Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Type



Eberly College of Arts and Sciences



Committee Chair

Timothy Sweet

Committee Co-Chair

Edward J Blum

Committee Member

Cari Carpenter

Committee Member

John R Ernest

Committee Member

Michael Germana


This dissertation examines fictional texts of the late nineteenth century in order to recover the response of progressive Christian writers facing a growing tide of racial violence, injustice, and segregation in the postbellum decades. By investigating the works of Mark Twain, Charles Sheldon, Frances Harper, and Sutton Griggs, I argue that we gain access to a cadre of writers who sought to translate emerging strains of New Theology into practical means of race reform. They regarded their novels as sermons to the masses and saw writing as a sacred practice of communicating the Word to fellow believers; and their brand of Christian Liberalism was rooted in Incarnational theology, prized the humanity of Christ, insisted on a social gospel, and exhorted others to adopt a self-sacrificial and costly form of discipleship.;Throughout the late nineteenth century both white and black ministers turned toward storytelling in the pulpit, and so the era's prolific writers paralleled this movement by embracing homiletic realism in literature. The resulting narratives were often bestsellers that captivated wide audiences even while exposing the false process of racial categorization, revealing race as a social construct, and depicting tangible acts of social Christianity among disenfranchised and violently oppressed African-American communities. By returning to these narratives, then, we are able to reconstruct the period of race reform in the postbellum years---one that bridges Protestant abolitionist zeal with progressive Civil Rights activism---and we draw closer to a more complex and accurate understanding of America's racial and theological past.