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Alison Milbank

Associate Professor, Faculty of Arts

Contact

  • workRoom C39 Humanities Building Department of Theology and Religious Studies
    University Park
    Nottingham
    NG7 2RD
    UK
  • work+44 (0)115 846 7209
  • fax0115 951 5887

Biography

I joined the Department of Theology in September 2004. I studied Theology and English Literature at Cambridge, and then took my doctorate at Lancaster. I was John Rylands Research Institute Fellow at Manchester, working on its extensive Dante archives and after a temporary lectureship and extensive college teaching at Cambridge taught in the English Department at the University of Virginia for five years, making full use of the wonderful Sadleir-Black Gothic collection in the UVA library.

My approach to religion and culture attends particularly to stylistics, genres and poetics as embodying and performing theological meaning, as can be seen in my 'Chesterton and Tolkien as Theologians'. It is this approach that undergirds my God and the Gothic' monograph, which attends to the double gesture of liberation and nostalgic return of the Gothic narrative in relation to the fraught history of the Church of England's emergence in the sixteenth century, and the development of the doppelganger in relation to Lutheran and Calvinist accounts of conversion. My interest in the grotesque in Chesterton, Dante, Ruskin and also the Reformation is in the way a mode of the monstrous and horrific can have a positive valence in aesthetics and theology.

Expertise Summary

My research and teaching focuses on the relation of religion to literature and culture in the post-Enlightenment period, with particular interest in non-realist literary and artistic expression, such as the Gothic, the fantastic, horror and fantasy, especially in G. K. Chesterton and Tolkien. An interest in medievalism led to a book on Dante as received in Victorian theology, history and art. Dante continues to be a research and teaching interest. My expertise in Gothic is primarily is primarily theological and historical as in my study of Gothic fiction from the Reformation to the end of the nineteenth century, aligning its rise and narrative tropes to Anglican theology and historiography. Anglican ecclesiology is another area of expertise and a specifically Anglican Catholic theology of mission. I am developing a new interest in the Theology of Nature from 1600.

Ph D students have been working with me on a range of topics including: the theology of the plays of Dorothy Sayers, being and gift in Tolkien, Cormac McCarthy's biblicism, Baha'i theology of language, Calvinism and the double in Robert Louis Stevenson, theology in the Victorian ghost story, G. K. Chesterton and penance, the influence of F. D. Maurice on Lewis Carroll, Nabokov and eschatology, the contemporary novel, liturgy and secularization. I have research leave due next in Spring 2022.

Teaching Summary

I research and teach a range of areas in the field of religion and culture, specializing in non-realist literary production. 'Religion and Literature' takes stylistics and .genre as modes of… read more

Research Summary

I have recently published a monograph, 'God and the Gothic', which attempts a theological reading of Gothic fiction, rooting it in the trauma and nostalgia of the Reformation. It includes a… read more

Recent Publications

  • ALISON MILBANK, 2018. ‘Have you the interpretation?’: Doubt, Desire and the Supernatural in the Fiction of Margaret Oliphant. In: JUDITH MALTBY and ALISON SHELL, eds., Excellent Women: Anglican Women Novelists T & T Clark/Bloomsbury. (In Press.)
  • ALISON MILBANK, 2018. God and the Gothic: Religion, Romance and Reality in the English Literary Tradition Oxford University Press.
  • 2017. Calvinist and Covenanter Gothic. In: DAVISON, CAROL and GERMANO, MONICA, eds., Scottish Gothic: An Edinburgh Companion, Edinburgh University Press. 89-101
  • MILBANK, ALISON, 2017. ‘”A Crowd Flowed Over London Bridge”: Visualising London through Dante’. In: QUASH, BEN, REDDAWAY, CHLOE and ROSEN, AARON, eds., Visualising a Sacred City: London, Art and Religion, I. B. Tauris. 115-27

I research and teach a range of areas in the field of religion and culture, specializing in non-realist literary production. 'Religion and Literature' takes stylistics and .genre as modes of theological work in a range of texts from Greek tragedy to the novel.'Religion and Fantasy' explores the relation of truth claims and imagination in German and British fantastic stories and theoretical writing. I teach the relation of narrative to theology and spiritual autobiography in 'Narrative and Theology'. Dante is a strong teaching interest at the MA level but also as part of my introductory undergraduate module. Virtue ethics and literature is a new addition in 2012 and begins by grounding students in Plato, Aristotle a bit of Aquinas and the modern recuperation of the tradition. We then use virtue ethics to read texts from Homer to Iris Murdoch. In the past I have taught nineteenth century literature and theology, God and the Gothic and modernism and philosophy and may develop these classes again in the future. In the MA 'Plato to Hegel' module, I teach Augustine and Dionysus the Areopagite.

Current Research

I have recently published a monograph, 'God and the Gothic', which attempts a theological reading of Gothic fiction, rooting it in the trauma and nostalgia of the Reformation. It includes a revisionist reading of the Gothic Double as potentially positive.It argues that the Gothic becomes more not less religious over time and questions the whole secularizing narrative. It ends with chapters on mystical Gothic by writers associated with the Order of the Golden Dawn, such as Evelyn Underhill, and with ecclesiastical Gothic by M. R. James and Meade Faulkner. I wrote a chapter for the Cambridge Companion to Prose Writing on Gothic prose, which was a really interesting exercise. There is surprisingly little close reading in Gothic studies. I wrote a great deal about the use of the en-dash.

My interest in imaginative forms of Christian apologetics has led to a book chapter on enchantment, death and the children's fiction for a volume on Theology and Literature in the Postmodern University, which I have co-edited with Zoe Lehmann and Peter Hampson. My contribution tries to sketch out a new, more agonistic mode of engagement in making critical claims in this field.

Last year I wrote an article about the supernatural fiction of Margaret Oliphant, still too under-rated, arguing for the philosophical complexity of her ideas about the after-life.

Past Research

I began my research career with an article on the 19C feminist and lay theologian, Josephine Butler and later edited a volume of essays about her work with prostitutes. My doctorate on 19C Gothic, feminism and religion was published as Daughters of the House: Modes of the Gothic in Victorian Fiction. This led me into the earlier Gothic and I have edited Radcliffe novels, written a number of articles on horror fiction from Dracula to Oscar Wilde.The Irish writer Sheridan Le Fanu is a particular favourite as being strongly theological. My second book, Dante and the Victorians, was an attempt to understand why and how a Catholic Italian poet became so important for Protestants and an honorary Englishman. I still keep up Dante interests and those in Ruskin, a great lover of Dante, about whom I have also written several articles. A series of public lectures in Virginia led me to Tolkien studies, and it was another question about giving him an intellectual context that led me to write about him in relation to G.K. Chesterton, and to use that book to put into practice my genre and stylistics approach to theological meaning through literary texts. That continues in the most recent book, God and the Gothic: Religion, Romance and Realism in the English Literary Tradition, which reads Gothic narrative form as enacting the Reformation double gesture of escape from the catholic religious past and nostalgia for what is thereby lost. In revisionist fashion, I detect not secularization but an ever deeper theological commitment in Gothic writing.

Future Research

I am just getting going on a new research project on specifically Anglican developments towards a theology of nature from the seventeenth to the twentieth century. I shall be studying natural philosophers, botanists, naturalist parsons like Gilbert White, but also poets and artists. What I am interested to investigate are the ways in which natural philosophy sought to find God in the workings of nature, especially through a 'plastic nature' or immanent spirit, which can question and critique the distant watchmaker of Deism.

I am also working on a new theological theory about the presence of green men or foliate heads in medieval church decoration, a project that has emerged from my part in working with the Heritage Lottery bid at Southwell Minster, to interpret the wonderful naturalistic leaf carvings in the Chapter House, which include many green men.

I have also agreed to write a short book on the importance of Ruskin for today, which will be a perfect platform to speak into the current chaotic public conversation about the future of our country.

  • ALISON MILBANK, 2018. ‘Have you the interpretation?’: Doubt, Desire and the Supernatural in the Fiction of Margaret Oliphant. In: JUDITH MALTBY and ALISON SHELL, eds., Excellent Women: Anglican Women Novelists T & T Clark/Bloomsbury. (In Press.)
  • ALISON MILBANK, 2018. God and the Gothic: Religion, Romance and Reality in the English Literary Tradition Oxford University Press.
  • 2017. Calvinist and Covenanter Gothic. In: DAVISON, CAROL and GERMANO, MONICA, eds., Scottish Gothic: An Edinburgh Companion, Edinburgh University Press. 89-101
  • MILBANK, ALISON, 2017. ‘”A Crowd Flowed Over London Bridge”: Visualising London through Dante’. In: QUASH, BEN, REDDAWAY, CHLOE and ROSEN, AARON, eds., Visualising a Sacred City: London, Art and Religion, I. B. Tauris. 115-27
  • MILBANK, ALISON, 2017. 'Make it New': Defamiliarization and Scaramentality in David Jones. In: CALLISON, JAMIE, FIDDES, PAUL, JOHNSON, ANNA and TONNING, ERIK, eds., David Jones: A Christian Modernist? Brill. 62-78 (In Press.)
  • 2016. The Academic Priest as Teacher and Tutor. In: Academic Vocation in the Church and Academy Today: 'And With All Of Your Mind' Ashgate. 125-38
  • MILBANK, ALISON, 2016. Gothic Theology. In: WRIGHT, ANGELA and TOWNSHEND, DALE, eds., Romantic Gothic: An Edinburgh Companion Edinburgh University Press. 361-76
  • MILBANK, ALISON, 2016. Death and the Maiden: Theology, Gender and the Grotesque in Le Fanu’s Fiction’. In: KILLEEN, JARLATH and CAVALLI, VALERIA, eds., ‘Inspiring a Mysterious Terror’: 200 Years of Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu Peter Lang. 177-96
  • MILBANK, ALISON, 2016. ‘Thomas Aquinas among the Elves: Accounting Theologically for the Power of Tolkien’s Fiction’. In: ALENA ANDROSIK and KINGA RYBARCZYK, eds., Legendy Uświęcone: Twórczość J. R. R. Tolkiena a Chrześcijaństwo Wydawnictwo Kul. 201-22
  • ALISON MILBANK (CO), PETER HAMPSON and ZOE LEHMANN IMFELD, eds., 2015. Theology and Literature after Postmodernity Bloomsbury, T & T Clark.
  • 2015. 'Literary Apologetics after Postmodernity: Death and Duality in Philip Pullman and J. K. Rowling' in. In: ZOE LEHMANN, PETER HAMPSON and ALISON MILBANK, eds., Literature and Theology after Postmodernity Bloomsbury, T & T Clark. 95-114
  • MILBANK, ALISON, 2015. Seeing Double: The Crucified Christ in Western Medieval Art. In: MURPHY, FRANCESCA ANN, ed., The Oxford Handbook of Christology Oxford University Press. 215-33
  • 2014. A Contemporary Perspective on Mission: The Blue Flower Theology in Scotland. 21(no. 1), 31-44
  • ALISON MILBANK, 2014. Ways of seeing in Ann Radcliffe's early fiction: The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne (1789) and A Sicilian Romance (1790). In: DALE TOWNSHEND AND ANGELA WRIGHT, ed., Ann Radcliffe: Romanticism and the Gothic Cambridge University Press. 85-99
  • MILBANK, ALISON, 2014. ‘Tolkien and Dante’s Earthly Paradise: Enculturing Nature’. In: O'BRIAIN, HELEN and HYNES, GERARD, eds., J. R. R. Tolkien: The Forest and the City, Four Courts. 154-66
  • MILBANK, A., 2012. The Bible and the novel: apocalyptic reading Modern Believing. 53(1), 22-36
  • ALISON MILBANK, 2012. Returning to the Parish. In: ANDREW DAVISON, ed., Returning to the Church SCM. (In Press.)
  • ALISON MILBANK, 2012. Byron and the Explained Supernatural. In: GAVIN HOPPS, ed., Byron and the Supernatural LIverpool University Press. (In Press.)
  • ALISON MILBANK, 2011. Dante, Ruskin and Rossetti: Grotesque Realism. In: NICK HAVELY, ed., Dante in the Nineteenth Century: Reception, Canonicity, Popularization Peter Lang. 139-58
  • 2011. 'A Diminished Church: Revisiting Dogma or Disaster' Theology in Action: Dorothy Sayers Society Study day. 23-32
  • MILBANK, A., 2011. Apologetics and the imagination: making strange. In: DAVISON, A., ed., Imaginative apologetics: theology, philosophy and the Catholic tradition SCM Press. 31-45
  • ALISON MILBANK, 2010. Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu: Gothic Grotesque and the Huguenot Inheritance. In: JULIA M WRIGHT, ed., A Companion to Irish Literature 1. Wiley-Blackwell. 362-76
  • ALISON MILBANK, 2010. 'The Sleep of Reason': reason, Gothic and the Grotesque. In: CONOR CUNNINGHAM AND PETER M CANDLER JNR, ed., The Grandeur of Reason:: Religion, Tradition and Universalism SCM. 432-43
  • DAVISON, A. and MILBANK, A., 2010. For the parish: a critique of fresh expressions SCM Press.
  • MILBANK, A., 2009. Divine beauty and the grotesque in Dante's Paradiso The Yearbook of English Studies: Literature and Religion. 39(1/2), 155-168
  • ALISON MILBANK, 2009. Bleeding Nuns: A Genealogy of the Female Gothic Grotesque. In: DIANA WALLACE AND ANDREW SMITH, ed., The New Female Gothic:: New Directions Palgrave Macmillan. 76-97
  • MILBANK, A., 2008. Grotesque Realism in Ruskin's 'Praeterita': Autobiography and the World Beyond the Self Nineteenth Century Prose. (In Press.)
  • MILBANK, ALISON, 2008. Huysmans, Machen and the Gothic Grotesque, Or: The Way Up is the Way Down. In: HORNER, AVRIL and ZLOSNIK, SUE, eds., Le Gothic:: Influences and Appropriations in Europe and America 1st edition. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. 83-99
  • ALISON MILBANK, 2008. Sacrificial Exchange and the Gothic Double in 'Melmoth the Wanderer' and 'The Picture of Dorian Gray'. In: VICTORIA MORGAN AND CLARE WILLIAMS, ed., Shaping Belief: Culture, Politics and Religion in Nineteenth-century Writing 52. LIverpool University Press. 113-28
  • ALISON MILBANK, 2008. Tolkien, Chesterton and Thomism. In: STRATFORD CALDECOTT, THOMAS HENEGGER, FRANCES CAIRNCROSS, ed., Tolkien's 'The Lord of the Rings':: Sources of Inspiration Walking Tree. 187-98
  • MILBANK, A., 2007. Chesterton and Tolkien as theologians: the fantasy of the real London: T&T Clark.
  • MILBANK, A., 2007. Josephine Butler's Apocalyptic vision of the prostitute and modern debates on prostitution. In: MILBANK, A., ed., Beating the traffic: Josephine Butler and Anglican social action on prostitution today Winchester: George Mann Publications. 89-104
  • MILBANK, A. G., 2007. Gothic Femininities. In: SPOONER, C. and MCEVOY, E., eds., The Routledge Companion to the Gothic London: Routledge. 155-63
  • ALISON MILBANK, ed., 2007. Beating the Traffic: Josephine Butler and Anglican Social Action Today Winchester, George Mann Publications.
  • MILBANK, A., 2006. A Fine Grotesque or a Pathetic Fallacy? The Role of objects in the autobiographical writing of Ruskin and Proust. In: DICKINSON, R. and HANLEY, K., eds., Ruskin's struggle for coherence: Self-representation through art, place and society Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Press. 90-105
  • MILBANK, A., 2005. Tolkien and Gift Theory. In: Tolkien Seminar Papers
  • MILBANK, A., OTTO, P. and MULVEY-ROBERTS, M., eds., 2004. Gothic Fiction: Rare Printed Works from the Sadleir-Black Collection of Gothic Fiction at the Alderman Library, University of Virginia: a listing and guide to the microfilm collection Marlborough: Adam Matthew.
  • MILBANK, A., 2003. "My precious" : Tolkien's fetishized ring. In: BASSHAM, G. and BRONSON, E., eds., The Lord of the rings and philosophy: one book to rule them all Chicago: Open Court.
  • MILBANK, A., 2002. The Victorian Gothic in English Novels and Stories, 1830-1880. In: HOGLE, J.E., ed., The Cambridge Companion to Gothic Fiction Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 145-165
  • MILBANK, A., 1998. Dante and the Victorians Manchester: Manchester University Press.
  • MILBANK, A., 1992. Daughters of the house: modes of the Gothic in Victorian fiction London: Macmillan.

Department of Theology and Religious Studies

University of Nottingham
University Park
Nottingham, NG7 2RD

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