Modernist Reformations

BookModernist Reformations

Modernist Reformations

Poetry as Theology in Eliot, Stevens, and Joyce

Clemson University Press


March 16th, 2022

Access Token


Other Formats



“Religion” has become suspect in literary studies, often for good reason, as it has become associated with reactionary politics and outdated codified beliefs.  In Modernist Reformations: Poetry as Theology in Eliot, Stevens, and Joyce, the author demonstrates how three high modernist writers work to reform religious experience for an age dominated by the extremes of radical skepticism and dogmatic rigidity. The author offers new and provocative readings of these well-studied writers: Joyce and Stevens are usually considered purely secular, and the Eliot in this book is more progressive than reactionary. The readings here provide a fresh approach to their work and to the period.  Using studies of religious experience by sociologists and theologians both from the modernist era and from our own contemporary world to frame the argument, the author examines the poetry closely and in detail to demonstrate that the work of these writers does not merely reflect religious themes and issues but does the actual work usually considered theological. Their poetry is theology. Modernist Reformations will renew and deepen appreciation for these writers, and perhaps their efforts at reformation may allow for our own engagement with religion in a secular age.

Author Information

Stephen Sicari is Professor of English at St. John's University. He teaches a variety of courses, ranging from our writing course for new English majors, through electives in the major on modernism, to graduate seminars. His graduate teaching these days is focused on religion and literature, extending beyond high modernist writers to more recent and contemporary writers.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Section TitlePagePrice
Part I Reforming Belief: Renewing Religious Feeling and Experience23
Introduction “What am I to believe?”25
1 Eliot: “We had the experience but missed the meaning”33
2 Stevens: “We reason of these things with later reason”63
Part II Reforming God: Modernist Encounters with the East103
Introduction Otto and the Pluralists105
3 Eliot’s Buddhized Christianity115
4 Ulysses as Christianized Buddhist Epic143
5 Stevens’s Late Poems as Buddhist Meditation161
Part III Reforming Church: “Upon this rock I will build my Church”183
Introduction Still “Churchgoing”185
6 Joyce: “It is in here that I must kill the priest and the king”189
7 Eliot: “And the Church must be forever building, and always decaying, and always being restored”207
8 Stevens: “And yet what good were yesterday’s devotions?”223
Appendix: Reforming Jesus239