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© 2019

Religion, Secularism, and the Spiritual Paths of Virginia Woolf

  • Kristina K. Groover
Book

About this book

Introduction

Religion, Secularism, and the Spiritual Paths of Virginia Woolf offers an expansive interdisciplinary study of spirituality in Virginia Woolf's writing, drawing on theology, psychology, geography, history, gender and sexuality studies, and other critical fields.  The essays in this collection interrogate conventional approaches to the spiritual, and to Woolf’s work, while contributing to a larger critical reappraisal of modernism, religion, and secularism. While Woolf’s atheism and her sharp criticism of religion have become critical commonplaces, her sometimes withering critique of religion conflicts with what might well be called a religious sensibility in her work. The essays collected here take up a challenge posed by Woolf herself:  how to understand her persistent use of religious language, her representation of deeply mysterious human experiences, and her recurrent questions about life's meaning in light of her disparaging attitude toward religion. These essays argue that Woolf's writing reframes and reclaims the spiritual in alternate forms; she strives to find new language for those numinous experiences that remain after the death of God has been pronounced.

Keywords

religion and literature secularism modernist literature metaphysical Virginia Woolf Mrs. Dalloway To the Lighthouse spirituality and literature

Editors and affiliations

  • Kristina K. Groover
    • 1
  1. 1.Appalachian State UniversityBooneUSA

About the editors

Kristina K. Groover is Professor of English at Appalachian State University, USA.  She is author of The Wilderness Within:  American Women Writers and Spiritual Quest (1999) and editor of Things of the Spirit:  Women Writers Constructing Spiritualities (2004).

Bibliographic information

Reviews

“Recent scholarship has begun to address the spiritual side of Virginia Woolf’s writing. The essays in this collection explore a wide range of religious contexts for Woolf’s work, including Quaker and feminist theology, Victorian antecedents such as Arnold and Hopkins, recent theories of secularism, and even Dostoevsky’s Russian Orthodoxy. Together, they paint a nuanced portrait of Woolf’s complex spiritual engagements in her major novels and many of her most important essays.” (Pericles Lewis, Douglas Tracy Smith Professor of Comparative Literature and Professor of English, Yale University, USA, and author of Religious Experience and the Modernist Novel (2010))

“This important collection sheds new light on an ambiguity that has long puzzled readers of Virginia Woolf. Woolf considered belief in God ‘obscene’ and often characterized religion as a mask for avarice, cruelty, and worldly authority. Yet she also insisted that ‘the soul slips in’ to any scrupulous encounter with ‘reality,’ and W.H. Auden considered her writing to be an expression of ‘a religious, mystical view of life.’ These essays sharpen our understanding of the complex interplay between Woolf’s fidelity to the secular world and her exploration of the spiritual life.” (Matthew Mutter, Associate Professor of Literature, Bard College, USA, and author of Restless Secularism: Modernism and the Religious Inheritance (2017))

Religion, Secularism and the Spiritual Paths of Virginia Woolf is a timely and fascinating reworking of Woolf’s reputation for Godlessness, cutting across sterile oppositions such as religion and secularity, faith and reason, and the sacred and profane, to show the complexity and richness of her engagement with spirituality. It is a collection with many unexpected dimensions, foregrounding new and unusual approaches from enactment theology, cultural geography, and philosophy to the ethics of critique.” (Suzanne Hobson, Senior Lecturer in Twentieth-Century Literature, Queen Mary University of London, UK, and the author of Angels of Modernism: Religion, Culture, Aesthetics 1910-1960 (Palgrave, 2011))