Religion without Belief

Contemporary Allegory and the Search for Postmodern Faith

By Jeanne Ellen Petrolle

Subjects: Religion, Postcolonial Studies, Postmodernism, Literary Criticism, Film Studies
Paperback : 9780791472422, 209 pages, June 2008
Hardcover : 9780791472415, 209 pages, November 2007

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Table of contents

1. Rethinking Postmodernism
2. Rescuing the Real, Part I: Allegory, Body, and Humanness in the Virtual Reality Film
3. Rescuing the Real, Part II: Allegory, Deconstruction, and Negative Theology in Feminist Experimental Novels

4. Confronting Suffering, Part I: Allegory, Interpretation, and Quests for Deliverance in Avant-Garde Film

5. Confronting Suffering, Part II: Allegory, Magic, and History in the Amerindian Novel

6. Cause or Cure? Postmodernism and Religious Fundamentalism

Works Cited

Shows there is a strong religious impulse in postmodern literature and film.


In our present cultural moment, when God is supposed to be dead and metaphysical speculation unfashionable, why does postmodern fiction—in a variety of genres—make such frequent use of the ancient rhetorical form of allegory? In Religion without Belief, Jean Ellen Petrolle argues that contrary to popular understandings of postmodernism as an irreligious and amoral climate, postmodern allegory remains deeply engaged in the quest for religious insight. Examining a range of films and novels, this book shows that postmodern fiction, despite its posturing about the unverifiable nature of truth and reality, routinely offers theological and cosmological speculation. Works considered include virtual-reality films such as The Matrix and The Truman Show, avant-garde films, and Amerindian and feminist novels.

Jean Ellen Petrolle is Professor of English at Columbia College Chicago and the coeditor (with Virginia Wexman) of Women and Experimental Filmmaking.


"Petrolle is certainly both extremely well informed about allegory, and enormously skillful in demonstrating its existence … An addition to the growing body of work on religion and genre is most welcome, especially one that takes its relation to postmodernism as seriously as this study does. " — Literature and Theology

"Petrolle looks at religion and postmodern culture, the persistence in Western culture of allegory as genre and mode, and, using critically underrepresented forms of cultural production, brings these topics together with grace and intelligence. " — Thomas L. Long, author of AIDS and American Apocalypticism: The Cultural Semiotics of an Epidemic