SUNY Canton Author Brings Academic Readers ‘A Step Closer to Heaven’ In New Book


A SUNY Canton faculty member’s newest book describes the religious beliefs of female authors as an integral part of American literature.

Associate Professor and Co-Chief Diversity Officer Emily Hamilton-Honey recently coauthored “Nineteenth-Century American Women Writers and Theologies of the Afterlife: A Step Closer to Heaven” with her colleague, Seattle Pacific University Associate Professor Jennifer McFarlane-Harris. Hamilton-Honey teaches English and humanities, and McFarlane-Harris teaches English and cultural studies, among other courses.

Emily Hamilton-Honey and Jennifer McFarlane-Harris

The collection, published by Routledge Taylor & Francis Group, analyzes the theme of the afterlife as described through the works of authors Harriet Beecher Stowe, Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, Martha Finley, Jarena Lee, Maria Stewart, Zilpha Elaw, Rebecca Cox Jackson, Catharine Maria Sedgwick, Elizabeth Palmer Peabody, Belinda Marden Pratt, and others.

“We were unable to find a critical work that untangled the different denominations and religious beliefs of these authors,” Hamilton-Honey said. “There were lots of religious ideals, but no information on where they were coming from.”

According to the new book’s abstract, the writers’ works were immersed in the moral debates consuming churches and national politics. Each of them believed that religion was necessary to maintain a morally healthy nation. Though they each believed in different ways to reach the afterlife, they were all working to make earth a step closer to heaven, to convert others to bring about a life after moral reform.

Emily Hamilton-Honey reading a book in her office.

“Women of the nineteenth century were not simply using religion as a coping mechanism, or applying theologies authored by men,” said McFarlane-Harris. “This anthology is grounded in the radical notion that the theological principles crafted by women and derived from women’s experiences, intellectual habits, and activism are foundational to American literature itself.”

Hamilton-Honey and McFarlane-Harris began their research in 2003, when they began re-evaluating how women authors engage with broader cultural conversations because of how they positioned themselves theologically. They indicated that the women they studied came from a variety of religious backgrounds, including Shaker, Methodist, and Baptist denominations. “This is the kind of work we wished for as graduate students,” Hamilton-Honey said. 

McFarlane-Harris added, “Students of religious history and practicing Christians alike will find much to admire in the lives and literature featured in our anthology: women faithful to their principles and their relationship with God, calling their readers to like devotion.”

Hamilton-Honey has previously published “Turning the Pages of American Girlhood” and “Girls to the Rescue” focused on young women’s series fiction, and about a dozen other publications. McFarlane-Harris has published essays on theology-making in Black women’s conversion narratives and poetry. She also coauthored a chapter in the collection “Blackness in Opera” on racial difference in Verdi’s Aida.


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