Author(s)

Brooke LightFollow

Date

5-2014

Department

English and Modern Languages

Degree

Master of Arts (MA)

Chair

Matthew Towles

Keywords

Catholic Personalism, Community, Ernest J. Gaines

Disciplines

American Literature | American Studies | Christianity | Ethics in Religion | Literature in English, North America | Practical Theology

Abstract

Personalist theology, along with Ernest J. Gaines's fiction, resists the idea of isolation and instead highlights the importance of the communal good, criticizing social and religious institutions that fail to uphold the value of human dignity and community. In "Personalism and Traditional Afrikan Thought," Burrow argues that "the church exists for the person and not the other way around" (347) and that churches should be judged and evaluated on the extent to which they meet the needs of the community. Representing their churches, the preachers in three of Gaines's novels (A Lesson Before Dying, In My Father's House, and A Gathering of Old Men) struggle to uphold this vision for communal action as they simultaneously affirm the personalist value for community yet differ in their views on appropriate social action. Gaines's emphasis on community is consistent with the tenets of personalism, illuminating his critique on the insufficiency of the institutional Church because of its lack of response to injustice. While providing a lens with which to critique the Church, the presence of personalism in Gaines's novels also affirms the value of Christian institutions in the life of a community, exposing the tensions between reconciling faith and action.