Victorian Popular Fictions 5.2 6 Dyck


Spiritual Authority for a (Post)Secular Age: Olive Schreiner’s Dreams as Literary Theology

Denae Dyck

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Although an outspoken freethinker, Olive Schreiner engaged frequently and creatively with religious texts and traditions throughout her writings. Her religious revisionism informs Dreams (1890), a collection of short narratives that influenced many subsequent women’s rights activists but has since fallen into relative critical neglect. Responding to developments in postsecular scholarship, this article re-reads Schreiner’s stories as advancing a literary theology of immanence. Her various and fragmentary revelations adapt inherited models of spiritual autobiography and refashion biblical imagery, experimenting  with  religious  allegory  to  challenge  religious  exclusivism.  These  innovations  reflect her participation in several intersecting developments within early feminist movements that sought not only to overturn patriarchal expressions of religion but also to reclaim women’s spiritual authority and imagine new pathways to divinity. Rather than advancing a linear model of spiritual development, Dreams  reflects  an  eclectic,  open-ended  process  of  searching  that  refashions  religious  symbols  even  as  it  ventures  beyond  canonical  and  institutional  boundaries.  This  work,  in  turn,  invites  a  critical reassessment of Schreiner’s freethinking output not as a rejection of religion but as an effort to rewrite it.


Olive Schreiner; Dreams; religion; secularisation; authority; feminist criticism; theology; dream vision; biblical narrative; spiritual autobiography

Date of Acceptance: 16 December 2023

Date of Publication: 20 December 2023

Double Blind Peer Reviewed

Recommended Citation:

Dyck, Denae. 2023. “Spiritual Authority for a (Post)Secular Age: Olive Schreiner’s Dreams as Literary Theology” Victorian Popular Fictions, 5.2: 73-88. ISSN: 2632-4253 (online). DOI:

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