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Postsecular spirituality in Australian young adult fiction
thesisposted on 2022-03-28, 17:28 authored by Dale Kathryn Lowe
Spirituality has been described by some international authors and critics as ‘the last taboo’ in young adult literature. It is not therefore surprising that in Australia, a country often perceived as resolutely secular, spirituality is rarely an explicit theme in children’s and young adult fiction. This thesis offers a postsecular understanding of expressions of young adult spirituality in late twentieth and early twenty-first century Australian novels. Postsecularism, a contested concept which emerged in the late twentieth century, is positively interpreted by many critics as the development of a respectful dialogue between secular and religious viewpoints since the ‘return of the religious’ in contemporary Western cultures. This thesis takes a postsecular dialogic approach to the analysis of a range of contemporary Australian young adult novels. The study is informed by a number of literary and sociocultural theories and predominantly draws on Bakhtin’s concept of the dialogic struggle between authoritative and internally persuasive discourses, leading to the process of a subject’s ideological becoming (Bakhtin 1981, 342-348). The textual analysis centres on a diverse selection of Australian novels published from the late 1980s until the current time, with a focus on twenty-first century texts. The discussion begins with a brief examination of texts that engage with traditional religious discourses and moves on to more tacit portrayals of the modern spiritual quest in realistic, speculative and multimodal genres. The final chapters investigate the discrete topics of afterlife beliefs, the relationship between spirituality, science and ecology, and the gendering of spiritualities. I argue that in recent Australian young adult fiction spirituality is expressed more implicitly than explicitly – in the words of Manning Clark (1985, 77) “a whisper in the mind and a shy hope in the heart” - but that this representation is starting to reflect the emergent postsecular turn in many Western cultures. This trend thus reveals a previously concealed awareness of the interrelationship of spiritual and secular discourses that embraces possibilities of spiritual and ideological becoming in characters and readers leading, as Bakhtin proclaimed, to “ever newer ways to mean” (Bakhtin 1981, 346).