Maureen Kelly, Religion and Literature Fellow

Religion and Literature Fellow
2018

I am grateful to have been invited to participate in the Marty Center Research Seminar under the support of the Anthony Yu and Scott Dissertation Fellowships. The Marty Center has been a constant site for conversation at the Divinity School, providing a platform for rigorous and nuanced research in Religious Studies to address current questions on religion in the public. The Marty Center also provides a platform for scholars and students working in the diverse methods and traditions of Religious Studies to discuss their research with each other. The Research Seminar represents a constellation of these commitments, where interdisciplinary conversation can sharpen and strengthen contributions to public discourse on religion. I am honored to be able to work with the other members of the seminar this year. 

My dissertation concerns the possibility of writing as a spiritual exercise, developing the stakes of joining a genealogical and a literary-critical approach. Grounded in a Foucauldian analytic, I take confession as a privileged mode in a genealogy of subjectivity through which the obligation to tell the truth of oneself becomes a widespread practice with political implications. My interest lies in the applications of this political and philosophical question in the domain of literature. I read two landmark texts in the literary genealogy of the question, the Confessions of Augustine and Rousseau, and consider how the textual plays of their writing interact with, complicate, and illuminate philosophical and historical aspects of confession. Close reading of these texts, I suggest, elaborates the complex role of self-writing in the “history of ourselves,” in this case, in the religious history of ourselves. This year, I will write in the second and third chapters of my dissertation project, which focus on the genealogy of confessional practices situating the respective texts, and the relationship between the translation of the confession into writing and the effects of this in its procedure. 

I look forward to reading, discussing, and engaging with Divinity School students, faculty and Visiting Fellows this year in the critical and collaborative set-up of the seminar. I am also grateful to have worked with the Marty Center in the past and already appreciate the work and dedication of everyone who makes the Research Seminar and other programs possible, and look forward to contributing to the exchange this year.