Eastern Religion and the Dilemmas of the Modern
Overaa, Roderick B.
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This dissertation presents a genealogy of modernism that explores the impact of Eastern religion and philosophy on nineteenth and twentieth century Anglo-American literature. This project significantly reframes our current understanding of modernism, its origins, and its legacy. Twentieth century critics typically emphasized modernist innovations in style and form as defining characteristics. Increasingly, however, modernism is viewed as a massive cultural response to a profound and pervasive crisis of spirituality in the West--a crisis that has its origins in Enlightenment rationalism and which achieves its most concise and familiar expression in Nietzsche’s famous 1882 pronouncement that "God is dead." This study demonstrates that the perceived loss of the spiritual (as the ground for both moral and cosmic order) is the fundamental problem of Western modernity, and that this perspective allows us to understand and explain the extensive influence of Eastern religion on the art and literature of the modern era. The so-called "crisis of modernity" has never been resolved, and every indication is that it is now approaching its climax as the West faces economic, political and ideological challenges from both without and within--challenges which often become manifest in the form of violent conflict. This study provides a new perspective on how and why the West has come to its present, precarious situation. The pressing issues of our time--identity politics, consumerism, terrorism, globalization--cannot be properly contextualized without this broader understanding. By exposing the extent to which cross-cultural encounters inform and influence national literatures this project complicates our prevailing assumptions about modernity and the complex relationship between literature and culture.
- English