Associate Professor of English Dr. Dennis Kinlaw has been awarded a $214,000 research grant from the Templeton Foundation to investigate “the spiritual dimensions of narrative engagement.” His project is entitled “Truth in Fiction: A Cognitivist Approach to Literature as a Source of Spiritual Understanding.”
The Templeton grant, Kinlaw says, “reflects the recognized value of the humanities as key contributors to the advance of knowledge” at a time “when our culture questions the value of the liberal arts.”
Kinlaw’s research project, funded through 2023, will result in two journal articles and several conference presentations as well as opportunities to collaborate with scholars in psychology of religion, literary studies, and cognitive aesthetics, he says, adding, “It will also provide opportunities for research assistance for qualified students at Erskine!”
The Erskine English department’s approach to literature includes attention to “the explicitly religious dimension of literary interpretation,” which is often overlooked or denied in secular academics. Examining this aspect of literature is essential at any Christian college “committed to keeping literature in conversation with Christian living,” Kinlaw believes.
At Erskine, the English department not only recognizes the religious dimension of literature, but places special emphasis on understanding “how works of fiction directly or indirectly shape our understanding of God and other spiritual realities,” Kinlaw says. “I want to train my students to ask questions which help us better understand how art alters in substantive ways our conceptions and experiences of the divine.”
Kinlaw plans to involve students in his research. “In the spring semester I will begin conducting surveys with students to begin recording how specific works of literature have made an impact on their understanding of God in some way.”
Reflecting on his work at Erskine, the young professor says of the Templeton grant, “I’d love to celebrate it as a success of our department’s innovative approach to literary studies.”
Dennis Kinlaw (B.A., Harvard University; M.Litt., Ph.D., University of St. Andrews, Scotland) joined the Erskine College faculty in 2021. He previously served as book reviews editor for the Journal of Inkling Studies, has written for such publications as Transpositions and Church Life Journal, and is editor, with Garrick V. Allen and Christopher R. Brewer, of The Moving Text: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on David Brown and the Bible.