Claudia L. Johnson, author of Jane Austen’s Cults and Cultures (University of Chicago Press, 2012) is the winner of the 2013 Christian Gauss Award for a distinguished work of literary scholarship and criticism. This prize was established by the Phi Beta Kappa Senate in 1950 in honor of the Christian Gauss, the distinguished Princeton University scholar, teacher and dean, who also served as president of the Phi Beta Kappa Society.
Jane Austen’s Cults and Cultures explores not merely the works of Jane Austen but the intense, over-the-top love she has inspired in communities of readers over two centuries. As one reviewer has put it, Jane Austen’s Cults and cultures “salutes the fabulousness of Jane Austen with an intent both playful and serious. On the one hand, Johnson concedes her own involvement in the Janeism that is her subject. . . One of the many strengths of this book, in fact, is the panache with which it carries off the tricky task of at once studying love for an author and (without excessive gush) enacting it. But in calling Austen ‘fabulous,’ Johnson also has a serious, academic intent: she aims to exploit the term's long-standing associations with feigning--with fables, legends, and other such egregiously fictive fictions that stray, as the Oxford English Dictionary puts it, ‘beyond the usual range of fact.’ Since the nineteenth century, readers have celebrated Austen for her realistic portrayal of everyday, mundane life. But how, Johnson asks, could these same readers have credited her with powers of enchantment? By answering this question, Johnson seeks to show how Austen's work solicits readers' belief and in particular their faith in things unseen."
Among the previous winners of the Christian Gauss Award are several Princeton scholars, such as Susan Stewart, Leonard Barkan, Joseph Frank, and Theodore Ziolkowski.