I’m just filling out my registration information for the University of Regina’s Literary Eclectic conference in September (a task delayed a bit by my not having a very new word processor on my desktop computer. Curse you, .docx files!). I’m presenting a paper entitled “Despair in The Pilgrim’s Progress: Universal Allegory Founded on Individual Experience” which – as might be obvious, considering it’s on John Bunyan – marries my twin passions for theology and literature. Giant Despair, from an 1894 engraving by the Dalziel Borthers Put very basically, I’m exploring the relationship between the popular theology of despair (see my 2009 post “On Despair”) which was sweeping across England in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and Bunyan’s own personal bout of despair as recorded in his spiritual autobiography Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners. [In layman’s terms, “despair” is the condition of those who desire earnestly to be saved by God but believe themselves already condemned or otherwise unforgivable.] In The Pilgrim’s Progress, Bunyan depicts what he believes to be the universal Christian’s experience of despair (in the characters of the Man of Despair and Giant Despair); but this universal depiction’s account of the nature, causes, and cure for despair are fundamentally drawn from Bunyan’s own struggle with despair. While I’m not arguing that the account in Pilgrim’s Progress is therefore autobiographical, I am highlighting how Bunyan’s theology on the subject is drawn from conclusions he made while a sufferer of the condition. In other words, it’s not mere academic theology for Bunyan; it’s theology learned painfully through real-life experience.

Incidentally, the slate I’m on includes presentations on Milton’s Comus and the anonymous Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. It promises to be an entertaining (and enlightening) conference.