Previous Book Award Winners

The MMLA Book Award

The MMLA would like to congratulate the 2023 Book Award winner, Justine S. Murison, for her book, Faith in Exposure: Privacy and Secularism in the Nineteenth-Century United States. Recent legal history in the United States, from Roe v. Wade (1973) through several twenty-first century Supreme Court cases—most prominently the majority opinion in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. (2014) and the dissenting opinions in Obergefell v. Hodges (2015)—reveals a strong and hardening tendency to treat religious freedom and sexual and reproductive freedom as competing, even opposing, claims on public life. They are united, though, by the fact that both are rooted in our culture’s understanding of privacy. Faith in Exposure shows how privacy came to encompass such contradictions—both underpinning the right to sexual and reproductive rights but also undermining them in the name of religious freedom—over the course of the nineteenth century, with a particular focus on the nineteenth-century American novel as a field in which these conflicts played themselves out with a special kind of clarity.

Drawing on the interdisciplinary field of secular studies, Faith in Exposure brings a postsecular orientation to the historical emergence of modern privacy. From the fears over religious infidelity to what constituted a modern marriage to conspiracy theories about abolitionists: these were the contests that helped privacy emerge as a sensibility and a right in modern, secular America.

Justine S. Murison is a Professor of English at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Her research and teaching examine nineteenth-century American literature with special attention to its relation to the intertwined histories of health and religion. She is the author of The Politics of Anxiety in Nineteenth-Century American Literature (Cambridge, 2011) and Faith in Exposure: Privacy and Secularism in the Nineteenth-Century United States (Penn Press, 2023), and she is the editor of the Norton Library’s edition of The Scarlet Letter.

Previous Winners

MMLA Convention

Publication Category


Title of Award-Winning Book

2022 Creative Eds. Donald G. Evans and Robin Metz, with a Foreword by Carlo Rotella Wherever I'm At: An Anthology of Chicago Poetry
2021 Scholarly  Leah Milne, the University of Indianapolis Novel Subjects: Authorship as Radical Self-Care in Multiethnic American Narratives
2019 Scholarly  Derrick Spires, Cornell University The Practice of Citizenship: Black Politics and Print Culture in the Early United States