Northrop Frye on Literature and Ultimate Concern


Author: TANG Dongmei, Ph.D., Lecturer, College of Foreign Language and Culture, Chengdu University.


Northrop Frye claims that religion and literature are essentially the same phenomena despite the significant difference between religion and literature in popularunderstanding. Terry Eagleton concludes that Frye sees literature as a displaced version of religion. Based on William James’ definition of personal religion and Frye’s reconstruction of the ontology of literature, this article examines the theoretical basis of Frye’s claim regarding the identity of religion and literature and argues that by dragging religion “down” through equating religion with personal religious experience and elevating literature through reconstructing the social function of literature, Frye shows the possibility of bringing the two into the existential domain of the “ultimate concern” of the human spirit, and thereby comparing them. Frye’s assertions on the nature of the Bible were grounded in this concept of literary and religious identity. The challenges brought to the traditional Christian faith by the modern study of the historical authenticity of the Bible and the disintegration of the historical text do not, for Frye, mean the loss of religious significance of the Bible. Christian faith absolutely can and should be based on the Bible as literature instead of historical records. Therefore, Frye’s statements on the literary nature of the Bible do not so much result from the scientific study of the Biblical texts as from the need to construct a radical protestant theology based on the Bible.


Northrop Frye, personal religion, the ontology of literature, Bible as literature, atheist theology

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