"That there is my church": Liberation Theology in Denise Giardina's Storming Heaven

In light of religion's importance in Denise Giardina's fiction--and her repeated claim to "think like a theologian"--it is curious that most scholarship on Storming Heaven largely avoids the topic. One reason for this omission may be that the version of Christianity Giardina presents is not one we generally expect to find in novels about the coalfields. I suggest, however, that if we read the book as an Appalachian instantiation of Liberation Theology--a theology that arose in another colonized piece of the Americas--the actions and intentions of her characters not only make better sense, but do so in a way that is consonant with a vision of justice readers of Appalachian literature may readily embrace. My paper will offer the briefest overview of pertinent aspects of Liberation Theology, then demonstrate how they find an advocate in Giardina's No-Heller miner-preacher, Albion Freeman. Like other theologians of liberation, Albion's thinking begins with a close identification with the poor, conceptualizes faith as embedded in the particular political situation of his time, and expresses itself in ways that are necessarily disruptive to an oppressive political and economic system.