Our eleventh episode explores the most recent novel on our list of celebrated Great American Novels, Marilynne Robinson's 2004 Pulitzer Prize-winning exploration of Christian humanism, GILEAD. Set in a fictional small Iowa town in 1956, this deceptively lowkey narrative about a dying minister, John Ames, and the sudden reappearance of the town's prodigal son, Jack Boughton, raises intriguing questions about the intersection of the soul and society. Robinson is our most prominent representative of literary or philosophical Christianity today; in a marketplace in which the very notion of Christian fiction raises doctrinaire stereotypes of the rapture and the second coming, she is the rare writer who dramatizes faith as a quiet struggle between personal practice and cultural politics. Jack returns to Gilead with a secret he is convinced will challenge the drowsy, contemplative ministries of both his godfather, Ames, a Congregationalist, and his own father, Robert, a staunch Presbyterian. Jack's revelation raises questions about the function of the Church that locals may not wish to confront. But if this conflict sounds melodramatic, GILEAD is a novel of profound serenity: with a poetic style we call "conversational imagism," Robinson dramatizes the plenitude of God's presence not through fiery epiphanies but through arresting images of the natural world's divinity that pay homage to nineteenth-century American Romanticists such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Walt Whitman. Known for her passionate defense of John Calvin and the Puritans as theologists, Robinson depicts faith not as a battle between the spirit and the flesh but between the humility and egotism of individual belief. Few novels have ever so clearly dramatized the relationship between the vulnerability of the religious self and the fragile exercise of democracy.