On July 14, Merav Schocken, a doctorate candidate in English at the University of California led a free, in-person lecture as part of the 2021 Park Church Summer Lecture Series, hosted by the Center for Mark Twain Studies at Elmira College.
Lecture images can be found HERE.
Schocken’s lecture, ““Material Sanctity: Salvaging the Sacred in The Innocents Abroad,” examines Mark Twain’s trip to the Holy Land in 1867. Twain was repeatedly disappointed by what he perceived to be a desolate scenery, devoid of divinity. At the time, Americans traveled to the Holy Land in hopes of validating their faith, escaping modernity, and connecting to an imagined point of origin through which they could understand their identity. Schocken analyzes Twain’s text in the context of increasing tourism and suggests that self-deception played an important role in Twain’s depiction of the Holy Land pilgrimage. She focuses on Twain’s uncharacteristic attempt to safeguard the sanctity of material relics at traditional pilgrimage sites, claiming these constitute self-deceptive practices that aim to counterbalance disillusionment with the land and escape spiritual darkness. For Schocken, this reconciliation is reflective of the broader nineteenth-century struggle between faith and doubt, specifically in the context of American concerns over the materialization of the spiritual in an increasingly secular society.
Schocken’s research interests include nineteenth-century American literature with a particular emphasis on critical race studies and topics of space and place. Her dissertation explores practices of self-deception in nineteenth-century American literature.
The next Park Church Summer Lecture will take place on Wednesday, July 28 at 7pm. Jillian Spivey Caddell (University of Kent, Canterbury, United Kingdom) will present “Memory-Building and Memorializing in Elmira: Mark Twain and John W. Jones in Relation.”