Stokes publishes book on theological content of Sentimental literature

Photo taken by Jordan Leeper.
Photo taken by Jordan Leeper.

Claudia Stokes, associate professor and chair of the English department, has published numerous works about American literature, particularly that of the 19th century. This year, she added one more to the list.

Her latest book, “The Altar at Home: Sentimental Literature and Nineteenth-Century American Religion,” focuses on the theological content of Sentimental literature in the 19th century.

Stokes’s book challenges the common idea that Sentimental literature promotes conservative and conventional religious beliefs. It is an attempt to analyze, in a very detailed way, the specific theological contents of Sentimental literature.

“It has been assumed for about 150 years that it promotes fairly conventional, fairly conservative, fairly traditional religious beliefs,” Stokes said. “I argue that many of the religious beliefs promoted in Sentimental literature are very innovative, and in many ways at odds with our beliefs about this literary movement.”

Stokes conducted extensive research about the topic, describing the process as “highly detailed.”

“I visited archives I didn’t expect to go to. I went to the West Point library. I studied sermons, I read private correspondence, I read people’s mail, even 19th-century Sunday school lesson plans. It was a long process, but it was very satisfying,” Stokes said.

The idea for the book came from one of Stokes’s classes here at Trinity.

“The book emerged from a class I teach here at Trinity””a seminar on Sentimental writers,” Stokes said. “What interested me was the presumption that scholars often make that Christianity, and religion in general, is homogeneous and static. Scholars often overlook the great diversity of beliefs that are grouped under the term Christianity.”

Stokes has also authored “Writers in Retrospect: The Rise of American Literary History, 1875-1910″ and co-edited “American Literary Studies: A Methodological Reader” with Michael A. Elliot. In addition to these books, Stokes has published several essays.

Stokes plans to conduct future research about the meaning of characters’ physical disabilities in Sentimental literature.