What can biblical psalms teach us about literary devotion? An unexpected answer to that question is provided by Philip Sidney’s The Defence of Poesy (1595), a touchstone of literary criticism in its time and in ours. The argument in this essay unfolds from analysis of a single paragraph, which reveals how Sidney’s description of King David’s Psalms challenges our regnant categories in the following way: If today religion connotes fidelity or devotion to an external authority, as for many it does, and if literature entails authorial sovereignty and independent creativity (also a widespread assumption), then Sidney’s approach deviates by equating divine inspiration with poetic creativity. His celebration of variable voices and personae, in particular, undermines the distinction between fidelity and autonomy by offering the psalmist’s voice as a model of transformative self-expression.
Contance M. Furey is Professor and Chair in the Department of Religious Studies at Indiana University, Bloomington. The recipient of a multiyear Luce Foundation grant for a collaborative project, “Being Human,” she is also the author of two monographs, most recently Poetic Relations: Faxith and Intimacy in the English Reformation, published by the University of Chicago Press. Among other projects, she has written multiple essays on the Immanent Frame blog, including “Human” for the Universe of Terms Project (https://tif.ssrc.org/2020/03/13/human-furey/), and is at work on a co-authored book about devotion in religion and literature.
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Constance M. Furey; Impersonating Devotion. Representations 1 February 2021; 153 (1): 11–28. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/rep.2021.153.2.11
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