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date: 11 December 2019

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter surveys the reception and appropriation of The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678; 1684) in American religious history and literary culture, arguing that, through a series of politically, theologically, and artistically motivated realignments, American adaptations of John Bunyan’s classic shaped key features of American Protestantism and of a distinctively American literary tradition. In the eighteenth century, The Pilgrim’s Progress was evoked to reconceive ‘progress’ along lines more commercial and technological than spiritual. In the nineteenth century, modernized spin-offs became important touchstones in the hotly contested debates over theological liberalism and conservatism. In the increasingly secular twentieth century, it was often either ‘emptied of religion’ and recast as ‘road literature’, or appropriated dialectically as a means for coming to terms with the perceived absurdity of the human condition. In sum, to quote Jean Bethke Elshtain, ‘the progress of Pilgrim’s Progress tells us a good bit about the American story’.

Keywords: John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress, American religious history, American literary history, American Protestantism

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