Images of the Hero: Heroism in Literature

East/Southeast Regional Conference

Patrick Henry College

Purcellville, VA (near Washington, DC)

June 10-11, 2022


Keynote Speaker: Dr. Tiffany Yecke Brooks, "The Lukan Christ Amid Hellenistic Heroes" (

In The Hero with A Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell asserts that the mythic figure of the hero is central to understanding the human experience. He argues that “the hero is symbolical of that divine creative and redemptive image within us all, only waiting to be known and rendered into life.” The hero, in other words, might be said to be the embodiment or archetype of the imago Dei raised to the highest pitch, functioning as an exemplar of what humanity at its level best can do. Thomas Carlyle also nods to the transcendently human nature of the hero in Of Heroes and Hero Worship, when he says that the hero is “he who lives in the inward sphere of things, in the True, Divine and Eternal, which exists always, unseen to most, under the Temporary, Trivial…”

The figure of the hero has perennially occupied a central place in the Western literary canon, from Homer to Tolkien. Yet in recent decades, the assumed virtues of traditional concepts of heroism and traditional depictions of heroes have been challenged and become subject to significant revision in popular culture. While the contemporary heroes of the Marvel Comics universe enjoy immense, culture shaping popularity, Homer’s heroes find themselves increasingly left out of secondary and post-secondary syllabi. These things raise the questions of what a hero is and what role the hero has yet to play in the 21st Century. Do the traditional heroes of the Western canon still have a role to play as transcendent ideals of humanity that carry us forward, or are they retrograde constructs in desperate need of revision?

This conference invites papers that explore the answers to these questions and attendant questions related to the mythic and the symbolic. Paper submissions might address the theme of literary heroism from any number of angles, but the following questions are offered as a starting point.

  • What is the role of a hero, a traditionally aristocratic character, in a society that sets a moral premium on egalitarianism?
  • Does the classical epic still have a place in the English curriculum, and if so, what is it? If not, has it been replaced? With what?
  • How do literary heroes inspire differently from the heroes of history, and is the idea of a real-life Hero a contradiction in terms?
  • What is behind our fascination with deconstructing heroes? Is the hero archetype, in fact, immoral?
  • What is literature’s role in either upholding or interrogating the ideals of heroism?
  • Is the Western ideal of the hero compatible with a Christian ideal of human virtue?
  • What might a theologically informed reading of the hero archetype look like? Does it offer significant revision to the canonical Western Ideal?
  • Any exploration of what might be considered the heroic in other mythic or symbolic literary figures is, of course, welcome.

The East/Southeast Regional Meeting of the Conference of Christianity and Literature will take place at Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, VA (just outside of Washington, D.C.) on June 10-11, 2022. Please send paper abstracts/proposals of 400 words or less to Cory Grewell ( by May 10, 2022. 

Register for the conference here.




Regional conferences afford members an opportunity to learn from one another and to build networks of support for their scholarly and professional endeavors. They also offer graduate students an opportunity to gain valuable experience presenting at conferences.

For the themes of past and recent regional conferences, please click on the regions below:










Southwest Conference on Christianity and Literature regional meeting  

September 29-October 1, 2022  

John Brown University  

Siloam Springs, Arkansas  


This conference theme is inspired by the artist Mary Cassatt’s paintings of girls and mothers with books, in particular “The Reader” on display at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. (Early conference attendees will have the opportunity to tour Crystal Bridges.) Papers on women authors such as Marilynne Robinson, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Flannery O’Connor, Zora NealeHurston, Charlotte Bronte, Dorothy Sayers, and Mary Shelley are warmly welcomed, as are topics that explore women’s representation in painting, film, or literature, particularly where such representations intersect with Christianity or other religions. Papers dealing with the changing nature of reading and the teaching of literature (Kindle versus print materials; the hybrid classroom) are also welcome.  

The keynote speaker for this conference is Wheaton College’s Dr. Crystal Downing, Co-Director of the Marion E. Wade Center and author of five books, most recently Subversive: Christ, Culture, and the Shocking Dorothy L. Sayers (2020). Downing’s presentation for SWCCL is entitled, “The Seeing of Sayers: A Scandalous Prophet.”

Possible paper topics include, but are not limited to:
• The intersection of feminism and Christianity
• Children’s literature
• The effect of the male gaze on women’s representation in film
• Masculinist representations of the feminine
• Women and silence
• The maternal in literature
• Women students in the Zoom classroom • Women and the construction of the text
• Restrictions on women’s reading
• Early church mothers
• BIPOC women in literary texts
• Women in community, secular or sacred
• The Pre-Raphaelites’ use of women subjects
• Women’s spirituality in popular media

As always, SWCCL is open to other proposals concerning the relationship of Christianity and literature, including panel proposals and creative works. Readings of original poetry and fiction will also be considered (please email conference coordinators for details).  

Undergraduate and graduate students are also encouraged to submit proposals. Undergraduate students must submit their entire paper for consideration; eligible undergraduate papers will be entered into the national CCL Undergraduate Writing Contest for a cash prize and publication on the CCL website. Graduate students accepted to the conference are encouraged to apply for the CCL Travel Grant. For more details on these undergraduate and graduate opportunities, please visit the CCL website for full details:  

Send abstracts (200-400 words) via email to on or before July 15, 2022. Notifications will be sent to all submitters in early August 2022, with the final program being published by mid-September to allow ample time for presenters to make arrangements for their sessions. All presenters must be members of the Conference on Christianity and Literature prior to delivering their paper; membership includes a subscription to the conference’s journal and information can be found on the organization’s website: