Religion, Secularization, and Literature in the Age of Darwin
English 529: Religion, Secularization, and Literature in the Age of Darwin
Religion has had an abiding influence upon modern literature and culture, and yet until the recent "religious turn" in literary studies, our narratives about it have often centered upon its disappearance from or irrelevance to modern life. Terry Eagleton has recently quipped that "Almost every cultural theorist today passes over in silence some of the most vital beliefs and activities of billions of ordinary men and women, simply because they happen not to be to their personal taste." But the reality is that twenty-first-century thinkers and critics representing a huge range of philosophical positions have made questions about faith and secularity central to their thinking.
This course introduces students to "the religious turn" in literary studies as it pursues the literary and cultural implications of secularization and religion (especially evangelical religion) as these relate to literature and as they come down to us from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It will investigate a new scholarly consensus about the vigor of nineteenth-century religion but will also focus upon religious conflict, especially in the period surrounding Charles Darwin's 1859 The Origin of Species. It will explore competing paradigms for secularization, such as that of the Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor, who writes of secularization as a condition of modern life that helps to constitute modern selfhood and that (at least historically) brings about both the destabilization and recomposition of religious forms. In addition to rethinking what secularization means, we will debate the usefulness of terms like "post-secularity" (Jürgen Habermas) and "postcritique" (Rita Felski) and "uncritical reading" (Michael Warner). Readings will be drawn chiefly from a British context, but American, European, and imperial parallels will be unmistakable and frequent.
Students do not need any background in religious studies, nor in literary studies. Expect primary readings to range widely, from science to philosophy, fiction, and poetry.