Robert Detweiler explores how religious values are publicly expressed in fiction, drama, and film, and how such discourse influence and shape public values. Integral to Detweiler’s close readings is the view that novel as an art form does not represent and reinforce the views and attitudes of the dominant culture, a view that was prominent in the academia, but it constructs particular as opposed to overarching and hegemonic identities. Novel thus becomes a vehicle for expressing the views of a “subaltern counterpublic” and articulates their concerns, identities, and needs.
Detweiler maps the works of fictional literature along three “bodies”: the body politic, the body erotic, and the body apocalyptic; each of these bodies identifies areas of public discourse wherein religious concern finds public expression. Body politic examines, through a close reading of E. L. Doctorow’s “The Book of Daniel”, Robert Coover’s “The Public Burning,” and Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible,” the theological themes of good and evil, incarnation, confession, and forgiveness. It shows how religious values are employed in defining the opponent as evil and one’s own position as good and sanctioned by God at corporate and national levels.
Body erotic describes the conflicted expressions of sexuality as closely connected with attempts to learn what one feels and believes. Detweiler employs the concepts of shame, pain, awe, and mystery in examining the landscape of sexuality as it finds public expression in six works of fiction: John Pielmeier’s “Agnes of God,” Ron Hansen’s “Mariette in Ecstasy,” Mary Gordon’s “The Company of Women,” Toni Morrison’s “Beloved,” Nella Larsen’s “Quicksand,” and Elizabeth Dewberry Vaughn’s “Many Things Have Happened since He Died.” Detweiler asserts that bodies as sites of sexual desires are also sites of faith.
Body apocalyptic describes what Detweiler calls the American passion to know through revelatory knowledge. Detweiler argues that this compulsion for revelatory knowledge provokes violence. Francis Ford Coppola’s film “Apocalypse Now,” Philip Caputo’s “Indian Country,” and Louise Erdrich’s “Tracks” are read together to elucidate the themes central to the body apocalyptic and the events which exemplify those themes.