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Locations of the Sacred

Essays on Religion, Literature, and Canadian Culture

By William Closson James
Subjects Literary Criticism, Canadian Literature, Religion
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Paperback : 9780889203679, 288 pages, August 2000

Table of contents

Table of Contents for
Locations of the Sacred: Essays on Religion, Literature, and Canadian Culture by William Closson James




Chapter 1: Dislocating the Sacred: The Protestant Voice

The Protestant Voice

A Protestant Trio: Davies, MacLennan, and Laurence

Imprisonment and Liberation

How Is Canadian Literature “Religious”?

The Protestant Principle in English-Canadian Fiction

A Tentative Conclusion

Chapter 2: Relocating the Sacred: The Human Ground of Transcendence

Eternity and Transcendence

“Eternity” in Callaghan and MacLennan

The Ordinary and the Sacred in Mitchell and Munro

Divining the Depths in Davies, Laurence, and Atwood


Chapter 3: Nature as the Locale of the Sacred

Native and Christian Attitudes

Some Typical Canadian Views

Geography over History

A New Direction

Chapter 4: In Quest of the Sacred: The Canoe Trip

The Quest Pattern

Stages of the Quest

Transformative Quest and Canadian Character

The Canoe Trip as Initiation Rite


Chapter 5: Sacred Death: The Belcher Islands Massacre


Geographical and Religious Backgrounds

Narrative of the Events

The Contemporary Reaction to the Murders


A Personal Epilogue

Chapter 6: Theodicy and the Sacred: A. M. Klein and Hugh MacLennan

Parallel Dislocations

The Second Scroll as Theodicy

The Watch that Ends the Night and Selfhood

The Everyman and the Self

Chaos into Cosmos

Chapter 7: Love and the Sacred: The Ambiguities of Morley Callaghan’s Such Is My Beloved

Callaghan’s “Certain Perceptions”

The Two Conflicting Realms

The Song of Songs: Love and the Sacred

Conclusion: Incarnational Humanism

Chapter 8: Sacred Passages: Native Symbols in Atwood and Engel

The Female Initiation Pattern

Atwood’s Surfacing

Engel’s Bear


Chapter 9: Nordicity and the Sacred: The Journeys of Thomas York and Aritha van Herk

The Fugitive

The Spiritual Quest

The Return to the South in Desireless

“No End to This Road”: Aritha van Herk

Chapter 10: Mutuality and the Sacred: Joy Kogawa

From Divine Abandonment to Human Solidarity

Bread and Stones and Names in Obasan

From Silence to Communion





Where do Canadians encounter religious meaning? Not where they used to!

In ten lively and wide-ranging essays, William Closson James examines various derivations of the sacred in contemporary Canadian culture. Most of the essays focus on the religious aspects of modern Canadian English fiction — for example, in essays on the fiction of Hugh MacLennan, Morley Callaghan, Margaret Atwood and Joy Kogawa. But James also explores other, non-literary events and activities in which Canadians have found something transcendant or revelatory.

Each of the chapters in Locations of the Sacred can be read independently as a discrete analysis of its subject. Taken as a whole, the essays make up a powerful argument for a new way of looking at the religious in contemporary Canada — not in the traditional ways of being religious, but in activities and locations previously thought to be “secular. ” Thus, the domains and modes of the religious are expanded, not restricted.


For those who want to trust in a God who is always challenging humans to press beyond the boundaries of the churches' common wisdom and current practices, these essays represent a wealth of insight and expansive vision.

- Wayne A. Holst, Catholic New Times

Eschewing grand theories of life or letters, James teases a sense of the sacred out of human stories -- fictional, factual, or some hybrid interlacing of both. A delight to read and a rich source of insights into the sacred's elusive presence in contemporary Canada's secular landscapes.

- Jamie S. Scott, York University, Religious Studies Review

This collection of essays is an important contribution to the small but growing body of work on religion. ...James's knowledge and understanding of popular religion in Canada are impressive and convincing. His close readings of the literary texts are insightful and persuasive. His writing is literate, intelligent, and mercifully jargon-free. Religious or not, the Canadian reader will find here an essential cultural commentary.

- Barbara Pell, University of Toronto Quarterly

There is brilliant work in James's Locations of the Sacred. I enjoyed reading it from start to finish and feel that there is in it some very valuable and original thinking which absolutely must see publication. ...No one has approached so many different works with such a well-grounded knowledge of religion in a Canadian context; nor has anyone so well discussed the significance of the natural world as a sacred place in Canadian culture, nor of religion as a secular phenomenon in Canadian society.

- John Moss, University of Ottawa