Phillip J. Maciak

Andrew W. Mellon Graduate Fellow in the Humanities

20102011 Forum on Virtuality

Phillip J. Maciak


Technologies of Belief: The American Life of Jesus, 1880-1930

My project examines representations of Jesus Christ in U.S. fiction and early film—texts like Lew Wallace’s Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ, W.E.B. Du Bois’ “Black Christ” stories, and D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation—from the late nineteenth to the early twentieth century. These works act as sites of convergence, employing a wide variety of techniques to materialize, naturalize, or simply represent belief. Blending genres and discourses—historical romance and academic historiography, documentary and trick film—these artists create hybrid technologies of belief in order to represent the supernatural in an age of scientific rationalism. By collapsing past and present, sacred and secular, seen and unseen, these imaginative improvisations on the gospels attempt to come to terms with the horror of racial violence, the unsettling advance of technology, and the rise of American Empire—constituting a vision of American society more alive to both the terrible and the transcendent.