Jessica Hooten Wilson, associate professor of creative writing at John Brown University, recently published her interdisciplinary dissertation as the book “Giving the Devil His Due.”
This book explores parallel themes from Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky and American fiction writer Flannery O’Conner. It opens their texts to a wide readership, including two of Wilson’s friends who use the book as an aid for teaching Sunday school.
Wilson spent her graduate and post graduate studies exploring the ways that both Dostoevsky and O’Conner force the reader to look at themselves.
“C.S. Lewis has this great line in Problem of Pain, in which he says, ‘The good news changes society in which people knew they were sick. Christ is saying, “Here’s good news. I’m offering you a way to be resurrected, a way to be healed.”’ Well, we now live in a society that doesn’t know it’s sick,” Wilson said.
Wilson said both authors are trying to show people that they are disturbed.
“They do that by showing you the evil in the human heart. So, much of Dostoevsky’s and O’Conner’s work is to hold up a mirror and say, ‘We are evil. We are sinful. We are more likely to follow Satan right now the way that we are,’” she continued.
Wilson explained the Biblical foundation for this “as Jesus said, ‘You are actually children of Satan and not children of God.’ So, Dostoevsky and O’Conner show that to you first in the hopes that you will go looking for a cure. That’s the goal. So, this book explains why it is that two Christian writers would go about that approach rather than saying, ‘Here’s the hope; here’s the good news; here’s all these the things news about Christ. Why do they first instead show all the ugliness?’ So, that’s also what I write about,” Wilson said.
Wilson’s inspiration for the book came from studying Russian and Southern literature at the University of Dallas during her early graduate studies. The idea of comparing the two fields was not initially accepted by graduate professors.
Wilson said that she faced significant pushback. “When I decided to go to grad school, the advisor said, ‘I will not work with you on this.’ There was a lot of antagonism.”
Ironically, Wilson said this is now accepted. “Now it’s a really popular thing. I’m even speaking this summer at an entire conference dedicated to the connections between the Russians and the Americans on literature. But, it’s taken fifteen years to do it. Again, it’s Russian and Southern. They don’t evenly cross,” Wilson said.
Finding truth in literature is something Wilson widely respected for. J. Bradley Gambill, associate professor of English and co-editor of “The Word in the English Classroom: Best Practices of Faith Integration,” commented on Wilson’s unique gifting at making truth accessible outside the classroom.
“This seems to be a task that Dr. Wilson has been called to – a key element of her vocation. I’ve enjoyed watching her build those bridges in Siloam Springs and in Northwest Arkansas in general. She has a gift. Plus, she never dumbs down the message. She challenges the groups to face-down sometimes difficult theological concepts and to explore the complexity of characters and narrative. It’s really quite thrilling,” Gambill said.
Wilson’s approach to writing combines disciplines of theology and literary criticism and inspires students at John Brown University to integrate their own various fields of interest.
Emma Wingert, senior biology major, said she has learned a lot from Wilson.
“I love interdisciplinary reading. Some of my favorite papers to write have been integrating things from the Bible department with others such as psychology and biology. I really like Dr. Wilson’s approach,” Wingert said.
Wilson has two more works to be published that will also find connections between theology and literature.