Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Comparative Literature


Vincent Crapanzano

Committee Members

Giancarlo Lombardi

Joshua Wilner

Subject Categories

Comparative Literature | English Language and Literature | Italian Literature | Mormon Studies | Religion


Antonio Fogazzaro, Joseph Smith, George Eliot, Soren Kierkegaard


As persuasive or expository texts, religious conversion narratives tend towards monologic language, and texts that advocate one particular creed or institution often reflect the unity of faith through linguistically totalizing methods. This study, however, examines the dialogic interactions found in certain religious narratives. The texts included in this analysis recount unusual conversion outcomes: not to formally established church institutions, but rather to a heightened religious experience and in some cases a call to leadership in establishing new social orders. In these texts, the dynamic between personal and communal religious experience is tense, sometimes precarious; the difficulties of engaging in social institutions while maintaining religious or spiritual integrity is a consistent preoccupation.

This study examines selections of the History of Joseph Smith; Soren Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling; George Eliot’s Romola and Daniel Deronda; and Antonio Fogazzaro’s Malombra and Il Santo. These writers come from vastly different backgrounds, from the American frontier, to Danish Romanticism, to Victorian realism, to Italian Decadence. While some direct links and common influences can be traced between the writers, what ties them into this study is their shifts in style, or changes in modes of expression, within their approach toward the expression of faith. All show significant changes in their choice of stylistic modes. In the narratives of Joseph Smith, these changes can be seen over multiple versions and edits of a single story. In Søren Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling, the stylistic shifts are deliberate, as Kierkegaard makes direct reference to contrasting literary genre conventions that set his narrative in opposition with itself. Both the novelists George Eliot and Antonio Fogazzaro change the extent and nature of their incorporation of aestheticism and historical symbolism, making significant shifts in their construction of narrative as they shift their focus on the value and nature of the numinous.

With all four writers in this study, we see an intensification of a dialogical principle: the universal with the particular, the narrative structure of fiction with the raw internal experience, the social with the isolated. Through these writers, I hope to trace the varieties of religious narrative experience, and to demonstrate the vitality of the religious question in both fiction and non-fiction texts