Nail, Brian

Marie Curie Fellow, Faculty of Law and Economics, University of Luxembourg

My interest in literary theory, religion, and philosophy stems from my longstanding love of Modernist literature—in particular the work of Flannery O’Connor and William Faulkner. These writers produced intellectually and emotionally challenging works of fiction which gave rise to a number of important transformations in regard to the way that I have come to understand the relationship between texts and the world. Having grown up in the South, I felt drawn to O’Connor and Faulkner because they created fictional worlds that reflected the spiritual turmoil, innate beauty, moral decay, and potential for redemption which I came to associate with my homeland. But most importantly, they each posed hard questions about the nature of religious belief, and their work frequently exposed the darker sides of Christianity. Through my exploration of O’Connor and Faulkner’s fiction, I began to engage in a kind of religious reading which Robert Detweiler has described as “one in which a reader understands herself as part of a community engaged in simultaneously recognizing, criticizing and reshaping the myths and rituals it lives by” (Breaking the Fall, p.38). I believe this description of religious reading can be equally applied to the field of Critical Religion.

While pursuing a Master’s degree in English Literature at the University of North Florida, I was introduced to literary theory and the study of religion through the work of Jacques Derrida, René Girard, and the classicist Walter Burkert. As a graduate student, my readings spanned the history of western literature from works of classical Greek literature to the Harlem Renaissance and beyond. This immersion in the history of western literature stimulated a keen interest in the ways that works of tragic literature reflect and inform our contemporary understandings of theological concepts such as sacrifice and redemption.

In 2008, my wife and I moved to Scotland where I began my doctoral studies in the Centre for Literature, Theology and the Arts at the University of Glasgow. Under the supervision of Prof David Jasper, I began an interdisciplinary investigation of portrayals of sacrifice in works of tragic literature and the Bible. Although my research has been firmly grounded in the discipline of literary criticism, my critique of Girard’s theory of sacrifice led me to consider more broadly the way that theological concepts and in particular various cultural manifestations of the sacred continue to serve as a framework for organizing western society’s political and economic discourse. These insights led me to apply for a research grant as a Marie Curie Fellow in the Faculty of Law and Economics at the University of Luxembourg. My post-doctoral research project is titled Models of Sacrifice and Uncertainty: The Sacrificial Logic of Modern Socio-economic Theory. The aim of this project is to excavate the sacrificial underpinnings of early 19th and 20th century economic theory and to explore literary and artistic counter-examples that may offer alternative epistemological approaches to the task of economic decision-making.