Park Church Lecture Explores Mark Twain’s Self-Deception During His Holy Land Trip

On July 14, Merav Schocken, a doctorate candidate in English at the University of California will lead 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. The lecture series features three lectures in July. Lectures begin at 7:00 p.m. and are open to the public.

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.

About The Park Church – Founded in 1846 by a group of abolitionists, The Park Church has been a strong presence in Elmira’s history and some members of its congregation were close friends and family members to Mark Twain. Known for its striking architectural features, The Park Church contained Elmira’s first public library and has a long history of charitable service to the Elmira community.  Currently, it is an “Open and Affirming Congregation,” welcoming all people to worship and participate in its communal life, regardless of ethnic origin, race, class, age, ability, gender, or sexual orientation.

About the Center for Mark Twain Studies – The Elmira College Center for Mark Twain Studies was founded in January 1983 with the gift of Quarry Farm to Elmira College by Jervis Langdon, the great-grand-nephew of Samuel Langhorne Clemens. The Center offers distinctive programs to foster and support Mark Twain scholarship and to strengthen the teaching of Mark Twain at all academic levels. The Center serves the Elmira College community and regional, national, and international students and scholars of Mark Twain.

About Elmira College – Founded in 1855, Elmira College is a private, residential, liberal arts college offering 35-plus majors, an honors program, 17 academic societies, and 18 Division III varsity teams.  Located in the Southern Finger Lakes Region of New York, Elmira’s undergraduate and graduate student population hails from more than 20 states and nine countries.  Elmira is a Phi Beta Kappa College and has been ranked a top college, nationally, for student internships. The College is also home to the Center for Mark Twain Studies, one of four historically significant Twain heritage sites in the U.S., which attracts Twain scholars and educators from around the world for research on the famous literary icon. Proud of its history and tradition, the College is committed to the ideals of community service, and intellectual and individual growth.