Ohio University Press · Swallow Press ·

Religious Imaginaries
The Liturgical and Poetic Practices of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Christina Rossetti, and Adelaide Procter

By Karen Dieleman

“In our critical moment often obsessed with secularity, Dieleman’s breathtakingly original scholarship reminds us how lived religion and liturgy profoundly shaped the creative work of some of our most celebrated women writers. This groundbreaking book made me rethink everything I thought I knew about religion, poetry, and women in nineteenth-century England."

Cynthia Scheinberg, author of Women’s Poetry and Religion in Victorian England: Jewish Identity and Christian Culture

“Though applying a theoretical framework drawn from contemporary theology, Dieleman unquestionably displays her Victorianist credentials by combining her own fresh archival research with often incisive close readings.”

Review 19

“Dieleman is particularly insightful when she describes the types of worship practiced in various ecclesial settings (Dissenting, Anglican, and roman Catholic).…[Her] sympathetic and wide reading of different worship settings in the nineteenth century opens up many useful lines of thought.”

Victorian Studies

“In a major new study of poetics and liturgical practises, Karen Dieleman makes an important intervention in approaches to women’s religious poetry. Rather than, she argues, the conventional assumption that faith limits poetry, women’s direct bodily experience of church worship shaped the form of their poems, and what she terms a ‘religious imaginary’ is often more important than gender in the development of religious poetics.…Religious Imaginaries is a rich, compelling, and innovative approach to women poets, and the inclusion of Procter with the usual pairing of Rossetti and Barrett Browning is a welcome attempt in adding this important woman and usually overlooked woman poet to the center of attention.”

Victorian Poetry’s “Guide to the Year's Work on Women Poets”

Explores liturgical practice as formative for how three Victorian women poets imagined the world and their place in it and, consequently, for how they developed their creative and critical religious poetics.

This new study rethinks several assumptions in the field: that Victorian women’s faith commitments tended to limit creativity; that the contours of church experiences matter little for understanding religious poetry; and that gender is more significant than liturgy in shaping women’s religious poetry.

Exploring the import of bodily experience for spiritual, emotional, and cognitive forms of knowing, Karen Dieleman explains and clarifies the deep orientations of different strands of nineteenth-century Christianity, such as Congregationalism’s high regard for verbal proclamation, Anglicanism’s and Anglo-Catholicism’s valuation of manifestation, and revivalist Roman Catholicism’s recuperation of an affective aesthetic. Looking specifically at Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Christina Rossetti, and Adelaide Procter as astute participants in their chosen strands of Christianity, Dieleman reveals the subtle textures of these women’s religious poetry: the different voices, genres, and aesthetics they create in response to their worship experiences. Part recuperation, part reinterpretation, Dieleman’s readings highlight each poet’s innovative religious poetics.

Dieleman devotes two chapters to each of the three poets: the first chapter in each pair delineates the poet’s denominational practices and commitments; the second reads the corresponding poetry. Religious Imaginaries has appeal for scholars of Victorian literary criticism and scholars of Victorian religion, supporting its theoretical paradigm by digging deeply into primary sources associated with the actual churches in which the poets worshipped, detailing not only the liturgical practices but also the architectural environments that influenced the worshipper’s formation. By going far beyond descriptions of various doctrinal positions, this research significantly deepens our critical understanding of Victorian Christianity and the culture it influenced.

Karen Dieleman is associate vice president and dean and a professor of English at Redeemer University in Ontario, Canada. She has published in the Journal of Pre-Raphaelite Studies, Victorian Poetry, Victorians Institute Journal, and Christianity and Literature.   More info →

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Retail price: $34.95, S.
Release date: February 2023
324 pages · 6 × 9 in.
Rights:  World

Retail price: $80.00, S.
Release date: October 2012
324 pages
Rights:  World

Release date: October 2012
Rights:  World

Additional Praise for Religious Imaginaries

“Time has blurred distinctions between the remarkably many branches of nineteenth-century British Christianity, and although many careful studies of Christina Rossetti’s religious writings have paid homage to her intentions and sensibilities, fewer writers have taken the trouble to analyze their personal and institutional antecedents. Dieleman’s lucid arguments help clarify why Rossetti framed her idiosyncratic spiritual experiences as she did.”

Victorian Poetry’s “Guide to the Year's Work on the Pre-Raphaelites”

Religious Imaginaries is an astute, learned, and original interdisciplinary study of the interconnections between the poetic practices of three women poets and the ‘religious imaginaries formed by and in response to liturgical practices’ (p. 2). …Dieleman combines expertise in church history, liturgy, biblical discourse and EBB scholarship with a syncretic theoretical framework.”

Victorian Poetry’s “Guide to the Year's Work on Elizabeth Barrett Browning”

“An excellent study. Dieleman resists the secularization narrative and explores the distinctive liturgical practices of different denominations and their influence on Victorian women poets. She wishes to reinstate the ‘affirmative and generative possibilities’ of church experience for women poets, particularly for Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Christina Rossetti, and Adelaide Procter. Their poetic voices were shaped by their religious imaginings rather than simply by a set of doctrines, and Dieleman approaches her task by bringing together ‘the sensory and the affective, or the body, mind, and emotions.’”

The Year's Work in English Studies

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