Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Theology

M. Cooper Harriss. New York Univ., $30 (288p) ISBN 978-1-4798-2301-7
Harriss, professor of religion at Indiana University, articulates the religious dimension of Ralph Ellison’s life and work in this scholarly study. Arguing that race has the same interplay of the particular and the universal that defines religion, Harriss shows how Ellison’s notion of invisibility counters the view of him as a thoroughgoing secularist. Secularity is religion made invisible, Harriss writes, and mapped onto other differences, such as race. Each chapter brings Ellison into conversation with other thinkers to show a religious lineage to his thinking while also tackling a chronological period or particular theme. These figures include Zora Neale Hurston, Reinhold Niebuhr, Nathan A. Scott Jr., and Paul Tillich. Though the prime focus is Ellison’s Invisible Man and its reception, Harriss brings in his biography, teaching career, and unpublished work to round out these claims. The prose is not arresting, but it’s clear and relatively persuasive. Harriss offers an intriguing way to rethink what religion looks like—even when it’s invisible—in America. Specialists in the fields of literature, religion, race, and American history will find many important ideas to wrestle with in the work. (May)
Reviewed on: 03/13/2017
Release date: 05/01/2017
Genre: Nonfiction
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