1st Edition

Explorations of Spirituality in American Women's Literature The Aging Woman in the Image of God

By Scarlett Cunningham Copyright 2023

    This book connects the aging woman to the image of God in the work of Flannery O’Connor, Joyce Carol Oates, Alicia Ostriker, Lucille Clifton, Mary Szybist, and Anne Babson. It introduces a canon of contemporary American women’s spiritual literature with the goal of showing how this literature treats aging and spirituality as major, connected themes. It demonstrates that such literature interacts meaningfully with feminist theology, social science research on aging and body image, attachment theory, and narrative identity theory. The book provides an interdisciplinary context for the relationship between aging and spirituality in order to confirm that US women’s writing provides unique illustrations of the interconnections between aging and spirituality signaled by other fields. This book demonstrates that relationships between the human and divine remain a consistent and valuable feature of contemporary women’s literature and that the divine–human relationship is under constant literary revision.


    Credits Page


    1. The Gift of Old Age and Flannery O’Connor’s Theophanies

    2. Religious Beautification and Going Gray in Flannery O’Connor’s "A Stroke of Good Fortune"

    3. Orphanhood and Spiritual Development: Exploring Intergenerational Loss and Conflict in Joyce Carol Oates’ Fiction

    4. The Image of the Aging Jewish Woman As Vessel in Alicia Suskin Ostriker’s Late Poetry

    5. Aging, Race, and Divine Embodiment in Lucille Clifton’s Poetry

    6. Aging, Desire, and Marian Theology In Mary Szybist’s Incarnadine

    7. A Feminist Pentecostal Perspective of Aging: Reflecting the Holy Spirit in Anne Babson’s Messiah and Polite Occasions

    8. Coda: Observations on Attachment Theory, Gerotranscendence, and Late American Women’s Spiritual Literature



    Scarlett Cunningham works in the education and nonprofit sectors at the intersections of literary studies, theology, and social work. She earned a Master of Arts degree in Women’s Studies and a Master of Social Work degree from the University of Alabama and her doctorate in English from the University of Mississippi, with specialties in American Literature, aging, gender, and religion. She has taught at several state and faith-based institutions across the United States, where her offerings have included courses on writing, American Literature, Women’s Studies, body image in literature, and religion in literature.