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Crystal Downing, Ph.D.

Co-Director of the Wade Center, Marion E. Wade Chair of Christian Thought, and Professor of English


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After being named Distinguished Professor of English and Film Studies at Messiah College in Pennsylvania, Crystal Downing accepted a position as Co-Director of the Marion E. Wade Center and co-holder of the Marion E. Wade Chair in Christian Thought at Wheaton College: a position she shares with her husband, David C. Downing. Crystal’s first book, Writing Performances: The Stages of Dorothy L. Sayers (Palgrave 2004), was granted the Barbara Reynolds Award for best Sayers scholarship in 2009 by the international Dorothy L. Sayers Society. Her next two books, How Postmodernism Serves (My) Faith and Changing Signs of Truth (IVP Academic 2006 & 2012), explore the relationship between cultural studies and Christianity and continue to be studied by graduate students in seminaries around the world. Crystal’s fourth book, Salvation from Cinema: The Medium Is the Message (Routledge 2016), assesses the field of “religion and film,” encouraging people of faith to acquaint themselves with film theory in order to better understand movies—not only as cultural statements but also as works of art. In addition to her books, Crystal has published nearly eighty essays on topics ranging from the Amish to Jane Austen, and her literary criticism appears in eight critical editions of canonical texts. Delivering nearly fifty juried papers at professional conferences, she has also been invited to serve as a keynote speaker at over thirty conferences in North America and Europe. In her rare leisure time, Crystal enjoys hiking or bicycling through rural countryside, climbing up waterfalls, and exploring distinctive architecture.

University of California, Santa Barbara
Ph.D., 1986

University of California, Santa Barbara
M.A., 1982

  • Dorothy L. Sayers
  • Victorian Literature
  • British Romanticism
  • Semiotics and Critical Theory

“Dorothy L. Sayers and the Wages of Cinema”
Keynote for Frances White Ewbank Colloquium, Taylor University, June 2018

“Betraying the Medium”
Annual Meeting of the AAR, Boston, November 2017

“Dorothy L. Sayers and C. S. Lewis at War”
North Central Michigan College, October 2015

“(P)arting with Modernism”
Regent College Public Lecture Series, Vancouver, BC; July 2011

Dorothy L. Sayers: Reluctant Prophet, Christianity Today
June, 2018 Between 1941 and 1944, C. S. Lewis gave a series of BBC radio talks, eventually published as Mere Christianity, that are the stuff of legend. Less well known today is a series of BBC broadcasts during the same era written by Dorothy L. Sayers: a retelling of the gospel message that Lewis himself valued highly.
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Angelic Work: The Medieval Sensibilities of Dorothy L. Sayers, Journal of Inklings Studies
Crystal Downing, 2017
After establishing Dorothy L. Sayers’s interest in medieval culture, this essay narrows its focus to Gothic architecture, arguing that Sayers’s fascination with medieval churches helped transform her view of the Church Universal. While a student at Oxford, Sayers echoed the modernist sensibilities of her time, valuing medieval architecture for the way it revealed the “sweetness and light” of culture. After two decades and several detective novels, Sayers began to see medieval architecture differently. Her novel The Nine Tailors provided a key to unlock her vision, and her play The Zeal of Thy House provided the keystone to uphold her new view of Christianity. These works led Sayers to look beyond ecclesiastical monuments to what they represent: a gathering of believers working to carry each other’s burdens as stones carry the arches upholding a medieval church.
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Staging Ideology and Love in Good Bye, Lenin!, Film & History: An Interdisciplinary Journal
Crystal Downing, 2013
Marx and Engels regarded ideology as a superstructure built onto an economic base, somewhat like the set constructed upon a theatrical stage. People perform their roles in society, oblivious to how stage and props artificially define and delimit reality for them. A century later, Louis Althusser changed the focal length of Marxist ideology. Rather than merely consider the mise en scène shaping false consciousness, Althusser emphasized prompters in the wings—what he called Ideological State Apparatuses—that kept the play of capitalism on track. Like stage prompters, Ideological State Apparatuses summon people to fulfill culturally-scripted roles through a process of interpellation.
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