College of Arts and Sciences


Master of Arts in English (MA)


Karen Swallow Prior


Bunyan, The Pilgrim's Progress, Liturgy, Phenomenology, Imagination, James K. A. Smith


Christianity | English Language and Literature


John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress has been enjoyed for its imaginative story by a wide variety of readers since its publication in 1678, but criticism has long treated Bunyan’s imaginative story-telling as separate from and at odds with his Puritanism. If this were the case and expositing theological doctrine was Bunyan’s main purpose, then why would he write a fiction? Using James K. A. Smith idea of “liturgical pedagogy” from his Cultural Liturgies series, this thesis argues that Bunyan’s story does more than vividly convey theological doctrine to the reader’s mind; rather, it captures the imagination of the reader’s heart, shaping the reader’s desires and actions in the world. As Bunyan claims in his “Apology,” The Pilgrim’s Progress makes a “Travailer” of the reader by making every experience of life feel like it is part of spiritual journey so that every action leads toward or away from the most beautiful and desirable destination, heaven. The allegorical form of the story allows the reader to have an embodied experience of spiritual reality through the imagination that leads to a re-perception of ordinary experience as charged with transcendent meaning. By experiencing the journey with Christian, the reader becomes a traveler to the Celestial City and begins to perceive how others influence the journey. Locations along the way familiarize the reader with the spiritual journey and rehearse the practices that shape the reader’s desire for heaven. In addition to Smith’s work, this thesis draws from the writings of Charles Taylor and Cassandra Falke.