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Dawn Coleman UTK English

Dawn Coleman

Associate Professor

406 McClung Tower
Phone: (865) 974-6956
Fax: (865) 974-6926


Dr. Coleman specializes in nineteenth-century American literature, with a focus on issues of religion and secularity. Her book, Preaching and the Rise of the American Novel (2013), argues for the sermon as the paradigmatic voice of moral authority in the nineteenth-century United States and analyzes how literary writers appropriated the voice and figure of the popular preacher to claim moral authority for fiction.

Currently she is writing a book titled “Margaret’s Ghosts: Inventing Secular Womanhood in American Literature,” which argues that Margaret Fuller’s life, writings, and tragic death in 1850 catalyzed a new literary and cultural type, the secular woman. Dr. Coleman is also an active Melville scholar. In addition to her many published essays on Melville, she served from 2013–2020 as book review editor of Leviathan: A Journal of Melville Studies and now sits on Leviathan’s advisory board. She is a contributing scholar to Melville’s Marginalia Online and has collaborated on the Melville Electronic Library. She also serves on the advisory board of the American Religion and Literature Society.

She teaches graduate and undergraduate course on American women writers, Herman Melville, the nineteenth-century novel, and topics related to religion, spirituality, and secularism


  • Ph.D. Stanford University
  • M.T.S. Harvard Divinity School
  • B.A. UCLA



Representative Articles

  • “Fathers, Mothers, Saints, Martyrs: Religion as a Lineage of Belief,” Modern Language Quarterly. Special issue, “Talking about Religion,” ed. Mark Knight and Charles La Porte. Forthcoming November 2022.
  • “Religion and Secularity,” in A Companion to Herman Melville, 2nd ed. Ed. Wyn Kelley and Christopher Ohge. Hoboken: Wiley-Blackwell. 383-398.
  • “A Postsecular Iola Leroy: Frances Harper’s Revision of Philadelphia Unitarianism.” ESQ. 66.4 (2020): 535-90.
  • “The Spiritual Authority of Literature in a Secular Age.” Christianity and Literature 67.3 (2018): 519-30.
  • Secular Melancholy: Unbelief and the ‘Literature of Misery.’” Above the American Renaissance. Ed. Harold K. Bush, Jr. and Brian Yothers. University of Massachusetts Press, 2018. 52-68.
  • “The Bible.” Herman Melville in Context. Ed. Kevin J. Hayes. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018. 211-20.
  • “The Bible and the Sermonic Tradition in America.” Oxford Handbook of the Bible in America. Ed. Paul Gutjahr. New York: Oxford University Press, 2017. 242-59.
  • “Melville and the Unitarian Conscience.” Visionary of the Word: Melville and Religion. Eds. Brian Yothers and Jonathan Cook. Northwestern UP, 2017. 129-57
  • “Whales in Cincinnati.” Leviathan: A Journal of Melville Studies 19.1 (2017): 122-39.
  • “Mahomet’s Gospel and Other Revelations: Discovering Melville’s Hand in Channing’s Works.” Leviathan: A Journal of Melville Studies 17.2 (2015): 74-88.
  • “Senecan Self-Command and the Rhetoric of the Fugitive Slave.” Facing Melville, Facing Italy: Democracy, Politics, Translation. Eds. John Bryant, Gordon Poole, and Giorgio Mariani. Rome: Sapienza Università Editrice, 2014. 69-81.
  • “Critiquing Perfection: Hawthorne’s Revision of Salem’s Unitarian Saint,” Nathaniel Hawthorne Review 37.1 (2011): 1-19.
  • “The Antebellum American Sermon as Lived Religion.” A New History of the Sermon: The Nineteenth Century, ed. Robert Ellison. Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers, 2010. 521-54.
  • “Daniel Deronda and the Limits of Sermonic Voice.” Studies in the Novel 40.4 (2008): 407-25.
  • “The Unsentimental Woman Preacher of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” American Literature 80.2 (2008): 265-292.

Digital Edition

  • Guest editor, Melville’s Marginalia Online ( Herman and Elizabeth Melville’s The Works of William E. Channing,” 6 vols., 2015.
  • “Introduction to Herman and Elizabeth Melville’s The Works of William E. Channing.” Melville’s Marginalia Online (, 2015. 

Awards, Honors & Grants

  • University of Tennessee Humanities Center Faculty Fellowship, 2020-2021
  • Chancellor’s Research Grant, Spring 2019
  • National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Seminar, “Religion, Secularism, and the Novel,” 2019
  • Visiting Scholar, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Cambridge, MA, 2009-2010