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New Books in French Studies Podcast

The Gospel According to Renan: Reading, Writing and Religion in Nineteenth-Century France (Oxford, 2014)
by Robert Priest

March 16, 2016
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Listen to Roxanne Panchasi's latest podcast, in which she interviews Robert Priest about his book The Gospel According to Renan: Reading, Writing, and Religion in Nineteenth-Century France.
Read Dr. Panchasi's summary below, and check out the podcast on the NBFS website.


  • Robert Priest
    ’s The Gospel According to Renan: Reading, Writing, and Religion in Nineteenth-Century France (Oxford University Press, 2014) is a fascinating book about another fascinating book: Ernest Renan’s Vie de Jésus, published in 1863. Renan’s was a nineteenth-century non-fiction bestseller, but is far from widely read today. In a series of chapters that explore issues of authorship, content, and reception, Priest offers readers a contextual analysis of this “secular” life of Jesus within Renan’s own biography and oeuvre. He also examines the controversy surrounding the book in France, and traces its continuing impact and legacies into the early twentieth century.

    One of the major contributions of this work is its analysis of the popular reception of Vie de Jésus by French citizens across the political and religious spectrum. In addition to contemporary press and pamphlet discussion of the text, Priest also consulted hundreds of letters addressed to its author from men and women throughout France. This previously unexamined archival material gives us a glimpse of how “everyday” readers responded to Renan’s work, its spiritual and political meanings. The Gospel According to Renan illuminates the history of reading and writing under the Second Empire. Its in-depth analysis of La Vie de Jésus also reveals a great deal about the intersections of religion and politics in the years leading up to the Third Republic.
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