The title of my dissertation is The Pagan Writes Back: Hetero-religiosity, Heterology, and Heterogeneous Space in Four Contemporary Novels. This project, through reading Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses, Shusaku Endo's Deep River, Margaret Atwood's Handmaid's Tale and Cynthia Ozick's Puttermesser Papers, studies the confluence of hetero-religiosity and the novel as a form of heterology from the critical perspective of heterogeneous space. More specifically, through research into the study of the historical/religious background of all four novels and textual analysis, I argue that they deviate from not only readily identifiable, well-established monotheistic religions, but also highly developed literary conventions and traditions of the West, and wrestle with intertwining power relations such as gender and ethnicity.
First, what I mean by hetero-religiosity refers to non-monotheistic religions (in the four novels--Hinduism in India, Japanese Shinto, Pagan religions in the Old Europe and the Middle East, and Neo-Paganism in the modern West), their interaction with Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and the mutation this interaction has provoked in the monotheistic traditions, which are always internally diversified. Second, the term heterology as used by Michel de Certeau denotes knowledge of the non-representational other repressed and excluded by the hegemony of social scientific writing. For de Certeau, it is the narrative that transcends the gap between representation and reality and constitutes a privileged third position that mediates between theory and practice. In the four novels that I work with, the non-representational other turns out to be hetero-religiosity, which is exiled by both social scientific writing and monotheistic scriptural orthodoxy. Moreover, these novels acquire a heightened sense of heterology in their indebtedness to non-Western literatures or adoption of the feminist perspective. To excavate and extract the heterology of hetero-religiosity from these novels, I resort to a spatial reading as in contrast and complement to the focus on temporality in the study of the narrative. According to Henri Lefebvre, space is the production and manifestation of social interrelations, and thus relational, dynamic, and heterogeneous. Embracing this renewed imagination, I examine the heterogeneous fictional space to explore the contemporary relevance of this religious/literary hetero-revival for the gendered, ethnic, and cultural other.
What this exploration comes down to is the crucial problem of subject formation. I find it intriguing that, in their attempts to encapsulate the complex interaction of gender, race, religion, and culture, all four novels link hetero-religious visions of the sacred with postmodern versions of the human subject by enacting a body-text-space triad. Despite the apparent diversity of texts and authors, I also find this triad, which corresponds to the three hetero-es, surprisingly repeated in a patterned representation: the reconstitution of the embodied subject (a hetero-religious theme) as metaphorically linked to the re/construction of the (heterological) text and manifested in spatial movements (that connect heterogeneous social positions and geographical sites).
In sum, my project, a comparative study of world religions and world literature beyond the boundaries of monotheistic religions and the Western literary canon, contributes to multiple fields. First, my engagement with Asian religions is focused on their literary manifestations and supplements the study of scriptures, rituals, and communities. Second, my project studies how women, in and through literary creation, wrestle with religious traditions that are repressive and liberating at the same time. Third, these novels engage with multiple religions as products of specific cultural and historical developments and can help us to further reconceptualize religion as a social category. Finally, the reconsideration of religion and by extension of the secular, secularization, and secularism in the light of hetero-monotheistic interaction can help us overcome the dualism of "literature as form" and "religion as substance" in the study of religion and literature by duly respecting conflictive traditions and diverse contexts.