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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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Formerly Distinguished Professor of English and Film Studies at Messiah College, Crystal Downing currently serves as Co-Director of the Marion E. Wade Center and co-holder of the Marion E. Wade Chair in Christian Thought at Wheaton College. Her first book, Writing Performances: The Stages of Dorothy L. Sayers, helped ignite her next three books, which address the relationship between Christianity and culture. Crystal returned to Sayers for her fifth book, which was a Publisher’s Weekly “Pick of the Week” at its release in November of 2020. Titled Subversive: Christ, Culture, and the Shocking Dorothy L Sayers, the book explores the various ways Sayers can speak to issues polarizing Christians in the 21st century. In addition to her books, Crystal has published over ninety essays on topics ranging from Austen to the Amish, and her literary analysis 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 forty conferences in North America and Europe. In her leisure time, Crystal enjoys not only bicycling through rural countryside but also exploring distinctive architecture.

Ph.D. in English from the University of California at Santa Barbara, December 1986

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

Subversive: Christ, Culture, and the Shocking Dorothy L. Sayers. Broadleaf Books, 2020. A Publishers Weekly starred selection and “Pick of the Week.”

Salvation from Cinema: The Medium is the Message. Routledge, 2017.

Changing Signs of Truth: A Christian Introduction to the Semiotics of Communication. IVP Academic, 2012. A Publishers Weekly selection now in its 2nd printing.

How Postmodernism Serves (my) Faith: Questioning Truth in Language, Philosophy and Art. IVP Academic, 2006.

Writing Performances: The Stages of Dorothy L. Sayers. NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004. Granted the Barbara Reynolds Award for best work on Sayers, June 2009.

For transcriptions of my Christian Scholars Review Blog:

For my podcast discussions about the Wade Center’s seven authors:

“Changing Signs of Truth: Semiotics and Christianity”:
-- A Global Scholars Network International Webinar: Dec 2020

 “Dorothy L. Sayers and C. S. Lewis: A Feisty Friendship”:
-- Hutchmoot, Franklin, TN: Oct 2019

 “Dorothy L. Sayers and the Sins of Cinema”:
-- The C. S. Lewis Festival, Petoskey, MI: Sept 2019

“Sayers’s Sense of Vocation”:
-- Elizabethtown College Scholarship Day, Elizabethtown, PA: April 2019

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

“Betraying the Medium”:
-- American Academy of Religion Annual Meeting, Boston: Nov. 2017

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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“Faith in Film: A Christian Aesthetic.” The Oxford Handbook of Theology and Film. Ed. Gerard Loughlin. Oxford University Press, forthcoming.

“Dorothy L. Sayers and C. S. Lewis at War.” The Undiscovered C.S. Lewis. Ed. Bruce Johnson. Winged Lion Press, forthcoming.

“Out of the Machine: Cinema and Science Fiction. The Robot Will See You Now. Ed. John Wyatt and Stephen Williams. SPCK, forthcoming.

“Christ and Culture: C.S. Lewis, Dorothy L. Sayers, and Reinhold Niebuhr.” The Inklings and Culture: A Harvest of Scholarship from the Inklings Institute of Canada. Ed. Monika B. Hilder, et al. Cambridge Scholars, 2020. 95-109.

“Through the Screen: Dorothy L. Sayers’s Journey into New Worlds.” VII: Journal of the Marion E. Wade Center. 36 (2019): 5-20.

“Dorothy L. Sayers: Reluctant Prophet,” Christianity Today (June 2018): 64-68.