Romancing God

Evangelical Women and Inspirational Fiction

By Lynn S. Neal

260 pp., 5.5 x 8.5, 10 illus., notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-5670-3
    Published: February 2006
  • eBook ISBN: 978-0-8078-7719-7
    Published: December 2006

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In the world of the evangelical romance novel, sex and desire are mitigated by an omnipresent third party--the divine. Thus romance is not just an encounter between lovers, but a triangle of affection: man, woman, and God. Although this literature is often disparaged by scholars and pastors alike, inspirational fiction plays a unique and important role in the religious lives of many evangelical women. In an engaging study of why women read evangelical romance novels, Lynn S. Neal interviews writers and readers of the genre and finds a complex religious piety among ordinary people.

In evangelical love stories, the success of the hero and heroine's romance rests upon their religious choices. These fictional religious choices, readers report, often inspire real spiritual change in their own lives. Amidst the demands of daily life or during a challenge to one's faith, these books offer a respite from problems and a time for fun, but they also provide a means to cultivate piety and to appreciate the unconditional power of God's love. The reading of inspirational fiction emerges from and reinforces an evangelical lifestyle, Neal argues, but women's interpretations of the stories demonstrate the constant negotiations that characterize evangelical living. Neal's study of religion in practice highlights evangelicalism's aesthetic sensibility and helps to alter conventional understandings--both secular and religious--of this prominent subculture.

About the Author

Lynn S. Neal is assistant professor of religion at Wake Forest University.
For more information about Lynn S. Neal, visit the Author Page.

Reviews

"A wonderfully readable and engaging book."--Sociology of Religion

"Refreshing. . . . Neal has underlined the multiple effects of writing, reading, and women's negotiation of faith and everyday practices. . . . Insightful."--Journal of Religion

"Enhances understanding and provides good material for meaningful dialogue."--Stone-Campbell Journal

"Bring[s] to light the many ways in which [inspirational novels] both underscore and undermine the readers' religious faith. . . . Unbiased and well-researched."--Georgia Library Quarterly

"Neal's book is a page-turner itself, tracking the widespread popularity of Christian romance novels and analyzing their appeal to ordinary readers. Hers is a lively but nuanced view of evangelical Protestant belief, bypassing the tired stereotypes of the culture wars to describe a female piety of 'divine romance' that is at once deeply moral yet open to pleasure, spiritually passionate and surprisingly tolerant of human difference."--Margaret Bendroth, author of Fundamentalism and Gender, 1875 to the Present

"This excellent book analyzes the ways in which many contemporary evangelical women read religious romance novels as part of a dynamic religious piety. Focusing on readers' connection to a romancing God, Neal makes a bold and perceptive contribution to the study of evangelical views of sexuality, pleasure, relationships, and everyday aesthetics. Beautifully written, this is a first-rate addition to the scholarly literature on evangelicalism and patterns of female devotion."--R. Marie Griffith, Princeton University