T. S. Eliot’s Ars Religiosa: Transmigration and Faith in Knowledge and Experience


Edward Upton

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The Journal of Religion







In Eliot’s Dark Angel: Intersections of Life and Art, Ronald Schuchard dispelled the myth that Eliot’s religious conversion came suddenly in 1927, changing him from a darling of the avant-garde into a reactionary Anglo-Catholic in a matter of mere moments. By examining Eliot’s Extension School syllabi and tracing Eliot’s early debts to T. E. Hulme, Schuchard concluded that “by 1916 Eliot’s classical, royalist, and religious point of view was already formulated.” Schuchard’s work has made it possible to discern a more nuanced picture of Eliot’s religious trajectory, pointing critics to Eliot’s early interest in mysticism, Indian religious traditions,3 and various surrogates for religious belief and practice. Indeed, critical work on this has been done by Jewel Spears Brooker who, in an important essay, documents Eliot’s early interest in religion as a “scheme” for living in the world and engaging in experience. She writes, “The object of such a scheme or system is, first, to enable one to make sense out of experience, and second, to enable one to live and to act.” According to Brooker, Eliot viewed religion in his early essays and letters as a way of organizing and viewing the world that could enable one to act with purpose in it. It provided an order from which to begin action and a motivation to enable it.