In my courses I try to instill a sense of community among my students in the midst of what, at a vibrant research institution, can sometimes seem like an impersonal environment. Making unfamiliar literature and historically distant cultures relevant and ‘respectable’ to a diverse body of students—and making those objects of study worthy of their time and energy—is a challenge that I enjoy. I’m especially gratified when my students learn, and even come to love, these unfamiliar texts and contexts.
~Gregory S. Jackson
Greg Jackson comes to Rutgers from the University of Arizona, where he has been an assistant professor of English since 2000. We are delighted to have lured him away from Arizona, as he is a scholar rapidly winning admirers around the country. He has published articles in several leading journals (PMLA, Representations, American Literary History), and the book he is working on promises to be a major new statement in the field of American literary studies.
Rutgers English already ranks among the top graduate programs in American literature; Professor Jackson adds to that strength, and to our undergraduate offerings as well, both because of his scholarly reputation and because of his versatility as a teacher. He has experience in teaching all periods of American literature, from the colonialin which he has also published some notable scholarshipto the twentieth century.
His field of concentration, however, is in the later nineteenth century. This is the focus of his book manuscript, American Pilgrim: Protestant Experience and the Progress of Narrative, which is already completed but for minor revisions. American Pilgrim is a timely book, showing just how deeply the culture of evangelicalism has shaped the literary tradition in America. Jackson traces the surge of socially minded evangelical novels of the periodincluding the perennial favorites In His Steps, by Charles Sheldon, and If Christ Came to Chicago, by William Stead. These extremely popular novels still resonate in contemporary consciousness, not least in the catchphrase What Would Jesus Do? But they are not widely regarded as landmarks of American literature. He shows that this evangelical culture, with its strong taste for vivid narrative, left its stamp on the more secular literature of progressive reform, in writers such as Jacob Riis and Stephen Crane, both of whom had evangelical roots. What the realist authors and progressive reformers learned from the evangelicals was not just a set of ethical interests in poverty and suffering, but a set of narrative devices for representing those interests and organizing collective response. In order to substantiate this point, Jackson devotes considerable space to a history of evangelical preaching. The homiletic tradition, which he traces from the early eighteenth century to the end of the nineteenth, had developed a rich repertoire of narrative devices for interesting people in the strangers around them. The writers of the Gilded Age learned from the preachers before them, and were able to tap into a ready-made audience in so doing. Jacksons book has a wide canvas, allowing us to see unexpected movement between religious and secular cultures, between sermons and novels, between conservative and progressive orientations.
Professor Jackson has a remarkable warmth and energy that make him doubly welcome at Rutgers. This energy must be one reason why he won not one, but two different major teaching awards at Arizona. He immediately immersed himself in our undergraduate program, volunteering to teach some of our largest and most labor-intensive classes. His success as a teacher surely has some connection to the wide range of topics on which he can speak with experience and passionincluding veterinary science, firefighting, and bricklaying! There must be a topic on which he doesnt have some prior experience and interest, but were still trying to find it.