Footnotes to Coleridge: A Genealogy of Theology and Literature
This dissertation examines Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s theological and literary legacy in the 20th century. My argument does not represent a direct study of Coleridge or his poetry, but rather an analysis of the ways in which Coleridge’s thought has been appropriated (and misappropriated) in recent debates over the nature of the creative imagination. My objective is to trace a genealogy of Coleridge’s influence on theories of the relationship between literary and theological forms of knowledge. To this end, my study attends to competing conceptions of imaginative literature as an irreducible mode of doing theology or apprehending theological claims. I focus on a debate that unfolds between four self-styled successors to Coleridge: T.S. Eliot, Owen Barfield, Harold Bloom, and Geoffrey Hill. I identify in this lineage of poet-theologians a tacit dispute that turns on competing interpretations of Coleridge’s theory of the imagination: particularly what it means to say the imagination is ‘incarnational’, that it can create or ‘body forth’ contingent knowledge in poetry. I situate this debate with respect to the emergence of ‘theology and literature’ as a discrete field of inquiry in the 20th century in the work of figures like Nathan Scott, Martha Nussbaum, Rowan Williams, and Michael Hurley. I ultimately argue that the subdiscipline of theology and literature is, in ways seldom acknowledged, a fundamentally Coleridgean venture; that while Coleridge is often reduced to a footnote in the field, recent practices in theology and literature are more productively understood as a series of competitive responses or footnotes to Coleridge.