New skin for the old ceremony
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This dissertation will examine the role of the religious impulse, belief, and ritual in American fiction—specifically that fiction heavily influenced by existentialist philosophy—in the decades following World War II. The six writers I examine—Saul Bellow, J.D. Salinger, Flannery O’Connor, John Updike, Walker Percy, and Frederick Buechner—typically follow one of two routes as regards ritual and belief: Either they present the ritual as an end unto itself, with belief as an unnecessary afterthought, or else their characters have a deep and personal faith in God that cannot be expressed through the potentially outdated rites of traditional Judaism and Christianity. In the former scenario, the ritual remains intact, even though belief has rotted away beneath it; in the latter, belief is as strong as ever, but the rituals have had to change to keep from destroying it. An examination of the ways fiction writers navigate these issues will tell us important things about human beings’ relationship to religion, ritual, and belief.