University of Illinois at Chicago
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More Things in Heaven and Earth: Herman Melville on Islam and the Rise of Secularism

thesis
posted on 2024-05-01, 00:00 authored by Mohammed Qays Khaleel AlQaisi
More Things in Heaven and Earth investigates Herman Melville’s interpretation of Islam in a time when Christianity became secular. Islam was at the heart of the secular argument to dethrone religion, as it was depicted as the least secular religion. Even when the early secularist movement lambasted Christianity, it did so by warning that Christianity could become something like Islam: a rigid religion that resists progress. However, Christianity and secularism were able to merge, marking Christianity as the religion of modernity. Melville lived through a time when Christian voices in the pulpit espoused their religion as the only one that is universal and can expand in its mission of saving the uncivilized. Ministers such as Orville Dewey blurred any grounding for religion by preaching sentimentality as a form of finding God. Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Transcendentalism was not very different in its focus on feeling God in nature, and its resistance to a dogmatic Christianity. Melville’s fiction and poetry show a yearning for a lost Christianity and a criticism of a secularized Christianity that uses its secularism as a guise for imperial projects. Melville’s Clarel is a fictional depiction of his travels to the Holy Land in search for faith. In it, Melville grapples with secularism’s vocabulary of the universal religion and uses Islam to undermine secularism. In Benito Cereno, Melville brilliantly depicts and undermines sentimentality as an important asset of secularism. The three main characters in the novella can be interpreted to represent secularized Protestantism, fading Catholicism, and the shadow of Islam. Hence, the novella becomes a battleground of Gods and an example of how Melville was always thinking of religion and secularism. Melville utilizes his knowledge of Islam in his powerful criticism of secularism in the novella.

History

Advisor

Peter Coviello

Department

English

Degree Grantor

University of Illinois Chicago

Degree Level

  • Doctoral

Degree name

Doctor of Philosophy

Committee Member

N a s s e r M u f t i , S u n i l A g n a n i , R a c h e l H a v r e l o c k , J u n a i d Q u a d r i

Thesis type

application/pdf

Language

  • en

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