Religion In American Literature

Religion is an organized collection of cultural systems, beliefs, and world views which relate human beings to an order of existence. Many religions in the world use symbols, sacred histories and narratives that aim to explain origin of life, meaning of life, or the universe. Religion has change the way human beings live, their lifestyle and boundaries. Religion has contributed immensely to literature. Most of the first written materials are about religion. In addition, most stories of the ancient worlds were based on religion more than any topic. This was common especially during the 14th and 15th centuries when religion was at its peak during the Roman Empire. Through centuries, religion has changed many aspects of life and it is still continuing to change. People writing about religion have also added to the importance of religion on literature. One notable example is Mary Rowlandson whose work; The Sovereignty and Goodness of God, Being a Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration have defined American literature during the early 20th century. Rowlandson wrote about the workings of the Puritan theology and how it works in ordinary lives. The paper will detail how religion has defined American literature in the past and in the present.

According to Rowland’s, the puritans are a group of people who came to Massachusetts bay and came to set up a theocracy that would show the rest of the world especially Europe and specifically England that their religion was corrupted. They wanted to show the rest of the world especially Christians in Europe how a religious community should be. Rowland used this setting to tell the story of puritans beliefs are applied in our daily lives. She wrote that the puritan believer always believed that the divine providence operates in an absolutely arbitrary manner. This means that the punishment of God was immeasurable in magnitude. The punishment of a sins magnitude was not known and maybe a slight provocation might lead to a wrath never seen before. The whole of Roland book was based on religion and its working in the community.

Mary Rowlandson is one of the well-known writers of the seventeenth century. As seen from her book, puritan religion was a big influence to the literature during this time. The importance of religion on literature appears in many puritan texts along with the constant vigilance, self-evaluation, and uniformity in ideas. Women writers were being looked down upon during this time. For example, Rowlandson was not considered in the same standard as her male counterparts during this time. Anne Bradstreet was another woman writer during this time that received little recognition. Heavy religious emphases of women during this time were looked down upon. However, after Bradstreet who was a writer during this period wrote a poem about religion, she was the first woman to have her poem published in New England. As seen above, religion played a big role in ensuring women were recognized as established writers in America. Mary Rowlandson is another woman writer whose work based on religion made her recognized as an established writer. Rowlandson is the first person who developed captivity narrative.

Apart from puritan’s belief in Rowlandson narrative, she also incorporates the life and beliefs of the Native Americans. She discusses how they usually led their lives and interacted with other people until they came into contact with Christianity. The Native American life changed when they met Christians who incorporated their beliefs on them. The Native Americans started to drink and do all sorts of things which they never practiced before. This is one example of what Christianity and its belief did to the Native Americans. The beliefs totally changed how the natives led their lives disrupting their religion and traditions.

As Rowland explained these religious beliefs, she inaugurated a new unique American literary form. Captivity as an American literature form started being popular among the writers of this time. During this period, fiction with drama was prohibited, as such, tales of Indian captivity prove to be a new frontier in American literature. Indian captivity offered the real life drama that people were missing such as forced marches, violent raids and life amidst the people who were culturally alien. A new form of American literature was woven and writers became immensely interested in this new literature frontier. Subsequent authors of captivity narratives wove the stories from several existing forms for example, Bradstreet’s work as in spiritual biography is a good instance. The ideal of redemption in captivity narratives takes a double meaning: both religious as secular and religious as in the spiritual autobiography.

With puritan’s belief of precept of self-examination, their habit of introspection is seen in many works such as Anne Bradstreet verses. In Anne Bradstreet “Verses upon Burning of Our House,” she is in emotional conflict between her valuables in the house and her grief over the loss of over 800 books se ha written in her life and her puritanical beliefs that she should not be materialistic. This lends the poem a philosophical import and lends it an emotional feeling. Another work which shows how religion has defined American literature is the work of a Puritan poet by the name of Edward Taylor. His poem ‘Housewifery” praises the puritan’s qualities of orderliness and thrift as the spinning wheel that provides “memory, judgment, affections and conscience.” Another writ, though not a puritan used the puritans belief to discuss self-examination. Benjamin Franklin in his autobiography evaluates when he was young and learned imitations just like the puritans did. He uses the beliefs of the puritans has his source for comparison.

During the nineteenth century, Christian beliefs also played a major role in American literature. Emily Dickinson who was writer from the nineteenth century in her poem “some keep the Sabbath Going to Church” showed his juxtaposition of religion with nature. She rejects the teaching so of her family’s congregationists but she was also a deeply spiritual poet that often reflected upon divine. Other nineteenth and early twentieth Christian beliefs also influenced other works such as Harriet Beecher Stowe’s work “Uncle Tom’s cabin” which is a narrative intended to elicit Christian beliefs. It elicits the Christians beliefs to see how African Americans were persecuted without any mistakes just because of their color. Religious faith helped in writing of this work to help African-Americans be recognized in the community.

All these work shows how religion has played an important role in American literature. These are only some of the few works in the 18th century that defined American literature during this time. Bradstreet and Rowland are some of the women writers that made it by using religion as the basis of their inspiration. Religion has played a big role not only in American literature but also other country’s literature. Good examples are found in African countries were missionaries brought the first reading materials which were filled with Christian religion. Currently, religion is still changing the American literature world such as the emergence of new religion. Scientology is a new religion in the world and especially American. Some writers have made their life writing about this new religion in the world and how it is defining the religion landscape. It can be concluded that religion is the single most important factor that defined American literature and literature in other parts of the world.

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