Date of Award

2020

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in English

Department

English

First Advisor

Martha Elena Rojas

Abstract

This dissertation focuses on rarely explored but widely prevalent representations of non-Christian religions in fictional captivity narratives, specifically those that paint America as a new and independent nation. It argues that religious depictions in early American literature are extensions of racial meaning-making that become embedded in U.S. national identity. The representations of the heathen, in relation to Muslims and converted Jews in North Africa on an international scale, and domestically with the indigenous Pequots, consolidates American unity as Christian at its base. Particularly, the discussions of how and which populations are easily assimilated reveals an intricate triangulation of religious affiliation, race, and nationhood and discloses religion to be a socially and politically problematic production.

The primary close readings, namely Susanna Rowson’s Slaves in Algiers, Royall Tyler’s The Algerine Captive, and Catharine Maria Sedgwick’s Hope Leslie, offer an interpretation where religious affiliations are used respectively to define and reinforce national belonging that is religiously exclusive. Therefore, racialization of religion occurs through the confirmation of whiteness and Christianity as intricately tied. This identification surfaces in a discourse that is preoccupied with liberty and national unity during captivity and authenticates itself from a perspective of religious and cultural differences.

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