Everything is fiction: an experimental study in the application of ethnographic criticism to modern atheist identity
Quillen, Ethan Gjerset
MetadataShow full item record
This Thesis is an experiment. Within its pages a number of stories will be told, the foci of which will apply a particular methodology—what I call ‘Ethnographic Criticism’—to the examination of a specific concept: modern Atheist identity. First, it will introduce Ethnographic Criticism as a new and significant style of literary analysis aimed at reading fictional texts in order to generate anthropological insights about how particular identities are formed. Second, it will use this new means of criticism to discuss and evaluate how Atheist identity might be perceived as being constructed within a dialectic between seemingly exclusive forms of Theism and Atheism. Ethnographic Criticism exists at the nexus between fiction and ethnography, and its genesis derives from three foundational pillars: ethnographic construction, Ethical Criticism, and discourse analysis. In the three Chapters of Part One, each of these pillars will be established, both exegetically and critically. This examination will play a key role in explicating how the ‘made-up’ qualities of fiction might be converted into the ‘made-from’ qualities of ethnography. Additionally, these Chapters will reveal the roots of Ethnographic Criticism through an analysis of discourses dealing with the ‘literary turn’ in the theory of anthropology, how Ethical Criticism associates fictional character development with identity construction, and the anthropological benefits of discourse analysis. As a case study, I will apply Ethnographic Criticism to an analysis of Atheist identity construction. Due to the combination of a relative absence of existing ethnographic sources on the subject, an ambiguous academic discourse on the definition of the term, and a paucity of cultural units or ‘tribes’ of Atheists in which to observe, my use of Ethnographic Criticism will attempt to fill a methodological lacuna concerning the study of Atheist identity. Thus, in Part Two, I will focus on two fictional texts by the contemporary English novelist Ian McEwan: Black Dogs (1992) and Enduring Love (1997). In this analysis, not only will McEwan’s fictional characters be treated as if they are ‘real,’ historical individuals, they will be evaluated through an anthropological lens in order to isolate within their interactional validations a means to understand how Atheists define themselves via dialectical communication. In this way, and in both explicating and reflecting upon this approach, my experimental analysis will identify a number of dynamic, yet no less precarious, outcomes that might surface from reading fictional texts as if they were authoritatively equal to ethnographic ones.