Christian Humanist Profiles, Episode #1: Flannery O’Connor’s Theology of Disability

When Flannery O’Connor died in 1964 at the age of 39, she left behind her a rather slim body of work: two novels, a collection of letters, a dozen or so essays, and most of all, 32 short stories, ten or twelve of which have entered the American canon. The rare students who make it through high school without reading O’Connor’s stories will almost certainly run into “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” or “Good Country People” in their Freshman English classes.

O’Connor’s stylistic economy and her dark humor will ensure her popularity for decades to come—but many readers are supremely disturbed by her stories when they first encounter them. They are violent and, to use one of O’Connor’s favorite words, grotesque; their characters are generally aggressively unattractive and unpleasant, and they often come to terrible ends. To spend much time with O’Connor’s non-fiction, however, is to learn that she had an intensely religious purpose for all this ugliness—and this is scandalous for the religious and the non-religious alike.

Hundreds of critics have written on O’Connor over the years, discussing everything from her Catholicism to her being a Southerner, taking every conceivable position toward her, from Evangelical to deconstructionist to psychoanalytic. And yet many of these critics skim over O’Connor’s relationship to disability. She herself suffered terribly from the auto-immune disease Lupus, which killed her father when she was fifteen and which made her own life a ticking time-bomb. What’s more, a great many of her characters have some sort of physical or intellectual disability.

Our guest for this episode is Dr. Timothy Basselin, the author of Flannery O’Connor: Writing a Theology of Disabled Humanity, which, as the title suggests, attempts to sort out how O’Connor’s own disability relates to her Christianity. Thanks for listening!

Buy Dr. Basselin’s book on Amazon.com!

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