Date of Award

5-2012

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Major

English

Major Professor

Heather A. Hirschfeld

Committee Members

Robert Stillman, Laura Howes, Jeri McIntosh

Abstract

Literary critics have long recognized the importance of religious dogmas to the formation and awareness of personal identity during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Stanley Fish’s seminal work, Self-Consuming Artifacts, argues that the goal of seventeenth-century writers, influenced by the theology of Augustine, was not so much a construction of the self, but a deconstruction of the self as a sacred act. Borrowing from more recent work by Brian Cummings and Gary Kuchar, this dissertation explores the Protestant conception of holiness, or good works, within a salvation paradigm that centered on faith rather than works. In Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene, John Donne’s Holy Sonnets, and John Bunyan’s Grace Abounding and Pilgrim’s Progress, sanctification is brought about through a right knowledge of both God and self through the agency of Scripture. In this way, sanctification was effected by the work of God, and the good works of the Christian could be attributed to divine rather than human agency. In The Faerie Queene, Redcrosse’s journey is marked by error and mistaken identities, until he learns from Fidessa and Contemplation how to correctly interpret Scripture and himself. In the Holy Sonnets, Donne articulates the process of re-identification required by the Calvinist model of salvation, both resisting and affirming the self-abnegation that identification with Christ requires. In Grace Abounding and Pilgrim’s Progress, Bunyan frames Christian identity through a definition of the fear of God, which obliges the Christian to identify with Christ at the expense of ties to family and community. This study concludes with a reflection on how the sanctification by identification with Christ was expressed outwardly through the Protestant concept of vocation.

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