The American field of religion and literature emerged in the mid-20th century with a particular interest in the theological resonance of modern literature. By the 1970s, the field had grown and diversified, leading David Hesla to announce a ‘second stage’ in which various approaches and topics, including social science and popular culture, would replace the first, theological stage. For Hesla and others, the second stage signaled confusion as well as pluralism. This article frames the field differently, highlighting its broader context and concerns with the categories of outsider, tradition, and transcendence. In this, light, religion and literature offers crucial perspective on current debates about secularity, society, and aesthetics.