In the first book to consider the study of world religion and world literature in concert, Zhange Ni proposes a new reading strategy that she calls "pagan criticism," which she applies not only to late twentieth- and early twenty-first-century literary texts that engage the global resurgence of religion but also to the very concepts of religion and the secular. Focusing on two North American writers (the Jewish American Cynthia Ozick and the Canadian Margaret Atwood) and two East Asian writers (the Japanese Endō Shūsaku and the Chinese Gao Xingjian), Ni reads their fiction, drama, and prose to envision a "pagan (re)turn" in the study of world religion and world literature. In doing so, she highlights the historical complexities and contingencies in literary texts and challenges both Christian and secularist assumptions regarding aesthetics and hermeneutics.
In assessing the collision of religion and literature, Ni argues that the clash has been not so much between monotheistic orthodoxies and the sanctification of literature as between the modern Western model of religion and the secular and its non-Western others. When East and West converge under the rubric of paganism, she argues, the study of religion and literature develops into that of world religion and world literature.
The Pagan Writes Back displays theoretical sophistication and promotes practical application to selected, diverse texts. It is an absorbing read, a text that may prove decisive for scholars seeking to divine the future of religion and literature studies. Well written, tightly argued, and stimulating.
[An] innovative book... Scholars of religion and literature straining against the still undiminished hegemony of obscurely felt shape-shifting monotheistic premises, which maddeningly seem to know how to regenerate themselves with new mutations after each new vaccine, will surely welcome Ni’s pointing of a way toward further such idolatries in the future.
In this ambitious, provocative, and important book, Zhange Ni seeks to globalize the scope of what in the past has been, with some exceptions... the mostly Western-bound, Christian- and Jewish-focused study of religion and literature.... Arguably Ni’s most original contribution is her evolvement of a coherent critical theory and interpretive method from this historical background, rehearsing, critiquing, and finally abandoning Said’s notion of secular criticism in favor of her own pagan criticism.
Zhange Ni is Assistant Professor of Religion and Culture at Virginia Tech.