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The Rites of Identity:
The Religious Naturalism and Cultural Criticism of Kenneth Burke and Ralph Ellison
Beth Eddy

Hardcover | 2003 | $78.50 | £65.95 | ISBN: 9780691092492
224 pp. | 6 x 9 1/4
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The Rites of Identity argues that Kenneth Burke was the most deciding influence on Ralph Ellison's writings, that Burke and Ellison are firmly situated within the American tradition of religious naturalism, and that this tradition--properly understood as religious--offers a highly useful means for considering contemporary identity and mitigating religious conflict.

Beth Eddy adds Burke and Ellison to a tradition of religious naturalism that traces back to Ralph Waldo Emerson but received its most nuanced expression in the work of George Santayana. Through close readings of the essays and fiction of Burke and Ellison, Eddy shows the extent to which their cultural criticisms are intertwined. Both offer a naturalized understanding of piety, explore the psychological and social dynamics of scapegoating, and propose comic religious resources. And both explicitly connect these religious categories to identity, be it religious, racial, national, ethnic, or gendered. Eddy--arguing that the most socially damaging uses of religious language and ritual are connected to the best uses that such language has to offer--finds in Burke and Ellison ways to manage this precarious situation and to mitigate religious violence through wise use of performative symbolic action.

By placing Burke and Ellison in a tradition of pragmatic thought, The Rites of Identity uncovers an antiessentialist approach to identity that serves the moral needs of a world that is constantly negotiating, performing, and ritualizing changes of identity.


"I wish that I had written this book. It is a study in religious naturalism that , in the end, is about the pieties and impieties entailed by the language that we use. It is the first book-length study of the relationship between Burke and Ellison and the only study that takes up questions of religious naturalism in their work."--William Hart, University of North Carolina, Greensboro

"This is a rich, interesting, and lucidly argued study of the relations between Kenneth Burke and Ralph Ellison that draws out some of the significance of their relationship for reconceptualizing a de-theologized religious position. The author substantiates her claims with vigor and writes about her two authors with a very beguiling directness and clarity."--Giles Gunn, University of California, Santa Barbara

Table of Contents:

Acknowledgments xi
Identity and the Rites of Symbolic Action 1
Kenneth Burke's Natural Pieties of Identity 25
Catharsis and Tragedy: Kenneth Burke's Rhetoric of Sacrifice 57
The Spiritual Utility of Comedy 80
Ralph Ellison and the Vernacular Pieties of American Identity 99
Ellison's Tragic Vision of Sacrifice 120
The Blues of American Identity: Comic Transcendence in Ellison 139
Both a Part of and Apart From: The Spirit and Ethics of a Religious Pragmatism 157
Notes 173
Bibliography 195
Index 199

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