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“Why are we suddenly talking about God?”: A Spiritual Turn in Recent Critical Writing

I Dimitriu


My aim is to consider current debates in the human sciences that – in looking beyond the well-worn ‘trinity’ of race, gender, class – seek to address ‘the spiritual’ as a legitimate category of investigation. (I use this category as a portmanteau term to refer to subjective expressions of belief which are not primarily linked to doctrine or organised forms of religion.) I start by offering an overview of key contributions to these new debates, including cultural theory (Eagleton 2009), critical realism (Bhaskar 2000; Creaven 2010), sociology (Spalek 2008; Martin 2005), theology (Sugirtharajah 2006) and inter-disciplinary approaches (Boyd White 2006). What of literary criticism? Is there a South or a South/ African perspective to the above debates? In the second part of the article, I focus on how postcolonial studies (Ashcroft 2006, 2009; Young 2001; Brown 2009) has entered the ‘God debate’. Has a focus on materiality and a rejection of meta-narratives (including the rejection of the centred subject) done justice to the complexity of people’s lives? Have celebrations of ‘hybridity’ or ‘ambiguity’ enhanced the life quality of de-centred people? Is it not time to revisit the rigid division between the material and the spiritual in postcolonial studies? Finally, and more specifically, I discuss how literary criticism (Wenzel 2009; Mathuray 2009) may refract South/African literary texts through the prism of the spiritual.

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eISSN: 2159-9130
print ISSN: 1013-929X