Naomi Mercer’s Toward Utopia will offer readers a critical examination of the way in which feminist authors recognize the dangers of fundamentalism and its infusion into American politics in the 1980s and began to address those dangers through genre writing. Specifically, Mercer addresses how feminist authors critique religious fundamentalism, linked to the rise of the Religious Right in the United States, in four canonical texts that interrogate fundamentalist manifestations of Abrahamic religions: Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, Marley’s The Terrorists of Irustan, Piercy’s He, She and It, and Tepper’s Raising the Stones.
In tracing the non-chronological thematic arc among these texts, Mercer argues that feminist dystopian writing transgresses not only genre but also the “master narratives” of Western culture through its examination of and warnings against religious fundamentalism and theocratic governance. She notes that such writers interrogate this fundamentalism to expose its inherent misogyny and oppression, activities that are frequently played out on women’s bodies, and further argues that these writings challenge the legitimacy of the very underpinnings of Western thought and culture in myriad ways.
When asked what prompted her to develop this text, Mercer told us that "While deployed to Iraq for a year, I read Louise Marley’s The Terrorists of Irustan as a way to combine my love of science fiction and think more about the challenges facing the Muslim women with whom I came into contact."
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She adds that:
"My focus, as an outgrowth of my master’s thesis on feminist dystopias from the 1980s, had been on the militarization of women in science fiction. However, during my time in Iraq as an Army officer simultaneously applying to doctoral programs, I found myself too overwhelmed by militarization to deal with it objectively. Reading Marley’s novel, thinking about the implications of religion as an aspect of identity, and learning more about Islam and Muslim feminism, my scholarly interests turned toward addressing religion in feminist dystopian and utopian writing.”
Naomi Mercer is a lieutenant colonel in the United States Army and an assistant professor in the Department of English and Philosophy at the United States Military Academy. She earned her doctorate in literary studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2013. She specializes in feminist dystopian and utopian writing.