Victorian Popular Fictions 5.2 1 Hetherington and Stainthorp


Introduction: Religion and Victorian Popular Literature

Naomi Hetherington and Clare Stainthorp

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The introduction to this special issue of the Victorian Popular Fictions Journal, “Religion and Victorian Popular Literature,” opens by using Mary Ward’s best-seller Robert Elsmere (1888) as a case study for considering how recent critical strategies for engaging with popular texts enable us to paint a different and more complex picture of the Victorian religious landscape. We then explain the different ways in which our international network of contributors reconceptualises the relationship of religion to popular literary genres including the transatlantic social gospel, science writing for children, and popular yoga texts. We identify how topics as diverse as astronomy, copyright, and disaster fiction, which have often been examined through a primarily secular lens, can be better understood by considering the role religion played in their formation and articulation within and through popular literature. Drawing together threads shared between the seven articles in the special issue, we outline its key thematic contributions in exploring the role of religion to the formation of new literary markets and genres, revising the “conflict thesis” between religion and science, and the importance of popular literary forms in constructing and communicating theological ideas, as well as responding to recent calls to decolonise Victorian Studies.


religion; Victorian popular literature; postsecular; theologies; literary markets; genre; science; decolonising; Robert Elsmere; “crisis of faith”

Date of Acceptance: 19 December 2023

Date of Publication: 20 December 2023

Peer Reviewed

Recommended Citation:

Hetherington, Naomi, and Clare Stainthorp. 2023. “Introduction: Religion and Victorian Popular Literature.” Victorian Popular Fictions, 5.2: 1-6. ISSN: 2632-4253 (online) DOI

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