consequently, there are no grounds fornan ethical or theological evaluation.nEliot, in “Religion and Literature,”ntraces the gradual secularization of literaturenduring the last few centuries,nusing the novel as his example. Hendelineates three chief phases. In thenfirst, novelists took the Christian faithnfor granted and therefore didn’t featurenit in their fiction. Fielding, Dickens, andnThackeray belong to this phase. In thensecond, novelists doubted, worriednabout, or contested the faith. To thisnphase belong George Eliot, Meredith,nand Hardy. The third phase, in whichnEliot considered himself to be living, isnthe phase of “those who have nevernheard the Christian Faith spoken of asnanything but an anachronism.” In lightnof current critical theory, we could addna fourth phase, one that Eliot could notnforesee. In this phase, the antitheologicalnactivity Barthes spoke of hasnundermined confidence in the possibilitynof communicating unambiguous assertionsnabout even the simplest ofnpractical matters, to say nothing ofnreligious faith and values.nWhere does all this leave those whonrespond sympathetically to Eliot’s conceptionnof the inextricable relation betweennreligion and literature? The answer,nit seems to me, is that thosencommitted to a moral or religious approachnto literary criticism must shiftntheir defenses. Eliot’s emplacement,nhowever well fortified, is far from thencurrent battlefront. I use this war imagerynadvisedly, because the literary scene,nparticulady within academia, is presentlyna battleground, with traditional humanismnin disarray if not full retreat.nI would like to draw attention to fournrecent publications that confront thenchallenges of contemporary theory in anspirit of counterattack but at the samentime in a spirit of reasoned negotiation.nThey provide useful ideas and argumentsnin defense of the relevance ofnliterature to moral and religious life.nWhile not necessarily addressing thensame issues Eliot does, these booksnassert positions that at least restore thenground for his arguments.nWayne Booth’s purpose in ThenCompany We Keep: An Ethics of Fictionn(University of California Press) isntwofold. First, he wishes “to restore thenfull intellectual legitimacy of our common-senseninclination to talk aboutnstories in ethical terms, treating then52/CHRONICLESncharacters in them and their makers asnmore like people than labyrinths, enigmas,nor textual puzzles to be deciphered.”nSecond, he wishes to “relocate”nethical criticism, shifting it fromnflat judgments about presumably stablenworks to “fluid conversations about thenqualities of the company we keep —nand the company that we ourselvesnprovide.” This central metaphor ofnbooks as friends reveals Booth’s preferencenfor human practice and experiencenover abstract theory as a basis fornliterary discussion. Tactful and inclinednto qualification almost to a fault, henattempts to steer a middle way betweenntheorists who view literary works asntexts or systems of signs referring to non”reality” other than themselves ornother texts, and narrowly ardent defendersnof a vital connection betweennliterary experience and the lives ofnreaders. Booth has explored his subjectnlong and tenaciously, and his extensivenjourney of reading is mapped by thenabundant titles in his “Bibliography ofnEthical Criticism.”nPeter Shaw’s The War Against thenIntellect: Episodes in the Decline ofnDiscourse (University of Iowa Press) isna collection of essays supporting thenthesis that starting in the 60’s a changenemerged in the rules of intellectualndiscourse whereby the marshaling ofnlogic and evidence lost its prestige,nwhile right feeling and good intentionsnlinked with political activism took itsnplace. This war against the intellect, asnhe calls it, has produced a decline ofndiscourse — “a slackening in the processnof critical evaluation.” His essaysntrace such developments as the acceptancenof intellectual intimidation andnthe turn of subjectivism in discoursenfrom the mid-1970’s to the mid-n1980’s. In addition to delineating thisndecline in reasoned evaluation, Shawnwishes to challenge scholars and intellectualsnto reaffirm the standards ofnlogic, evidence, and rational persuasionnin critical discourse. Particularly valuablenare the sections exposing the excessesnof deconstruction and feministncriticism and the general decline ofnstandards.nRobert Alter’s The Pleasures ofnReading: Thinking About Literaturenin an Ideological Age (Simon andnSchuster) perceptively questions somenof the fundamentally misleading dogmasnof the new critical theorists andnnnargues for a return to responsive readingnof literature itself Alter persuasivelyninsists that “the language of literaturenis distinct from the use of languagenelsewhere in its resources and in itsnpossibilities of expression.” This position,nof course, restores a basis for thenfirst of Eliot’s steps of evaluation: identifyingna work of literature according tonliterary standards. Alter also arguesn”that literature is not just a selfreferentialnclosed circuit but is connectednin meaningful and revelatorynways with the world of experiencenoutside the text.” This perspective allowsnfor Eliot’s second stage of evaluation:nthe relevance of ethical and theologicalnconsiderations. Like Booth,nAlter is suspicious of the way recentntheory pitches its discourse at one orntwo removes of abstraction from thenemotional and imaginative life of thentext under discussion. Also like Booth,nhe affirms a pluralism that acknowledgesnmultiple readings but refuses tonenter “the bog of indeterminacy.” LikenShaw, he insists that “there must bensome grounds for discriminating betweennplausible interpretations andnpreposterous ones.”nThe fourth publication I recommend,nthe one that treats most specificallynthe relation between religion andncritical theory, is the 1989 volume ofnLiterature and Belief. Guest edited bynBruce L. Edwards, vice president ofnthe Conference on Christianity andnLiterature, this collection of essaysnconfronts the challenges of recent theorynby addressing the question, “Cannthere be a Christian theory of literature?n” Opinion is diverse, but most ofnthe articles attempt to accommodatensome aspect of contemporary theory tona Christian perspective. The editornwisely concludes that “a single, cohesivenChristian theory of literature isnprobably less important (and less attainable)nthan the continuing effort tonrespond responsibly and intelligibly tonthe challenge of contemporary epistemologynto the foundations of Christiannfaith and practice.” He is correct; that’snwhere the batfle should be engaged innthis fourth and most drastic phase ofnsecularization.nHe also notes that Christian criticsnhave been slow to generate countertheories.nThat’s all to the good ifntheory means — as it too often doesnnowadays — abstraction, jargon, andn