religious transcendence that is now a crucial feature of our life and our literature. Partial Faiths is truly a distinguished work."
—Harold Bloom

"Are you distressed by religious certainty and disturbed by secular dogmatism? Then this is the book for you. Through inspired readings of DeLillo, Pynchon, Morrison and others McClure charts post secular visions that transcend both regimes. To receive his account is to see that we already participate in a noble movement larger than we had imagined. This book is indispensable for our time."
—William E. Connolly, author Pluralism

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Spiritual conversions figure heavily in such novels as Thomas Pynchon’s Vineland, Toni Morrison’s Paradise, and Louise Erdrich’s Love Medicine. What connects such varied works is that their convert-characters are disenchanted with secularism yet apprehensive of dogmatic religiosity. Partial Faiths is the first study to identify a body of contemporary fiction in such terms, take the measure of its structures and strategies, and evaluate its contribution to public discourse on religion’s place in postmodern life.

Postsecularism is most often associated with philosophers and theorists such as Jacques Derrida, Richard Rorty, Charles Taylor, William Connolly, Jürgen Habermas, and Gianni Vattimo. But it is also being explored and invented, says John A. McClure, by many novelists: Leslie Marmon Silko, Don DeLillo, Michael Ondaatje, and N. Scott Momaday among others. These novelists, who are often regarded as belonging to different domains of contemporary fiction, are fleshing out the postsecular issues that scholars treat more abstractly.

But the modes of belief elaborated in these novels and the new narrative forms synchronized with these modes are dramatically partial and open-ended. Postsecular fiction does not aspire to any full “mapping” of the reenchanted cosmos or any formal moral code, nor does it promise anything like full redemption. It is partial in another sense as well: it is emphatically dedicated to progressive ideals of social transformation and well-being, in repudiation of resurgent fundamentalist prescriptions for the same.

Page count: 224 pp.
Trim size: 6 x 9


List price: $25.95

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John A. McClure is a professor of English and associate director of the graduate program in the English department at Rutgers University. He is the author of Late Imperial Romance and Kipling and Conrad: The Colonial Fiction.