Noted Fairfield University Theologian Paul F. Lakeland to study the “graced” moments when readers confront faith, doubt, joy, grief, hope, despair.

Award-winning author to examine Camus’ “The Plague;” Garcia Marquez’s “One Hundred Years of Solitude;” Louise Penny’s series of mystery novels set in “Three Pines;” and TV show “Northern Exposure.”

FAIRFIELD, Conn. (June 3, 2015) – Author and theologian Paul F. Lakeland, Ph.D., professor of Religious Studies at Fairfield University, has been selected to receive the University’s Robert E. Wall Faculty Research Award for the 2015-2016 academic year, which will result in a new book. Dr. Lakeland's project, “The Space Between: Reading Literature Theologically,” builds upon his already very impressive theological scholarship, and emerges from his work over at least fifteen years in several courses at Fairfield.

Lynn Babington, Ph.D., RN, provost and senior vice president for Academic Affairs, said the book project involves analyzing the process of reading theologically and entering the ‘space between’ - the world of the reader and that of the author. “Dr. Lakeland's highly regarded scholarship brings great credit to Fairfield University,” said Dr. Babington.

Dr. Lakeland, the Aloysius P. Kelley S.J. Professor of Catholic Studies and director of Fairfield’s Center for Catholic Studies, said he will focus on texts that themselves highlight “place, a location of sin and grace I suppose.” Among the texts and subjects he plans to examine are Albert Camus’ “The Plague;” Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “One Hundred Years of Solitude;” Louise Penny’s series of mystery novels set in and around a semi-mythical small Quebec village called “Three Pines;” and “Northern Exposure,” the TV series set in a small town in Alaska that revolved around a transplanted New York City doctor.

Dr. Lakeland noted that the best way to introduce this project is to explain what it is not. It’s not a study of religious novels, or religion in the novel. It is not a search for “the Catholic novel” or for Catholic or Christian themes.

The fundamental question Professor Lakeland wishes to answer is: what is happening, theologically speaking, when any reader enters into the experience of reading any serious work of fiction. “Some readers have profound religious sensibilities, some have nothing at all,” explained Dr. Lakeland, recipient of several Catholic Press Association awards, including one for best book in theology for his work, “The Liberation of the Laity.”

The book project emerges from Lakeland’s work in the classroom. In his course, “Saints and Sinners: Representations of Holiness in Modern Fiction,” he examined works of fiction in which a whole range of human behaviors that can be described in religious categories of holiness, sinfulness and so on are exhibited. A second course, “Belief and Unbelief: Explorations of the Space Between,” takes up a series of texts that occupy the terrain of modern life where faith and doubt coincide, often in the same person. A third course, “The Classic: Truth in the Religion and the Arts,” centers around the biblical Book of Job, and a whole series of religious commentaries upon it and an even lengthier list of creative writers who have been inspired to reinterpret Job’s predicament from many different places on the spectrum between religious belief and atheism.

“As I stand back and reflect on all I have learned over the last ten or twelve years occasionally teaching these courses, and doing extensive reading in classical and contemporary fiction, I am interested above all in what are the tectonics of reading serious literature, and how they can be explicated from a theological perspective,” said Lakeland.

A “theological” reading should not be construed to be a confessional perspective, but rather an academic theological inquiry into the “graced” moments that occur in the act of reading. “By ‘graced’ I mean those moments when the reader is in a place where she or he confronts the most serious issues of life, of joy and grief, of hope and despair, of faith and doubt, of clarity and confusion,” Dr. Lakeland explained.

Such moments require a serious reader, a serious text and a serious reading, but the moment itself is not a product of one or other, or even a collaboration between all three, according to Lakeland. A mysterious fourth something, not necessarily something religious since these moments are entirely accessible to atheists and agnostics as well as believers, intervenes in the process of imaginative appropriation, Lakeland said. His objective with the research is to name that fourth something, to account for it and to demonstrate its presence in the selected texts

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Posted on June 4, 2015

Vol. 47, No. 260

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