Woolf described the work of the modernists … as a return to the ‘spiritual’ in response to the ‘materialism’ of their Edwardian predecessors, and the modern novel is strikingly engaged with the spiritual aspects of life. As Lionel Trilling wrote of modern literature “No literature has ever been so intensely spiritual as ours”.
The modernists’ spiritual concerns include borderline states of consciousness, forms of the divided self, the process of conversion, the function of ritual, the magical potential inherent in words, moments of sublime experience, and the relationship between social life and sacred power.
The demands of the novel form as the nineteenth century understood it, as well as the agnostic views of many novelists, seem to have meant that the modernists conducted their search less for a ‘substitute’ for religion than for a satisfying explanation of such spiritual phenomena – some combination of religion and philosophy. The attempt to turn the novel’s sociological possibilities toward a consideration of this type of religious experience helped the modernists to transform the novel.
— from Religious Experience and the Modernist Novel by Pericles Lewis.